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Elsewhere

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.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.


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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24 May 2005

ADAM: Si J’etais Roi
LEHÁR: Rose de Noël

Accord has gone back to the vaults for an attractively packaged series called “Opérette.” On the evidence of two of the sets, these releases feature recordings made in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. The booklets are entirely in French (and offer no librettos whatsoever), but even a French-challenged persons such as your reviewer can understand the inside front cover, which appears to explain that the recordings are the efforts of “L’Academie Nationale de l’Opérette.” This organization appears to have as its rationale — all right, raison d’etre — the preservation, if not resuscitation, of the great French tradition of light musical entertainments. With bold, bright colors decorating the packaging, the sets come across as delectable candy boxes — but how much sweetness one will enjoy when partaking of the series does depend on a taste for the bouncy, frivolous world of operetta. »

23 May 2005

DONIZETTI: Maria Stuarda

One of the more interesting debates in arts politics in England last century centered on the language in which operas should be performed. While some staunchly favored opera in the original, others maintained that librettos should be translated into the vernacular. The latter side felt strongly that opera in English would nurture a national style of operatic presentation; a more chauvinistic argument suggested that if native composers heard opera in English, they would be more likely to attempt to set original English librettos (which, of course, would come from the pens of similarly inspired writers). Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden’s Peter Grimes (1945) might be interpreted as representative of such a strategy. In addition, the mounting of vernacular performances also would inspire British performers (and discourage foreign singers who would be less likely to want to relearn a role in a new language). The debate eventually led to the division of operatic labor, with Covent Garden (soon to be renamed The Royal Opera) to perform works in their original languages and Sadler’s Wells (renamed the English National Opera after its move to the Coliseum, where it remains today) to produce works in translation. Thus, it was left up to audiences to decide which they preferred—or, better yet, to enjoy them both. »

23 May 2005

Geistliche arien des norddeutschen Barock (Sacred Baroque arias from North Germany)

This disc features nine compositions by eight composers located in the area of northern Germany from the sixteenth to the early seventeenth centuries. Despite the title, this recording presents sets of sacred compositions for soprano voice and instruments separated by purely instrumental pieces. The disc begins and ends with compositions by Christian Geist (ca. 1640-1711); otherwise, there is a variety of composers and compositions represented here. »

20 May 2005

FAURÉ: The Complete Songs - 1 — Au bord de l’eau

The songs of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) are some of the finest works examples of the genre and they represent the mature French mélodie in the hands of a composer who knew both the voice and the piano quite well. This release is the first of four discs that include all of Fauré’s songs for voice and piano within Hyperion’s series of French Song editions. Like those other collections from Hyperion, this volume of the Fauré set involves excellent performers who know the literature well. »

17 May 2005

BROWNE: Music from the Eton Choirbook

For more than a quarter century, Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars have achieved great distinction in the performance of sixteenth-century polyphony, bringing to that repertory interpretations of engaging directness, rhythmic vitality, and fullness of tone. These are qualities that are admirably well suited to the music of the Eton Choirbook and one of its most representative composers, John Browne, the subject of this recent recording. »

11 May 2005

BØRRESEN: The Royal Guest

When this CD arrived, I had never heard of Danish composer Hakon Børresen (1876–1954). Baker’s gives him only a few lines, and a Google search didn’t turn up much information until I found a Danish site (www.samfundet.dk) with interesting biographical details to supplement the little biography in the CD notes. When I put the CD on and sat back to listen, I suddenly realized I had heard, if not heard of, Børresen before. It’s Richard Strauss! Or maybe Edward Elgar. The composer seems to have remained firmly rooted in the nineteenth century (or maybe Hans Pfitzner) until his death, three years after that of Arnold Schoenberg. That he retained his leadership of the Danish Composers’ Society during the Nazi occupation until he was ousted in 1948 may say something about his conservative nature as well. »

11 May 2005

BRUBECK: Songs

This problematic recording is another in Naxos’s “American Classics” series, an important body of releases that demonstrates the broad reach of American music across two centuries. While some of the recordings are decidedly novelties, they are welcome as such. William Henry Fry’s “Santa Claus” Symphony, for instance, deserves to be heard as well as mentioned in textbooks. The songs of Dave Brubeck, however, are certainly more than novelties, despite their not being as well known or as widely heard as the music of his justly famous quartet. »

10 May 2005

Mara Zampieri: A Tribute to Verdi

The recurring practice in classical recording studios is “re-mastering” recordings of a legendary artist, sometimes focusing on those artists well known but not frequently recorded. Soprano Mara Zampieri is one of those veteran performers, who released only a handful of commercial recordings and no personal compilations. Myto’s new release, Mara Zampieri: A Tribute to Verdi, is proof why this singer has not been recorded more frequently. »

09 May 2005

WEILL: Die sieben Todsünden

A new recording of Kurt Weill’s (1900 – 1950) ballet chanté, Die 7 Todsünden (1933) featuring Anja Silja and the SWR Rundfunkorchestra Kaiserslautern and conducted by Grzegorz Nowak, has recently been made available in the U.S. on the Hässler-Classic label. Also included on the CD is Weill’s Quodlibet, opus 9 (1923) — an orchestral arrangement taken from his 1922 children’s pantomime, Zaubernacht. »

09 May 2005

ZANDONAI: Francesca da Rimini

Strange to think that Magda Olivero has to thank Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas for two of her best known live recordings. Tebaldi cancelled the famous Adriana Lecouvreur performances in Naples 1958 (Corelli, Bastianini, Simionato) and La Scala originally wanted Callas as Francesca da Rimini. Twice Olivero substituted and made the role so much her own that whenever one of these operas pops up in a conversation so does Olivero’s name. Contrary to Adriana, Francesca was not a staple in the soprano’s repertoire. She sang a few performances with Alessandro Ziliano and Tullio Serafin in Torino in 1940 and only returned to the role 19 years later for her second and last run of Francescas. »

09 May 2005

Lamentations and Messiah

The Brilliant Classics label has been releasing budget priced recordings on CD for some time now, many to high praise. Complete symphony cycles (for example, of Shostakovich and Bruckner) have been favorably compared in some publications to those from major labels featuring star conductors and top orchestras. »

09 May 2005

ESCUDERO: Illeta

The Basque region of Spain is known as a unique cultural enclave. Within its confines thrives a rich artistic heritage. Composer Francisco Escudero has become one of the most famous 20th century composers from the region. His avant-garde sound blends many eclectic styles with elements of traditional Basque music. »

05 May 2005

The Very Best of Beverly Sills

EMI Classics’ release of The Very Best of Bevery Sills is a mixed bag. Unlike similar EMI compilations of Maria Callas, Mirella Freni, or Lucia Popp, who all present an array of signature arias or art songs, this release should be re-titled Some of Beverly Sills’ Opera Scenes and a Few Arias. Though Sills performs with an impressive cast, including Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda, Sherrill Milnes, and Samuel Ramey, this recording would be much more satisfying if is showcased more of signature Sills. »

04 May 2005

BIZET: Carmen

I still remember the incredible excitement in the early 1970s when DGG issued recordings featuring the young conductor, Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004). Both the Weber Freischütz and Beethoven Fifth Symphony showcased the craft of an extraordinary talent, an artist capable of making even the most familiar music sound fresh, spontaneous, and new. Music lovers hoped that this son of the great conductor Erich Kleiber would be a constant presence, both in the concert hall and opera house. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: La Forza del Destino

“The policies of recording companies never fail to wonder me.” I am often reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal’s expression in the magazine, Opera, and I definitely had it in mind when I received this recording. Why would anyone bring out a set with two singers (Bergonzi and Cappuccilli) duplicating their roles of the classic EMI-recording of 1969; maybe still the best buy around? And yet, yet I’m not so sure anymore of the superfluousness of this set. There are two reasons for it. Number one is Carlo Bergonzi. I didn’t think he would be able to surpass his formidable EMI-Alvaro and nevertheless he does. Bergonzi’s voice was slowly changing in the early seventies. He had been singing the most strenuous roles of the repertoire for almost a quarter of a century and still the voice had not suffered. On the contrary, there were no traces of his baritone past anymore. The top was secure, though there never was much squillo and a high C usually became a high B. It was the middle voice that had changed most. It became honeyed, silvery in an almost Gigli-like way. Combined with his inexhaustible breath control, his legato and the way he could colour some small phrases and switch from forte to a heavenly pianissimo it slowly dawned upon many listeners that here was one of the greatest tenors of the century who maybe had been taken too much for granted. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: Ernani

“Few tenors today have his ringing top” and “his ringing, clear top” are not exactly qualities one associates with baritenor Placido Domingo, as he has been calling himself for the last ten years. Still, those were the exact words used by critic Peter Hoffer in his reports for Opera Magazine and Opera News on the opening of La Scala for the season 1969-1970. In all honesty, a ringing top à la Corelli is not exactly what one hears on this recording. But there is no hint of a pushed up baritone either. This is 28-year old fresh voiced Domingo with all the beauty and youthful freshness of the middle voice and quite an acceptable top always taking the higher option (A or B-flat) at the end of a solo or a duet. Mr. Domingo has been so long among us that one somewhat has forgotten how meltingly beautiful the young tenor sang, relying on his outstanding vocal gifts. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: Attila

This DVD release, taken from an RAI telecast, documents a 1991 La Scala performance of Verdi’s 1846 opera, based on the life of Attila the Hun. I’ve always felt that early Verdi is one of Riccardo Muti’s greatest strengths. When Muti was Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I was privileged to see their concert performances of Nabucco and Macbeth. Both featured breathtaking execution, intensity, and momentum. »