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Elsewhere

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.


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Reviews

19 Dec 2014

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.  »

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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. »