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Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Boesch and Martineau Schubert Complete Songs, Wigmore Hall, London

The Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert Songs series of 40 concerts began with a recital by Florian Boesch and Graham Johnson. (Read my review here). If anything, though, the second concert, where Boesch was accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, was even better. The programme was beautifully planned, and the performance exceptional, even by the very high standards of the Wigmore Hall.

Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - ENO London

It took artistic courage to choose Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtensk to start the ENO's 2015-2016 season. Shostakovich isn't an easy sell, and so full of sex and violence that some minds - like Josef Stalin - would be aghast. But Mark Wigglesworth is passionate about Shostakovich , and as new Music Director of the ENO, he's making a point. Good opera needs artistic vision.

Berg Wozzeck Fabio Luisi Zurich Opera

Zurich Opera brought Alban Berg Wozzeck to the Royal Festival Hall, London . Fabio Luisi conducted Philharmonia Zurich and a very good cast in a concert performance. With all pretence at staging removed (apart from natural good acting) we could focus on the sheer musical audacity of Berg's writing, and pick up on the processes the music employs to create the drama.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Sondra Radvanovsky Stars in the Title Role of Anna Bolena

The First of Three Donizetti Queens She Will Sing at the Met This Season

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

For Odyssey Opera, No Operatic Challenge is Too Great

For a company founded in 2013, Odyssey Opera has an astounding track record. To take on Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is ambitious enough, but to do so within only a year of the company’s founding seems almost single-minded.



Violeta Urmana as Azucena with chorus [Photo © Dutch National Opera, Photographer Ruth Walz]
09 Oct 2015

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.  »

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28 Mar 2005

SALAZAR: Vísperas Completas de Nuestra Señora

Sacred music from the Spanish Baroque deserves to be held up next to the finest Italian examples of the same period. Equally celebratory in nature, the music written for use in Catholic Vespers services on this recording is an example of the mixed concertante style developed in Venice. While not as monumental as Claudio Monteverdi’s conglomerate Vespers of 1610, the Vísperas Completas de Nuestra Señora by Juan Garcia de Salazar (1639-1710) contrasts polyphonic and homophonic choruses with plainchant, monody, instrumental pieces, and organ improvisation. »

28 Mar 2005

BACH: St. John's Passion

The explosion of research into the music of J. S. Bach allows for innumerable interpretations of his works. Scholars meticulously study the musical source material, letters and writings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and anything else that could possibly lead to an insight into Bach’s musical practice. Invariably, each interpreter achieves new conclusions and raises new questions forming their own distinctive ideal. In the last decade and a half, the dialogue over Bach’s choral music has been particularly active and fierce with proponents of massive romantic proportions and those who prefer single singers and instrumentalists on a part. »

28 Mar 2005

Krassimira Stoyanova at the Rousse Festival

Her occasional home-coming always turns into a music event in her native Bulgaria. This time Krassimira Stoyanova appeared at the Rousse March Music days in a recital including twenty melodies and songs by opera composers: Gounod, Donizetti, Puccini in the first part and Tchaikovsky and Rahmaninov in the second plus two “encores” by Bulgarian composers Dobri Hristov and Liubomir Pipkov. She performed this same recital at Carnegie Hall on January 18, 2005, accompanied by Yelena Kurdina. »

28 Mar 2005

Chicago's Ring

Ringheads, rejoice! The end of the world is nigh. So, for that matter, are the flying Valkyries, swimming Rhinemaidens, spinning Norns, fearless heroes, empowered heroines and all the other mythic characters that make Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Ring of the Nibelung”) the greatest, most monumental fairy tale ever composed. »

28 Mar 2005

Offenbach's Whittington

Here is a splendid curiosity – a three-act operetta by Offenbach, written as the 1874 Christmas panto blockbuster for the famous Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square and never subsequently staged in its original form. All credit to the tirelessly exploratory semi-professional University College Opera for its worthwhile revival. »

28 Mar 2005

Mozart's C Minor Mass Reconstructed

“Die spart (Partitur, Anm.) von der hälfte einer Messe, welche noch in der besten hoffnung da liegt”, erwähnt Mozart 1783 in einem Brief an seinen Vater. Bei der Hoffnung sollte es bleiben: Sein rätselhaftes Gelöbnis, die c-Moll-Messe zu vollenden, hat Mozart nicht gehalten. Das ehrgeizige Projekt einer umfangreichen Kantatenmesse im Stile von Bachs Schwesterwerk in h-Moll blieb ein Torso. Nur Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus und Benedictus hat Mozart abgeschlossen, nicht alles davon ist jedoch in zweifelsfreier Form erhalten. Vom zentralen Credo existieren gar nur zwei Sätze, noch dazu voller offensichtlicher Instrumentationslücken. »

26 Mar 2005

Surprises at Wigmore Hall

Susan Bullock is widely regarded as the finest dramatic soprano to have emerged in the UK for some years. She is an exceptional Wagnerian and many would question why she is not singing Brünnhilde in one of the Rings-in-progress at Covent Garden or English National Opera, particularly since she is already established as an interpreter of the role abroad. »

26 Mar 2005

Leaving the "Audience Clamoring for More"

Handel had his troubles with sopranos as people. There’s a story that he once grew so enraged he tried to throw one of his divas out the window. On the other hand, no composer has written more knowledgeably and lovingly for the soprano voice than Handel did. »

26 Mar 2005

Rape of Lucretia

NO BETTER time than Easter to plead the cause of Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera. Forged in the same white fire of creative energy as Peter Grimes, Lucretia can remain problematic because of the apparent moralising of the framing Chorus. But watching this play of passion in a week of Passions certainly put things into context. »

26 Mar 2005

A Delicate Drama at Merkin Hall

When opera singers reach a certain level of fame and stature, they almost invariably express the desire to present song recitals as well. Often the problem is that they have little training in this specialized art and too much practice in their own stylistic niche. As a result, many highly publicized evenings at Carnegie or Alice Tully turn out to be woeful disappointments, proving only the lack of adaptability of many of our best singers. »

25 Mar 2005

Handel's Sosarme at Theater St. Gallen

Mit noblem Herrschergestus rückt der feine junge Herr im weissen Anzug fürs Schlusstableau die Opernwirklichkeit zurecht. Unvermittelt angeschmachtet von der Liebsten und scheinbar ohne Rücksicht auf den eben ausgefochtenen tragischen Höhepunkt des Familienzwists, von dem hier im Heldenton einer Opera Seria drei Stunden lang die Rede war, darf Fernando alias Sosarme die Totgeglaubten wieder aufrichten und dann, ganz cleverer Familientherapeut, die Sache mit einer zeitgeistigen Aufstellung zu Ende bringen. »

24 Mar 2005

Leontyne Price & Samuel Barber: Historic Performances (1938 - 1953)

Among the leading figures in music in twentieth-century America, the composer Samuel Barber and the soprano Leontyne Price are notable for various reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they worked together at various times. »

24 Mar 2005

Parsifal Gets Poor Reception in Berlin

A controversial new production of Wagner’s “punk” Parsifal, by Bernd Eichinger, film-maker and writer of Downfall, provoked outrage when it was premiered in Berlin last Saturday. Here he defends his production. A lot of critics complained that it was staged too close to the orchestra. But that is not a failure – that is exactly what I wanted to do. In a Wagner opera, you have to understand that there are more than 100 musicians; it is a big orchestra, big music. In order that the singers can really be appreciated you have to bring the action forward, closer to the audience. If you put them too far away in the distance of the stage you hear less. »

24 Mar 2005

Der Rosenkavalier at the Met

The Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier is supposed to be no older than 32 – sensitive, sensual and emphatically sensible. Richard Strauss told us so. She is seldom played that way. Over the decades, the role has become the specialty of well-upholstered divas of a certain age who stress regal pathos at the expense of erotic allure. It wasn’t like that, however, on Friday at the Met, where Angela Denoke basked in revisionist revelation. »

23 Mar 2005

Orlando Furioso at New York City Opera

Handel’s opera “Orlando” is a seductive broadside against love, and New York City Opera’s new production makes this distaste for romance seem irresistible for a while. When the titular knight goes soft, the magician Zoroastro intervenes to warn him away from the vagaries of passion. Better, he counsels, to stick to such sensible, manly stuff as vengeance, mayhem and murder: Make war, not love. »

23 Mar 2005

Madama Butterfly at Covent Garden

IT’S STRANGE that such a basically fine performance can leave so many question marks, but that is perhaps the peculiarity of Madama Butterfly. Puccini’s shabby little shogun shocker contains some of the composer’s greatest music, yet it is put to such shallow, manipulative ends that anyone who likes their opera to be more than a high-class musical is likely to come away feeling unsatisfied. At least the Royal Opera’s latest revival is musically rewarding, and boasts one of today’s leading interpreters of the title role, but the picture-book production shows little willingness to tackle the problem. »

23 Mar 2005

Tosca at the Met

To this day, many sophisticated music lovers dismiss Puccini as a panderer or even a hack. But his supreme craftsmanship is the best refutation of this position. So dedicated was he to creating just the right effect for “Tosca” that he came before dawn one morning to the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome and faithfully recorded the actual pitches of all of the church bells that can be heard there throughout the early hours, including those of the Basilica of Saint Peter’s. »

22 Mar 2005

A Symphony for Hans Christian Andersen

The words of Symphonic Fairytales are not by a musician, but by one of the 19th century’s most extraordinary writers: Hans Christian Andersen. The Danish fairy-tale author’s bicentenary falls on 2 April this year and a worldwide project is under way to celebrate him in music. Ten Danish composers have been commissioned to write pieces based on his stories; as part of this, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Chorus and Youth Chorus has achieved quite a coup with a new work from Per Norgard, Denmark’s musical éminence grise, which they will premiere on Andersen’s birthday at Symphony Hall. »

22 Mar 2005

Handel's Ezio at the London Handel Festival

THE curtain rises on Black-adder-land — epicene monarch, black-clad baddie, hooped ladies and preening hero — and you think, hmm, three hours of trying to turn opera seria into comedy could be a bit wearing. Worst fears aren’t entirely realised, but if you don’t trust Handel to hold an audience with a serious exploration of relationship and motivation, why bother? The London Handel Festival has brought us some notable rarities from among the man’s operas, and this one too has seldom been seen; but if the performance falls short, it’s not because the piece is rubbish. »

22 Mar 2005

Peter Grimes in Salzburg

Salzburg zur Osterzeit steht heuer ganz im Zeichen Benjamin Brittens. Nun ist “Peter Grimes”, die Festspiel oper Anno 2005, auch schon 60 Jahre alt, aber von einer Verankerung im internationalen Repertoire kann, wenn überhaupt, erst in allerjüngster Zeit die Rede sein. Jetzt, da das Stück von der Tragödie des Individuums in der Zeit der Vermassung aktueller denn je scheint, setzen es die meisten großen Häuser auf den Spielplan. Zeit also, bei einem Festival ein mustergültige Produktion zu präsentieren, scheint das Kalkül Simon Rattles gewesen zu sein, der damit den Festspielgedanken so unzeitgemäß wie richtig interpretiert. Zumindest in der Theorie. Man muss vielleicht ein bisschen weiter ausholen, um zu definieren, warum eine Inszenierung, wie sie Trevor Nunn im großen Festspielhaus vorgestellt hat, in diesem Fall ein wenig zu kurz greift. »

22 Mar 2005

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Performs Pergolesi and Rossi

As a seasonal concert, with a mildly ecumenical touch, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra played a concert of sacred music in the Medieval Sculpture Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sunday evening (with a repeat tonight). The principal offering was Pergolesi’s dramatic, deeply emotional setting of the Stabat Mater. It was preceded by string arrangements of six pieces by Salamone Rossi, a Jewish composer who worked in Mantua, Italy, around the same time as Monteverdi, and wrote Hebrew Psalm and prayer settings in a lively madrigal style. »

22 Mar 2005

Rossini's Il turco in Italia in Hamburg

“Es werde Lichter”, sprach der Libretto-Dichter und ließ die Buffa-Puppen tanzen. Keine Charakter, sondern Typen, irgendwie geboren im ganz normalen Uraufführungswahnsinn italienischer Opernhäuser im frühen 19. Jahrhundert; fest am Faden hängend und ganz nach Bedarf herumgeschoben von ihren Schöpfern. Dieser Poeta in Gioachino Rossinis “Türke in Italien”, der sich und seine Erfindungsnöte vorlaut zum Thema einer komischen Oper macht, ist ein ziemlich einmaliger Fall. Und deshalb immer öfter ein gefundenen Fressen als Alter Ergo für seine Regisseure. »

22 Mar 2005

Götterdämmerung at Chicago Lyric

Lyric Opera has been a tease this season. It’s now offering a preview of the delights that will be available March 28, when the company revisits one of opera’s most daunting challenges, Wagner’s cycle of four interrelated works, “The Ring of the Nibelung,” in three cycles through mid-April. »