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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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09 May 2005

Lamentations and Messiah

The Brilliant Classics label has been releasing budget priced recordings on CD for some time now, many to high praise. Complete symphony cycles (for example, of Shostakovich and Bruckner) have been favorably compared in some publications to those from major labels featuring star conductors and top orchestras. »

09 May 2005

ESCUDERO: Illeta

The Basque region of Spain is known as a unique cultural enclave. Within its confines thrives a rich artistic heritage. Composer Francisco Escudero has become one of the most famous 20th century composers from the region. His avant-garde sound blends many eclectic styles with elements of traditional Basque music. »

07 May 2005

Cavalli's La Calisto in Munich

Das Amt des Hausregisseurs gibt es an der Bayerischen Staatsoper offiziell nicht. Wenn aber einem diese Funktion gebührt, dann ist es David Alden. Über ein Dutzend Inszenierungen hat der New Yorker hier bereits herausgebracht. Seine aktuelle Regie: Francesco Cavallis Barock-Oper “La Calisto”, die am Montag im Nationaltheater ihre Münchner Erstaufführung erlebt. Ivor Bolton dirigiert. Das Stück erzählt von der Nymphe Calisto, in die sich Jupiter verliebt. In Gestalt der Göttin Diana bandelt er mit ihr an – was die Gattin natürlich übel nimmt. »

07 May 2005

Missa Solemnis in London

‘The day on which a High Mass composed by me will be performed during the ceremonies solemnised for your imperial highness will be the most glorious day of my life,” wrote Beethoven in 1819 to Archduke Rudolph, the youngest brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Franz I and his composition student. Rudolph had just been elected archbishop of Olmütz in Moravia, and Beethoven was to write a setting of the mass for the installation the following year. In the event, however, the Missa Solemnis would take Beethoven five years to write and would be one of the grandest and most complex works of his later years. It is also one of the hardest of all musical works to perform. When Harmonia Mundi produced a live recording of the piece, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe, there were many who felt that this was the first time they had heard a performance that had the full measure of the work. This weekend he brings the same forces, the Collegium Vocale Gent and the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées to perform it in London. »

06 May 2005

La Wally in Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf. Die “Geierwally” als Oper lässt ein Alpendrama mit deftigem Lokalkolorit vermuten. Die Düsseldorfer Erstinszenierung von Alfredo Catalanis “La Wally” bot stattdessen die Seelenstudie einer sexuell frustrierten Gesellschaftsdame, die mit ihrem Wohlstand nichts anzufangen weiß, weil sich ihr der Mann verweigert, den sie liebt. Das Premierenpublikum folgte dieser Umdeutung bereitwillig, jubelte ihr nicht ohne die Lust der Wiedererkennung begeistert zu. »

06 May 2005

Magic Flute in Brussels

Durant les riches années passées à la tête de la Monnaie de Bruxelles, Bernard Foccroulle aura élargi la palette de la mise en scène d’opéra, en faisant appel à des chorégraphes ou à des plasticiens. Ainsi, l’homme de théâtre et dessinateur, le Sud-Africain William Kentridge, grand inventeur d’images fixes et animées. Si l’alchimie se fait entre l’univers visuel du créateur et l’oeuvre qu’il met en scène, cela peut renouveler la question. Dans le cas contraire, on a l’impression de voir, pour paraphraser Godard, non pas «des images justes», mais «juste des images». C’est ce qui se passe avec La Flûte enchantée vue par Kentridge. »

06 May 2005

Soile Isokoski at New York's Zankel Hall

With a voice at once silvery and dark, compact yet ripe with overtones, soprano Soile Isokoski is in increasing demand as a Wagner and Strauss interpreter. New York so far has heard her primarily in Mozart and French opera, most recently as an achingly poignant Rachel in Halévy’s “La Juive” and as Marguerite in the Metropolitan Opera’s glitzy new staging of Gounod’s “Faust.” »

05 May 2005

Un Ballo in Vancouver

Once upon a time, Masked Ball might have made sense. Back in the 1850s, when Giuseppe Verdi wrote it, he based his story on the assassination of Sweden’s King Gustavus III. A despot, cuckold, and philanderer, Gustavus further alienated himself from his subjects by claiming the exclusive right to produce aquavit, and was shot by one Jacob Johan Anckarström at a costume party in 1792. »

05 May 2005

The Very Best of Beverly Sills

EMI Classics’ release of The Very Best of Bevery Sills is a mixed bag. Unlike similar EMI compilations of Maria Callas, Mirella Freni, or Lucia Popp, who all present an array of signature arias or art songs, this release should be re-titled Some of Beverly Sills’ Opera Scenes and a Few Arias. Though Sills performs with an impressive cast, including Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda, Sherrill Milnes, and Samuel Ramey, this recording would be much more satisfying if is showcased more of signature Sills. »

04 May 2005

BIZET: Carmen

I still remember the incredible excitement in the early 1970s when DGG issued recordings featuring the young conductor, Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004). Both the Weber Freischütz and Beethoven Fifth Symphony showcased the craft of an extraordinary talent, an artist capable of making even the most familiar music sound fresh, spontaneous, and new. Music lovers hoped that this son of the great conductor Erich Kleiber would be a constant presence, both in the concert hall and opera house. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: La Forza del Destino

“The policies of recording companies never fail to wonder me.” I am often reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal’s expression in the magazine, Opera, and I definitely had it in mind when I received this recording. Why would anyone bring out a set with two singers (Bergonzi and Cappuccilli) duplicating their roles of the classic EMI-recording of 1969; maybe still the best buy around? And yet, yet I’m not so sure anymore of the superfluousness of this set. There are two reasons for it. Number one is Carlo Bergonzi. I didn’t think he would be able to surpass his formidable EMI-Alvaro and nevertheless he does. Bergonzi’s voice was slowly changing in the early seventies. He had been singing the most strenuous roles of the repertoire for almost a quarter of a century and still the voice had not suffered. On the contrary, there were no traces of his baritone past anymore. The top was secure, though there never was much squillo and a high C usually became a high B. It was the middle voice that had changed most. It became honeyed, silvery in an almost Gigli-like way. Combined with his inexhaustible breath control, his legato and the way he could colour some small phrases and switch from forte to a heavenly pianissimo it slowly dawned upon many listeners that here was one of the greatest tenors of the century who maybe had been taken too much for granted. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: Ernani

“Few tenors today have his ringing top” and “his ringing, clear top” are not exactly qualities one associates with baritenor Placido Domingo, as he has been calling himself for the last ten years. Still, those were the exact words used by critic Peter Hoffer in his reports for Opera Magazine and Opera News on the opening of La Scala for the season 1969-1970. In all honesty, a ringing top à la Corelli is not exactly what one hears on this recording. But there is no hint of a pushed up baritone either. This is 28-year old fresh voiced Domingo with all the beauty and youthful freshness of the middle voice and quite an acceptable top always taking the higher option (A or B-flat) at the end of a solo or a duet. Mr. Domingo has been so long among us that one somewhat has forgotten how meltingly beautiful the young tenor sang, relying on his outstanding vocal gifts. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: Attila

This DVD release, taken from an RAI telecast, documents a 1991 La Scala performance of Verdi’s 1846 opera, based on the life of Attila the Hun. I’ve always felt that early Verdi is one of Riccardo Muti’s greatest strengths. When Muti was Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I was privileged to see their concert performances of Nabucco and Macbeth. Both featured breathtaking execution, intensity, and momentum. »

02 May 2005

Der Ring at the Wiener Staatsoper

Beinahe ist die Geschichte zu Ende. Einen Durchlauf wird die Adolf-Dresen-Inszenierung von Wagners “Ring”— Tetralogie in der kommenden Spielzeit noch erleben, dann ist — nach der 25. Aufführung der “Götterdämmerung” — Schluss. Am 2. Dezember 2007 beginnt mit der Premiere der “Walküre” ein neues “Ring”-Projekt, inszeniert von Sven-Eric Bechtolf, dirigiert von Franz Welser-Möst. Dieses wird im Mai 2009 abgeschlossen sein, ziemlich genau ein halbes Jahrhundert nach dem ersten Wiener Nachkriegs — “Ring” Herbert von Karajans. »

02 May 2005

Il Ritorno d'Ulisse at Birmingham

It’s always sensible to arrive early for a show by Birmingham Opera Company, simply to locate the venue. After a marquee for Fidelio three years ago and an abandoned car workshop for Candide in 2003, the company’s Monteverdi project, running since the beginning of last year, comes to a climax in a disused ice rink. »

02 May 2005

Rising Stars in Concert at Chicago

A plenitude of sweet music was in the air Saturday night at the Civic Opera House. It arrived long before Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music,” its Shakespearean text a paean to “sweet music,’’ that closed the concert by members of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists. »

02 May 2005

Clemenza di Tito at the Met

Operas like “Don Giovanni” or “Die Zauberflöte” today look like repudiations of the formal, almost motionless style that ruled Europe’s musical theater for most of the 18th century. Yet Mozart was surrounded all his life by opera seria, and he wrote four of them, including the early “Idomeneo” and the late “Clemenza di Tito,” which was heard Friday night at the Metropolitan Opera. »

01 May 2005

La Forza in Frankfurt

Vielleicht ist es das beste, was dem krausen Opernschauerdrama passieren kann: Die Macht des Schicksals konzertant, vom ersten Schuss an, der sich von selbst aus der Pistole löst. Die Oper Frankfurt lässt das Werk in der Fassung von 1869 in der Alten Oper unter Leitung Paolo Carignanis hören und hat damit die Einschätzung Theodor W. Adornos angesichts einer Inszenierung des Stücks 1928 am gleichen Ort noch überboten. Die schicksalswütige Romantik des Forza-Buchs, so der damals 25-jährige Musikkritiker, “sei in sich bereits so welk, dass zu seiner Beurteilung Marionettendramaturgie allein zuständig wäre”. »

01 May 2005

Magic Flute in Ferrara

The power of the very greatest conductors to reinvent whatever they conduct is one of music’s great mysteries. Claudio Abbado’s conducting is not the only reason to catch the production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte being toured in Italy and Germany by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, but it is by a very long way the most important. Abbado’s performance is, quite simply, mesmerising. It is so full of musical insight and operatic experience that every bar seems perfectly placed, every detail of the scoring perfectly illuminated. »

01 May 2005

La Bohème at the Florentine

Bring a hankie, the Florentine just opened “La Bohème.” Puccini’s opera, which combines likable characters, elements of verismo realism, poignantly beautiful music and a tragic tale of young love lost, is one of the world’s best-loved operas. The Florentine Opera opened a strong production of the classic on Friday, in which director Lillian Groag found a balance between the story’s humor and pathos. »