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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.  »

Recently in Reviews

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19 Jun 2005

Boris Goudenow and the Boston Early Music Festival

BOSTON, June 17 – For fans and performers of early music, this city is paradise for a week every other June, when the Boston Early Music Festival sets up its combination concert marathon and trade show. The festival offers performances every night between 5 and midnight. The centerpiece is always a lavishly produced Baroque opera – this year’s is Johann Mattheson’s long-lost “Boris Goudenow” – but concerts by imported ensembles and soloists, and by the festival’s period instrument orchestra, are also a strong draw. »

18 Jun 2005

A Scottish Lady Mass: Sacred Music from Medieval St. Andrews

Despite theoretical beginnings several centuries earlier, we have come to think of early polyphony as having its first “golden age” in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Paris, an environment teeming with things new: the University of Paris, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the large-scale organa by Leoninus and Perotinus. If our attention is drawn to Paris, it is with good reason. But significantly, the musically innovative style of the Parisians had a geographic dissemination that took it to places like St. Andrews in Scotland, home to a cathedral roughly contemporary with Notre Dame and, to continue the symmetry further, in the fifteenth century, also home to Scotland’s oldest university. A run of Norman bishops in St. Andrews secured a degree of continentalism in the local ecclesiastical culture, and one of the most important manifestations of this is the Scottish manuscript of Parisian repertory that we today know as “W1.” W1 is a copy, in all likelihood one made at St. Andrews, of the Parisian Magnus liber organi — the “great book of organum” by Leoninus, as well as other works, some of them local. And it is from this local Scottish repertory contained within W1 that Red Byrd has fashioned their “Scottish Lady Mass.” »

16 Jun 2005

SCHÜTZ: Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi

In the seventeenth century Germany did not move quickly to embrace the new oratorio genre, despite its mainstream cultivation in Italy. Arguably, in fact, the Italianism of the genre may have made it suspect in some Protestant circles, and contributed to its slow cultivation. However, German interest in musical settings of sacred narrative is clear, given the examples of historiae composed by Heinrich Schütz and his contemporaries. These historiae present Biblical stories without modern poetic interpolations, and Schütz’s “Resurrection History” of 1623 is one of the most compelling. Music historians have rightly seen in the historia an antecedent of the German oratorio, but in its own right — and especially in Schütz’s compositions — it is a rich form, liturgically functional and compositionally sophisticated, that need not be harnessed to the more prominent oratorio to warrant our attention. With this recent recording of the “Resurrection History,” Manfred Cordes and Weser-Renaissance Bremen add a fifth installment to their series of Schütz recordings for Classic Production Osnabrück and with it a welcome new performance of this significant work. »

16 Jun 2005

Rossini's La gazzeta at the Liceu

El dramaturgo y premio Nobel de Literatura italiano Dario Fo confesó ayer que ha «saqueado» a Rossini y la tradición de la ‘comedia dell’arte’ para hacer la escenografía de la ópera ‘La gazzeta’ del compositor italiano, que el Liceo barcelonés estrenará el próximo día 20. ‘La gazzeta’ narra la historia de don Pomponio, que quiere casar a su hija con el mejor partido. Para ello, inserta un anuncio en el diario en el que hace un elogio ditirámbico. Aunque la obra estaba llamada a tener éxito, la escasa promoción propició, según Fo, que no recibiera el interés del público cuando se estrenó en Nápoles en 1816. »

15 Jun 2005

Immortal Fire: Music for Female Saints

The recording “Immortal Fire” presents a varied anthology of music for female saints, excellently sung by the Girl Choristers and Lay Clerks of Winchester Cathedral under the direction of Sarah Baldock. Much of the music is Marian, with additional pieces in honor of St. Cecilia, St. Margaret of Scotland, and St. Ursula. Some of the works are highly familiar — Britten’s youthful “A Hymn to the Virgin,” and his popular setting of Auden’s “A Hymn to St. Cecilia” for instance — and the performances seem familiar, as well. As the pieces are canonical within the cathedral repertory, so too are the interpretations, sung with polish and high accomplishment, but few surprises. However, other works are new or less familiar. For example, Judith Bingham’s “Margaret, Forsaken,” a work commemorating Margaret of Scotland, was commissioned for this recording. The composer’s imaginative use of patterned repetition and ornamental organ effects are evocative of a North Sea moodiness, and the choir responds with an impressive reading that is both intense and dramatic. Herbert Howells — never far from the cathedral choir folder—is represented by two works, a “Hymn for St. Cecilia” and a “Salve Regina.” The former is an expansive hymn tune with a wonderfully uplifting descant to its final verse. The “Salve” is an early work whose chordal gestures are reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, but in the main it is a work showing the developing harmonic fingerprints of Howells’ musical signature, with sweet dissonant propensities and chromatic inflection. Howells graces the concluding acclamations with a memorable treble solo — the embodiment of the text’s “dulcis” — gracefully sung by Tempe Nell. »

15 Jun 2005

Il Barbiere di “Siviglia” in Antwerp

Very attentive readers will have noticed I put “Siviglia” in quotation marks as it refers in this production to the name of an Italian hairdresser’s salon and not to the Spanish city. Director Joosten who always keeps an attentive eye on surtitles and has them changed when the sung lines are contrary to the happenings on the scene nevertheless let a reference to the Spanish Prado slip in. »

14 Jun 2005

Dame Gwyneth Jones sings Wagner

This CD is a digital remastering of an original 1991 recording of Gwyneth Jones in selections from Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde and Götterdämmerung. Jones was (and is) one of the great interpreters of Wagner, and the release of this CD is a welcome event, not only to her many friends, but all of us who are fascinated by the interpretation of Wagner’s works. The recording is clearly meant to serve as a recorded monument to her artistry. Unfortunately, the CD is marred by many problems that make it less than satisfactory. »

14 Jun 2005

RESPIGHI: La Campana sommersa

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) is known best in the United States for his tone poems, including the Pines of Rome, the Fountains of Rome, and Roman Festivals, and, perhaps for some of his suites of early music, like the sets of Ancient Airs and Dances that reflect his detailed orchestrations. During his lifetime, however, his operas were known, and they include Re Enzo (1905); Semirama (1910); Belfagor (1921-22); La bella dormente nel bosco (1916-21); La campana sommersa (The Sunken Bell) (1923-27); Maria Egiziaca (1929-31); La Fiamma (1931-33); Lucrezia (1935). It is unfortunate that recordings of these works are somewhat rare, but that is quickly remedied by the recent issue of La campana sommersa on the Accord label. »

14 Jun 2005

DONIZETTI: Elvida

It is an unfortunate fact that operas outside of the common repertory have in the past been deemed less worthy than those included in what amounts to a popular "play list" of works that consistently draw audiences. »

14 Jun 2005

VIVALDI: Arsilda, Regina di Ponto

Antonio Vivaldi composed Arsilda, Regina di Ponto for the Venetian theater of Sant’Angelo in the fall of 1716. While Vivaldi had, by its debut, been an important member of Venetian musical culture for over a decade as a violinist and composer, he had begun composing only three years earlier. Domenico Lalli, his librettist, who settled in Venice in 1710 after fleeing his native Naples upon being charged with embezzlement, was one of the most important librettists of the first decades of the eighteenth century. »

14 Jun 2005

The Midnight Court at Queen of Puddings Music Theatre

Irish fairies can be malign spirits, but they’ve done nothing but good for Queen of Puddings Music Theatre. This small Toronto company launched its only production of the season at Harbourfront Centre on Saturday, and a scant hour later had scored its biggest artistic success ever. »

12 Jun 2005

SCHUMANN: Dichterliebe & Kerner-Lieder

Ulf Bästlein’s recent compilation of Lieder by Schumann presents fine performances of the works listed in the title, the cycle Dichterliebe (to texts by Heinrich Heine) and the Liederreihe usually referred to as the Kerner-Lieder for the twelve settings of poetry by author Justinus Kerner. It also contains some songs that may be less familiar, including several other settings of Heine: “Der arme Peter,” op. 53, no. 3, “Die beiden Grenadiere,” op. 49, no 1, and the late work “Dein Angesicht,” op. 127, no. 2. This is a rich and focused program that offers some of Schumann’s finest Lieder on a single disc. »

11 Jun 2005

SCARLATTI: Disperato Amore

Alessandro Scarlatti, a contemporary of Handel and father of Domenico Scarlatti, was a prolific composer of cantatas, oratorios, and operas. He wrote more than 60 operas and 600 cantatas. Contemporaries frequently distinguished between styles according to the locale in which they might have been performed or to which they were appropriate: the church, chamber, and theatrical styles. The cantata was considered a genre of the chamber style and offered listeners refined counterpoint and delicate changes in dynamics; cantatas of the period generally set pastoral or love texts and employed recitative alternating with arias. Many of Scarlatti’s cantatas were written for performances at aristocratic residences; most survive in manuscript form and were never published. »

11 Jun 2005

GLUCK: Alceste

This two-disc performance was performed and recorded on December 12, 1981 at Covent Garden in London. The recording is one of a series of Ponto releases dedicated to Dame Janet Baker, who performs here the role of Alceste. This drama, a collaboration between Gluck and the librettist Calzabigi, was performed in late 1767 and is based on the tragedy by the ancient Greek poet Euripides. It was written in response to Empress Maria Theresa’s grief over the death of the emperor, given that the text is practically synonymous with conjugal devotion. Calzabigi’s libretto specifically emphasizes Alceste’s sacrifice for her husband throughout, and is dedicated to Maria Theresa. The staging of the opera was delayed by a number of other royal deaths in 1767. Alceste was revived in 1770. »

11 Jun 2005

WEBER: Oberon

In a certain sense, each of Carl Maria von Weber's final three operas: Der Freischütz, Euryanthe, and Oberon belongs to a different genre. Freischütz — the only one of these three that still in any way forms a part of the repertoire — builds on the folk-like traditions of the Singspiel, while Euryanthe is more closely related to the grand operas that were to become so important in the 1830s and 1840s. »

11 Jun 2005

MORRIS: Reading Opera Between the Lines: Orchestral Interludes and Cultural Meaning from Wagner to Berg

Interludes in opera articulate moments when the lush voices of singers and vivid spectacle of scenery and action are removed and often the curtain is drawn, and thus they span a functional gap between textless instrumental music and explicit theatrical vehicle. Although composers and analysts suggest rich and multivalent meanings for the music, those implications often escape decoding by audiences. Even the interlude titles — Zwischenspiel, entr'acte, intermezzo — suggest their intermission-like nature. As functional placeholders for scene changes and the like, the interludes are for many a cue to relax attentive listening, read synopses, and whisper with companions. Undaunted by such complexities, Morris takes up the problematic nature of operatic interludes, engaging their ambiguities with eyes wide open in an effort to enrich our understanding of these challenging bits of music. »