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Elsewhere

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.


OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Richard Strauss: <em>Notturno</em>
10 Jul 2014

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.  »

Recently in Recordings

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18 Jun 2005

A Scottish Lady Mass: Sacred Music from Medieval St. Andrews

Despite theoretical beginnings several centuries earlier, we have come to think of early polyphony as having its first “golden age” in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Paris, an environment teeming with things new: the University of Paris, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the large-scale organa by Leoninus and Perotinus. If our attention is drawn to Paris, it is with good reason. But significantly, the musically innovative style of the Parisians had a geographic dissemination that took it to places like St. Andrews in Scotland, home to a cathedral roughly contemporary with Notre Dame and, to continue the symmetry further, in the fifteenth century, also home to Scotland’s oldest university. A run of Norman bishops in St. Andrews secured a degree of continentalism in the local ecclesiastical culture, and one of the most important manifestations of this is the Scottish manuscript of Parisian repertory that we today know as “W1.” W1 is a copy, in all likelihood one made at St. Andrews, of the Parisian Magnus liber organi — the “great book of organum” by Leoninus, as well as other works, some of them local. And it is from this local Scottish repertory contained within W1 that Red Byrd has fashioned their “Scottish Lady Mass.” »

16 Jun 2005

SCHÜTZ: Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi

In the seventeenth century Germany did not move quickly to embrace the new oratorio genre, despite its mainstream cultivation in Italy. Arguably, in fact, the Italianism of the genre may have made it suspect in some Protestant circles, and contributed to its slow cultivation. However, German interest in musical settings of sacred narrative is clear, given the examples of historiae composed by Heinrich Schütz and his contemporaries. These historiae present Biblical stories without modern poetic interpolations, and Schütz’s “Resurrection History” of 1623 is one of the most compelling. Music historians have rightly seen in the historia an antecedent of the German oratorio, but in its own right — and especially in Schütz’s compositions — it is a rich form, liturgically functional and compositionally sophisticated, that need not be harnessed to the more prominent oratorio to warrant our attention. With this recent recording of the “Resurrection History,” Manfred Cordes and Weser-Renaissance Bremen add a fifth installment to their series of Schütz recordings for Classic Production Osnabrück and with it a welcome new performance of this significant work. »

15 Jun 2005

Immortal Fire: Music for Female Saints

The recording “Immortal Fire” presents a varied anthology of music for female saints, excellently sung by the Girl Choristers and Lay Clerks of Winchester Cathedral under the direction of Sarah Baldock. Much of the music is Marian, with additional pieces in honor of St. Cecilia, St. Margaret of Scotland, and St. Ursula. Some of the works are highly familiar — Britten’s youthful “A Hymn to the Virgin,” and his popular setting of Auden’s “A Hymn to St. Cecilia” for instance — and the performances seem familiar, as well. As the pieces are canonical within the cathedral repertory, so too are the interpretations, sung with polish and high accomplishment, but few surprises. However, other works are new or less familiar. For example, Judith Bingham’s “Margaret, Forsaken,” a work commemorating Margaret of Scotland, was commissioned for this recording. The composer’s imaginative use of patterned repetition and ornamental organ effects are evocative of a North Sea moodiness, and the choir responds with an impressive reading that is both intense and dramatic. Herbert Howells — never far from the cathedral choir folder—is represented by two works, a “Hymn for St. Cecilia” and a “Salve Regina.” The former is an expansive hymn tune with a wonderfully uplifting descant to its final verse. The “Salve” is an early work whose chordal gestures are reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, but in the main it is a work showing the developing harmonic fingerprints of Howells’ musical signature, with sweet dissonant propensities and chromatic inflection. Howells graces the concluding acclamations with a memorable treble solo — the embodiment of the text’s “dulcis” — gracefully sung by Tempe Nell. »

14 Jun 2005

Dame Gwyneth Jones sings Wagner

This CD is a digital remastering of an original 1991 recording of Gwyneth Jones in selections from Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde and Götterdämmerung. Jones was (and is) one of the great interpreters of Wagner, and the release of this CD is a welcome event, not only to her many friends, but all of us who are fascinated by the interpretation of Wagner’s works. The recording is clearly meant to serve as a recorded monument to her artistry. Unfortunately, the CD is marred by many problems that make it less than satisfactory. »

14 Jun 2005

RESPIGHI: La Campana sommersa

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) is known best in the United States for his tone poems, including the Pines of Rome, the Fountains of Rome, and Roman Festivals, and, perhaps for some of his suites of early music, like the sets of Ancient Airs and Dances that reflect his detailed orchestrations. During his lifetime, however, his operas were known, and they include Re Enzo (1905); Semirama (1910); Belfagor (1921-22); La bella dormente nel bosco (1916-21); La campana sommersa (The Sunken Bell) (1923-27); Maria Egiziaca (1929-31); La Fiamma (1931-33); Lucrezia (1935). It is unfortunate that recordings of these works are somewhat rare, but that is quickly remedied by the recent issue of La campana sommersa on the Accord label. »

14 Jun 2005

DONIZETTI: Elvida

It is an unfortunate fact that operas outside of the common repertory have in the past been deemed less worthy than those included in what amounts to a popular "play list" of works that consistently draw audiences. »

14 Jun 2005

VIVALDI: Arsilda, Regina di Ponto

Antonio Vivaldi composed Arsilda, Regina di Ponto for the Venetian theater of Sant’Angelo in the fall of 1716. While Vivaldi had, by its debut, been an important member of Venetian musical culture for over a decade as a violinist and composer, he had begun composing only three years earlier. Domenico Lalli, his librettist, who settled in Venice in 1710 after fleeing his native Naples upon being charged with embezzlement, was one of the most important librettists of the first decades of the eighteenth century. »

12 Jun 2005

SCHUMANN: Dichterliebe & Kerner-Lieder

Ulf Bästlein’s recent compilation of Lieder by Schumann presents fine performances of the works listed in the title, the cycle Dichterliebe (to texts by Heinrich Heine) and the Liederreihe usually referred to as the Kerner-Lieder for the twelve settings of poetry by author Justinus Kerner. It also contains some songs that may be less familiar, including several other settings of Heine: “Der arme Peter,” op. 53, no. 3, “Die beiden Grenadiere,” op. 49, no 1, and the late work “Dein Angesicht,” op. 127, no. 2. This is a rich and focused program that offers some of Schumann’s finest Lieder on a single disc. »

11 Jun 2005

SCARLATTI: Disperato Amore

Alessandro Scarlatti, a contemporary of Handel and father of Domenico Scarlatti, was a prolific composer of cantatas, oratorios, and operas. He wrote more than 60 operas and 600 cantatas. Contemporaries frequently distinguished between styles according to the locale in which they might have been performed or to which they were appropriate: the church, chamber, and theatrical styles. The cantata was considered a genre of the chamber style and offered listeners refined counterpoint and delicate changes in dynamics; cantatas of the period generally set pastoral or love texts and employed recitative alternating with arias. Many of Scarlatti’s cantatas were written for performances at aristocratic residences; most survive in manuscript form and were never published. »

11 Jun 2005

GLUCK: Alceste

This two-disc performance was performed and recorded on December 12, 1981 at Covent Garden in London. The recording is one of a series of Ponto releases dedicated to Dame Janet Baker, who performs here the role of Alceste. This drama, a collaboration between Gluck and the librettist Calzabigi, was performed in late 1767 and is based on the tragedy by the ancient Greek poet Euripides. It was written in response to Empress Maria Theresa’s grief over the death of the emperor, given that the text is practically synonymous with conjugal devotion. Calzabigi’s libretto specifically emphasizes Alceste’s sacrifice for her husband throughout, and is dedicated to Maria Theresa. The staging of the opera was delayed by a number of other royal deaths in 1767. Alceste was revived in 1770. »

11 Jun 2005

WEBER: Oberon

In a certain sense, each of Carl Maria von Weber's final three operas: Der Freischütz, Euryanthe, and Oberon belongs to a different genre. Freischütz — the only one of these three that still in any way forms a part of the repertoire — builds on the folk-like traditions of the Singspiel, while Euryanthe is more closely related to the grand operas that were to become so important in the 1830s and 1840s. »

10 Jun 2005

HAYDN: Symphonies no. 91 & 92 (“Oxford”) and Scena di Berenice

This wonderful recording features two Haydn symphonies composed in the year 1789, which frame the short dramatic scena Berenice, premiered in London in 1795. The autograph scores of the two symphonies were dedicated and given to Claude-Francois-Marie Rigoley, Comte d’Ogny, cofounder and patron of the “Concert de la Loge Olympique,” an association for which Haydn had already written the so-called “Paris” symphonies in 1785/86. »

09 Jun 2005

A Portrait of Ernst Gruber

Up to now Ernst Gruber was only a name to me. During the fifties and sixties his career was centered in the houses of the defunct German Democratic Republic; first Dresden and Leipzig and later on at the Deutsche Staatsoper in East-Berlin. Usually he rated one or two entries each year in Opera Magazine; mostly just barely mentioning his name as even in those times reviewers concentrated almost exclusively on the antics of director Felsenstein and some of his copycats. So I thought of him as one of those somewhat to be avoided German tenors like Hans Günther Nocker who, while acting their heads off, sang in that barking way that got them epitaphs like “intelligent, thought-provoking” while words like “beauty of tone” were anathema to them and the critics. Mostly they remained behind the Iron Curtain, unless at the last moment they had to run to the rescue in Western Europe or the US when Windgassen or Thomas fell unexpectedly ill. They were always happy to comply as they mostly got 20% of the fee, immediately handing over the remaining 80% to the Stasi officer accompanying and controlling them, who would always remind them of the fate of their families who had to stay home as hostages. »

08 Jun 2005

Boris Christoff — Lugano Recital 1976

Boris Christoff was, together with Cesare Siepi, the most prominent bass during The New Golden Age of Singing (1945-1975). At the time of this television recording, he was considered somewhat old hat as he had been singing for more than 30 years. During the mid-sixties he was superseded by Nicolai Ghiaurov who, due to his rolling voice and bigger volume, quickly became the hottest ticket in town. Both men were Bulgarians and there was pure hate between them; especially from Christoff’s side. Christoff was a protégé of the deceased king Boris. He studied in Italy and was not allowed to return home after the war when the communists had snatched power. He didn’t even get a visa to attend his father’s funeral. Ghiaurov was sent to Italy by the communists for further study. Their confrontations as Filippo and Grande Inquisitore in a La Scala Don Carlos are still legendary. Nobody had ever witnessed such (real) hatred in that scene. Afterwards, Christoff demanded that Ghiaurov be ousted but sovrintende Ghiringhelli sided with the younger bass and Christoff’s career at La Scala was finished. »