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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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08 Feb 2005

David Daniels in Salt Lake

Even if you have heard a countertenor sing before – and judging from intermission chatter Saturday in Libby Gardner Hall, not many people have – you’ve never heard anyone sing like David Daniels. Daniels, credited with helping revive interest in early operas as well as the countertenor voice, wowed the Libby Gardner crowd with his versatility, stage presence and genre-transcending musicianship. Mozart’s Lieder, Fauré art songs, arias by Handel and Purcell, American folk songs and contemporary music: Daniels brought something distinctive and compelling to them all. »

08 Feb 2005

Christine Schäfer Leaves Lasting Memories in New York

In the early days of the early music movement, ensembles and artists competed with one another over who knew the most about performance styles of the Baroque and Classical eras. The authenticity sweepstakes still goes on. But such insight takes you only so far. I’m sure the musicians of the renowned Freiburg Baroque Orchestra from Germany are as informed about early music performance practices as comparable ensembles. But what made their concert on Sunday afternoon at Alice Tully Hall so gratifying was the vitality and imagination of their playing – qualities that transcend any era. »

08 Feb 2005

La Clemenza di Tito at ENO

Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito was written to celebrate the coronation of the Habsburg emperor Leopold II as king of Bohemia in 1791. The date, two years after the French Revolution, is significant. Depicting a botched attempt to assassinate the Roman Emperor Titus, and his subsequent refusal to execute the conspirators, the opera examines the implications of the idea of benevolent autocracy and draws the conclusion that enlightened government necessitates absolute solitude and emotional isolation. »

08 Feb 2005

Nina Stemme as Marguerite in Frankfurt am Main

Ist so Wagners Isolde angezogen? Schwarzes Kleid, darüber blaue Kittelschürze. Bequemstiefel, Gummihandschuhe. Aber nein. Nina Stemme ist jetzt Marguerite in Gounods “Faust” in Frankfurt am Main. Ausgerechnet. Wagner hätte das nicht gefallen. Noch dazu ein Gretchen als verdruckste, sich an ihr Kruzifix-Kettchen klammernde Saaltochter in einem schmuddeligen Demenzpflegeheim. Isolde, das wird wieder im Sommer sein. In Bayreuth. Wo Nina Stemme freilich bereits auf dem Grünen Hügel debütiert hat: 1994 als Freia im “Ring”. Jetzt wird sie als irische Maid in Christoph Marthalers Inszenierung zurückkehren. Vielleicht sogar in Kittelschürze? Mal sehen, was der Kostümbildnerin Anna Viebrock so einfällt. »

07 Feb 2005

Arabella at Bayerische Staatsoper

Beste Stimmung im Nationaltheater. Und das nicht nur, weil auf der Bühne jahreszeitlich korrekt der Fasching tobte. Nein, nicht die bunten Luftschlangen und närrischen Hütchen peppten den Abend auf, sondern die Sänger. Sie heizten mit ihrem Totaleinsatz die x-te Repertoirevorstellung von Richard Strauss’ “Arabella” so an, dass das Abo-Publikum seine helle Freude hatte. Münchner Opernalltag, der im großen Jubel endete. »

06 Feb 2005

Handel's Julius Caesar in Denver

Stephanie Blythe recalls exactly where she was 10 years ago when she fully grasped the power of great acting in opera. Then an apprentice artist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, the mezzo-soprano was standing offstage about 25 feet from famed tenor Placido Domingo as he sang a love duet in “Die Walküre” with soprano Deborah Voigt. »

06 Feb 2005

Carmen at Opera Australia

IT would come as a shock to opera-goers if the cast of Carmen were suddenly to break into a chorus of Sisters are Doing it for Themselves. They might be forgiving, however, once they heard the gospel-tinged tones of American mezzosoprano Andrea Baker, who sings the title role in the Opera Australia production that begins a six-week run under the baton of Russian conductor Alexander Polianichko at the Sydney Opera House tonight. »

06 Feb 2005

Venus and Adonis at Seattle

It may not have been the best of times or the worst of times, but it was certainly among the naughtiest of times. Restoration England, which marked the end of Cromwell’s Puritan regime with the accession of merry monarch Charles II, was an era that makes Paris Hilton seem like a convent girl and “Sex and the City” like a school picnic. In Charles II’s reign, all the prohibitions of Cromwell’s era were repealed; the theaters were reopened, low-cut lace replaced buttoned-up wool, and the royal motto was evidently “thou shalt party hearty.” »

06 Feb 2005

Gruberova Performs Norma at the Wiener Staatsoper

Für Edita Gruberova hat die Staatsoper eine konzertante Fassung von Vicenzo Bellinis “Norma” aufs Programm gesetzt. Endlose Begeisterung, Blumen, Stan ding ovations dankten Edita Gruberova und ihren Mitstreitern für einen packenden Opernabend, der die szenische Aufbereitung keinen Augenblick vermissen ließ. Gerne verzichtete man darauf, die zeitgebundene Schauerromantik der Druiden und ihrer Opferriten anno 50 v. Chr. leibhaftig vor sich zu sehen. Und mehr noch: Keine Regie-Eitelkeit lenkte von der puren Musik ab. »

05 Feb 2005

Das Wachsfigurenkabinett at the Münchner Reaktorhalle

Ein buntes Schaubudenprogramm, anmoderiert von zwei Damen in knackigen Kostümen, so präsentieren sich die fünf Kurzopern von Karl Amadeus Hartmanns “Das Wachsfigurenkabinett” in der Münchner Reaktorhalle (Regie: Stefan Spies). Der Inszenierung des ersten Stücks “Der Mann, der vom Tode auferstand” fehlt noch Witz und Schwung. Die Geschichte vom reichen Fabrikanten, der vor seinem Radiogerät einschläft und das Hörspiel von der Arbeiterrevolution für Wirklichkeit hält, leidet an den Schaufel schwingend auftretenden, plump marschierenden Arbeitern. »

05 Feb 2005

Star Cross'd Lovers In LA

Stale marzipan it may be, but given the appropriate set of protagonists, Charles Gounod’s ponderous 1867 adaptation of Shakespeare’s youthful tragedy still has the power to arouse the senses and engage, if not engulf, the soul. In Rolando Villazón and Anna Netrebko, the Los Angeles Opera has found doomed lovers who are as much star material as “star cross’d”. Whatever else is lacking in the first west coast production of the opera here in 18 years, the Mexican tenor and Russian soprano radiate youthful ardour, stylistic sophistication and sheer theatrical magic. »

04 Feb 2005

Democracy: An American Comedy in Washington

How is it possible that a new opera crammed with hot-button subjects—political corruption, ecclesiastical self-satisfaction, feminism, homosexuality—could be a blandly inoffensive entertainment? “Democracy: An American Comedy,” by composer Scott Wheeler and librettist Romulus Linney, commissioned by the Washington National Opera and given its world premiere last weekend, was disappointingly safe. Its provocative themes were smothered by a talky libretto that alternated between earnest exposition and sitcom jokes, set in smoothly tonal, insipid musical language. »

04 Feb 2005

An Evening of Soprana and Mezzo Duets at the Barbican

There are many profound experiences to be had in a concert hall, but an evening of soprano and mezzo duets isn’t one of them. Still, on the disc they brought out last autumn, Barbara Bonney, Angelika Kirchschlager and accompanist Malcolm Martineau managed to pick out some of the more interesting numbers in this frothy repertoire. Many of those made it into this recital – along with lashings of sugary charm, a few girly hugs and a line in the programme from Kirchschlager about how it wasn’t only their voices fitting together but their souls, too. Yeuch. »

01 Feb 2005

Thomas Hampson in Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf. Das Lied gehört zu den konzentriertesten Kunstformen überhaupt. Es ist einerseits, wie Thomas Mann sagte, “eine ganze Welt”, andererseits nimmt es nur wenig Zeit in Anspruch und bedarf lediglich zweier Musiker. Text und Musik vereinigen sich zu einer synchronen Sprache, die menschliches Empfinden in potenzierter Intensität ausdrückt. Aber das Lied ist auch eine für die Ausführenden anspruchsvolle Gattung. »

01 Feb 2005

Vivaldi's Farnace at Resonanzen 2005

Dreizehn als Glückszahl: Das 13. Festival Alter Musik wird in die Annalen des Wiener Konzerthau ses als besonders geglückt eingehen. Das kenntnisreich zusammengestellte Programm deckte nahezu alle wesentlichen Epochen, Nationalstile und Klangmöglichkeiten Alter Musik ab; fast durchwegs gut gewählt waren die Interpreten, und der Almanach könnte so manches historische und musikgeschichtliche Handbuch ersetzen. »

01 Feb 2005

Doina Dimitriu Wows Chicago

The season’s first performance of Puccini’s “Tosca” at Lyric Opera on Monday night brought an authentic slice of operatic history to the Civic Opera House: The vintage production director Franco Zeffirelli mounted in 1964 for London’s Royal Opera to lure Maria Callas out of semi-retirement. Tito Gobbi, the great Scarpia of his generation, was her co-star. The well-worn staging has done honorable service for more than 40 years, having seen 38 revivals and 242 performances before it was finally retired in July. The classic production was promptly bought lock, stock and battlements by Lyric Opera, which is dedicating it to Gobbi’s memory. »

01 Feb 2005

La Traviata at Covent Garden

Verdi demanded three qualities for his “fallen woman”: looks, anima (soul) and a good stage presence. What he did not want was a glossy prima donna. The part broke convention not just histrionically, in its depiction of a contemporary prostitute, but also vocally. It needs a soprano agile enough to throw off the Act 1 coloratura, and strong enough to meet the dramatic requirements of Acts 2 and 3. That’s asking a lot, and most sopranos fall short. So it was fascinating, at the Royal Opera’s latest revival on Saturday, to come across Norah Amsellem. She has period looks, a pretty smile, a malleable physiognomy. She knows how to adapt her whole demeanour to Violetta’s changing situation, so that the figure we behold on stage is not an opera singer but a human being with the power to disarm us emotionally. That may be a gift of acting, but it also reflects Amsellem’s complete identification with the music. Her soprano is a bit one-dimensional, especially at the top, and she proved a surprisingly plain letter-reader. In all other set-pieces she had the theatre spellbound. “Dite alla giovine” and “Addio, del passato” were especially effective: Amsellem sang them in a beautifully controlled half-voice, stretching the tempo to its very limit. Some might call it self-indulgent; to me it sounded like the truth. »

31 Jan 2005

La Forza del destino at Opéra Royal de Wallonie

So this was how a Forza would have sounded in the fifties and sixties in one of the better Italian provincial houses. At that time those extinguished species (lirico-spinto tenor and soprano) were still in abundant supply and one could easily hear nowadays forgotten names like Zambruno, Mori, Vicentini, Borso on the male and Mancini, De Osma, Barbato etc on the female side: big booming voices, maybe not always very subtle but steeped in the Verdian tradition and not afraid to give unstintingly all of their voices as if there is no tomorrow. »

29 Jan 2005

Barbiere in Madrid

Rénové en 1997 avec un luxe inouï, le Teatro Real de Madrid ne lésine pas non plus sur la qualité des productions. Du rare Osud de Janacek en 2003, marqué par la qualité de la mise en scène de Bob Wilson, de l’orchestre et de la distribution vocale, ne reste que des souvenirs et des photographies, faute de producteurs intéressés par la réalisation d’un DVD. Ce ne sera pas le cas de ce nouveau Barbier de Séville, dévoilé il y a quelques jours, diffusé par Arte dans une semaine, et bientôt dans les bacs. En filmant trois représentations successives, l’ambition est d’offrir le meilleur Barbier en DVD du marché. »

28 Jan 2005

Don Giovanni in Baltimore

The elegantly regilded Hippodrome Theatre could be mistaken for an old-world opera house. On Wednesday night, for three hours at least, that’s exactly what it was. Teatro Lirico D’Europa — administratively based in Hunt Valley — presented a fully staged production of Don Giovanni that offered sufficient entertainment value and demonstrated the theater’s flexibility. »