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Elsewhere

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.


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Reviews

17 Mar 2019

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas. »

Recently in Reviews

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26 May 2005

Rigoletto in St. Louis

Rigoletto was condemned by the governor of Venice as a deplorable, repugnant, obscene triviality. We live in more enlightened times: Compared to Desperate Housewives, Giuseppe Verdi’s tale of seduction, vengeance, corruption and murder is a walk in the park. »

25 May 2005

BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 14 & 15

These two sets of three CDs each are the current installment in Ton Koopman’s monumental complete cycle of J.S. Bach’s cantatas, performed by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, and produced by his wife, Tini Mathot. The cycle started out in 1995 on the Erato label, but only twelve volumes had been published when Erato was disbanded by its parent company, Time Warner. After searching for another label that would take over his cycle project, Koopman finally applied for a loan and started his own label, Antoine Marchand, which is distributed by Challenge Classics and Allegro. Koopman’s cycle has loosely followed Bach’s original chronological order of performance for the volumes appearing so far (vol. 1-13.) Appearing after a gap of two years since vol. 13, the current two volumes cover cantatas from Bach’s second to third yearly cycles of cantatas for Leipzig (chorale cantatas.) »

24 May 2005

Teresa Berganza: The Spanish Soul

Brilliant Classics’ Teresa Berganza: The Spanish Soul is an outstanding compilation of Spanish songs and cycles by prolific Spanish and Latin American composers, including de Falla, Granados, Turina, Guridi, Toldra, Villa-Lobos, Braga, and Guastavino. The very beauty of this recording is the innate sense of energy in the Spanish style, which both Berganza and pianist Juan Antonio Alvarez Parejo seem to execute effortlessly. Once more, such an extensive collection of well-known compositions alongside rare jewels creates an essential recording. »

24 May 2005

Ivan Kozlovsky: The Great Russian Tenor

This new release from Pearl presents an anthology of Russian selections, primarily operatic, performed by tenor Ivan Kozlovsky (1900-1993). Kozlovsky was one of the giants of the Russian operatic stage during its glory days in the 1940s and 50s; he recorded extensively with Melodiya, both Russian and Western repertoire. Surprisingly, however, there has apparently never been a Kozlovsky Russian anthology available prior to this release (Myto Records released a collection of the singer’s Western operatic hits in 2000). It is gratifying to see it finally here. »

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…» »