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Elsewhere

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Glyndebourne announces new Artistic Director

Stephen Langridge has been appointed Artistic Director of Glyndebourne. Stephen is currently Director for Opera and Drama at Gothenburg Opera, Sweden, a role he has occupied for five years. He will take up his new role at Glyndebourne in spring 2019.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.


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Recordings

13 Aug 2018

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated. »

Recently in Recordings

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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

BITTOVÁ: Elida

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

ALALEONA: Mirra

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. »

25 Aug 2005

BONONCINI: La nemica d’Amore fatta amante

Giovanni Bononcini (Modena, 1670 - Vienna, 1747) is best known today for his dozen years in London, which began when he was 50 and Handel was 35. Five years later, a well-known epigram likened them to Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee . Londoners then had to decide whether Handel, compared to Bononcini, was "but a Ninny," or whether Bononcini, when matched with Handel, was "scarcely fit to hold a Candle." For many Londoners, the more luminous composer was Bononcini, since he had served munificent patrons for four decades before his arrival in England: duke Francesco II of Modena (1680s); two immensely wealthy noblemen - Filippo Colonna and Luigi de la Cerda, the Spanish ambassador - in Rome (1690s); two emperors - Leopold I and Joseph I - in Vienna (1700s); and an immensely wealthy Viennese ambassador in Rome (1710s). »