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Elsewhere

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?

Armida in Pesaro

Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.


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Reviews

Benjamin Britten 1968
22 Aug 2014

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.  »

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01 Feb 2005

Vivaldi's Farnace at Resonanzen 2005

Dreizehn als Glückszahl: Das 13. Festival Alter Musik wird in die Annalen des Wiener Konzerthau ses als besonders geglückt eingehen. Das kenntnisreich zusammengestellte Programm deckte nahezu alle wesentlichen Epochen, Nationalstile und Klangmöglichkeiten Alter Musik ab; fast durchwegs gut gewählt waren die Interpreten, und der Almanach könnte so manches historische und musikgeschichtliche Handbuch ersetzen. »

01 Feb 2005

Doina Dimitriu Wows Chicago

The season’s first performance of Puccini’s “Tosca” at Lyric Opera on Monday night brought an authentic slice of operatic history to the Civic Opera House: The vintage production director Franco Zeffirelli mounted in 1964 for London’s Royal Opera to lure Maria Callas out of semi-retirement. Tito Gobbi, the great Scarpia of his generation, was her co-star. The well-worn staging has done honorable service for more than 40 years, having seen 38 revivals and 242 performances before it was finally retired in July. The classic production was promptly bought lock, stock and battlements by Lyric Opera, which is dedicating it to Gobbi’s memory. »

01 Feb 2005

La Traviata at Covent Garden

Verdi demanded three qualities for his “fallen woman”: looks, anima (soul) and a good stage presence. What he did not want was a glossy prima donna. The part broke convention not just histrionically, in its depiction of a contemporary prostitute, but also vocally. It needs a soprano agile enough to throw off the Act 1 coloratura, and strong enough to meet the dramatic requirements of Acts 2 and 3. That’s asking a lot, and most sopranos fall short. So it was fascinating, at the Royal Opera’s latest revival on Saturday, to come across Norah Amsellem. She has period looks, a pretty smile, a malleable physiognomy. She knows how to adapt her whole demeanour to Violetta’s changing situation, so that the figure we behold on stage is not an opera singer but a human being with the power to disarm us emotionally. That may be a gift of acting, but it also reflects Amsellem’s complete identification with the music. Her soprano is a bit one-dimensional, especially at the top, and she proved a surprisingly plain letter-reader. In all other set-pieces she had the theatre spellbound. “Dite alla giovine” and “Addio, del passato” were especially effective: Amsellem sang them in a beautifully controlled half-voice, stretching the tempo to its very limit. Some might call it self-indulgent; to me it sounded like the truth. »

31 Jan 2005

La Forza del destino at Opéra Royal de Wallonie

So this was how a Forza would have sounded in the fifties and sixties in one of the better Italian provincial houses. At that time those extinguished species (lirico-spinto tenor and soprano) were still in abundant supply and one could easily hear nowadays forgotten names like Zambruno, Mori, Vicentini, Borso on the male and Mancini, De Osma, Barbato etc on the female side: big booming voices, maybe not always very subtle but steeped in the Verdian tradition and not afraid to give unstintingly all of their voices as if there is no tomorrow. »

30 Jan 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera

Among the recent publications on opera, The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, edited by David Charlton, breaks new ground with its systematic and thorough exploration of grand opera, a specific part of the genre which played an important role in the musical culture of the nineteenth century. »

30 Jan 2005

A Batallar Estrellas — Music in Spanish Cathedrals of the Seventeenth Century

Interest in the music of “New Spain” (the Spanish colonies in the Americas) has blossomed in the last decade, with a number of fine recordings of sacred music composed by musicians who emigrated to the New World in support of the mission of the Catholic church. A parallel interest in the music of those who stayed in Spain – indeed, who set the tradition that was exported to the Americas – has been slower to build, so this recording is especially welcome, since it provides an opportunity to hear a tradition seldom performed outside of Spain, whether in the Baroque era or in the present. »

30 Jan 2005

WAGNER: Die Feen

How narrow-minded can one be ? Very much so in the case of Richard Wagner who succeeded in not mentioning once the name of Verdi in all his writings. And is not his decision to banish his early youth works from the Bayreuth-barn rooted in that same mentality ? Of course during his lifetime he was the subject of many attacks and maybe he feared to be the victim of ridicule with critics dissecting every bar of Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi and looking for influences of other composers. Rienzi and Liebesverbot had been staged while he lived but Die Feen was only known by a few selections and he never took pains to have his first opera performed at a time when he could easily have done it. Die Feen was premiered 5 years after his death and then led a rather undistinguished life of a few performances. Still the amount of bigotry of his successors is even greater, considering that Siegfried Wagner himself was a composer of fairy tales and should not have respected his father’s wish not to perform Die Feen. The grandchildren complied as well though one can understand their motives. As Wagner lost some of his hallowed reputation during the fifties and the sixties, the stock of Verdi rose very high indeed and maybe it was not in the Wagners’ interest to show the more amateurish trials of granddaddy. Eva Wagner, Wolfgang’s estranged daughter who should have succeeded him long ago, was the first to offer a business plan for a new New Bayreuth where Die Feen, Rienzi and even the operas of composers who influenced the maestro would have their place. And then music lovers could at last hear and see what the fuss is all about if there is something to be excited about. Well, there is. The overture is a gem, all of its 11 minutes and almost worth the purchase of the set. Yes, it’s easy to trace the influence of Mozart and especially Weber but 20-year Wagner had a voice of his own as well, different from that of his contemporaries. Wagner was twelve years younger than Lortzing who could easily have treated the same fairy subject but one immediately hears the far richer orchestration, the ease Wagner has in composing more complicated arias and ensembles. And one regrets somewhat that the mature Wagner gave his best tunes to the orchestra instead of sticking with the singers like the youthful composer still did in the old tradition. »

29 Jan 2005

Barbiere in Madrid

Rénové en 1997 avec un luxe inouï, le Teatro Real de Madrid ne lésine pas non plus sur la qualité des productions. Du rare Osud de Janacek en 2003, marqué par la qualité de la mise en scène de Bob Wilson, de l’orchestre et de la distribution vocale, ne reste que des souvenirs et des photographies, faute de producteurs intéressés par la réalisation d’un DVD. Ce ne sera pas le cas de ce nouveau Barbier de Séville, dévoilé il y a quelques jours, diffusé par Arte dans une semaine, et bientôt dans les bacs. En filmant trois représentations successives, l’ambition est d’offrir le meilleur Barbier en DVD du marché. »

28 Jan 2005

Don Giovanni in Baltimore

The elegantly regilded Hippodrome Theatre could be mistaken for an old-world opera house. On Wednesday night, for three hours at least, that’s exactly what it was. Teatro Lirico D’Europa — administratively based in Hunt Valley — presented a fully staged production of Don Giovanni that offered sufficient entertainment value and demonstrated the theater’s flexibility. »

28 Jan 2005

Poppea at Palais Garnier

Parisians do not like camp. David McVicar’s production of Monteverdi’s last opera was jeered in October at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées and now David Alden has met the same fate. This is unfair because his use of radical kitsch is altogether more sophisticated and his manipulation of the singers faultlessly choreographed. In any case, this classic staging dates from 1997, when it was first seen in Cardiff and Munich. McVicar’s approach now looks like a pale copy of an industry template. »

27 Jan 2005

Singing Ives

In 2004, festivals and concerts commemorated the 50th anniversary of the death of Charles Ives, an insurance executive from Danbury and arguably America’s greatest native-born composer. Tonight and Sunday at Wesleyan University’s Crowell Recital Hall, the tribute will continue with the first of several recitals surveying Ives’ 129 songs. »

27 Jan 2005

Siegfried's Id

Richard Wagner loathed the first performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which he scrabbled together at his own theatre in 1876. “Next year we’ll do everything differently,” was the mildest comment he had to offer, and the most convenient for directors eager to distinguish their Ring productions from all others. »

27 Jan 2005

The Tsar's Bride in Moscow

Following its disastrous staging last April of Georges Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” I had high hopes that Novaya Opera would get itself back on track by turning to a classic of Russian opera for its next production. But, at its debut last Sunday, the theater’s new version of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Tsar’s Bride” proved, if not a disaster, at least a major disappointment, due mainly to the muddled stage direction of Yury Grymov and the theater’s decision to discard as much as a third of the opera’s music. »

27 Jan 2005

Agony and Ecstasy in LA

Nearly a century separates the two beguilements installed at the Music Center in recent weeks: Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida of the 1870s and Luciano Berio’s Laborintus II of 1965. Nobody would mistake the style or purpose of the one for the other; they are both shrewdly welded to the taste of their respective times. Something grander links them – an innately Italian sense of theater that unites all the arts of the region into a single onrush of word, music and movement. To the north, Richard Wagner made a great fuss as he dreamed up his “total artwork” concept with ream upon ream of explanatory philosophy. To the Italian spirit, that unity of the expressive arts was simply a form of breathing. Petrarch, Monteverdi, Tintoretto, Berio . . . just the names by themselves take on a theatrical dimension. »

25 Jan 2005

SCHUBERT: Alfonso und Estrella

New artists are taking greater chances with repertory, looking for niches to call their own. Dawn Upshaw explores new music, Cecilia Bartoli eighteenth-century Italian song, and in this live recording up-and-coming artists Eva Mei and Rainer Trost take on the lead roles in Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella. Mei and Trost’s sympathetic singing with the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro lirico di Cagliari conducted by Gérard Korsten breathes life into this choppy opera, which Liszt famously condemned as a work of only historical interest. »

25 Jan 2005

Kát’a Kabanová at Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Ihre Ruh’ ist hin, ihr Herz ist schwer. Die junge Frau im gelben Sommerkleid duckt sich in ihrem Stuhl, drückt die Hände in den Schoß, blickt nach oben. Diesmal ist es nicht Goethes Gretchen, das hier – um im jüngsten Grass-Jargon zu bleiben – “verthalheimert”, sprich: auf ihr sprachliches und inhaltliches Gerüst skelettiert wurde. Es ist die Kaufmannsgattin Katja Kabanova, die ihre einzige Sehnsucht, die Liebe zum schwächlichen Boris, mit dem Leben bezahlt und in die Wolga geht. So steht es in Alexander Ostrowskis Theaterstück “Das Gewitter” von 1859 geschrieben. Welches Michael Thalheimer, der kühlkopfige Minimalist unter den tonangebenden Theaterregisseuren, sicherlich auf das Wesentliche zurechtzustutzen vermocht hätte. Ohne russische Folklorismen und Nebenhandlungen, nackt, statisch, als pure Versuchsanordnung. »