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Elsewhere

The Sense of an Ending: the BBC Singers and Sakari Oramo

We are accustomed to seeing Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo at the helm of a large orchestra, baton in hand, guiding the instrumentalists with unassuming but precise authority and expressive, communicative musicianship.

Fables and the Fabulous from Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at the Proms

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra took us through fairy-tale forests, antique lands and into fantasy worlds in this fabulous Prom, which celebrated Maurice Ravel’s genius as a musical story-teller.

The Bassarids at the Salzburg Festival

Hans Werner Henze’s fifth opera, The Bassarids (those who wear fox skins) had its world premiere at Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus in 1966. Now, 52 years later Henze’s massive “opera seria” returns, but to the Felsenreitschule —the old riding school made into a theater that hosts the Salzburg Festival’s difficult operas, the Grosses Festspielhaus now dedicated to the grand repertoire.

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Glyndebourne announces new Artistic Director

Stephen Langridge has been appointed Artistic Director of Glyndebourne. Stephen is currently Director for Opera and Drama at Gothenburg Opera, Sweden, a role he has occupied for five years. He will take up his new role at Glyndebourne in spring 2019.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.


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Recordings

13 Aug 2018

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated. »

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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. »