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Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production 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.



Violeta Urmana as Azucena with chorus [Photo © Dutch National Opera, Photographer Ruth Walz]
09 Oct 2015

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.  »

Recently in Performances

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25 Feb 2005

Bach's B-Minor Mass at the Musikverein

Die heutzutage gern gepflegte Diskussion über die Frage “Darf man Bach auf ,modernem’ Instrumentarium aufführen?” ist dümmlich. Dass sie überhaupt geführt wird, beweist nur, wie wenig adäquate Bach-Aufführungen es heutzutage gibt. Wer die von Franz Welser-Möst geleitete Wiedergabe der Hohen Messe im Musikverein hörte, hat sich garantiert keinen Augenblick lang mit solchen Lappalien beschäftigt. Er hatte keine Zeit, denn da wurde Musik gemacht, auf jenem Niveau, mit jener Dringlichkeit, die von Takt zu Takt signalisiert, welche inneren wie äußeren Höhenflüge des Geistes sich in dieser Partitur vereinigen. »

24 Feb 2005

Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin at Wigmore Hall

A decade ago, Ian Bostridge’s recording of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin, with Graham Johnson, played a major part in boosting his nascent career. These days, though, the tenor is more often found collaborating with pianists who are soloists in their own right. His second recording of the song cycle has seen him developing a partnership with Mitsuko Uchida – and it might be his most fruitful so far. »

24 Feb 2005

Tan Dun's Water Passion at Perth

IN pursuing its theme of transcendence, the Perth Festival has brokered some imaginative collaborations, such as the Tura New Music concert at the Art Gallery of WA, featuring Morton Feldman’s music inspired by the paintings at the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. . . . »

24 Feb 2005

A Bad Day at the Staatsoper

The apes have landed. The Duke of Mantua is a gorilla. Monterone is an orang utan, surrounded by hairy baboons. The cult film director Doris Dörrie is monkeying with Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Bavarian State Opera. »

24 Feb 2005

A Full House at Royal Albert Hall

It is strange how easily Raymond Gubbay manages to fill the Royal Albert Hall for opera, when less than a year ago his Savoy Opera company collapsed because he could not sell enough seats in a theatre a fraction of the size. How irrelevant that ill-starred venture and its demise seem now. »

23 Feb 2005

Samson et Dalila at the Met

Though a sizable contingent of opera connoisseurs and critics have long considered Saint-Saëns’ “Samson et Dalila” a musically tepid melodrama, this 1877 opera has been an enduring favorite with audiences. It’s not hard to understand why. »

23 Feb 2005

Verdi's Requiem Tours France

A qui s’adresse le compositeur d’un Requiem ? Au défunt, que sa musique doit accompagner dans une ultime transcendance, ou à la communauté endeuillée, qui se voit ainsi rappeler son état de mortel ? Dans le cas de Verdi, agnostique déclaré mais chantre du sacré à l’opéra, la réponse ne fait aucun doute. La Messa da Requiem, créée en 1874 à la mémoire du compositeur Rossini et de l’écrivain Manzoni, est destinée à tout être humain sensible au pouvoir des sons. »

23 Feb 2005

The Controversy Continues in Munich

Eine groß angelegte, staatstheaternde Rettungsaktion sollte es sein. Und dass Doris Dörrie jene Verweigerer, die Oper doof statt dufte finden, an die Hand nehmen will, um sie heim in die Hochkultur zu holen, ist ja prinzipiell in Ordnung. Dabei pflegt die Filmregisseurin nur zu gern mit ihrem Nichtwissen in Sachen Musiktheater zu kokettieren, um augenzwinkernd nach Kumpanen zu suchen: Oper, die mischen wir mal so richtig zeitgeistig auf. »

23 Feb 2005

Aida in Philadelphia

Like picking a growth stock, the Opera Company of Philadelphia showed shrewd judgment by engaging sopranos (for two of its four 2004/05 productions) who promptly became media darlings. »

22 Feb 2005

Poppea in Zurich

The early music movement has come a long way since the 1970s. Or has it? Zurich Opera’s new L’incoronazione di Poppea invites comparisons. This opera house’s Monteverdi cycle three decades ago changed the way the world thought about the composer. Now it’s time for the remake. Same conductor, different directors. Klaus-Michael Grüber staged a spare, emotional Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria three years ago. For Poppea, it’s Jürgen Flimm’s turn. »

22 Feb 2005

Rigoletto in Munich

München – Idee ungewöhnlich, Experiment gescheitert: Unter dieser Kurzformel könnte man Doris Dörries erste und von großem Medieninteresse begleitete Münchner Opern-Inszenierung zusammenfassen. Giuseppe Verdis 1851 in Venedig uraufgeführten Opernklassiker «Rigoletto» auf dem «Planeten der Affen» anzusiedeln, diese Vorstellung fand bei der Premiere im Münchner Nationaltheater wenig Freunde. »

22 Feb 2005

Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges in Linz

Es ist eine der kürzesten Sterbesze nen der Operngeschichte: Ein schnoddrig verkündetes Todesur teil, jemand wuselt mit einem Strick herum, dann ist die intrigante Königs-Nichte auch schon tot. In Prokofieffs Märchen-Oper “Die Liebe zu den drei Orangen” wird schnell gestorben: Auch die den ersten beiden Zitrus-Früchten entsprungenen Prinzessinnen verdursten rasch, wenn auch klagend – eines der Details, mit denen sich der Komponist/Librettist Prokofieff vom Verismo abgrenzt. Keine naturalistische Darstellung, keine opulent auskomponierten Szenen voller Gefühlsüberschwang; statt dessen: Märchen und absurdes Theater, kurze Sequenzen, die einander fast überholen. »

22 Feb 2005

Massenet's Werther at the Wiener Staatsoper

Zuweilen begnügt man sich auch mit Details. Wenn das Ganze so gar nicht stimmen mag, gelingt es viel leicht dem einen oder anderen der beteiligten Künstler sozusagen gegen den Strom schwimmend, eine herausragende Leistung zu modellieren. Im Falle der “Werther”-Premiere darf Elina Garanca das künstlerische Freischärlertum für sich in Anspruch nehmen. Sie sollte die Charlotte singen, wurde von Regisseur Andrei Serban jedoch gezwungen, eine Art Grace-Kelly-Parodie abzuliefern, denn das Stück spielt von Inszenierungs-Gnaden in den fünfziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts. »

22 Feb 2005

Anne Sofie von Otter at Göteborg

Yesterday [19 February 2005], I went to the concert hall in Göteborg, where Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg held a recital. It was the first time I actually heard them live, and I must confess that I was apprehensive! I have listened to them so much on recordings and taken so much influence from them, especially when it comes to my repertoire — what if I didn’t like them in concert? The concert hall was full — 1200 seats, imagine that for a recital… I have a hard time getting jobs at all because it is so hard to attract audiences to recitals. But, they are world famous and that, of course, attracts a large audience. »

21 Feb 2005

Michael Bohnen: At the Metropolitan Opera, New York

The title of this most worthwhile CD is, I’m afraid, somewhat misleading. The charismatic German bass-baritone, Michael Bohnen, sang at the Metropolitan Opera from 1923-1932. One might expect this CD to only document roles that Bohnen sang there, if not provide transcriptions of actual Met performances. In fact, the disc includes excerpts from several roles that Bohnen never sang at the Met. Of the twenty tracks on this CD, twelve, by my count, are souvenirs of Bohnen Met roles (Tonio, Rocco, Caspar, Mephistopheles, Wotan, Wolfram, Sachs, and Francesco in Schilling’s Mona Lisa). »

21 Feb 2005

Wozzeck at WNO

FIRST nights of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck are not traditionally sellouts, but then this was anything but a traditional first night. As the main event of Welsh National Opera’s inaugural weekend in its new home, the Wales Millennium Centre at Cardiff Bay, Saturday night’s performance sent out a volley of positive signals that will stand the company in good stead as it builds new audiences. There are more seats to fill than in WNO’s old house, but a strong forthcoming season combined with adventurous pricing policy should prolong the buzz. »

21 Feb 2005

Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer in Philadelphia

Time stands quite still in John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer. The pulsing orchestra, the explanatory choruses, the shifting viewpoints, and, above all, the tacit understanding that the events of 20 years ago are being replicated now with no measurable change give the work the feeling of complete stasis. »

21 Feb 2005

WNO Triumphs With La Traviata

Welsh National Opera’s first performance in its new home could so easily have been a disaster. But nowhere was the return of its former musical director Carlo Rizzi more crucial than in this revival, as he transformed the shoddy Traviata of last May into an emphatic restatement of the musical values that have traditionally been at the core of the WNO. Rizzi conducted with authority and passion, and with such care for his singers that where terminal decline had beckoned, he seemed to have effected a miracle cure. »

21 Feb 2005

Handel's Semele at Scottish Opera

A tale of everyday mortals and gods entranced a nearly full house at beleaguered Scottish Opera last night with the same clever mix of pathos, wit, drama and humour that has kept nations’ favourite soaps at the top of the viewing and listening schedules for decades. And it was the visual elements as much as the vocal and musical that clinched the success of this premiere performance last night. Director John la Bouchardiere (of “The Full Monteverdi” fame) worked with a light touch that engagingly mixed some pretty unusual elements into a confection that finally had the audience calling its approval. Likewise, young Christian Curnyn on the podium brought his Early Opera Company experience and love of truly modern stagings of Handel to bear, and managed to persuade the SCO orchestra to eschew both vibrato and swooping lines without adding any extra period instrumentalists, save a harpsichord. Apart from a slightly unconvincing first 10 minutes (of more later) they played with increasing verve and apparent conviction throughout. »

21 Feb 2005

Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas

If you had to name an opera you thought Seattle music lovers were dying to see and hear, what would be your guess? “Carmen”? “Madame Butterfly”? Maybe the ever-beloved story of ill-fated young lovers, “La Boheme”? »

19 Feb 2005

Verdi's Otello at Opéra-Bastille

Ce ne sont pas des notes qui jaillissent de la baguette de Valery Gergiev, c’est un foudroiement : une tempête d’air, d’eau, de feu qui déchire l’espace et fige d’horreur le chœur des Chypriotes massés au port pour le retour vainqueur d’Otello. Une puissance dévastatrice, métaphysique. »

19 Feb 2005

Renée Fleming in Boston

Renée Fleming sang the Boston leg of her current recital tour last night at Symphony Hall accompanied by the distinguished German pianist Hartmut Höll. Not only was Ms Fleming in free, shimmering and beautifully controlled voice, but last night’s program of Purcell, Handel, Berg and Schumann was some of her most disciplined work in a very long time. »

17 Feb 2005

Nabucco at the Met — Another View

NABUCCO. Music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Temistocle Solera. Metropolitan Opera, James Levine conducting. Through March 8 at Lincoln Center. Call 212-362-6000 or visit Biography can be a distorting lens through which to view art. A case in point is Verdi’s “Nabucco” (1842), his first great success, which followed the deaths of his children and wife between 1838 and 1840 and the humiliating failure of his second opera. »

17 Feb 2005

Cosi fan tutte at San Diego

For San Diego Opera conductor Karen Keltner, returning to the score of Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte” is like slipping on a pair of well-worn leather gloves. The music fits snugly with the vocal parts, and the luxurious feel of the piece improves with each wearing. »

17 Feb 2005

Semele in Scotland — Another View

In Scottish Opera’s early days, Handel was not a high priority. Debussy, Verdi, Mozart and Mussorgsky were the composers with whom the company made its name. As a Handel conductor, Alexander Gibson – like Pierre Boulez – went no further than the Water Music. In his role as administrator, Peter Hemmings was forthright and forbidding. Handel’s operas, he declared, were the kiss of death. »