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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.  »

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16 Feb 2005

Tristan und Isolde at Geneva — Other Views

Faced with Wagner’s marathon symphonic poem with voices, it is easy to see why producers are panicked into hyperactivity. Olivier Py’s new staging does just that. Wagner whittled down the characters to the bare minimum, to present an unadulterated account of doomed passion. Py, a promising, provocative talent in France but on this evidence short on maturity and focus, elects to flood the stage, literally in act three, with supernumeraries and hackneyed symbolism that feeds on Shakespeare and Arthurian legend. »

16 Feb 2005

Verdi's Nabucco at the Met

There is an honesty to Elijah Moshinsky’s four-year-old production of Verdi’s “Nabucco,” which returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night. No excuses are made for the opera’s creaky theatrical state, no attempts to bring up-to-date relevance to what became a symbol of revolution and national unity for Italians 160 years ago. »

16 Feb 2005

Die Zauberflöte at ROH

AN ODD thing about David McVicar’s productions is the way they improve with time. When this show first appeared it was too po-faced by half, full of regard for the pomposities of the piece but hardly at ease with its lightness, enchantment and childish simplicity. »

16 Feb 2005

Julius Caesar in Hamburg

Hamburg – These. Antithese. Synthese. So einfach ist das manchmal. Anstatt ein sehr abstraktes, gern auch sehr allegorisches Genre wie die Barock-Oper in ein um Wirklichkeit bemühtes Regie-Korsett zwingen zu wollen, das ihren schillernden Typen das Entrückte, Allgemeingültige nehmen würde, geht Karoline Gruber bei “Giulio Cesare in Egitto” einen ganz eigenen, ganz cleveren Regie-Weg: Zuerst wird auf Pointe komm raus gealbert und überdreht. Dann auf Gedeih und Verderb geliebt. Im dritten Akt ohne Wenn und Aber geläutert. Die Katharsis kommt spät, aber gewaltig. »

15 Feb 2005

Gounod's Faust in Cleveland

“Making a pact with the devil’’ is one of those expressions that have gotten diluted with overuse. Nobody really means it when they say it, unless maybe they happen to be talking about Charles Gounod’s opera Faust, where the music is as transcendently lovely as the story line is dark. »

15 Feb 2005

Semele in Scotland

WHY IS IT we feel so comfortable with the Handel who wrote such pot-boilers as the Hallelujah Chorus, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Music for the Royal Fireworks or Water Music, yet dread the thought of sitting through one of his many operas? »

15 Feb 2005

La Traviata As Ballet Stumbles

This is the way the art of ballet will end, with a sentimental whimper, an easy tear in its eye, and not a squeak of true life as theatrical dance. If the novelisation of successful movies is thought a pretty bogus form of literature, how much worse is a balletisation of an opera masterpiece such as Verdi’s La traviata. »

15 Feb 2005

Opera Colorado Presents Julius Caesar

Odd that Opera Colorado would encourage ticket-buyers for its production of Julius Caesar to “Bring your Valentine . . . and witness a love so great it changed the course of history.” This, be advised, is not your typical love story, nor is it a date opera. Just as the production that opened Saturday at the Buell Theatre is hardly your basic, by-the-book staging. For starters, Handel’s legendary leading lovers, Caesar and Cleopatra, are both sung by women. And, yes, they do smooch – sort of. »

15 Feb 2005

José van Dam in New York

Recitals should be about something, I always say. So I should have been delighted that “dans ce vague d’un Dimanche,” on a dreamy Sunday (a line from Debussy’s song “L’échelonnement des haies”) at Alice Tully Hall, José van Dam, the excellent Belgian bass-baritone, perfectly suited his delivery to words like “parcourent en rêvant les coteaux enchantées/ où, jadis, sourit ma jeunesse” (“wandering dreamily across the enchanted slopes where, once, my youth smiled”), a line from Fauré’s “Automne.” »

15 Feb 2005

Bernstein's Candide in London

Leonard Bernstein’s Candide may only have been written 50 years ago, but it presents as many problems of texts and editions as any baroque opera that mouldered in an ecclesiastical library for three or four centuries. The idea of turning Voltaire’s scabrously satirical novella into an operetta was originally Lillian Hellman’s, but five other writers eventually contributed to the piece, while for the rest of his life Bernstein carried on worrying away at it too. »

15 Feb 2005

Tristan und Isolde at Grand Théâtre de Genève

Le metteur en scène français Olivier Py a conçu une nouvelle production de Tristan, de Wagner – la première depuis vingt ans à l’Opéra de Genève. A pari téméraire, réussite exemplaire : le metteur en scène, auteur et comédien français réalise une magistrale version du chef-d’œuvre wagnérien, plastique et superlativement musicale, intelligente et hautement sensible. Un Tristan tiré au cordeau que magnifient les ingénieux décors de Pierre-André Weits, les lumières d’Olivier Py et une direction d’acteurs aboutie. »

15 Feb 2005

Tosca at Bayerische Staatsoper

Es gibt CD-Aufnahmen mit Roberto Alagna, auf denen erkennt man seine Stimme nicht wieder. Entspannt und schmiegsam klingt sie da, ebenmäßig und mit sehr dezenten Nuancierungen – genauso also, wie im dritten “Tosca”-Akt an der Bayerischen Staatsoper. Das “E lucevan le stelle” behandelte der München-Debütant ganz behutsam, nicht als Nummer eines Schlagerabends, sondern wie eine versonnene Erinnerung an Vergangenes – also der Situation kurz vor dem tödlichen Schuss durchaus angemessen. »

12 Feb 2005

Deborah Polaski in Vienna

Groß war das Interesse für Deborah Polaskis erste Wiener Isolde. Und rasch machte sie klar, wie sie diese Rolle versteht: als kraftvoll gesteigerte Euphorie. Da hatte sie in Peter Schneider am Pult des gut disponierten, mit fabelhaften Soli bei Streichern und Bläsern aufwartenden Staatsopernorchesters einen gleich gestimmten Partner. Denn auch er setzte auf kräftige Farben, heizte die Dynamik und die Emotion der Sänger an, ohne dabei auf die lyrischen Stellen der Partitur zu vergessen, auch wenn man diese schon feinnerviger modelliert in Erinnerung hat. Dennoch, zu einem spannenden Ganzen wollten sich die einzelnen, noch so intensiv musizierten Mosaiksteine nur schwer fügen. »

11 Feb 2005

A Critical Edition of Faust at Frankfurt

Gounod’s Faust is often billed in Germany as Margarethe. The frivolous Frenchman’s melodies should not be confused with Goethe’s masterpiece. That would be blasphemy. Frankfurt Opera, not a house given to frivolity, has chosen a new critical edition of Faust. Minus the usual cuts, plus intervals, the evening lasts four hours. Add Johannes Debus on the podium, drawing plump, earthy sounds from the orchestra, and you start to hear Gounod with an earnestly German accent. »

11 Feb 2005

Tchaikovsky's The Enchantress at the Mariinsky

A scene from the Mariinsky Theater’s production of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Enchantress. Pyotr Tchaikovsky, arguably Russia’s most popular composer, is being celebrated with a festival of his work at the Mariinsky Theater. The event, which kicks off Saturday with David Poutney’s production of “The Enchantress,” runs through Feb. 20 and features over two dozen performances of Tchaikovsky’s operas, ballets and chamber music. The Mariinsky’s artistic director, Valery Gergiev makes just one appearance during the festival, to conduct “The Enchantress” on the opening night. »

10 Feb 2005

St. Olaf Choir at Carnegie Hall

The singers marched on stage with near-military precision, the hem of each purple choir robe at the same distance from the ground. When they opened their mouths to sing, an even wall of sound emerged: words clear, notes true. But more than that, the notes were felt. As the music moved through the rows of singers, their bodies swayed like a field of long grass in the wind. »

10 Feb 2005

Stefanie Wüst Performs Monteverdi and Weill in Potsdam

Die bedeutenden Komponisten der Musikliteratur, Claudio Monteverdi und Kurt Weill, suchten sich als literarische „Partner“ Größen der Weltliteratur, un- ter anderen Torquato Tasso und Bertolt Brecht. Und so ist es nicht verwunderlich, dass eine sensible Behandlung der Sprache bei beiden Komponisten in ihren Musiktheaterstücken oberste Priorität hat. »

10 Feb 2005

Amanda Roocroft in Frankfurt

Es gibt Termine, die sind für einen Liederabend in der Oper Frankfurt eher ungünstig. Dazu gehört der Fastnachtsdienstag. Zwar dürften sich die Zielgruppen einigermaßen unterscheiden. Aber zartbesaitete Menschen trauen sich an den tollen Tagen kaum aus dem Haus. So war die Oper, die normalerweise mehr als tausend Personen fasst, beim Gastauftritt der britischen Sopranistin Amanda Roocroft mit Iain Burnside als Klavierbegleiter enttäuschend schwach besucht. Und möglicherweise lag es am Blick auf die vielen leer gebliebenen Plätze, dass Amanda Roocroft ihr Programm zunächst nicht übermäßig engagiert anging und ihr Potential oft mehr durchscheinen ließ als zeigte. »

10 Feb 2005

Der Rosenkavalier at Graz

Hugo von Hofmannsthal bemerkte 1921, dass der “Rosenkavalier gar nichts sei, wenn nicht ein Dokument der österreichischen Wesensart”. Dieses Diktum schien die Maxime der Grazer Neuproduktion gewesen zu sein. Marco Arturo Marelli, verantwortlich für Inszenierung, Bühne und Licht, ist überhaupt ganz offensichtlich ein genauer Kenner von Hofmannsthals Meisterlibretto. Den innersten Fasern und Nuancen des Textes folgend, gelang es ihm mittels eines riesigen, schräg über der Bühne platzierten Spiegels und einer hochsensiblen Lichtregie eine sinnlich-dichte Atmosphäre zu schaffen, eben genau jene spezifisch österreichische “Lebensluft”, um die es Hofmannsthal zeitlebens so intensiv zu tun war. »

10 Feb 2005

Don Giovanni at Toulouse Disappoints Le Monde

Une vague forme humaine étendue dans la pénombre – gisant, dormant ? C’est Leporello. A côté, le fameux livre de comptes de Don Giovanni – mille et deux conquêtes. Quelque part, la mille troisième est en train de se faire “inscrire” : Donna Elvira. La voilà d’ailleurs qui surgit, hors d’haleine, tâchant de démasquer son violeur. Entre rêve et réalité, monde intérieur et espace externe, Brigitte Jacques-Wajeman, qui signe là sa première mise en scène d’un opéra du répertoire, a choisi de confronter le désir vital à l’inconscient mortifère (les mortes eaux de décors en noir et blanc). »

10 Feb 2005

Reviving Mendelssohn's Revival

On March 11 1829 a marker was set down in musical history, when the 20-year-old Mendelssohn realised an ambition to give the first performance in “modern” times of Bach’s St Matthew Passion – a scheme dismissed by his elders as the fantasy of a couple of “snotty-nosed brats”. »

09 Feb 2005

La Clemenza di Tito — Another View

“Classy” is not a word we have come to associate with English National Opera in recent years. Populist, perhaps. Attention-seeking, certainly. But with Mozart’s late opera seria, ENO returns to the old-fashioned virtues of ensemble, intelligibility, beauty, truth. They should be obvious, shouldn’t they? But we rarely encounter them in harmony, as we do here in a production directed by David McVicar, conducted by Roland Böer and shared with the Royal Danish Opera. »

08 Feb 2005

Glass's Akhnaten in Boston

The Boston Conservatory of Music gave two performances, each with a different cast, of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten last week five years to the day after the work’s Boston premiere by the Boston Lyric Opera in February 2000. Aside from the pleasure of being able to hear a big contemporary work again so soon, the two productions were so radically different from one another that a whole new perspective on Glass’s work could be had. »

08 Feb 2005

Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges in Toronto

When you hear a stage prince sing, “Dear orange, we’re finally alone together, just you and me,” you know you’re not listening to the usual grand-opera fare. But, then again, Opera In Concert is not about presenting the Opera America Top 10 list. »