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Oxford Lieder Festival 2015 - Sholto Kynoch interview

Last year's Oxford Lieder Festival made something of a splash when it encompassed all of Schubert's songs, performed in the space of three weeks. This year's festival, the 14th, which runs from 16 to 31 October 2015 has a rather different, yet still eye-catching theme; Singing Words: Poets and their Songs.

Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese

Strong music values in 1940's setting for Handel's opera examining madness

As part of their Madness season, presenting three very contrasting music theatre treatments of madness (Handel's Orlando, Bellini's I Puritani and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) Welsh National Opera (WNO) presented Handel's Orlando at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 3 October 2015.

Bostridge, Isserlis, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Benjamin Britten met Mstislav Rostropovich in 1960, in London, where the cellist was performing Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. They were introduced by Shostakovich who had invited Britten to share his box at the Royal Festival Hall, for this concert given by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Britten’s biographer, Humphrey Carpenter reports that a few days before Britten had listened to Rostropovich on the radio and remarked that he ‘“thought this the most extraordinary ‘cello playing I’d ever heard”’.

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

Sir John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare: the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

The opening performance of the 2015-2016 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago was the premiere of a new production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro under the direction of Barbara Gaines and featuring the American debut of conductor Henrik Nánási.

La traviata, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia mixes boutique performances of avant-garde opera in a small house with more traditional productions of warhorse operas performed in the Academy of Music, America’s oldest working opera house.

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



Sony 509248
03 Oct 2015

“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.  »

Recently in Recordings

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19 Sep 2005

GOUNOD: Musica Sacra

The 19th Century French composer Charles Gounod is best known for his lyric dramas / operas Faust (1859) and Roméo et Juliette (1867), and the very popular Méditation sur le 1er prélude de piano de J. S. Bach (1852), arranged as an Ave Maria in 1859. Yet the dominant portion of Gounod’s creative output was church music, the amount of which surpassed that of any other composer of the 19th Century. In spite of this, the church music of Gounod remains an obscure portion of his oeuvre. »

16 Sep 2005

RACHMANINOV: All Night Vigil, op. 37

Sergei Rachmaninov established his reputation early in his career as one of the twentieth- century’s foremost pianists and conductors. Critical assessment of his abilities as composer, however, was harsh. In the fifth edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Eric Blom wrote dismissively: “…as a composer [Rachmaninov] can hardly be said to have belonged to his time at all,…His music is well constructed and effective, but monotonous in texture, which consists in essence mainly of artificial and gushing tunes….[His] enormous popular success…is not likely to last,…” In general, critics dismissed his musical language as outmoded, as being far from the mainstream of twentieth-century musical styles--indeed, most considered his works as anachronisms, composed by a man whose style had not left the late nineteenth century. Even Rachmaninov acknowledged feeling lost amid the music of most other twentieth-century composers. In a 1939 interview he gave for the Musical Courier, Rachmaninov said, “I felt like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien. I cannot cast out the old way of writing and I cannot acquire the new.” »

16 Sep 2005

ADÈS: Piano Quintet

Despite his relative youth (b.1971), Thomas Adès is well-known among today’s serious opera connoisseurs for his 1995 opera hit, Powder Her Face, as well as his more recent opera, The Tempest, which opened in February 2004 to rave reviews. The success of these imaginative, ground-breaking compositions has led him to be recognized as one of Britain’s most promising young composers. As such, Adès has enjoyed the privilege of having his music performed by only the highest caliber of musicians. The featured performers in the 2005 EMI Classics release of his Piano Quintet (2001) are no exception. »

15 Sep 2005

WEBBER: Phantasia; The Woman in White

Probably the best thing that can be said about Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe, and Charles Hart’s The Phantom of the Opera becoming the longest running Broadway musical, which it almost certainly will, is that it will take that honor away from Cats. (I am reminded of David Letterman’s comment, made with mock horror, “What if it really is ‘now and forever’?”) Phantom, as it is known both with and without affection, is perhaps Lloyd Webber’s most “traditional” show: it has far more book scenes than his earlier, concept-album-as-musical shows, although the latter, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, are tremendously and, arguably, more effective; it recalls operetta despite its pop-heavy score; and it is based on a novel that is already known through incarnations on stage and screen. Its unabashed romanticism, despite its occasional descent into bathos, has endeared it to millions, many of who see it again and again and continue to be moved by it. So I suppose it was only a matter of time until an arranger came up with an orchestral version of the score to satisfy pop concert audiences and other aficionados of the score. »

15 Sep 2005

THEILE: Arias; Canzonettas

Johann Theile is best known for his significant body of church music and his reputation as “the father of contrapuntists.” It is easy to summon the image of a learned graybeard, well-practiced in contrapuntal art (especially invertible counterpoint, it would seem). This recent recording from Ludger Rémy, however, shows us a less well-known and very congenial side of Theile: the composer of student love songs. »

15 Sep 2005

MONTSALVATGE: Integral de canto

It is unfortunate that audiences tend to pigeonhole Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) as a one-work composer. There is no doubt, however, that the popularity of his Canciones negras has overshadowed the rest of his output. »

14 Sep 2005

SULLIVAN: Cox and Box; Trial by Jury

This new recording of two somewhat early works with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan provides a taste of Sullivan just before and just after the beginning of his famed collaboration with W. S. Gilbert. Cox and Box was produced in 1866. Trial by Jury debuted in 1875, four years after Thespis, Gilbert and Sullivan’s first work as a team. The difference is apparent if not glaring. It is mostly noticeable in Sullivan’s more nuanced response to Gilbert’s libretto, which is far more sophisticated and clever than Burnand’s nonetheless amusing effort. The transition from the end of the earlier work to the opening chorus of Trial by Jury, which immediately places us in the identifiable musical world of G&S, is remarkable. With Burnand, Sullivan is broader in his parodic musical pastiche; with Gilbert, he lets the words take over most of the satire and composes in a subtler, and even more delightful, vein. »

14 Sep 2005

PROKOFIEV: Ivan the Terrible

Prokofiev was one of a number of twentieth-century composers of art music who also devoted a significant amount of time to composing for the cinema. The eight films for which he composed scores were met with varying degrees of success, from the celebrated fame of Aleksandr Nevsky to the frustrated productions of lesser-known films such as The Queen of Spades and Tonya. Sergei Eisenstein’s colossal trilogy Ivan the Terrible, for which Prokofiev composed his final film score, was met with both extremes: Although part one of the film was released in January of 1945 to great critical acclaim, the second part was attacked during production for political reasons, even to the extreme of attracting criticism from Stalin himself. Part two would not appear in theaters until 1958, long after Prokofiev and Eisenstein were gone, and part three was never produced. »

14 Sep 2005

Ouvertüren: Music for the Hamburg Opera

The composers of these overtures — what today we would call suites — range from the world-famous George Frideric Handel to the moderately well-known Reinhard Keiser to the virtually unknown Johann Christian Schieferdecker. The works represented here also cover a range of dates: 1693 for the Ouverture no. 4 by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach to 1726 for the Suite “Ludovicus Pius” by Georg Caspar Schürmann (1672/3-1751), neither of whom have made a noticeable dent in the performance repertoire of today’s early-music groups. »

13 Sep 2005

DONIZETTI: Pietro il Grande

Pietro il Grande ossia Il falegname di Livonia was premiered to open the 1819-20 Carnival season at the Teatro San Samuele in Venice, a city that saw the birth of many of the light operas of the decade, including quite a few by Rossini. The premiere took place on Dec. 26, 1819. »

11 Sep 2005

Das Rheingold

Experienced listeners gain nothing but lose very little when a mediocre, even bad performance of Wagner’s stage works is released on DVD.  »

11 Sep 2005


First impressions are important. For instance, one expects certain things from Bang on a Can and their four-year-old record label Cantaloupe – there are graphics, ideas, names, and especially musical styles that have become predictably associated with the New York... »

27 Aug 2005

AUDRAN: La Mascotte

Chances are the world of opera bouffe is somewhat foreign to most listeners. Many may know one or two operettas by Offenbach - La Perichole, perhaps, or La belle Helene and a large number of melodies from various of his works collected for the ballet Gaite parisienne. But this extensive body of works from the last quarter of the nineteenth-century is infrequently performed, and, apart from the occasional aria heard on an inventively programmed recital, the repertory today is heard about more than it is heard. The names Audran or Lecoq are largely unknown, despite their having been very popular in this country at the end of the nineteenth century. (Maurice Grau brought many French productions to New York during the 1870s and 1880s, and the operettas, sung in French, were quite popular. Productions in the original language allowed the retention of the racy dialogue and numerous double entendres - most of which would have been unacceptable in English -- so typical of these works.) »

27 Aug 2005

RABAUD: Marouf, Savetier du Caire

Like many of the nearly forgotten composers of his era, Henri Rabaud (1873-1949) had his day in the sun. A pupil of Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire, and later its director, Rabaud wrote eight operas, the most successful of which was Marouf, Savetier du Caire, which premiered in 1914 at the Opera-Comique in Paris and soon became a world wide hit. But today a mention of Rabaud's name will likely draw a blank stare, even from well versed opera aficionados. »

27 Aug 2005


I had never heard of the Italian composer Domenico Alaleona (1891-1928) when a recording of his opera Mirra arrived in the mail. Baker's gives him a respectable 22 lines, but says "his importance lies in his theoretical writings," not this opera or various collections of songs, instrumental works, and a Requiem. If you've ever come across the term "dodecaphony," well, Alaleona coined it (in Italian, of course). »

26 Aug 2005

MESSIAEN: Orchestral Works

As part of their "Gemini--the EMI Treasures" series, EMI has re-released recordings of some of Olivier Messiaen's greatest hits: the Turangalila-Symphonie (1946 - 48), Quatour pour la fin du temp (1940 - 41), and Le Merle Noir (1951, for flute and piano). This two-disc release features the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, with Tristan Murail playing ondes martenot and Peter Donohoe on solo piano in the 1986 recording of Turangalila-Symphonie. Quatour pour la fin du temps was recorded in 1968 by Erich Gruenberg (violin), Gervase de Peyer (clarinet), William Pleeth (cello), and Michel Beroff (piano); Le Merle Noir was taken from a 1971 Abbey Road session with flutist Karlheinz Zoller accompanied by Aloys Kontarsky. These performances in their various manifestations on earlier albums have consistently received rave reviews, and with good reason. The performances are exceptional in their interpretation and the recordings have been beautifully remastered. »

26 Aug 2005

Marco Polo Film Classics, Part I

Between the 1930s and the 1950s, Hollywood composers pumped out tens of thousands of scores for what we now call "classical Hollywood films." These films often contained an hour or more of music, but few viewers would have realized this. Certainly, many of these scores included themes that became very well known--Casablanca and Gone with the Wind come immediately to mind; however, much of the music was played quietly and inconspicuously. In classical Hollywood films, music is subservient to the narrative, and generally played two main roles. First, it served the film's central narrative by heightening the emotional content of important scenes (e.g., ominous music when characters approach an abandoned castle) and revealing characters' hidden feelings (e.g., love music while two characters are fighting). Second, music gave the film a greater sense of continuity by smoothing over cuts and moving slower scenes along. »