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The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Boesch and Martineau Schubert Complete Songs, Wigmore Hall, London

The Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert Songs series of 40 concerts began with a recital by Florian Boesch and Graham Johnson. (Read my review here). If anything, though, the second concert, where Boesch was accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, was even better. The programme was beautifully planned, and the performance exceptional, even by the very high standards of the Wigmore Hall.

Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - ENO London

It took artistic courage to choose Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtensk to start the ENO's 2015-2016 season. Shostakovich isn't an easy sell, and so full of sex and violence that some minds - like Josef Stalin - would be aghast. But Mark Wigglesworth is passionate about Shostakovich , and as new Music Director of the ENO, he's making a point. Good opera needs artistic vision.

Berg Wozzeck Fabio Luisi Zurich Opera

Zurich Opera brought Alban Berg Wozzeck to the Royal Festival Hall, London . Fabio Luisi conducted Philharmonia Zurich and a very good cast in a concert performance. With all pretence at staging removed (apart from natural good acting) we could focus on the sheer musical audacity of Berg's writing, and pick up on the processes the music employs to create the drama.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Sondra Radvanovsky Stars in the Title Role of Anna Bolena

The First of Three Donizetti Queens She Will Sing at the Met This Season

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

For Odyssey Opera, No Operatic Challenge is Too Great

For a company founded in 2013, Odyssey Opera has an astounding track record. To take on Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is ambitious enough, but to do so within only a year of the company’s founding seems almost single-minded.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.



05 Oct 2015

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.  »

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25 Jan 2005

Il Trovatore at Houston

The opening-night audience for Houston Grand Opera’s revival of Il Trovatore had one thing on its mind: grabbing every chance to cheer the familiar tunes that propel Verdi’s dramatically awkward piece. As soon as soprano Sondra Radvanovsky finished Leonora’s first big aria, the bravos let loose — far more intensely than usual in the middle of a performance. The ache to approve a style of music many people view as true “grand” opera continued right up to the curtain calls. Then, the crowd unleashed cascades of applause and yells. »

24 Jan 2005

LOEWENBERG: Annals of Opera, 1597-1940

This volume has long been regarded as the definitive work on the subject, and has been quoted in countless later works whenever a reference was required to the performance histories of individual operas. Taken as a whole, especially when one considers the state of library science when the book was first written, it is a magnificent piece of work, and belongs on the bookshelf of every researcher in the operatic field. »

24 Jan 2005

Schumann's Genoveva at Volksoper Wien

Robert Schumann hat seine Spitzenposition in der Musikhistorie: herrliche Symphonien, wunderbare Kammermusik, großartige Lieder. Doch er hat auch eine Oper hinterlassen: Genoveva. Eine Komposition auf ein eigenes, ungelenkes Libretto, das durch die Zeiten geistert und weder sanfte Ruhe noch dauerhafte Wiederbelebung erfahren kann. »

24 Jan 2005

Resonanzen 2005: Alessandro Scarlatti's La Vergine dei Dolori

Neun Tage lang darf sich Wien jetzt wieder als Welthauptstadt der Alten Musik fühlen. Zum 13. Mal locken die “Resonanzen” ein begeisterungsfähiges Publikum mit einer wohlabgewogenen Mischung aus bewährten und für Wien neuen Künstlern ins Konzerthaus. Das Motto “Metropolen” hebt sich wohltuend von der zuweilen etwas aufgesetzt wirkenden Wahl vergangener Jahre ab: Sinnvoll ordnen sich die Abende zu einem Reigen europäischer Musikzentren zwischen Padua, London und Paris. So schon “Rom”, das stürmisch akklamierte Eröffnungskonzert im Großen Saal: Keiner könnte die musikalische Pracht der Ewigen Stadt im Barock besser personifizieren als Alessandro Scarlatti mit seinen fast 40 Oratorien – die Gattung erlebte dank des jahrzehntelang aufrechterhaltenen päpstlichen Opern-Verbots eine Hochblüte. “La Vergine dei Dolori” (1717) ist ein Spätwerk; ablesbar an der bis ins Letzte verfeinerten Ausdrucksskala, der preziösen Führung der Singstimmen, der extravaganten Harmonik namentlich in den Rezitativen. Die Seelenqualen der Gottesmutter angesichts der Passion werden so in immer neuen Farben ausgemalt. »

24 Jan 2005

Monteverdi's Le Couronnement de Poppée at Lyon

On revoit encore William Christie, l’été dernier, inquiet de la tournure qu’allait prendre son travail avec Peter Stein pour Le Couronnement de Poppée prévu à Lyon cet hiver : le metteur en scène allemand avait, en effet, très envie de se débarrasser des scènes comiques qui, selon lui, viennent comme un cheveu sur la soupe, alors que c’est justement ce mélange des tons qui fait la grandeur de la pièce ! Ce qui devait arriver arriva : on apprit bientôt que Stein avait jeté l’éponge, remplacé par Bernard Sobel. Et c’est bien avec le fondateur du Théâtre de Gennevilliers que vient d’avoir lieu la première du chef-d’oeuvre de Monteverdi à l’Opéra de Lyon. Sobel apporte ainsi sa pierre à l’engouement actuel pour cet opéra fascinant, après McVicar, au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, et avant David Alden au Palais Garnier. Après la lecture pléthorique et riche en clins d’oeil de McVicar, façon sitcom hollywoodien, Sobel mise sur l’humilité et la lisibilité. Dans le décor unique mais mouvant de Lucio Fanti, un enchevêtrement de figures géométriques bleues tachées d’étoiles et formant une voûte, les personnages évoluent dans des costumes accentuant le drapé des toges à l’antique. Pas de transposition ici, mais une allégorie plus intemporelle qu’actuelle. On est parfois à la limite du kitsch et de la naïveté, comme ce sacre final par un angelot ailé, à la lueur de la lune. »

24 Jan 2005

Gluck's Alceste — A Crumbling Edifice in Boston

Last May, Opera Boston general director Carole Charnow saw a production of Andre Previn’s operatic version of ‘‘A Streetcar Named Desire’’ in Washington, D.C. She knew immediately she had found the director she wanted for the collaborative production of Gluck’s ‘‘Alceste’’ that Opera Boston and Boston Baroque will present this week. »

24 Jan 2005

Samson and Delilah at Opera Carolina

Maybe Camille Saint-Saens should’ve chosen his friends more carefully. When he marshaled a singer to treat them to two arias from an opera he was working on – about the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah – they scoffed. »

24 Jan 2005

Missa Solemnis at Chicago

Two of Beethoven’s most difficult yet most inspiring masterpieces, “Fidelio” and “Missa Solemnis,” are making Chicago the epicenter of a grand Beethoven festival. Each work is a heroic undertaking that tests the performers’ mettle to the utmost. And yet, with soprano Karita Mattila leading Beethoven’s only opera to triumph at Lyric Opera, and, the Chicago Symphony and Chorus delivering a strong and stirring performance of the “Missa Solemnis” this weekend at Orchestra Hall, one comes away exalted, grateful to have heard these pieces performed at the highest level. »

23 Jan 2005

Kurt Schwertsik's Katzelmacher at Neue Oper Wien

Der kabarettistisch freche Ton der Pariser Moderne der Dreißigerjah re ist es, der Kurt Schwertsik fes selt. Das bekannte er jüngst im Gespräch. Dieser Ton weist ihm offenkundig auch den Weg in Gefilde des Musiktheaters, die nichts mit den erdschweren, klangwuchernden Experimenten der deutschen und österreichischen Moderne der Nachkriegszeit zu tun haben, sondern sich am moralisierenden Unterhaltungstheater der Zwischenkriegszeit orientieren, das nicht nur von den Franzosen – in einer durchaus konsequent aus dem ursprünglichen, sozialkritischen Operetten-Esprit eines Jacques Offenbach – entwickelt wurde. »

23 Jan 2005

Cantors & Capellmeisters at Queen Elizabeth Hall

WHEN a programme contains music by Gregor Aichinger, Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, Daniel Bollius and Johann Christoph Pezel, to name only four (or is it ten?), an auditorium less than full might, unfortunately, be suspected. These are 17th-century German worthies known largely to scholars alone. But why can’t audiences be more adventurous? In that century you’re bound to get memorable tunes, catchy rhythms, enticing counterpoint: I don ’t see what the problem is. »

22 Jan 2005

A Disarming Pelléas et Mélisande

You cannot blame this longtime lover of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” for being suspicious when L’Opéra Français de New York announced that it would present a staged production of the work in its “original version” for voices and piano. No orchestra? Wasn’t this small company simply producing the opera on the cheap? The L’Opéra Français production opened on Wednesday night at the French Institute Alliance Française on East 59th Street, and it was a revelation. »

22 Jan 2005

Così fan tutte at Wiener Staatsoper

Mag sein, manch einer findet die forsche Gangart, die Julia Jones bei Mozart einschlägt, ein wenig zu schnoddrig. Doch erweist sich: Die Dirigentin weiß in jeder Phase einer Aufführung, was sie will, behält die Übersicht über die Dramaturgie und hält Orchester und Bühne immer fein zusammen – und das in raschem Lustspielton. Alles Eigenschaften, die heutzutage offenkundig auch in der Wiener Staatsoper rar geworden sind. »

21 Jan 2005

BERLIOZ: Les Troyens

For the last couple of decades, the “concept production” has been a controversial presence on opera stages, generally director-driven and decried by traditionalists as detracting from the essence of opera which they define as “voice, voice, voice.” Here’s a refreshing and overdue variant, a production concept that is conductor-driven, devoted to rethinking the sound and casting principle appropriate for French grand opera by starting at the top with the grandest of them all. The point is often made that we now lack heroic voices for the great works. John Eliot Gardiner’s casting argues, rather convincingly I think, that “heroic” is a concept relative to an opera’s overall style and the period in which it was written. He casts in the French tradition that knows the difference between a German heldentenor whose strength lies in the middle and bottom of the voice, and a French heroic tenor, of whom is demanded a free and brilliant top and the ability to soar over ensembles with precisely focused tone. Many in this cast are associated with music of the Renaissance, Baroque and early nineteenth century. Their voices are clearer and lighter than we have become accustomed to in Les Troyens and Gardiner surrounds them with a chorus that can not only move and act with distinction, but whose voices in ensemble have the required buoyancy, flexibility and brilliance for Berlioz’s demanding choral writing. »

21 Jan 2005

An Evening With Clara's Piano

Among the often spurious partnerships beloved by musical history — Bach and Handel, Bruckner and Mahler, Britten and Tippett — that of Schumann and Brahms at least has the merit that the composers were not actually antithetical in style and manner. They were, if not a conscious partnership, a powerful joint force for the perpetuation of classical values in the 19th century, the elder — Schumann — the sponsor and active publicist of the other. Brahms was “discovered”, encouraged, sustained and venerated by Schumann. He, in turn, devoted his whole bachelor life to the succour of the Schumann family, giving rock-like support to Clara Schumann as her husband’s syphilitic madness took him over, and seeking to preserve Schumann’s oeuvre at its most illustrious and least clouded-over, withholding publication of some later works. »

21 Jan 2005

It's Shag-A-Delic, Baby!

Perhaps the Tippett centenary has come too soon, and the seven years since the composer’s death have been insufficient for his achievement to be digested and for the anniversary celebrations to take on any real significance. But no matter how much time had passed, I doubt that his third opera, The Knot Garden, will ever seem more than a period piece, wedded to the late 1960s when it was written. »

21 Jan 2005

Generallissimo Francisco Franco is still dead

After some wild recent productions it comes as a surprise to find a Don Giovanni set in Spain, as Mozart intended. How many directors care to remember that Don Giovanni’s tally of women there numbered 1,003, as Leporello’s catalogue reminds us every time we see the opera? Having decided on a Spanish setting, Opera North’s new production tries to make the most of it. Photos of bullfights are flashed across a screen to draw a glib parallel with Don Giovanni the predatory sexual toreador. The cast gird their loins for some rather dubious Spanish dances. And — most important — the time is updated to the Spanish Civil War, bringing the class antagonism of the opera into modern focus. »

20 Jan 2005

BERG: Wozzeck

Andante’s new mastering of famous live performances aims to capture what those performances might have felt like. This gives these recordings an automatic cachet of authenticity and a kind of cult status. However, much depends on the quality of the particular performance. The skill is to choose quality performances that really are interesting in themselves, and to remaster them in ways that do them justice. The Andante series comes impressively packaged, with luxuriously bound booklets, beautifully presented. However, in this case the music does not quite match the promise. Worthy as this performance is, and worthy it is indeed, it is not an ideal first choice. Artistically it is good, but best appreciated by those who know Abbado, Boulez, Dohnanyi and even Böhm’s later recording. While I’m one who listens for music, not for sound quality, in this case the sound quality is poor enough to distract – not enough to ruin listening, for it would take a lot to deter a genuine listener – but just enough to feel that you’re listening through an artificial medium. This may have been recorded live, but it doesn’t “feel” live, with the pops, crackles and occluded passages. Ultimately that defeats its own purpose. »