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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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10 Jun 2005

HAYDN: Symphonies no. 91 & 92 (“Oxford”) and Scena di Berenice

This wonderful recording features two Haydn symphonies composed in the year 1789, which frame the short dramatic scena Berenice, premiered in London in 1795. The autograph scores of the two symphonies were dedicated and given to Claude-Francois-Marie Rigoley, Comte d’Ogny, cofounder and patron of the “Concert de la Loge Olympique,” an association for which Haydn had already written the so-called “Paris” symphonies in 1785/86. »

09 Jun 2005

A Portrait of Ernst Gruber

Up to now Ernst Gruber was only a name to me. During the fifties and sixties his career was centered in the houses of the defunct German Democratic Republic; first Dresden and Leipzig and later on at the Deutsche Staatsoper in East-Berlin. Usually he rated one or two entries each year in Opera Magazine; mostly just barely mentioning his name as even in those times reviewers concentrated almost exclusively on the antics of director Felsenstein and some of his copycats. So I thought of him as one of those somewhat to be avoided German tenors like Hans Günther Nocker who, while acting their heads off, sang in that barking way that got them epitaphs like “intelligent, thought-provoking” while words like “beauty of tone” were anathema to them and the critics. Mostly they remained behind the Iron Curtain, unless at the last moment they had to run to the rescue in Western Europe or the US when Windgassen or Thomas fell unexpectedly ill. They were always happy to comply as they mostly got 20% of the fee, immediately handing over the remaining 80% to the Stasi officer accompanying and controlling them, who would always remind them of the fate of their families who had to stay home as hostages. »

09 Jun 2005

Falstaff at LA Opera

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – “Falstaff” might have been Verdi’s last opera; it might have been Verdi’s greatest opera; it is, without doubt, Verdi’s only and most hilariously comic opera. »

09 Jun 2005

Felicity Lott at Wigmore Hall

“What’s a dame like me doing in a dump like this?” It takes a DBE to get away with a line like that in a venue as august as the Wigmore Hall – and this was how Felicity Lott wrapped up a recital marking 30 years of performing here with pianist Graham Johnson. The programme, Fallen Women and Virtuous Wives, is one the pair are currently touring. While its humour found its niche in the Wigmore Hall, how it will play in Luxembourg next week is anyone’s guess. »

09 Jun 2005

Der Freischütz at Carnegie Hall

If Carl Maria von Weber never quite made it into the grand procession of Romantic giants, he left behind an opera of indestructible charm. “Der Freischütz,” which Eve Queler’s Opera Orchestra of New York undertook on Monday night at Carnegie Hall, is first of all a darling of historians – a musicological ground zero for the German musical theater. »

08 Jun 2005

Boris Christoff — Lugano Recital 1976

Boris Christoff was, together with Cesare Siepi, the most prominent bass during The New Golden Age of Singing (1945-1975). At the time of this television recording, he was considered somewhat old hat as he had been singing for more than 30 years. During the mid-sixties he was superseded by Nicolai Ghiaurov who, due to his rolling voice and bigger volume, quickly became the hottest ticket in town. Both men were Bulgarians and there was pure hate between them; especially from Christoff’s side. Christoff was a protégé of the deceased king Boris. He studied in Italy and was not allowed to return home after the war when the communists had snatched power. He didn’t even get a visa to attend his father’s funeral. Ghiaurov was sent to Italy by the communists for further study. Their confrontations as Filippo and Grande Inquisitore in a La Scala Don Carlos are still legendary. Nobody had ever witnessed such (real) hatred in that scene. Afterwards, Christoff demanded that Ghiaurov be ousted but sovrintende Ghiringhelli sided with the younger bass and Christoff’s career at La Scala was finished. »

08 Jun 2005

José Carreras at the Sofia Palace of Culture Hall, May, 28, 2005

With Monserrat Caballé’s sensational concert at the same hall in September 2000, this is the second appearance of a famous Spanish opera singer in Sofia. The advertising campaign that started two months ago brought very good results assembling the la crema y la nata de la sociedad. The Sofia Metropolitan Orchestra conducted by David Himenez performed well in the solos: Rossini’s “La gazza ladra” and the intermezzo of Heronimo Himenez’ zarzuella “La boda de Luis Alonso.” José Carreras chose to partner with the young and promising Bulgarian soprano, Zvetelina Maldzanska, to share his triumph in Sofia. »

07 Jun 2005

Grétry's Zémire et Azor in St. Louis

Theatrical magic and cheerful charm abound in Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ new production of Andre-Ernest-Modeste Gretry’s version of “Beauty and the Beast,” seen Sunday evening in its premiere. »

06 Jun 2005

VERDI: Il Corsaro

Alessandro Trovato’s admirably honest and forthright booklet essay (translated by Daniela Pilarz) for this Dynamic release of Verdi’s Il Corsaro goes a long way to explaining why this ranks as one of the master’s least-performed works. »

06 Jun 2005

Angela Gheorghiu at the Liceu

Ahí estaba Angela Gheorghiu, recogiendo la ovación que se llevaba tras cantar el aria Prendi, per me sei libero, de la penúltima escena de L’elisir d’amore. Lo hacía abrazada al tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, a quien consolaba mesándole el pelo. En la escena anterior, Filianoti había cantado Una furtiva lagrima, y lo hizo, ay, con dos espectaculares gallos incluidos. »

05 Jun 2005

Magdalena Kozená in Berlin

Ein gesellschaftliches, aber auch ein musikalisches Ereignis der besonderen Art: auf Einladung der Philharmoniker im Kammermusiksaal neben Sir Simon Rattle sitzen zu dürfen, um gemeinsam mit ihm die zauberhafte Lady Rattle, alias Magdalena Kozená, singen zu hören. Ihr Vortrag glich einem Streifzug durch Kunst gewordene Volkstümlichkeit: einer klingenden Speisekarte der Erinnerungen an die Heimatsprache der Musik. »

05 Jun 2005

SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin

In some circles, Bostridge isn’t fashionable, perhaps because he achieved success so early, because he didn’t come up through the choirboy route, and, perhaps, most of all because he is so startlingly different. But those with a real interest in intelligent music making would do well to ignore the clichés and really listen to this. It’s an experience to change most perceptions of the cycle, and indeed of Schubert. This is no quaint bucolic romp. The protagonist kills himself, doomed even before he meets the girl. As Bostridge points out, the poet Wilhelm Müller said it should be “im Winter zu lessen.” The songs refer to Maytime and blossoms, but since Nature itself is destructive, this is just seductive sham. This cycle is to read in the spirit of a harsh Prussian winter, not an innocent Austrian spring. Schubert picked up on the inner meaning of Müller’s poetry because he had himself just been diagnosed with syphilis — the AIDS of his era. He had no bucolic delusions. He knew only too well that Nature can turn love into death. »

04 Jun 2005

1984 — Another View

Lorin Maazel has done a very bad thing. Have you heard? He wrote an opera, “1984” (based on the Orwell novel, of course). It was premiered at London’s Covent Garden last month. And he paid for part of the production himself. Very, very bad. »

04 Jun 2005

Carole Farley at Wigmore Hall

We haven’t seen much of American soprano Carole Farley in the UK for a very long time. She was something of a cult figure in the late 1970s and early 1980s, specialising in roles such as Berg’s Lulu and the unnamed woman in Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine at a time when some singers were unwilling to tackle them. »

02 Jun 2005

KILAR: Tryptyk (The Triptych)

Wojciech Kilar (b. 1932) is an exciting composer from Poland, and he may be best known in the West for his film scores, which include Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Polanski’s Death and the Maiden (1994), Campion’s Portrait of a Lady (1996) and others. At the same time, Kilar also composes concert music, and his Tryptyk (1997) is a fine example of his work. Nevertheless, film is a useful point of reference in discussions of his style, since some of the techniques he used in creating effective soundtracks may be found in his other music. »

02 Jun 2005

SCHUBERT: An den Mond — Chants nocturnes

Beyond his song cycles and collections like Schwanengesang, Schubert’s Lieder can be grouped in various ways. In this recording, the baritone Dietrich Henschel and pianist Helmut Deutsch selected twenty Lieder that reflect the ideas of wandering, night, and death, as stated on the jacket copy of this CD. Some of the music chosen is predictably part of this kind of selection, as with “Der Wanderer,” D. 649, “Der Wanderer an den Mond,” D. 870, and “Auf dem Wasser zu singen,” D. 774, while others may be less familiar. The Lieder are from different times in Schubert’s career and include various poets, not only the more famous ones like Goethe and Schlegel, but also figures whose reputation may be attributed to the composer’s settings of their verses. »

01 Jun 2005

Britten's A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Chicago Opera Theater

In its recent performances of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Chicago Opera Theater affirms its reputation for carefully gauged and well cast productions. Already from the subdued opening accompanied by muted strings an underlying tension is evident in the darting figure of Puck, a spoken role assumed in this production by the actor Jason Griffin. The movements of all the characters in this production are matched consistently to an orchestral or vocal expression, emphasizing thus the union of choreography with lyrical and declamatory effect. Chicago Opera Theater’s presentation divides the action and emotional entanglements of Britten’s three acts into two parts. Soon after the start of the first of these the royal fairy couple, Oberon and Tytania, enter in formal dress. Their disagreement over a youth taken into the service of the queen, yet desired by Oberon, fuels an initial conflict that — by the time of its resolution — will bear on the fates of the other pairs of young lovers in the piece as well. »

01 Jun 2005

VERDI: Nabucco

With Nabucco (1842) Giuseppe Verdi began a long and feverishly productive creative period in his life. More importantly, in this work, largely influenced by French grand opéra, the masses are as important as the soloists. This is one of the reasons why this opera, representing the enslavement of the Hebrews by the Babylonians under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, was later received as a metaphor of the Austrian political domination of Italy, which the patriots of the Risorgimento were fighting against. Neither the alleged political metaphor (which has been recently questioned by Roger Parker), nor the grandeur of the drama as a series of large tableaux seem to be at the center of the conception of this recent production (Genoa, 2004), staged in a relatively small theater that does not allow choral masses to act dynamically (the soloists overpower the contained choral masses). »