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Elsewhere

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

Christina Scheppelmann appointed General Director of Seattle Opera

Scheppelmann heads to the Pacific Northwest following leadership roles in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

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.


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Performances

24 Mar 2019

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci! »

Recently in Performances

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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. »

28 Jan 2005

Poppea at Palais Garnier

Parisians do not like camp. David McVicar’s production of Monteverdi’s last opera was jeered in October at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées and now David Alden has met the same fate. This is unfair because his use of radical kitsch is altogether more sophisticated and his manipulation of the singers faultlessly choreographed. In any case, this classic staging dates from 1997, when it was first seen in Cardiff and Munich. McVicar’s approach now looks like a pale copy of an industry template. »

27 Jan 2005

Singing Ives

In 2004, festivals and concerts commemorated the 50th anniversary of the death of Charles Ives, an insurance executive from Danbury and arguably America’s greatest native-born composer. Tonight and Sunday at Wesleyan University’s Crowell Recital Hall, the tribute will continue with the first of several recitals surveying Ives’ 129 songs. »

27 Jan 2005

Siegfried's Id

Richard Wagner loathed the first performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which he scrabbled together at his own theatre in 1876. “Next year we’ll do everything differently,” was the mildest comment he had to offer, and the most convenient for directors eager to distinguish their Ring productions from all others. »

27 Jan 2005

The Tsar's Bride in Moscow

Following its disastrous staging last April of Georges Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” I had high hopes that Novaya Opera would get itself back on track by turning to a classic of Russian opera for its next production. But, at its debut last Sunday, the theater’s new version of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Tsar’s Bride” proved, if not a disaster, at least a major disappointment, due mainly to the muddled stage direction of Yury Grymov and the theater’s decision to discard as much as a third of the opera’s music. »

27 Jan 2005

Agony and Ecstasy in LA

Nearly a century separates the two beguilements installed at the Music Center in recent weeks: Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida of the 1870s and Luciano Berio’s Laborintus II of 1965. Nobody would mistake the style or purpose of the one for the other; they are both shrewdly welded to the taste of their respective times. Something grander links them – an innately Italian sense of theater that unites all the arts of the region into a single onrush of word, music and movement. To the north, Richard Wagner made a great fuss as he dreamed up his “total artwork” concept with ream upon ream of explanatory philosophy. To the Italian spirit, that unity of the expressive arts was simply a form of breathing. Petrarch, Monteverdi, Tintoretto, Berio . . . just the names by themselves take on a theatrical dimension. »

25 Jan 2005

Kát’a Kabanová at Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Ihre Ruh’ ist hin, ihr Herz ist schwer. Die junge Frau im gelben Sommerkleid duckt sich in ihrem Stuhl, drückt die Hände in den Schoß, blickt nach oben. Diesmal ist es nicht Goethes Gretchen, das hier – um im jüngsten Grass-Jargon zu bleiben – “verthalheimert”, sprich: auf ihr sprachliches und inhaltliches Gerüst skelettiert wurde. Es ist die Kaufmannsgattin Katja Kabanova, die ihre einzige Sehnsucht, die Liebe zum schwächlichen Boris, mit dem Leben bezahlt und in die Wolga geht. So steht es in Alexander Ostrowskis Theaterstück “Das Gewitter” von 1859 geschrieben. Welches Michael Thalheimer, der kühlkopfige Minimalist unter den tonangebenden Theaterregisseuren, sicherlich auf das Wesentliche zurechtzustutzen vermocht hätte. Ohne russische Folklorismen und Nebenhandlungen, nackt, statisch, als pure Versuchsanordnung. »

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

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. »