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Elsewhere

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.


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Recordings

05 Dec 2016

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.  »

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16 Jul 2005

MENDELSSOHN: Athalia

In addition, to his popular score to A Midsummer Night's Dream Felix Mendelssohn wrote incidental music to several other plays. Commissioned by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, the incidental music to Athalia was intended for a private performance of the play by Jean Racine.  »

15 Jul 2005

MOZART: Don Giovanni

This staging of the Mozart/da Ponte masterpiece took place in 1977, at the Glyndebourne Festival. Although the conductor is Dutch, and members of the cast come from Eastern Europe and the States, a more British performance would be hard to imagine. »

15 Jul 2005

MAHLER: Symphony No.8 in E-Flat

Every so often there appears a recording so good, so almost revelatory, that we find ourselves re-examining the work recorded and our relationship to it, no matter how well we thought we already knew it. Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake’s recording of Schumann’s Dichterliebe was one of the more recent recordings to do this. Now we have Kent Nagano’s amazing reading of (and Harmonia Mundi’s equally amazing engineering of) Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 8. Many excellent recordings of this work already exist, and all of them bring a number of insights and extraordinary performances to the work. None of them, however, quite equals Nagano’s overall vision of the work, and no recording of the symphony can match the impressive acoustic accomplishments found here. »

15 Jul 2005

RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op.13; The Isle of the Dead, Op.29.

The initial reception of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 1 marked an unhappy yet decisive moment in the composer's life, one that propelled his stylistic development and the trajectory of his career in new directions. »

09 Jul 2005

ALFANO: Cyrano de Bergerac

Franco Alfano is best known for having composed the standard ending to Puccini’s Turandot. But he wrote some 12-13 operas under his own name as well. A few of these are revisions of earlier operas. The most familiar of his works have long been La resurrezione (1904), Sakuntala (1922, revised 1952) and Cyrano de Bergerac (1936). Cyrano seems to be coming into its own in the last few years, what with a performance in Kiel and a revival planned for Montpellier in 2003. The latter was cancelled due to strikes (although it was filmed anyway). This was followed by a few performances at the end of the 2004-5 Metropolitan Opera season, with more performances planned at Covent Garden in 2005 and the Met for the 2005-06 season. It is very much the tenor’s opera, with the revival (that never really happened as far as the general public is concerned) in Montpellier featuring Roberto Alagna, and that at the Met featuring Placido Domingo, now approaching the end of a fantastic career. He is also scheduled to sing it at Covent Garden, and again at the Met next year. It is my understanding that Alagna will also sing some additional performances. »

08 Jul 2005

STRAUSS: The Complete Songs, Vol. 1

Among the best-known works of Richard Strauss is his set of Vier letzte Lieder, the so-called four “last” songs. These are just a fraction of the music he composed in this genre, with over 200 songs for voice and piano, and around fifty of them arranged with orchestral accompaniment. The prospect of a new series of complete songs is promising, and it should augment the various recorded selections of his Lieder that are currently available. »

07 Jul 2005

BRITTEN: Folk Song Arrangements

Britten’s folksong arrangements, which span much of his career from 1943 to 1976, provide unique insights into the composer’s oeuvre. Having been strongly encouraged by his teacher, Frank Bridge, to at all times be true to himself and to develop his own voice, one might expect Britten to eschew the folksong tradition, which had been so used (and misused?) by the generation before him. But Britten, following more in the line of Grainger than Vaughan Williams, voiced his distinctive style in these arrangements with appealing results. Sometimes making merely subtle changes and the simplest of accompaniments, Britten’s arrangements display artistic grace and sensitivity that has made them some of the most beloved choices of singers and audiences alike. »

06 Jul 2005

HÄNDEL: Admetus, King of Thessaly

Handel's Admeto premiered in London in 1727 at the King's Theater and was an unambiguous critical and popular success. It had an initial run of nineteen performances between January 31 and April 18 of 1727, each of which was attended by King George I.  »

06 Jul 2005

ZELENKA: Die Responsorien zum Karfreitag
TUMA: Sonatas in A minor & E minor; Sinfornia in B major

In the Baroque era, the liturgical intensity of Holy Week and the affective richness of its themes would find a powerful echo in the music of various European chapels. Old-fashioned counterpoint on antique models would solemnify the sound, while the expressive harmonic freedoms of the day would bring the affective sense of words and themes into sharp focus. This dual path is much in evidence in the Responsories for Good Friday by Jan Dismas Zelenka, recorded here by the Czech ensembles, Boni pueri and Musica Florea. »

03 Jul 2005

FLECHA: Ensaladas

This is a recording that makes a full meal of various salads: in this case, several ensaladas by the Spanish composer most associated with the form, Mateo Flecha, the elder (?1481-1553). Ensaladas toss together different languages and verbal quotations (sometimes musical quotation, as well) in a quodlibet that promotes an appealing sense of variety within the unified frame of their textual themes. »

03 Jul 2005

Claudio Abbado: Hearing the Silence — Sketches for a Portrait

Five minutes into this DVD there has been a lot of talk on Abbado’s aura, his aristocratic reserve and the fact that he is a private thinker. With a deep sigh I was reminded of some of those dreadful documentaries on Arte (a German-French arts channel which I have on cable) that have promising titles and then soon lose themselves in a lot of philosophical treatises without any real content. And what was almost the last image of this documentary?: “In collaboration with Arte” »

03 Jul 2005

Gerhard Hüsch Sings Die schöne Müllerin & An die ferne Geliebte

With a masterpiece like Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, each generation of singers seems to rediscover the music and make the work its own. The nature of music almost demands that performers arrive at their own approaches, and the resulting differences offer insights into the way the music works and, perhaps, on how perception functions. With something as familiar as Die schöne Müllerin, it is possible to gain some perspective by listening to the way a singers of earlier generations performed the work to sample it, just as aficionados appreciate wine at vertical tastings. By approaching the music in this manner, it is possible to put the differences in perspective by using the nuances as points of reference where interpretations diverge. »

02 Jul 2005

SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin

An important thing to realize about this DVD is that it is not so much about Die Schöne Müllerin as about the performers, pianist András Schiff and especially baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. There are no liner notes about the song cycle itself, and if you want to see texts or translations you watch them go by as subtitles during the performance (you may choose German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, or none.). But, since the cycle is quite well-known, largely through the earlier recordings by Fischer-Dieskau with other collaborators, this omission is not grave enough to detract from the real focus of the DVD: to make publicly available a 1991 performance at the Feldkirch Schubertiade, in which two Schubertiade regulars, Fischer-Dieskau and Schiff, performed together for the first time. The record of the performance is doubly significant because, while Fischer-Dieskau earlier in his career had been one of the preeminent performers of Die Schöne Müllerin, he had not performed it since 1971, and he was to retire from public performance two years later. »

29 Jun 2005

VERDI: Il Corsaro

The CD incarnation of this performance, reviewed earlier on Opera Today, faces the formidable competition of an earlier Philips set conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, with Jose Carreras, Montserrat Caballé, and Jessye Norman in the cast. As a recording, that set remains the best recommendation for this neglected (fairly or not) Verdi score. »

29 Jun 2005

Teatro La Fenice: Gala Reopening

The liner notes dryly state that “This was a stringent programme for an opening-concert audience used to lighter fare at such events.” In the past this would surely have been true but together with “Das Regietheater,” there is now a firm tradition in European houses that the reason for their very existence is art, and preferably in its purest form. Audiences are not there to amuse themselves or even to enjoy the music but to ponder on whatever life’s questions may be at that exact moment. They are mightily helped in their endeavours by conductor Riccardo Muti who cannot be caught with a single smile on his face during more than an hour of music making. Therefore a house where five operas by Giuseppe Verdi were premièred cannot be expected to open with such banalaties as Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata or Simon Boccanegra. Even worse would have been a concert with some prominent singers performing well-known arias and duets from these operas. The danger of enjoyment would have been too great. A conductor who reopened La Scala one year later with that immortal masterpiece L’Europa riconosciuta can be expected to make more original choices. Muti preferred lesser known music by maestros who had some ties with the city itself, even with the opera house. »

28 Jun 2005

HENZE: L’Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe

Henze’s magical opera L’Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (L’Upupa or the Triumph of Filial Love) bears the subtitle, “a German comedy in eleven tableaux based on the Arabic.” The “Arabic” here refers to a traditional dream-tale from Syria, around which Henze crafted his libretto (his first such effort as a librettist). Like dreams, which condense from memory several images (of people, objects, actions) that share underlying characteristics into single composite dream figures, L’Upupa condenses many stories and characters into its over determined images. Far from pastiche, however, Henze’s condensations cohere in a compelling tale. »

26 Jun 2005

BARBER: Orchestral Works

EMI has re-released a 2-disc set of some of Samuel Barber’s most compelling orchestral and chambers works on the Gemini — The EMI Treasures label. An album of the same recordings was released in 2001, itself a remastering of original recordings dating from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Disc 1 from both these sets contains music recorded in 1986 and 1988 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin and released in 1990 as a single disc. The second disc of the set contains chamber music of Barber, recorded in 1995. Each time this music has been released it has received positive reviews. See for example, Jon Yungkans’s review on the The Flying Inkpot; the reviews on Amazon.com; or Victor Carr’s review on Classics Today. »