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Elsewhere

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.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.


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Reviews

Sir Edward Elgar
20 Jul 2014

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.  »

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18 Jan 2005

Songs of Schumann, Vol. 9

The latest volume of Hyperion’s comprehensive collection of the Songs of Robert Schumann is an impressive recording of Schumann’s Liederalbum für die Jugend, Op. 79 (1849). The songs are settings with children in mind, and not necessarily music for children to perform; the texts are by a number of poets, such as Goethe, Hebbel, Schiller, Rückert, Uhland, and von Fallersleben. In selecting the texts for this collection of Lieder, Schumann touched upon a variety of subjects, including topics associated with children, like Christmas, and verse about animals (“Marienwürmchen” and “Die Schwalben”); other texts deal with seasons, like Spring (“Frühlingsbotschaft” and “Frühlingsgruss”) and the fantastic, as occurs in “Vom Schlaraffenland.” »

18 Jan 2005

Enescu's Oedipe at Cagliari

Il Teatro Lirico di Cagliari pur attraversando, come risaputo, un periodo difficile sotto il profilo strettamente finanziario da cui – con lo sforzo e l’impegno di tutte le maestranze e, soprattutto, di tutte le istituzioni pubbliche e private alle quali dovrebbero stare più a cuore le sorti e il bene della cultura musicale regionale e nazionale -, ci auspichiamo riesca anche con sacrifici ad uscire, ha inaugurato la stagione lirica e di balletto 2005 con “Oedipe”, tragedia lirica in 4 atti del rumeno George Enescu, su libretto di Edmond Fleg, in una nuova produzione dello stesso Teatro Lirico, in prima esecuzione assoluta in Italia e in versione originale francese. I responsabili del Teatro hanno così voluto perseverare nel percorso iniziato con successo di pubblico e di critica nel 1998 con “le Fate” di Wagner, proseguito nel 1999 con “Dalibor” di Smetana, nel 2000 con “Gli stivaletti” di Cajkovskij, nel 2001 con “Elena egizia” di Strauss, nel 2002 con “Euryanthe” di Weber, nel 2003 con “Opricnik” di Cajkovskij e “Alfonso und Estrella” di Schubert, nel 2004. »

17 Jan 2005

The Tsar's Bride at the Mariinsky

Anna Netrebko stars as the passionate and poisoned Marfa in the Mariinsky Theater’s new production of “The Tsar’s Bride. The Mariinsky Theater’s famous blue curtain rises and Grigory Gryaznoi, the mighty commander of Ivan the Terrible’s feared bodyguards, the oprichniki, bemoans his unrequited love for young beauty Marfa Sobakina. Gryaznoi sits on a shabby bench in a place resembling one of the so-called Culture and Leisure parks that were a typical feature of the Soviet era. A seashell-shaped summer theater with quiet alleys and a ferris-wheel in the background is the setting for a new production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1899 opera “The Tsar’s Bride,” which premiered on Dec. 29 at the Mariinsky Theater. »

17 Jan 2005

Les Pêcheurs de perles at Metz

Dans le cadre de la programmation de l’Orchestre national de Lorraine, nous avons le plaisir d’assister à une représentation de concert des Pêcheurs de perles, ouvrage d’un charme indéniable quoique légèrement suranné d’un compositeur de vingt-cinq ans, encore tributaire de certaines influences (mais certainement pas de l’influence wagnérienne dénoncée par certains critiques à la création !), en bénéficiant de l’acoustique exemplaire de la grande salle de l’Arsenal. Le concert permet d’oublier l’indigence d’un livret dont les auteurs (Michel Carré et Eugène Cormon) avaient été les premiers à regretter les faiblesses, pour se concentrer sur les qualités de la partition. En effet, si Bizet apparaissait encore prisonnier des conventions de son époque et laissait peu deviner du génie dramatique qui s’exprime dans Carmen, ses Pêcheurs de perles ne manquaient pas d’atouts, et Berlioz, critique aussi lucide qu’exigeant, prit d’ailleurs la plume pour défendre un ouvrage recelant selon lui “un nombre considérable de beaux morceaux expressifs pleins de feu et d’un riche coloris”. A l’aune du chef-d’oeuvre à venir, cela peut sembler peu, c’est certain ; pour autant, la partition ne mérite probablement pas le dédain qui lui est ordinairement réservé par une certaine élite intellectuelle autoproclamée dont le sectarisme continue à faire beaucoup de tort à l’art lyrique. Les Pêcheurs de perles ne sont certes pas visités par le génie, mais ils témoignent d’un métier très sûr au regard de la jeunesse d’un compositeur déjà habile à trousser la mélodie et à colorer l’orchestre pour composer un orientalisme sans doute désuet mais tout à fait séduisant. »

17 Jan 2005

Britten's Billy Budd in Munich

Gut ein halbes Jahrhundert hat es gedauert, bis “Billy Budd”, Benjamin Brittens 1951 uraufgeführtes Meisterwerk, an der Bayerischen Staatsoper angekommen ist. Ein hochtheatrales Stück zwischen Seemannsgarn und Homoerotik, zwischen Kriegs- und Menschenrecht, zwischen verborgener (Zu-)Neigung und Pflichterfüllung. Ein Stück also, das “funktioniert” und berührt, wie der enthusiastische Premierenbeifall zeigte. Kein Buh, nicht einmal für Regisseur Peter Mussbach, dafür Bravi schon vor Beginn, als Kent Nagano, GMD ab 2006, den Graben enterte. »

17 Jan 2005

Don Giovanni at Vienna

Auf dem Programmzettel liest man: 136. Aufführung in dieser Inszenie rung. Tatsächlich: Wenn der Vor hang sich hebt, erblickt der Staatsopernbesucher die altvertrauten Kulissen der einst von Franco Zeffirelli betreuten “Don Giovanni”-Produktion. Sie ist über 30 Jahre alt und ersetzt aus unerfindlichen Gründen schon wieder die erst vor zwei Jahren aus dem Theater an der Wien ins große Haus übersiedelte, jüngere Inszenierung. »

17 Jan 2005

Death of Columbus at Pittsburgh

When is an opera not an opera? The world premiere of Leonardo Balada’s “Death of Columbus”—performed in concert form Friday evening in Carnegie Music Hall—raises the question. It’s not just the lack of scenery, costumes and staging for this occasion, but the nature of the work itself. There was a feeling that scenery, costumes and staging might not have made much difference. »

15 Jan 2005

Parsifal at Wiener Staatsoper

VIENNA, Jan. 14 – Sir Simon Rattle, arguably the leading conductor in the world, had never conducted at the Vienna State Opera until Wednesday night, when he made his debut with a bang, and with Wagner’s five-hour “Parsifal.” “Parsifal” is commonly labeled Wagner’s Christian opera. At the very least it is a tale about redemption, and many conductors limn it in hovering clouds of mysticism. »

14 Jan 2005

SCRUTON: DEATH-DEVOTED HEART — Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde

Roger Scruton’s new book is an engrossing attempt, intensely argued throughout, to persuade the reader that Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde is a religious work, not only in the vague sense that it elevates our feelings into an exalted condition that strikes the non-religious as “religious”, but in the precise sense that it incarnates, as the Eucharist incarnates the doctrine of Christianity, a doctrine that would give our meaningless lives a sufficient meaning if we were to believe and follow it. Nearly half a century ago, Joseph Kerman, in Opera as Drama, called Tristan “a religious drama” and suggested an analogy between it and Bach cantatas dealing with religious conversion and conveying religious experience. Twenty years later, Michael Tanner, a resolutely acute writer on Wagner, described Tristan and Bach’s St Matthew Passion as the two supreme examples of works “of which it is a prerequisite that one suspends disbelief . . . in the ethos which the work embodies and promulgates”. At the same time he admitted that the love unto death of Tristan and Isolde is not “a kind of living that can be rationally valued”. More recently and less cautiously, in his Wagner, he calls Tristan “the one work of Wagner’s which seems to be making an unconditional demand on our capacity to embrace a new, redeeming doctrine”. »

14 Jan 2005

MAGEE: THE TRISTAN CHORD — Wagner and Philosophy

Wagner, bloody Wagner; will we ever have done with the man? I don’t suppose that we’ll ever have done with his operas. For many of us, they are indispensable art; among the defining achievements of the Western tradition. “There is no music deeper . . . and no drama deeper either. (The Ring) is enough in itself to place Wagner alongside Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Mozart.” If you don’t think Wagner is that good, you won’t like Wagner and Philosophy, Bryan Magee’s new book about him. Whether or not he is that good, there is surely a problem that arises insistently about Wagner but not Michelangelo or Mozart or, least of all, about Shakespeare: that of getting the art clear of the artist. Shakespeare is notorious for disappearing from his plays, but Wagner is everywhere in his operas. You just can’t think about them and not think about him; nor would he conceivably have wished you to. »

13 Jan 2005

WAGNER: Die Walküre

This release documents performances of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre at the Munich National Theater in July of 2002. The cast includes several contemporary singers well known for their Wagnerian performances, as well as a famous conductor who has enjoyed a long and successful career, both in the concert hall and opera house. Die Walküre is an opera that has been particularly well served on records, with several outstanding versions derived both from the studio and live performances. Unfortunately, this new Walküre does not stand up well to that formidable competition. »

13 Jan 2005

VERDI: Aida

Now, who needs another Aida? There are (or there have been) available 65 complete recordings (commercially available pirates included) and I don’t take into account the staggering amounts of non-commercial recording now widely circulating among collectors. Another Aida therefore can only interest buyers interested in specific singers. Happily, this set indeed fills a gap and it is not centered upon il divo himself, as the nice sleeve notes make clear. This set is for the admirers of Julia Varady, though not only for them. The Hungarian soprano has a reputation. As the fourth Mrs. Fischer-Dieskau she was undoubtedly helped in her career in the early seventies by this connection. But I presume this asset soon turned into a liability. Allow me to digress a few moments. »

11 Jan 2005

Le Monde Reviews Lamento

Cela arrive rarement, le souffle coupé dès les premières notes. Une minute entière à retenir sa respiration dans une apnée d’émotion totale pour recevoir la première phrase du Lamento pour contralto, de Johann Christoph Bach, d’après les Lamentations de Jérémie, son ascension douloureuse, ornée de sanglots, puis les deux accords d’une longue plainte instrumentale, avant l’entrée, magique, de la voix de Magdalena Kozena. “Ach, dass ich Wassers g’nug hätte.” “Ah, si ma tête était remplie d’eau, si mes yeux étaient une source de larmes.” L’insouciance a été jusqu’alors votre lot ? Vous, toi, nous tous, pécheurs, allons connaître ce que pèse le lourd fardeau de nos iniquités – et la récompense de cette connaissance : 7 minutes 22 d’une pure splendeur musicale. »

11 Jan 2005

Cosí fan tutte at Arizona Opera

Cosí fan tutte’s story is simple, its music transparent and its theme heartfelt and genuine: It’s “reality opera” in a far deeper sense of “real” than any bare-facts TV show. Mozart’s 1790 opera about the maturation of romantic love requires a no-fuss production that gets at the heart of the story, and a cast that sings well without getting in the way of the characters. It needs exactly what Arizona Opera has given it in the Cosí that opened over the weekend at Orpheum Theatre. »