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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.  »

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24 May 2005

Arie del ‘700 Italiano (Italian arias of the 18th century)

Featuring nine arias from various eighteenth-century operas and composers, this recording contains a wide variety of dramatic songs, three of which are the recitative and aria “Se cerca, se dice: “I’amico dov’e?” and “Ha keres, ha kerdez: a baratom hol van?” from the opera L’Olimpiade, set by three different composers. Accompanied on period instruments by the Savaria Baroque Orchestra, Monica González does a magnificent job with each of the arias on this disc. She is a former winner of the International “Toti dal Monte” singing competition, and has studied by personal invitation with Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge at their home in Montreaux. »

24 May 2005

ADAM: Si J’etais Roi
LEHÁR: Rose de Noël

Accord has gone back to the vaults for an attractively packaged series called “Opérette.” On the evidence of two of the sets, these releases feature recordings made in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. The booklets are entirely in French (and offer no librettos whatsoever), but even a French-challenged persons such as your reviewer can understand the inside front cover, which appears to explain that the recordings are the efforts of “L’Academie Nationale de l’Opérette.” This organization appears to have as its rationale — all right, raison d’etre — the preservation, if not resuscitation, of the great French tradition of light musical entertainments. With bold, bright colors decorating the packaging, the sets come across as delectable candy boxes — but how much sweetness one will enjoy when partaking of the series does depend on a taste for the bouncy, frivolous world of operetta. »

23 May 2005

DONIZETTI: Maria Stuarda

One of the more interesting debates in arts politics in England last century centered on the language in which operas should be performed. While some staunchly favored opera in the original, others maintained that librettos should be translated into the vernacular. The latter side felt strongly that opera in English would nurture a national style of operatic presentation; a more chauvinistic argument suggested that if native composers heard opera in English, they would be more likely to attempt to set original English librettos (which, of course, would come from the pens of similarly inspired writers). Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden’s Peter Grimes (1945) might be interpreted as representative of such a strategy. In addition, the mounting of vernacular performances also would inspire British performers (and discourage foreign singers who would be less likely to want to relearn a role in a new language). The debate eventually led to the division of operatic labor, with Covent Garden (soon to be renamed The Royal Opera) to perform works in their original languages and Sadler’s Wells (renamed the English National Opera after its move to the Coliseum, where it remains today) to produce works in translation. Thus, it was left up to audiences to decide which they preferred—or, better yet, to enjoy them both. »

23 May 2005

Geistliche arien des norddeutschen Barock (Sacred Baroque arias from North Germany)

This disc features nine compositions by eight composers located in the area of northern Germany from the sixteenth to the early seventeenth centuries. Despite the title, this recording presents sets of sacred compositions for soprano voice and instruments separated by purely instrumental pieces. The disc begins and ends with compositions by Christian Geist (ca. 1640-1711); otherwise, there is a variety of composers and compositions represented here. »

23 May 2005

La Cenerentola at Glyndebourne

IT IS 35 years since Sir Peter Hall’s first Glyndebourne production, 21 since he became director of productions and 15 since he stormed out. Two of his productions are playing this year, including this curtainraiser; it makes you wonder what is going on there. »

23 May 2005

Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

Conductor Charles Mackerras is 80 later this year, a fact he is seemingly already celebrating with multiple performances of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Hard on the heels of a revival at Covent Garden and a new recording for Chandos comes a second revival at Glyndebourne, which, purely in terms of conducting and playing, is well nigh exemplary. Mackerras’s interpretation of Zauberflöte has always combined serenity with great wit, and his deployment here of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment adds an extra emotional dimension, with the darker sound of period instruments creating a mood of spiritual austerity that offsets the score’s humour and humane warmth. »

22 May 2005

I Masnadieri at Liège, 21 May 2005

I never “got” I Masnadieri; not even in the wonderful Bergonzi-Caballé recording I bought the moment it appeared in 1975. I had a feeling that for once Verdi had lost his unbelievable magic as a tune-smith. Corsaro, Giorno di Regno, Battaglia, Alzira etc. all sounded familiar after a few playings but Masnadieri never got under my skin with the exception of the rousing tenor cabaletta and the soprano’s aria. I was in good company as even Budden in his well-known analysis of the opera speaks of “a seemingly backward step.” Well, the good news is that Verdi of course knew it better and that the opera really works in a professional production with acceptable singers. »

22 May 2005

G&S at Opera Australia

When the irascible W.S. Gilbert was directing this break-through operetta, he admonished a soprano: “This is not Italian opera. It is only a low burlesque of the worst possible kind.” »

21 May 2005

Don Giovanni at Marseille

There are two reasons the rising Russian superstar Evgeny Nikitin should not sing Don Giovanni. One is his obfuscated, typically Slav diction in Italian, the other the difficulty his impressive voice has in spinning exposed Mozartian line. Both defects would disqualify him on a recording but, in the magical world of live opera, Nikitin’s animal magnetism helps us understand what the fuss is all about. »

21 May 2005

GOEHRING: Three modes of perception in Mozart — the philosophical, pastoral, and comic in Così fan tutte

According to the book jacket, this is the first major scholarly study of Così fan tutte, considered to be one of Mozart's least-understood operas and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte's most interesting text.  »

20 May 2005

TRIBO: Annals 1847-1897 del Gran Teatre del Liceu

The importance of the Teatre del Liceu, can not be overstated. The house ranks with all the leading theatres of the world, being right up there with Paris, London, New York, Vienna, Madrid, Rome, Milan, Lisbon, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Turin, Naples, Buenos Aires, and other cities of comparable importance. During its long history (158 years at the time of writing) it featured many of the great singers. These include Caruso, Battistini, Tamagno, Ruffo, Caballe, Tebaldi, Mario, Pavarotti, Vignas, Lazaro, O'Sullivan, Stracciari, Pagliughi, Gayarre, Masini, Stagno, Lauri-Volpi, Bellincioni, and countless others. Quite a few of these who sang there before 1897 are represented on the accompanying disc. »

20 May 2005

MAY: Decoding Wagner — An Invitation to His World of Music Drama

Thomas May's stated goal in Decoding Wagner is indeed summarized in his subtitle, An Invitation to His Music Dramas. Mr. May offers an introduction to those who may seek a reliable yet succinct guide in their first Wagnerian experience; a further potential readership is seen among those who have attended performances of Wagner but who wish to expand their appreciation of the music dramas. In his chronological overview of Wagner's oeuvre from the mid-1830s until the close of his career May presents an approachable guide to appreciating the composer's operatic genius. As an illustration of May's commentary on the works, a generous selection of Wagner's music is included on two Discs that accompany the volume in a protective sleeve. »

20 May 2005

FAURÉ: The Complete Songs - 1 — Au bord de l’eau

The songs of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) are some of the finest works examples of the genre and they represent the mature French mélodie in the hands of a composer who knew both the voice and the piano quite well. This release is the first of four discs that include all of Fauré’s songs for voice and piano within Hyperion’s series of French Song editions. Like those other collections from Hyperion, this volume of the Fauré set involves excellent performers who know the literature well. »

20 May 2005

Susan Graham in Paris

Blouson vert pomme, jeans bleus, corsage fuchsia, cheveux courts et roux couronnant une taille imposante, Susan Graham joue sans affectation l’Américaine à Paris dans les couloirs austères et académiques de l’Opéra Garnier. Dans quelques jours, elle interprétera le rôle de Sesto (Sextus) de La Clémence de Titus dans une mise en scène déjà représentée à Salzbourg en 1994 où elle était alors Annio (Annius). «J’ai eu la chance d’avoir de grands professeurs pour cet opéra, explique-t-elle, puisque j’ai tenu trois fois le rôle d’Annio alors que Sesto était chanté par Tatiana Troyanos, Ann Murray et Frederica von Stade. J’ai toujours dans l’oreille les inflexions et l’intensité de Tatiana. C’était ma première apparition professionnelle à Chicago, en 1989…» »

19 May 2005

Paul McCreesh Directs Bach's B Minor Mass

Paul McCreesh’s approach to Bach’s last major choral work is about as far removed as possible from traditional heavyweight performances of the B minor Mass, and distinctly different from the approach of many of his period-instrument peers as well. For this superbly energised account, the Gabrieli Consort consisted of just 10 singers, divided equally into a ripieno, which provided the soloists, and a consort, which joined in for the large-scale numbers. The orchestra was just over twice that size. This minimalist approach produced gains in equality between voices and orchestras, and marvellous clarity in the contrapuntal writing. It also enabled McCreesh to adopt tempi that would have had a larger choir tied in knots. »

19 May 2005

Der Ring at the Mariinsky

Hot on the heels of their marathon appearance at the Moscow Easter Festival, the artistic forces of St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater are preparing for a return visit to Moscow. Starting Monday, they take to the main stage of the Bolshoi Theater with three evenings of ballet and a complete performance of Richard Wagner’s four-part operatic cycle “The Ring of the Nibelung.” »

19 May 2005

Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at COT

At first glance, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’’ is a frothy tale, a story of youthful romance going charmingly awry. True, Tatania, the fairy queen, feuds fiercely with her husband, Fairy King Oberon, over custody of a boy prince the Queen of India has given her. But the course of true love ne’er did run smooth, and Shakespeare’s beleaguered lovers triumph in the end. »

18 May 2005

Sarah Connolly at Weill Hall

On Monday night at Weill Recital Hall—the lovely space upstairs at Carnegie—Sarah Connolly gave us one of the most satisfying events of the season. The English mezzo-soprano sang a diverse recital, offering Haydn, Brahms, Hahn, Korngold, and Weill (Weill at Weill!). This followed her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, as Annio in Mozart’s “Clemenza di Tito.” All in all, Ms. Connolly put in a very good month’s work in New York. »

18 May 2005

Lucio Silla at Wiener Festwochen

Nelle sue ultime dichiarazioni il nuovo sovrintendente della Scala Lissner ha spesso accennato, senza fare nomi, a cinque direttori d’orchestra, da lui ritenuti i migliori del mondo. Non siamo in grado di dire se Harnoncourt faccia parte di questa rosa, ma non esiteremmo ad affermare che nell’ambito dell’opera mozartiana il direttore austriaco abbia introdotto nuovi canoni interpretativi. Tra palco e buca, infatti, l’intesa è simbiosi. Il Concentus Musicus ha dimostrato di essere non solo ottimo complesso strumentale, ma anche eccelso apparato operistico. Harnoncourt dirige l’orchestra ascoltando le voci, senza mai coprirle, anzi assecondandone le virtù e sfocandone le debolezze, in un alternare continuo di livelli dinamici e sfumature timbriche. Tre ore e mezza di musica che non conoscono cali di tensione. »