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Elsewhere

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.


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Reviews

<em>Fidelio</em>, Prom 9
23 Jul 2017

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.  »

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07 Sep 2005

Fidelio in Stir

First, you signed the waiver relieving the venue of any liability for your injury or death. Then, you were handed a flashlight and felt the chill in the air – not a typical cold draft but the prickly tingle that comes with unquiet spirits nearby. »

31 Aug 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Elgar

Perhaps some Opera Today readers may wonder why a book on Sir Edward Elgar merits reviewing on this particular site. The composer never came near to completing an opera. In fact, only toward the end of his career did he... »

27 Aug 2005

AUDRAN: La Mascotte

Chances are the world of opera bouffe is somewhat foreign to most listeners. Many may know one or two operettas by Offenbach - La Perichole, perhaps, or La belle Helene and a large number of melodies from various of his works collected for the ballet Gaite parisienne. But this extensive body of works from the last quarter of the nineteenth-century is infrequently performed, and, apart from the occasional aria heard on an inventively programmed recital, the repertory today is heard about more than it is heard. The names Audran or Lecoq are largely unknown, despite their having been very popular in this country at the end of the nineteenth century. (Maurice Grau brought many French productions to New York during the 1870s and 1880s, and the operettas, sung in French, were quite popular. Productions in the original language allowed the retention of the racy dialogue and numerous double entendres - most of which would have been unacceptable in English -- so typical of these works.) »

27 Aug 2005

RABAUD: Marouf, Savetier du Caire

Like many of the nearly forgotten composers of his era, Henri Rabaud (1873-1949) had his day in the sun. A pupil of Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire, and later its director, Rabaud wrote eight operas, the most successful of which was Marouf, Savetier du Caire, which premiered in 1914 at the Opera-Comique in Paris and soon became a world wide hit. But today a mention of Rabaud's name will likely draw a blank stare, even from well versed opera aficionados. »

27 Aug 2005

ALALEONA: Mirra

I had never heard of the Italian composer Domenico Alaleona (1891-1928) when a recording of his opera Mirra arrived in the mail. Baker's gives him a respectable 22 lines, but says "his importance lies in his theoretical writings," not this opera or various collections of songs, instrumental works, and a Requiem. If you've ever come across the term "dodecaphony," well, Alaleona coined it (in Italian, of course). »

26 Aug 2005

MESSIAEN: Orchestral Works

As part of their "Gemini--the EMI Treasures" series, EMI has re-released recordings of some of Olivier Messiaen's greatest hits: the Turangalila-Symphonie (1946 - 48), Quatour pour la fin du temp (1940 - 41), and Le Merle Noir (1951, for flute and piano). This two-disc release features the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, with Tristan Murail playing ondes martenot and Peter Donohoe on solo piano in the 1986 recording of Turangalila-Symphonie. Quatour pour la fin du temps was recorded in 1968 by Erich Gruenberg (violin), Gervase de Peyer (clarinet), William Pleeth (cello), and Michel Beroff (piano); Le Merle Noir was taken from a 1971 Abbey Road session with flutist Karlheinz Zoller accompanied by Aloys Kontarsky. These performances in their various manifestations on earlier albums have consistently received rave reviews, and with good reason. The performances are exceptional in their interpretation and the recordings have been beautifully remastered. »

26 Aug 2005

Marco Polo Film Classics, Part I

Between the 1930s and the 1950s, Hollywood composers pumped out tens of thousands of scores for what we now call "classical Hollywood films." These films often contained an hour or more of music, but few viewers would have realized this. Certainly, many of these scores included themes that became very well known--Casablanca and Gone with the Wind come immediately to mind; however, much of the music was played quietly and inconspicuously. In classical Hollywood films, music is subservient to the narrative, and generally played two main roles. First, it served the film's central narrative by heightening the emotional content of important scenes (e.g., ominous music when characters approach an abandoned castle) and revealing characters' hidden feelings (e.g., love music while two characters are fighting). Second, music gave the film a greater sense of continuity by smoothing over cuts and moving slower scenes along. »

25 Aug 2005

BONONCINI: La nemica d’Amore fatta amante

Giovanni Bononcini (Modena, 1670 - Vienna, 1747) is best known today for his dozen years in London, which began when he was 50 and Handel was 35. Five years later, a well-known epigram likened them to Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee . Londoners then had to decide whether Handel, compared to Bononcini, was "but a Ninny," or whether Bononcini, when matched with Handel, was "scarcely fit to hold a Candle." For many Londoners, the more luminous composer was Bononcini, since he had served munificent patrons for four decades before his arrival in England: duke Francesco II of Modena (1680s); two immensely wealthy noblemen - Filippo Colonna and Luigi de la Cerda, the Spanish ambassador - in Rome (1690s); two emperors - Leopold I and Joseph I - in Vienna (1700s); and an immensely wealthy Viennese ambassador in Rome (1710s). »

25 Aug 2005

The Death of Klinghoffer at Edinburgh

It has taken 14 years for John Adams’ second opera to reach a British stage. Scottish Opera’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer at last goes boldly where no opera company in these islands has dared before (and one of them, Glyndebourne, shared in the original commission). »

25 Aug 2005

Melodrama in Edinburgh

First performed in 1775, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a melodrama in the most literal sense of the word — a work for actors and orchestra in which music is deployed to heighten the effect of emotional declamation. Even though posterity has tended to play its influence down, many in the late 18th and early 19th centuries rated it as both a masterpiece and a major vehicle for a tragic actress. This performance revealed it to be a work of considerable power. »

25 Aug 2005

The Threepenny Opera in LA

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – German writers Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s stylized 1928 masterpiece “The Threepenny Opera” is savagely cynical, sardonic, brittle and worldly wise—and wonderfully well-performed at the Odyssey Theater Ensemble, a tribute to savvy director Ron Sossi and a cast of 16 talented and eager performers. »

23 Aug 2005

THOMAS: Polish Music since Szymanowski

Throughout the history of Poland, music has been an enduring force in its culture, and Polish composers were at the forefront of a number of developments in the twentieth century. »

23 Aug 2005

GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier

Carlo Bergonzi never recorded the role commercially and he is obviously the " raison d'etre " of this set. Among collectors there are quite a lot of Met-performances circulating but none is in very good sound. These performances date from around 1960 during the tenor's heyday but even they prove that the role is not completely his best: part of the score lays a little too high for his tessitura and he misses the sheer power to overwhelm us in some of the arias. This Venice-performance is in good sound and as the theatre is so much smaller than the Met maybe better suited for a role a shade too heavy for the voice. By 1972 too he knew much better where his strong points were and he fully exploits them. Time and again he makes a point by a diminuendo or a piano where Del Monaco and Corelli hector along. While the voice is slightly less beautiful than in the famous 1970-concert performance in London he succeeds in giving us a truly fine " Come un bel di di maggio "; the only piece Luigi Illica culled from the poems of Andre Chenier himself. In London Bergonzi has to switch in a lower gear when he realizes he is not going to make it but in Venice the voice is at its best in the fourth act. There are some fascinating glimpses of the tenor's experienced singing. When in his second act monologue he gets before the beat, he simply introduces a little sob and stage and pit are once on the same wave length. In that terrible first act monologue " Colpito qui m'avete " he has given so much breath in getting to the top in the first verse, that during the second verse he starts declaiming instead of singing though he does that with such skill and conviction that most people in the audience probably thought of it as an interpretative trick. A live audience probably didn't notice the appearance of the weak link in late Bergonzi's vocal armour: a gliding towards a fortissimo note from high A onwards that would almost always result in flat singing above the staff from 1975 onwards. »

23 Aug 2005

CHRISTINE BREWER — The ‘Anti-Fleming’

As everyone knows, the art of the song recital is in decline. When you and I were young Maggie, Columbia Concerts and Community Concerts regularly sent vocal and other musical artists all around America providing a never fading rainbow of wonderful music, as great classical music performers educated and thrilled us with their art. For example, As a youth I once heard Leonard Warren give a recital in a high school auditorium in Webster Groves, Missouri, price of admission $5. I still have the ticket stub - and the memories. Kathleen Ferrier, Robert Casadesus Jennie Tourel and Guiomar Novaes performed in my town when I was a kid. »

22 Aug 2005

HANDEL: Saul

Any new recording of Handel under the baton of Rene Jacobs has to be greeted with both respect and interest, even if the absolute need for another recording of this well-represented oratorio is debatable. Perhaps some Handel scholars would argue with that and are still discussing the precedence of the current available recordings — the older Gardiner, the Neumann, or the more recent McCreesh for instance. So, one presumes, this recording of "Saul" on the Harmonia Mundi label must be intended to either trump those three or to at least offer a viable fourth choice for those who prefer their Handel oratorios as complete as possible. And a plus point is that the entire work is squeezed onto just 2 CDs with a total running time of 2 hrs 30 minutes, accompanied by some stimulating liner notes by Pierre Degott that are both informative and absorbing for the non-specialist consumer. »

19 Aug 2005

Britten's Curlew River in Edinburgh

Benjamin Britten’s opera Curlew River was inspired by the Noh plays he saw on his 1956 visit to Japan, after which he asked his regular librettist, William Plomer, to adapt Sumidagawa for him. Eight years later, the opera was composed. Since it lasts only an hour and requires a highly stylised kind of performance, it has never been a favourite with regular opera houses, but it makes for excellent festival fare. The Edinburgh Festival has mounted its own production, directed by Olivier Py, which is well worth catching. »