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Elsewhere

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

Battles administration neglects FLO’s assets by defunding the program

The college administration and President Denise Battles’ recent decision to defund the Finger Lakes Opera came as a shock to many and a concern to more. This decision reflects the administration’s blatant disregard for the arts and reveals a mindset that is counterproductive to the mission of the college.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.


OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Written on Skin</em>, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
15 Jan 2017

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment. »

Recently in Reviews

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07 Apr 2005

Der Ring in Chicago

For opera conductors, the Ring cycle remains the professional Everest. So the fact that Andrew Davis has just completed his first Ring at the Lyric Opera in Chicago marks not merely a career peak for one of this country’s most important conductors, it is also a major event for British music – even if it is taking place thousands of miles from home. »

07 Apr 2005

Un ballo in maschera at the Met

Humor is not a quality normally associated with Verdi. He was a dour fellow, dubbed “the bear of Busetto” by his long-suffering wife. His first comic opera, “Un giorno di regno,” was a crashing failure, and “Falstaff,” his final work for the stage, looks more intently into the abyss than most commentators care to admit. »

06 Apr 2005

HANSEN: The Sibyl Sanderson Story — Requiem for a Diva

Jack Winsor Hansen's 520-page biography of Sibyl Sanderson (1865 - 1903) is packed with romanticism and gossip that will delight and titillate true worshipers of operatic divas and inquisitive opera fans. It also fills a gap in the music-historical writings about opera at the end of the 19th century. »

06 Apr 2005

More On Fanciulla

While ruminating about “Madama Butterfly” in these pages the other week, I mentioned that the de facto premiere of the work was not in Italy at all but rather New York, since the David Belasco play originally opened on Herald Square. In the case of “Girl of the Golden West,” both the Belasco theatrical piece and the Puccini opera were launched in Manhattan, the latter under Toscanini in 1910. »

06 Apr 2005

ENO Closes the Ring

Four years after the initial concert performances, English National Opera’s Ring cycle has reached its Wagnerian summit. It is not a triumph of the kind that the young company enjoyed with its first-ever cycle in the 1970s, but at least the staging is complete, with cast and production team intact, as planned. Other, more prestigious companies have achieved less. »

06 Apr 2005

Il Trovatore in Toronto

Just how good is the Canadian Opera Company’s current Hummingbird production of Il Trovatore? Good enough, that we wouldn’t be all too surprised to find opera buffs donning hard hats and workboots to pitch in down at the corner of Queen and University, just to ensure that this world class company finally has a home that is worthy of it. »

06 Apr 2005

Hasse's Cleofide in Dresden

Es gab was zu feiern am Ostersonnabend in der Semperoper, und das Publikum feierte gern mit: 274 Jahre nach der Uraufführung stand erstmals wieder „Cleofide“ im Rampenlicht. Die wieder entdeckte Oper des früheren Dresdner Hofkapellmeisters Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) hatte einst den Ruf Dresdens als Opernmetropole begründet. Klar, dass sich die Staatskapelle besonders ins Zeug legte, um dem barocken Kleinod wieder Leben einzuhauchen. »

05 Apr 2005

Anna Takes Vienna

Donizettis “Liebestrank” ist sonst eine gern gepflegte Repertoire-Bank. Diesmal war jedoch alles anders. Gleißendes Scheinwerferlicht schon beim Betreten der Oper: Der ORF war angetreten, um das Ereignis für die Nachwelt zu bannen. Solches passiert eher selten im Repertoire-Alltag. Selten passiert es aber auch, dass der Besucher eine derart adrett aufpolierte und klingend besetzte Staatsopernaufführung einfach unterm Jahr serviert bekommt. Sogar Außenministerin und Star-Tenor lauschten in der Loge. Der Grund? Anna Netrebko, der schöne, junge russische Sopranliebling, war als Jungbäuerin Adina angesetzt. »

05 Apr 2005

Fanciulla: The Banality of Reality?

Conventional wisdom has it that Puccini’s operatic tale of the wild West, “La Fanciulla del West,” is too melodramatic to be fully credible – a reason it hasn’t joined his “Tosca,” “La Bohème” and “Turandot” in the top-most echelon of audience favorites. And it’s true that there are lots of things in it that seem silly today (like a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian) or even offensive, like American Indians whose pidgin vocabulary frequently includes “ugh!” »

05 Apr 2005

MOZART: Idomeneo

In 1934, John Christie launched an institution of English musical life with Fritz Busch and Carl Ebert: The Glyndebourne Festival. Since 1951, the Festival has staged four productions of Mozart’s opera seria Idomeneo (1781), the most recent being in 2003. »

04 Apr 2005

BALAKAUSKAS: Requiem in Memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis

Of the three Baltic States, both Latvia and Estonia are better known for choral music than Lithuania. Yet, Osvaldas Balakauskas, born in 1937, could be one of the finest lesser known modernist composers of the 20th century. Resisting both the neoclassical Soviet aesthetic of Prokofiev and a trendy nationalist folk identity, Balakauskas embraced the avant garde developments of Western Europe. Composing from dodecaphonic tonal modes and complex rhythmic constructs, he can most accurately be compared to Olivier Messiaen. »

04 Apr 2005

Albert Herring/Eugene Onegin/Genoveva in Boston

I ended last week with three very different operas here in Boston. On Thursday, the Boston Conservatory of Music put on a nicely designed, lovingly directed production of Britten’s Albert Herring. Based loosely on a Guy de Maupassant short story Albert sends up English small town blue stockings who stage an annual May Queen pageant, finding themselves unable to find a young woman of acceptable virtue in the immediate area. Their choice falls on a May King in the person of Mamma’s boy Albert Herring who is mortified by the whole experience. Albert proceeds to use the cash part of his prize to go off on a toot, stay out all night to return home a happier, wiser and far more independent young man, to the chagrin of all. »

04 Apr 2005

Feodor Chaliapin sings Russian folk songs

This new release from Hänssler Classics presents an anthology of live and studio performances by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938), undoubtedly one of the greatest singers in recorded history. The title of the album, “Feodor Chaliapin sings Russian Folk Songs,” is somewhat misleading. Apart from traditional songs such as “Mashenka,” “Eh, Van’ka,” and “Down the Volga,” the recording includes arrangements of 19th-century popular songs such as “Dubinushka,” “Down the Peterskaya,” and the perennial Gypsy favorite “Black Eyes,” as well as a selection of salon romances, art songs, and ballads by Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Dargomïzhsky, Anton Rubinstein, and Modest Musorgsky, among others. Most of the selections on the new CD have been previously released on various labels, with the possible exception of “Dubinushka,” which I have not been able to find among the recordings currently available. Hence, avid Chaliapin collectors should be aware that the Hänssler release offers little if anything new to them. Those music lovers still unacquainted with Chaliapin’s art, however, or those whose exposure to this singer has been limited to his opera recordings, would find this album a great insight into a spectacular voice and a unique artistic persona. »

03 Apr 2005

Caballe: Beyond Music

Monserratt Caballé’s journey to La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera was truly a road of talent, dedication, and will. One of the most beautiful and athletic voices of our generation, declared as Callas’ successor, Caballé dominated both the dramatic spinto and bel canto arenas, transcending the realm of the opera world to influence the popular masses. »

02 Apr 2005

The Cambridge Companion to John Cage

Cage's music is like Einstein's theorem: most people know it exists, know it's important, but beyond these facts know nothing about it (count me in this category when it comes to Einstein). »

02 Apr 2005

Verdi Gala

As a live occasion, the gala format allows for a festive atmosphere — a variety of singers trot back and forth across the stage, usually performing a series of “opera’s greatest hits” with no distractions, if one may, in the way of costume, set, or dramatic context. Recorded for posterity, such gala events can lose, for many viewers, the attractions of the live atmosphere and become rather labored exercises. »

02 Apr 2005

Runnicles at Carnegie Hall

Donald Runnicles, the longtime music director of the San Francisco Opera, has been earning excellent reviews for his conducting of Strauss’s “Rosenkavalier” at the Metropolitan Opera, a run that ends with a matinee performance today. But New Yorkers also know of him as the principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Wearing that hat he appeared at Carnegie Hall for a program on Thursday night titled, rather too cutely, “Postcard From Prague.” »

01 Apr 2005

Eugene Onegin in Boston

Most operas are about love, but Tchaikovsky’s ‘’Eugene Onegin” is a special case because the composer took the subject so personally. Tchaikovsky’s own life was tracing the plot of Pushkin’s verse novel, with catastrophic consequences, and the music is full of yearning, passion, pain, and regret. »

01 Apr 2005

Genoveva in Boston

Three of the greatest composers of art songs — Schubert, Schumann, and Hugo Wolf — also harbored operatic ambitions. All of them wrote operas and set great store by them, but none has ever gained a foothold in the repertory. »

01 Apr 2005

Don Giovanni at the Met

Bleak but uproarious, bawdy but singed with hellfire, Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” is just as elusive as its title character. Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard identified Don Giovanni with music and desire: “a force, a wind, impatience, passion,” forever ungraspable. »

01 Apr 2005

Rosenthal's Children at the Bolshoi

New operas by Russian and Soviet composers once played a prominent part in the repertoire of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. But nearly 26 years have passed since the theater last produced an operatic world premiere. On Wednesday, the long drought finally ended with the staging of “Rosenthal’s Children,” a work fresh from the pens of St. Petersburg composer Leonid Desyatnikov and writer Vladimir Sorokin. »

01 Apr 2005

With the Face of a Tyrant Before Their Eyes

LA SCALA this past week has been like the Kremlin during the putsch against Mikhail Gorbachev. For days on end, no-one knew who was in charge or what was going on. The only certainty was that the world would never be the same again. »

01 Apr 2005

Cuba libre in Erfurt

Es wird nicht mehr lange dauern bis zur Forderung, Filmleute generell von Opernbühnen fernzuhalten. Nicht nur wegen der jüngsten Fehlschläge an großen Häusern, bei denen Filmregisseure und Kinoproduzenten mit Neuinszenierungen dilettierten – sogar in der sich charmant bemühenden Stadttheaterprovinz grassiert nun offenbar das cineastische Virus. »

31 Mar 2005

BRAHMS: Lieder, Complete Edition, Vol. 8

This latest release in the collaborative project to record the complete songs of Johannes Brahms focuses on four opus numbers, among the last groups of Lieder to be so designated by Brahms. The present recording represents typical songs from the so-called mature composer, most of these having been written between 1883-88. Each of the opus numbers includes a mix of texts drawn from the works of contemporary, well known poets and from the milieu of popular folk-songs. As an example of this mix, the songs from op. 97 comprise settings of poems by Reinhold, Alexis, and Groth, as well as two songs for which the source is simply given as Volkslied. As in most of the previous releases of this project, the singers Juliane Banse and Andreas Schmidt divide the repertoire and are accompanied by the pianist Helmut Deutsch. »

31 Mar 2005

The Ring of the Nibelung in Chicago

Valhalla proved to be a failed paradise for Wotan and his band of doomed gods and goddesses in Wagner’s epic set of four related operas, “The Ring of the Nibelung.’’ But Lyric Opera of Chicago audiences are experiencing the real thing this week as the company opens the first of three weeklong revivals of its production of the “Ring’’ unveiled in the 1990s. »