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Elsewhere

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. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

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. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

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. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

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.

Gergiev : Janáček 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. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

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.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.


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Reviews

31 Jul 2014

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. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years. »

Recently in Reviews

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25 Jan 2005

Il Trovatore at Houston

The opening-night audience for Houston Grand Opera’s revival of Il Trovatore had one thing on its mind: grabbing every chance to cheer the familiar tunes that propel Verdi’s dramatically awkward piece. As soon as soprano Sondra Radvanovsky finished Leonora’s first big aria, the bravos let loose — far more intensely than usual in the middle of a performance. The ache to approve a style of music many people view as true “grand” opera continued right up to the curtain calls. Then, the crowd unleashed cascades of applause and yells. »

24 Jan 2005

LOEWENBERG: Annals of Opera, 1597-1940

This volume has long been regarded as the definitive work on the subject, and has been quoted in countless later works whenever a reference was required to the performance histories of individual operas. Taken as a whole, especially when one considers the state of library science when the book was first written, it is a magnificent piece of work, and belongs on the bookshelf of every researcher in the operatic field. »

24 Jan 2005

Schumann's Genoveva at Volksoper Wien

Robert Schumann hat seine Spitzenposition in der Musikhistorie: herrliche Symphonien, wunderbare Kammermusik, großartige Lieder. Doch er hat auch eine Oper hinterlassen: Genoveva. Eine Komposition auf ein eigenes, ungelenkes Libretto, das durch die Zeiten geistert und weder sanfte Ruhe noch dauerhafte Wiederbelebung erfahren kann. »

24 Jan 2005

Resonanzen 2005: Alessandro Scarlatti's La Vergine dei Dolori

Neun Tage lang darf sich Wien jetzt wieder als Welthauptstadt der Alten Musik fühlen. Zum 13. Mal locken die “Resonanzen” ein begeisterungsfähiges Publikum mit einer wohlabgewogenen Mischung aus bewährten und für Wien neuen Künstlern ins Konzerthaus. Das Motto “Metropolen” hebt sich wohltuend von der zuweilen etwas aufgesetzt wirkenden Wahl vergangener Jahre ab: Sinnvoll ordnen sich die Abende zu einem Reigen europäischer Musikzentren zwischen Padua, London und Paris. So schon “Rom”, das stürmisch akklamierte Eröffnungskonzert im Großen Saal: Keiner könnte die musikalische Pracht der Ewigen Stadt im Barock besser personifizieren als Alessandro Scarlatti mit seinen fast 40 Oratorien – die Gattung erlebte dank des jahrzehntelang aufrechterhaltenen päpstlichen Opern-Verbots eine Hochblüte. “La Vergine dei Dolori” (1717) ist ein Spätwerk; ablesbar an der bis ins Letzte verfeinerten Ausdrucksskala, der preziösen Führung der Singstimmen, der extravaganten Harmonik namentlich in den Rezitativen. Die Seelenqualen der Gottesmutter angesichts der Passion werden so in immer neuen Farben ausgemalt. »

24 Jan 2005

Monteverdi's Le Couronnement de Poppée at Lyon

On revoit encore William Christie, l’été dernier, inquiet de la tournure qu’allait prendre son travail avec Peter Stein pour Le Couronnement de Poppée prévu à Lyon cet hiver : le metteur en scène allemand avait, en effet, très envie de se débarrasser des scènes comiques qui, selon lui, viennent comme un cheveu sur la soupe, alors que c’est justement ce mélange des tons qui fait la grandeur de la pièce ! Ce qui devait arriver arriva : on apprit bientôt que Stein avait jeté l’éponge, remplacé par Bernard Sobel. Et c’est bien avec le fondateur du Théâtre de Gennevilliers que vient d’avoir lieu la première du chef-d’oeuvre de Monteverdi à l’Opéra de Lyon. Sobel apporte ainsi sa pierre à l’engouement actuel pour cet opéra fascinant, après McVicar, au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, et avant David Alden au Palais Garnier. Après la lecture pléthorique et riche en clins d’oeil de McVicar, façon sitcom hollywoodien, Sobel mise sur l’humilité et la lisibilité. Dans le décor unique mais mouvant de Lucio Fanti, un enchevêtrement de figures géométriques bleues tachées d’étoiles et formant une voûte, les personnages évoluent dans des costumes accentuant le drapé des toges à l’antique. Pas de transposition ici, mais une allégorie plus intemporelle qu’actuelle. On est parfois à la limite du kitsch et de la naïveté, comme ce sacre final par un angelot ailé, à la lueur de la lune. »

24 Jan 2005

Gluck's Alceste — A Crumbling Edifice in Boston

Last May, Opera Boston general director Carole Charnow saw a production of Andre Previn’s operatic version of ‘‘A Streetcar Named Desire’’ in Washington, D.C. She knew immediately she had found the director she wanted for the collaborative production of Gluck’s ‘‘Alceste’’ that Opera Boston and Boston Baroque will present this week. »

24 Jan 2005

Samson and Delilah at Opera Carolina

Maybe Camille Saint-Saens should’ve chosen his friends more carefully. When he marshaled a singer to treat them to two arias from an opera he was working on – about the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah – they scoffed. »

24 Jan 2005

Missa Solemnis at Chicago

Two of Beethoven’s most difficult yet most inspiring masterpieces, “Fidelio” and “Missa Solemnis,” are making Chicago the epicenter of a grand Beethoven festival. Each work is a heroic undertaking that tests the performers’ mettle to the utmost. And yet, with soprano Karita Mattila leading Beethoven’s only opera to triumph at Lyric Opera, and, the Chicago Symphony and Chorus delivering a strong and stirring performance of the “Missa Solemnis” this weekend at Orchestra Hall, one comes away exalted, grateful to have heard these pieces performed at the highest level. »

23 Jan 2005

Kurt Schwertsik's Katzelmacher at Neue Oper Wien

Der kabarettistisch freche Ton der Pariser Moderne der Dreißigerjah re ist es, der Kurt Schwertsik fes selt. Das bekannte er jüngst im Gespräch. Dieser Ton weist ihm offenkundig auch den Weg in Gefilde des Musiktheaters, die nichts mit den erdschweren, klangwuchernden Experimenten der deutschen und österreichischen Moderne der Nachkriegszeit zu tun haben, sondern sich am moralisierenden Unterhaltungstheater der Zwischenkriegszeit orientieren, das nicht nur von den Franzosen – in einer durchaus konsequent aus dem ursprünglichen, sozialkritischen Operetten-Esprit eines Jacques Offenbach – entwickelt wurde. »

23 Jan 2005

Cantors & Capellmeisters at Queen Elizabeth Hall

WHEN a programme contains music by Gregor Aichinger, Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, Daniel Bollius and Johann Christoph Pezel, to name only four (or is it ten?), an auditorium less than full might, unfortunately, be suspected. These are 17th-century German worthies known largely to scholars alone. But why can’t audiences be more adventurous? In that century you’re bound to get memorable tunes, catchy rhythms, enticing counterpoint: I don ’t see what the problem is. »

22 Jan 2005

A Disarming Pelléas et Mélisande

You cannot blame this longtime lover of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” for being suspicious when L’Opéra Français de New York announced that it would present a staged production of the work in its “original version” for voices and piano. No orchestra? Wasn’t this small company simply producing the opera on the cheap? The L’Opéra Français production opened on Wednesday night at the French Institute Alliance Française on East 59th Street, and it was a revelation. »

22 Jan 2005

Così fan tutte at Wiener Staatsoper

Mag sein, manch einer findet die forsche Gangart, die Julia Jones bei Mozart einschlägt, ein wenig zu schnoddrig. Doch erweist sich: Die Dirigentin weiß in jeder Phase einer Aufführung, was sie will, behält die Übersicht über die Dramaturgie und hält Orchester und Bühne immer fein zusammen – und das in raschem Lustspielton. Alles Eigenschaften, die heutzutage offenkundig auch in der Wiener Staatsoper rar geworden sind. »

21 Jan 2005

BERLIOZ: Les Troyens

For the last couple of decades, the “concept production” has been a controversial presence on opera stages, generally director-driven and decried by traditionalists as detracting from the essence of opera which they define as “voice, voice, voice.” Here’s a refreshing and overdue variant, a production concept that is conductor-driven, devoted to rethinking the sound and casting principle appropriate for French grand opera by starting at the top with the grandest of them all. The point is often made that we now lack heroic voices for the great works. John Eliot Gardiner’s casting argues, rather convincingly I think, that “heroic” is a concept relative to an opera’s overall style and the period in which it was written. He casts in the French tradition that knows the difference between a German heldentenor whose strength lies in the middle and bottom of the voice, and a French heroic tenor, of whom is demanded a free and brilliant top and the ability to soar over ensembles with precisely focused tone. Many in this cast are associated with music of the Renaissance, Baroque and early nineteenth century. Their voices are clearer and lighter than we have become accustomed to in Les Troyens and Gardiner surrounds them with a chorus that can not only move and act with distinction, but whose voices in ensemble have the required buoyancy, flexibility and brilliance for Berlioz’s demanding choral writing. »

21 Jan 2005

An Evening With Clara's Piano

Among the often spurious partnerships beloved by musical history — Bach and Handel, Bruckner and Mahler, Britten and Tippett — that of Schumann and Brahms at least has the merit that the composers were not actually antithetical in style and manner. They were, if not a conscious partnership, a powerful joint force for the perpetuation of classical values in the 19th century, the elder — Schumann — the sponsor and active publicist of the other. Brahms was “discovered”, encouraged, sustained and venerated by Schumann. He, in turn, devoted his whole bachelor life to the succour of the Schumann family, giving rock-like support to Clara Schumann as her husband’s syphilitic madness took him over, and seeking to preserve Schumann’s oeuvre at its most illustrious and least clouded-over, withholding publication of some later works. »

21 Jan 2005

It's Shag-A-Delic, Baby!

Perhaps the Tippett centenary has come too soon, and the seven years since the composer’s death have been insufficient for his achievement to be digested and for the anniversary celebrations to take on any real significance. But no matter how much time had passed, I doubt that his third opera, The Knot Garden, will ever seem more than a period piece, wedded to the late 1960s when it was written. »

21 Jan 2005

Generallissimo Francisco Franco is still dead

After some wild recent productions it comes as a surprise to find a Don Giovanni set in Spain, as Mozart intended. How many directors care to remember that Don Giovanni’s tally of women there numbered 1,003, as Leporello’s catalogue reminds us every time we see the opera? Having decided on a Spanish setting, Opera North’s new production tries to make the most of it. Photos of bullfights are flashed across a screen to draw a glib parallel with Don Giovanni the predatory sexual toreador. The cast gird their loins for some rather dubious Spanish dances. And — most important — the time is updated to the Spanish Civil War, bringing the class antagonism of the opera into modern focus. »

20 Jan 2005

BERG: Wozzeck

Andante’s new mastering of famous live performances aims to capture what those performances might have felt like. This gives these recordings an automatic cachet of authenticity and a kind of cult status. However, much depends on the quality of the particular performance. The skill is to choose quality performances that really are interesting in themselves, and to remaster them in ways that do them justice. The Andante series comes impressively packaged, with luxuriously bound booklets, beautifully presented. However, in this case the music does not quite match the promise. Worthy as this performance is, and worthy it is indeed, it is not an ideal first choice. Artistically it is good, but best appreciated by those who know Abbado, Boulez, Dohnanyi and even Böhm’s later recording. While I’m one who listens for music, not for sound quality, in this case the sound quality is poor enough to distract – not enough to ruin listening, for it would take a lot to deter a genuine listener – but just enough to feel that you’re listening through an artificial medium. This may have been recorded live, but it doesn’t “feel” live, with the pops, crackles and occluded passages. Ultimately that defeats its own purpose. »