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Oxford Lieder Festival 2015 - Sholto Kynoch interview

Last year's Oxford Lieder Festival made something of a splash when it encompassed all of Schubert's songs, performed in the space of three weeks. This year's festival, the 14th, which runs from 16 to 31 October 2015 has a rather different, yet still eye-catching theme; Singing Words: Poets and their Songs.

Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese

Strong music values in 1940's setting for Handel's opera examining madness

As part of their Madness season, presenting three very contrasting music theatre treatments of madness (Handel's Orlando, Bellini's I Puritani and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) Welsh National Opera (WNO) presented Handel's Orlando at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 3 October 2015.

Bostridge, Isserlis, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Benjamin Britten met Mstislav Rostropovich in 1960, in London, where the cellist was performing Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. They were introduced by Shostakovich who had invited Britten to share his box at the Royal Festival Hall, for this concert given by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Britten’s biographer, Humphrey Carpenter reports that a few days before Britten had listened to Rostropovich on the radio and remarked that he ‘“thought this the most extraordinary ‘cello playing I’d ever heard”’.

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

Sir John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare: the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

The opening performance of the 2015-2016 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago was the premiere of a new production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro under the direction of Barbara Gaines and featuring the American debut of conductor Henrik Nánási.

La traviata, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia mixes boutique performances of avant-garde opera in a small house with more traditional productions of warhorse operas performed in the Academy of Music, America’s oldest working opera house.

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



11 Oct 2015

Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese  »

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07 Mar 2005

Harnoncourt's Poppea in London

PRACTICALLY my first assignment as a cub critic was to review Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting Zurich Opera’s production of The Coronation of Poppea. That was in 1978, but I still recall the elation I felt at hearing this great Baroque pioneer sweep centuries of dust from Monteverdi’s masterpiece. »

07 Mar 2005

Manon Lescaut in Essen

Essen. Es ist keine Sternstunde für das erfolgsverwöhnte Essener Aalto-Theater. Warum Generalmusikdirektor Stefan Soltesz Giacomo Puccinis Jugendwerk “Manon Lescaut” ins Programm hob, ist rätselhaft. Denn es liegt mit der gleichnamigen Oper des französischen Komponisten Jules Massenet ein qualitativ weitaus anspruchsvolleres Werk vor. Und hätte er den Mut zur Gegenwart gehabt, hätte sich Hans-Werner Henzes “Boulevard Solitude” angeboten. Ob dies erklärt, dass Soltesz bei der Premiere gleich der 1. Akt zum verhetzten Parforce-Ritt missriet? Immerhin wusste er im weiteren Verlauf den Essener Philharmonikern doch noch die feineren Harmonien zu entlocken, an denen es hier ja nun nicht völlig mangelt. »

06 Mar 2005

A Minimalist Entführung aus dem Serail

Die zwei Pärchen in Mozarts “Entführung aus dem Serail” haben ohnehin genug Schwierigkeiten zu überwinden, bis sie endlich auf ihrem Schinakel gen Westen fahren dürfen. Vor dem mutigen Versuch des “Letzten Erfreulichen Operntheaters”, das Singspiel nur mit Klavier, Oboe und Flöte instrumentiert auf ihre Kellerbühne zu stellen, türmte sich bei der zweiten Vorstellung ein weiteres Hindernis auf: die Grippe-bedingte Absage des Osmin-Darstellers. Gerade aus dem dadurch nötigen Provisorium erwuchsen dem Abend aber die besten Momente. »

06 Mar 2005

A Preview of Un ballo in maschera in Kansas City

In the resonant, garishly lighted basement of Trinity United Methodist Church, art is imitating life. »

06 Mar 2005

Nozze in Baltimore

Human beings will always be good for a laugh, especially when they’re in full pursuit of sex. »

06 Mar 2005

PUCCINI: La Bohème

Even for a jaded reviewer like this one who has seen innumerable Bohème’s all over the world, there comes a moment in the third act when music and production simply take precedence over intellectual curiosity: the old magic works again and one is moved by the fate of these youngsters. High praise indeed for the famous Zeffirelli-production, born in 1963 at La Scala together with a juicy scandal when Di Stefano was ousted and replaced by Gianni Raimondi. »

06 Mar 2005

Fidelio at Carnegie Hall

Beethoven’s “Fidelio” is an opera about freedom that is shackled by a limited libretto. A great performance can unlock its treasures. A mediocre one can feel like prison, as the Collegiate Chorale’s performance on Thursday night at Carnegie Hall underlined. It was a long and murky night, although there were many glints of bright light that tantalizingly shone through. »

05 Mar 2005

ZEMLINSKY: Une Tragédie Florentine

The operas of the Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) continue to fascinate audiences with their combination of carefully composed music and well-selected librettos. After using fairy-tale elements in his early operas, such as Sarema (1897), Es war einmal (1900), and Der Traumgörge (1905-6), Zemlinsky turned to Renaissance settings for Eine florentinische Tragödie (1917) and Der Zwerg (1922). In fact, Zemlinsky’s Florentinische Tragödie is based the dramatic fragment A Florentine Tragedy, by Oscar Wilde, whose works intrigued other composers of the time. Beyond the provocative drama Salome set by Richard Strauss, Franz Schreker used a story by Wilde as the basis for his ballet Die Geburtstag der Infantin (1908). »

05 Mar 2005

SCHOENBERG: Gurrelieder

Schoenberg for lovers. Sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact there is enough passion in the too seldom heard Gurrelieder to make even Valentine blush. We know Schoenberg largely from the atonal and dodecaphonic later works (and most listeners know of these mostly by inaccurate rumor). But we forget all too often the fact that Schoenberg had an early period, much of which is readily accessible to conservative tastes. Gurrelieder is the sort of diamond in the crown of this period, a long cantata-like adventure, some two hours in full. Scored for an enormous orchestra, four choirs, and speaker, and five soloists, the work is the logical conclusion of the nineteenth-century penchant for Texas-style excess when it comes to orchestration: you can’t get any bigger than this without havin’ to build a second story. »

04 Mar 2005

Stiffelio at Sarasota Opera

SARASOTA — Many operas are all about the music, but in “Stiffelio” composer Giuseppe Verdi paid a lot more attention than usual to the words. »

04 Mar 2005

Ravel and Poulenc at the Barbican

On paper, Ravel’s mock-Spanish “comédie musicale” (1904) and Poulenc’s mock-everything “opéra bouffe” (1944) should make a toothsome double bill. Less than an hour each, elegantly funny in quite different veins – and excellent for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, for no heroic voices are required. But the team’s Ravel proved a lame affair, and its Poulenc – sung in English, with the same director (Stephen Langridge) and conductor – a delight. »

04 Mar 2005

Handel's La Resurrezione in Chicago

Since Brian Dickie arrived as general director, Chicago Opera Theater has become the place to catch Handel’s operas staged with a bold theatrical flair that’s fresh and cutting-edge. The company began its 2005 season with a beautiful and inspiring production of a Handel rarity, “La Resurrezione,” Wednesday night in the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park. »

03 Mar 2005

Musica Sacra at Carnegie Hall

Richard Westenburg led his 36-member Musica Sacra chorus and a small orchestra in works by Bach and Mozart at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday evening, and for the occasion, he revived one of the group’s hits from the 1970’s – the rarely heard early version of Bach’s Magnificat (BWV 242a) [sic]. »

03 Mar 2005

Villazón at the Wiener Staatsoper

Er ist ein Bühnenmensch. Durch und durch. Schon ein Interview mit ihm ist eine äußerst unterhaltsame Dar bietung: witzig, inspiriert und sprühend lebendig. “Ich wollte immer alles darstellen,” sprudelt es aus dem 33-jährigen Mexikaner hervor. Mit Kindereien hat er sich dabei nicht aufgehalten. Bereits mit elf Jahren gehörte sein literarisches Interesse Camus und Kafka. “Die Figuren aus den Romanen waren für mich real, ich wollte so sein wie sie.” Das hat er bisweilen im Extrem ausgelebt. Die Biografie Gandhis hat den Jugendlichen später so fasziniert, dass er mit runder Brille und Glatze zur Schule ging. Das überbordende Ausdrucksbedürfnis entdeckte auch bald den Gesang. Vorerst unter der Dusche, am liebsten die Songs von “Perhaps Love”, Placido Domingos Cross-over-Album mit dem Popsänger John Denver – beide kann Villazón heute noch köstlich imitieren. »

02 Mar 2005

Is it Bach or is it Koopman?

Am Anfang die Frage: Ist’s Bach, ist’s Koopman? Von Johann Sebastian Bachs Markus-Passion ist nur der Text erhalten geblieben. Der Holländer Ton Koopman hat nach einer gängigen Kompositionsmethode Bachs – der Wiederverwendung eigener Werke – die Arien und Choräle der Passion gesetzt und die Rezitative dazwischen neu komponiert. Man könnte sagen, einen handwerklich bearbeiteten Bach erschaffen. An dieses ganz besondere Stück wagte sich nun Philipp Amelung mit seinem Bach-Ensemble und bescherte damit dem Publikum im Münchner Herkulessaal einen äußerst spannenden Abend. »

02 Mar 2005

Stravinsky's Les Noces and Oedipus Rex at the Barbican

After opening its brief Barbican residency with Rimsky-Korsakov, the Mariinsky Theatre moved on to less regular territory for the company, with performances of Shostakovich’s The Nose and a Stravinsky double bill. Although the two Stravinsky works – the “choreographic scenes” of Les Noces and the “opera-oratorio” Oedipus Rex — were first performed (both in Paris) just four years apart, in 1923 and 1927 respectively, they belong to different musical worlds, for Les Noces had been conceived much earlier, in the immediate aftermath of The Rite of Spring, and Stravinsky took a decade to perfect its formal shape and scoring. »

02 Mar 2005

TOMMASINI: The New York Times Essential Library: Opera — A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Works and the Best Recordings

"I particularly want to reach newcomers" writes Anthony Tommasini, Times chief classical music critic, in his preface. I do not think they will be helped very much by this book. A rookie who picks it up and reads the subtitle may expect something more than two operas by Bellini, two by Donizetti, one Gounod (not Faust), one Massenet (not Manon) and no Lohengrin. »

01 Mar 2005

Chabrier's Roi malgré lui in Lyon

Wagnérien passé à la postérité grâce à une espagnolade (España) représentative du brio orchestral français, Emmanuel Chabrier a suscité l’admiration de Ravel et de Stravinsky avec Le Roi malgré lui, dont l’Opéra de Lyon présente une nouvelle production. Pourtant, cet opéra-comique repose sur un livret que peu de commentateurs ont apprécié avec bienveillance. A commencer par le compositeur, aigri par les multiples remaniements du texte : “Une bouillabaisse de Najac et de Burani, que fait cuire Richepin et dans laquelle je colle quelques épices.” »

01 Mar 2005

Bostridge and Uchida in Vienna

Einen Schubert-Liederabend im Großen Musikvereins-Saal zu veranstalten, ist eigentlich eine Schnapsidee. Umso mehr, als ein so persönlicher und intimer Liedzyklus wie die “Schöne Müllerin” auf dem Programm stand, zu singen von Ian Bostridge mit seinem zarten, schlanken Tenor. Immerhin konnten dem Publikum auf diese Weise zwei Schubert-Experten auf einen Schlag präsentiert werden: Bostridge, der zuletzt mit seiner Einspielung der “Winterreise” für Aufsehen sorgte, und Mitsuko Uchida, sicher eine der führenden Schubert-Interpretinnen unter den Pianisten. »

01 Mar 2005

Mosaic: African-American Spirituals

Angela Brown has attracted the attention of those eager for the appearance of the next great Verdi soprano, and she continues to live up to the high expectations. Appearances with the Opera Company of Philadelphia as Leonara in Il Trovatore, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, and Strauss’s Ariadne evoked high praise from local and national critics, and her recent debut as Aida at the Metropolitan Opera was well received. All have noted the powerful and richly expressive voice in early bloom as well as Brown’s commanding stage presence. So this recent recording of spirituals, sung only with guitar or piano accompaniment (they all three contribute to the final “Ride Up in the Chariot”), is an interesting release. Brown is minimizing resources in search of what, in the liner notes, she calls an “intimate recording” of “songs of personal introspection.” The results are a little more mixed than her operatic reception. »

01 Mar 2005

VERDI: Falstaff

This Andante release is a marvelous compilation of two recordings of Verdi’s Falstaff performed at the Salzburg festival, the first conducted by Arturo Toscanini in 1937, the second by Herbert Von Karajan in 1957. The juxtaposition and accompanying extensive program notes encourage the aficionado to compare, contrast and delight in the music through the lens of time. Falstaff was a favorite of the maestri and both took professional chances with it. Toscanini performed Falstaff during his first season at La Scala in 1898; Karajan perplexed his German-speaking audience by programming Falstaff in Aachen during his final season in 1941-2. »

28 Feb 2005

STRAVINSKY: Oedipus Rex; Les Noces

Robert Craft has begun an ambitious project of recording Stravinsky’s oeuvre with two of the best dramatic works, Oedipus Rex — a sort of melodrama in a fever — and Les Noces (The Wedding), which simply defies any generic classification. The two make an ideal pairing, Rex as high drama told at a breakneck crawl, Noces as a kind of musical Polaroid camera that churns through frozen snapshots with a mind numbing velocity. Craft was a close confidant and collaborator with Stravinsky, and was responsible for many premiers and other definitive statements. For better or worse this fact brought down upon his head a certain amount of critical skepticism on the part of academics. This can be set to one side in these recordings, which are certainly reliable in a workaday sense, if a little tepid in terms of insight and energy. »