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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.



12 Nov 2015

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).  »

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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. »

06 Jun 2005

VERDI: Il Corsaro

Alessandro Trovato’s admirably honest and forthright booklet essay (translated by Daniela Pilarz) for this Dynamic release of Verdi’s Il Corsaro goes a long way to explaining why this ranks as one of the master’s least-performed works. »

05 Jun 2005

SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin

In some circles, Bostridge isn’t fashionable, perhaps because he achieved success so early, because he didn’t come up through the choirboy route, and, perhaps, most of all because he is so startlingly different. But those with a real interest in intelligent music making would do well to ignore the clichés and really listen to this. It’s an experience to change most perceptions of the cycle, and indeed of Schubert. This is no quaint bucolic romp. The protagonist kills himself, doomed even before he meets the girl. As Bostridge points out, the poet Wilhelm Müller said it should be “im Winter zu lessen.” The songs refer to Maytime and blossoms, but since Nature itself is destructive, this is just seductive sham. This cycle is to read in the spirit of a harsh Prussian winter, not an innocent Austrian spring. Schubert picked up on the inner meaning of Müller’s poetry because he had himself just been diagnosed with syphilis — the AIDS of his era. He had no bucolic delusions. He knew only too well that Nature can turn love into death. »

02 Jun 2005

KILAR: Tryptyk (The Triptych)

Wojciech Kilar (b. 1932) is an exciting composer from Poland, and he may be best known in the West for his film scores, which include Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Polanski’s Death and the Maiden (1994), Campion’s Portrait of a Lady (1996) and others. At the same time, Kilar also composes concert music, and his Tryptyk (1997) is a fine example of his work. Nevertheless, film is a useful point of reference in discussions of his style, since some of the techniques he used in creating effective soundtracks may be found in his other music. »

02 Jun 2005

SCHUBERT: An den Mond — Chants nocturnes

Beyond his song cycles and collections like Schwanengesang, Schubert’s Lieder can be grouped in various ways. In this recording, the baritone Dietrich Henschel and pianist Helmut Deutsch selected twenty Lieder that reflect the ideas of wandering, night, and death, as stated on the jacket copy of this CD. Some of the music chosen is predictably part of this kind of selection, as with “Der Wanderer,” D. 649, “Der Wanderer an den Mond,” D. 870, and “Auf dem Wasser zu singen,” D. 774, while others may be less familiar. The Lieder are from different times in Schubert’s career and include various poets, not only the more famous ones like Goethe and Schlegel, but also figures whose reputation may be attributed to the composer’s settings of their verses. »

01 Jun 2005

VERDI: Nabucco

With Nabucco (1842) Giuseppe Verdi began a long and feverishly productive creative period in his life. More importantly, in this work, largely influenced by French grand opéra, the masses are as important as the soloists. This is one of the reasons why this opera, representing the enslavement of the Hebrews by the Babylonians under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, was later received as a metaphor of the Austrian political domination of Italy, which the patriots of the Risorgimento were fighting against. Neither the alleged political metaphor (which has been recently questioned by Roger Parker), nor the grandeur of the drama as a series of large tableaux seem to be at the center of the conception of this recent production (Genoa, 2004), staged in a relatively small theater that does not allow choral masses to act dynamically (the soloists overpower the contained choral masses). »

01 Jun 2005

GIORDANO: La Cena delle Beffe

The recording industry has recently been good for Umberto Giordano. We now at last have well recorded performances of Mala Vita (Bongiovanni), Siberia (Gala), Madame Sans-Gêne, Il Re and Mese Mariano (all on Dynamic). Still missing are recordings of his first opera Marina, of Regina Diaz, Marcella (Gigli recorded one aria) and Giove a Pompei. La Cena delle Beffe was somewhat better represented. There was a live performance on MRF-LP and in 1988 Bongiovanni recorded another performance (with Fabio Armiliato) in Piacenza. Both recordings however are no match for the RAI broadcast of the 14th of April 1956 (and not 1955 as the sleeve notes say). That recording was already issued several years ago by the same company (Myto 2MCD002.220). The big difference between both issues is that this first version included an Italian language-only libretto while this new issue doesn’t. That can make a difference for enjoying the recording though Sem Benelli’s Italian libretto is not exactly written in house and kitchen Italian. »

31 May 2005

GOMES: Salvator Rosa

One of the nice features of art in former times was the care-free way artists took in mining the same sources over and over again. Contents and quality were held in higher esteem than an “original” idea. Auber’s La Muette de Portici was still in full swing in many theatres when Antonio Ghislanzoni of Aida-fame concocted a libretto on the same subject: the rising of Naples led by the fisherman Tomas Aniello against the Spanish viceroy in 1647. (Incidentally, it is a legend that La Muette triggered the separatist mutiny that ended the united Netherlands in 1830). And in 1953 composer Jacopo Napoli won third prize in the Verdi composition competition with another Mas’aniello which was duly performed at La Scala. As they couldn’t find a tenor, they asked a youngster, thanked him profusely after the job was done and sent him back home for another two years: Carlo Bergonzi. »

30 May 2005


The appearance of a DVD of the Beaumarchais — Salieri Tarare is cause for celebration.  »

29 May 2005

TCHAIKOVSKY: Eugene Onegin

Recently released by TDK, this version of a Tchaikovsky classic was recorded at the Bolshoi Theater in October 2000. Directed by Boris Pokrovsky and conducted by Mark Ermler, the production features Maria Gavrilova as Tatiana, Nikolai Baskov as Lensky, Vladimir Redkin as Onegin, Yelena Novak as Olga, and Aik Martirosyan as Gremin. It is very much a live recording, complete with curtain calls and screaming fans who cheer their favorites after practically every number (to the performers’ credit, there are no encores!). »

28 May 2005

BELLINI: I Puritani

Bellini’s last opera has had its share of classic performances on stage and in studio, but it has not truly challenged the prominence of the reigning work of this bel canto master, Norma. The Druid princess remains such an attraction both for sopranos who aspire to greatness and to audiences who relish its dramatic power that it alone of all Bellini’s works maintains a firm position in the standard repertory. »

27 May 2005

PURCELL: Dido and Aeneas and The Masque of Cupid and Bacchus
GAILLIARD: Pan and Syrinx

This 2-disc recording contains three mid-Baroque English operas, two of them by Purcell. Dido and Aeneas is the well-known ancient Greek story of the widowed Carthaginian queen Dido and her doomed love for the wandering Aeneas, with its most famous aria built on a descending ground bass. The Masque of Cupid and Bacchus is a light-hearted comparison of the joys of love and drunkenness. Pan and Syrinx is a through-sung, one-act English opera on an original text by Lewis Theobald. It premiered at London’s Lincoln’s Inns Fields Theatre in 1718. London’s opera scene was dominated by Italian opera at this time, and it was very successful as an English-language opera. It is the story of the woodland god Pan, who falls for a cold-hearted nymph named Syrinx. Typical of maidens who are about to be ravished when they don’t want to be, Syrinx calls to the gods as Pan attempts to grab her, and she is transformed into a bunch of reeds, from which Pan makes his panpipe, in order to sing her eternal praise and lament her death. »

26 May 2005

MOZART: Lucio Silla

In December 1772, Mozart completed Lucio Silla on commission for Milan’s Teatro Regio Ducale — his second opera for Milan, after Mitridate. This opera seria is placed in ancient Rome, where Lucio Silla is the absolute dictator. Silla wishes to marry Giunia, the wife of the Roman senator Cecilio, whom he had exiled. After an attempt to assassinate Silla is thwarted, Cecilio is condemned to die. Silla eventually renounces the dictatorship, pardons Cecilio, frees all political prisoners, and gives freedom to the Roman people. »

25 May 2005

BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 14 & 15

These two sets of three CDs each are the current installment in Ton Koopman’s monumental complete cycle of J.S. Bach’s cantatas, performed by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, and produced by his wife, Tini Mathot. The cycle started out in 1995 on the Erato label, but only twelve volumes had been published when Erato was disbanded by its parent company, Time Warner. After searching for another label that would take over his cycle project, Koopman finally applied for a loan and started his own label, Antoine Marchand, which is distributed by Challenge Classics and Allegro. Koopman’s cycle has loosely followed Bach’s original chronological order of performance for the volumes appearing so far (vol. 1-13.) Appearing after a gap of two years since vol. 13, the current two volumes cover cantatas from Bach’s second to third yearly cycles of cantatas for Leipzig (chorale cantatas.) »