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Elsewhere

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.


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Recordings

Lyrita REAM2122
17 Jul 2017

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.  »

Recently in Recordings

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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

SALIERI: Tarare

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.) »

24 May 2005

Teresa Berganza: The Spanish Soul

Brilliant Classics’ Teresa Berganza: The Spanish Soul is an outstanding compilation of Spanish songs and cycles by prolific Spanish and Latin American composers, including de Falla, Granados, Turina, Guridi, Toldra, Villa-Lobos, Braga, and Guastavino. The very beauty of this recording is the innate sense of energy in the Spanish style, which both Berganza and pianist Juan Antonio Alvarez Parejo seem to execute effortlessly. Once more, such an extensive collection of well-known compositions alongside rare jewels creates an essential recording. »

24 May 2005

Ivan Kozlovsky: The Great Russian Tenor

This new release from Pearl presents an anthology of Russian selections, primarily operatic, performed by tenor Ivan Kozlovsky (1900-1993). Kozlovsky was one of the giants of the Russian operatic stage during its glory days in the 1940s and 50s; he recorded extensively with Melodiya, both Russian and Western repertoire. Surprisingly, however, there has apparently never been a Kozlovsky Russian anthology available prior to this release (Myto Records released a collection of the singer’s Western operatic hits in 2000). It is gratifying to see it finally here. »

24 May 2005

Arie del ‘700 Italiano (Italian arias of the 18th century)

Featuring nine arias from various eighteenth-century operas and composers, this recording contains a wide variety of dramatic songs, three of which are the recitative and aria “Se cerca, se dice: “I’amico dov’e?” and “Ha keres, ha kerdez: a baratom hol van?” from the opera L’Olimpiade, set by three different composers. Accompanied on period instruments by the Savaria Baroque Orchestra, Monica González does a magnificent job with each of the arias on this disc. She is a former winner of the International “Toti dal Monte” singing competition, and has studied by personal invitation with Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge at their home in Montreaux. »

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. »