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Elsewhere

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

Battles administration neglects FLO’s assets by defunding the program

The college administration and President Denise Battles’ recent decision to defund the Finger Lakes Opera came as a shock to many and a concern to more. This decision reflects the administration’s blatant disregard for the arts and reveals a mindset that is counterproductive to the mission of the college.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.


OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

05 Dec 2016

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.  »

Recently in Recordings

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15 Apr 2005

Lotte Lehmann: “Frauenliebe und Leben” — Works by Schumann, Brahms, Schubert and Sacred Songs

Of all the singing geniuses of the 20th century, Lotte Lehmann is among the forefront. Though not blessed with the most beautiful voice or impressive technique, Lehmann knew how to reach her audience through unmatched musical interpretation and expression. She was able to win the love of her audience, and now, almost a century from the start of her career, the world continues to sing her praises. »

15 Apr 2005

English Choral Music

One has to wonder if the number of recordings of English choirs singing English choral music will ever reach a saturation point. This Naxos double disc by the Choir of St. Johns College, Cambridge, may very well signify such a moment through its attempt to chronicle the succession of English choral music from the 19th century to the present. The choir of men and boys sings gloriously, nearly equaling their more famous sister choir at King’s College, yet the musical montage is rather unusual. »

13 Apr 2005

WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde

After playing a few tracks I was reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal’s review of a 1973 Callas and Di Stefano-concert in his own Opera Magazine: “This is one of the saddest reviews I ever had to write.” »

13 Apr 2005

HANDEL: Athalia

I have long been accustomed to the grumblings of my German and Italian colleagues concerning the pronunciation and expression of musical works in their native languages by English-native singers and choirs. I had chalked it up to benevolent xenophobia, but this beautiful recording gives me new insight into their perspective. »

11 Apr 2005

SCHUBERT: Die Winterreise

When it comes to any new recordings of Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, it is difficult not to think of the fine performances by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at various points in his career. While Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings can serve as points of reference, the recent CD by the baritone Andreas Schmidt adds to the many excellent recordings that already exist for this work. Schmidt brings to this cycle a personal and effective interpretation that emerges clearly in the recording, where the close ensemble with Rudolf Jansen results in a nuanced performance. By allowing themselves fluid tempos, the performers allow the text to serve the music well. At times they linger over a syllable or stretch a phrase to reinforce the meaning. These are subtle differences that are at the core of experienced and effective Lieder performance. »

05 Apr 2005

MOZART: Idomeneo

In 1934, John Christie launched an institution of English musical life with Fritz Busch and Carl Ebert: The Glyndebourne Festival. Since 1951, the Festival has staged four productions of Mozart’s opera seria Idomeneo (1781), the most recent being in 2003. »

04 Apr 2005

BALAKAUSKAS: Requiem in Memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis

Of the three Baltic States, both Latvia and Estonia are better known for choral music than Lithuania. Yet, Osvaldas Balakauskas, born in 1937, could be one of the finest lesser known modernist composers of the 20th century. Resisting both the neoclassical Soviet aesthetic of Prokofiev and a trendy nationalist folk identity, Balakauskas embraced the avant garde developments of Western Europe. Composing from dodecaphonic tonal modes and complex rhythmic constructs, he can most accurately be compared to Olivier Messiaen. »

04 Apr 2005

Feodor Chaliapin sings Russian folk songs

This new release from Hänssler Classics presents an anthology of live and studio performances by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938), undoubtedly one of the greatest singers in recorded history. The title of the album, “Feodor Chaliapin sings Russian Folk Songs,” is somewhat misleading. Apart from traditional songs such as “Mashenka,” “Eh, Van’ka,” and “Down the Volga,” the recording includes arrangements of 19th-century popular songs such as “Dubinushka,” “Down the Peterskaya,” and the perennial Gypsy favorite “Black Eyes,” as well as a selection of salon romances, art songs, and ballads by Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Dargomïzhsky, Anton Rubinstein, and Modest Musorgsky, among others. Most of the selections on the new CD have been previously released on various labels, with the possible exception of “Dubinushka,” which I have not been able to find among the recordings currently available. Hence, avid Chaliapin collectors should be aware that the Hänssler release offers little if anything new to them. Those music lovers still unacquainted with Chaliapin’s art, however, or those whose exposure to this singer has been limited to his opera recordings, would find this album a great insight into a spectacular voice and a unique artistic persona. »

03 Apr 2005

Caballe: Beyond Music

Monserratt Caballé’s journey to La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera was truly a road of talent, dedication, and will. One of the most beautiful and athletic voices of our generation, declared as Callas’ successor, Caballé dominated both the dramatic spinto and bel canto arenas, transcending the realm of the opera world to influence the popular masses. »

02 Apr 2005

Verdi Gala

As a live occasion, the gala format allows for a festive atmosphere — a variety of singers trot back and forth across the stage, usually performing a series of “opera’s greatest hits” with no distractions, if one may, in the way of costume, set, or dramatic context. Recorded for posterity, such gala events can lose, for many viewers, the attractions of the live atmosphere and become rather labored exercises. »

31 Mar 2005

BRAHMS: Lieder, Complete Edition, Vol. 8

This latest release in the collaborative project to record the complete songs of Johannes Brahms focuses on four opus numbers, among the last groups of Lieder to be so designated by Brahms. The present recording represents typical songs from the so-called mature composer, most of these having been written between 1883-88. Each of the opus numbers includes a mix of texts drawn from the works of contemporary, well known poets and from the milieu of popular folk-songs. As an example of this mix, the songs from op. 97 comprise settings of poems by Reinhold, Alexis, and Groth, as well as two songs for which the source is simply given as Volkslied. As in most of the previous releases of this project, the singers Juliane Banse and Andreas Schmidt divide the repertoire and are accompanied by the pianist Helmut Deutsch. »

30 Mar 2005

LAURIDSEN: Lux aeterna

The title piece, Lux aeterna (light eternal), a five-movement work by American composer Morton Lauridsen (b.1943), is intended to be an “intimate work of quiet serenity.” The composer’s quest for texts that express “hope, reassurance, faith and illumination in all of its manifestations,” results in a free compilation from various liturgical observances or feasts: the Introit from the Requiem; select verses of the Te Deum, sung at the end of Matins on Sunday or in thanksgiving for a special blessing, interpolated with a verse from the Beatus vir (Ps. 111:4); verses from O nata lux, the Lauds hymn for the feast of the Transfiguration; Veni sancte spiritus, the sequence for Pentecost; and the Agnus Dei and Communio from the Mass for the Dead with an “Alleluia” tag added by the composer. Admittedly, the work is non-liturgical. Still, the fashioning of these texts causes the work to be viewed by some as a “Requiem” or quasi “German Requiem.” Indeed, it is neither a Requiem nor a Mass for the Dead, in spite of the opening and closing movements. As a meditation on “light eternal,” texts other than those from the Requiem could have been used. One need only read the Exsultet, which overflows with the symbols and imagery of “the Light” that conquers death, and which dispels darkness. Further, the theme of the texts used in the three inner movements is more Trinitarian (Te Deum = God the Father; O nata lux = God the Son; Veni sancte spiritus = God the Holy Spirit). Unfortunately, their importance and strength is reduced to the occurrence of the word “light” in their verse. That being said, the texts are not what the ear remembers in this work; it is the music. The words are merely the vehicle for the vocalists. »

29 Mar 2005

VERDI: Falstaff

Years ago I remember reading a commentary on Verdi by a respected critic — Conrad L. Osborne — to the effect that most of early Verdi could have been written by Donizetti except for the first great success, Nabucco, that could have been written by Rossini. If one accepts that proposal, it would mean that Rossinian operas bracketed Verdi’s career, for surely Falstaff, at the very end, reflects the energy, elegance, joyousness and sophistication of Rossini from one end to the other. »

29 Mar 2005

Maria Callas — Living and Dying for Art and Love

The legend of Maria Callas has transcended her death, and after more than twenty five years, titans of opera still proclaim her the ultimate Diva: artist, actress, musician, lover and woman. Iambic Productions and BBC’s 2004 DVD, Maria Callas: Living and Dying for Art and Love, is a fascinating look at the life of Callas from the perspective of her final role and performance at Covent Garden, Tosca. »

28 Mar 2005

BEETHOVEN: Fidelio

I grew up during the Age of LP and compared with CD’s the size had its disadvantages but there were some distinct gains as well, especially in the field of artwork. Collectors may have the same set on CD but they will rarely separate from those glorious RCA-Soria recordings like Carmen (Price, Corelli) or Otello (Vickers, Gobbi) with their lavish booklets. Though there are no colour photographs in this set under review I nevertheless was reminded of those old glories. This 4Cd-set is so wonderfully packed and designed into what looks like a small hard cover book that just paging in it gives one already some joy. Of course, neither performance is a great discovery for the collector. The Böhm-set already appeared twice on LP and twice on CD. The Furtwängler only has one LP- and one CD-reissue, which is quite understandable as the conductor led exactly the same cast the same year for a commercial recording on HMV (3 LP’s) and with all spoken dialogues cut as if producer Legge didn’t trust the singers to speak their lines. At the time he was not alone in this false belief. The next commercial Fidelio (Fricsay) came out on DG with actors for the dialogues; an even more ridiculous solution as one could clearly hear the differences in timbre between actors and singers. »

28 Mar 2005

SALAZAR: Vísperas Completas de Nuestra Señora

Sacred music from the Spanish Baroque deserves to be held up next to the finest Italian examples of the same period. Equally celebratory in nature, the music written for use in Catholic Vespers services on this recording is an example of the mixed concertante style developed in Venice. While not as monumental as Claudio Monteverdi’s conglomerate Vespers of 1610, the Vísperas Completas de Nuestra Señora by Juan Garcia de Salazar (1639-1710) contrasts polyphonic and homophonic choruses with plainchant, monody, instrumental pieces, and organ improvisation. »

28 Mar 2005

BACH: St. John's Passion

The explosion of research into the music of J. S. Bach allows for innumerable interpretations of his works. Scholars meticulously study the musical source material, letters and writings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and anything else that could possibly lead to an insight into Bach’s musical practice. Invariably, each interpreter achieves new conclusions and raises new questions forming their own distinctive ideal. In the last decade and a half, the dialogue over Bach’s choral music has been particularly active and fierce with proponents of massive romantic proportions and those who prefer single singers and instrumentalists on a part. »

24 Mar 2005

Leontyne Price & Samuel Barber: Historic Performances (1938 - 1953)

Among the leading figures in music in twentieth-century America, the composer Samuel Barber and the soprano Leontyne Price are notable for various reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they worked together at various times. »