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Elsewhere

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Sara Gartland Takes on Jenůfa

Sara Gartland is an emerging singer who brings an enormous talent and a delightful personality to the opera stage. Having sung lighter soprano roles such as Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata, Gartland is now taking on the title role in Leoš Janáček’s dramatic opera Jenůfa.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Press Release: Welsh National Opera explores Madness for autumn season

Madness descends upon Welsh National Opera for its autumn 2015 season, with three new productions that will explore human turmoil through some of the finest musical expressions of madness and the human condition.

A Chat with Pulitzer Prize Winning Composer Jennifer Higdon

American composer Jennifer Higdon has won many awards for her imaginative music. Her percussion concerto received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.


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Recordings

Donizetti: <em>Les Martyrs</em> (Opera Rara ORC52 [3CDs])
30 May 2015

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.  »

Recently in Recordings

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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. »

22 Mar 2005

BACH: Weinen, Klagen — Cantatas BWV 12, 38 & 75

One of the greatest challenges in compiling a recording of J. S. Bach’s cantatas must be choosing which cantatas to group together. For his Harmonia Mundi release, Weinen, Klagen…, Philippe Herreweghe selects three cantatas that represent the human experience of “desolation and comfort.” These two themes are so central to Lutheran theology they could in fact be found in any number of Bach’s cantatas. Nevertheless, the three cantatas on this recording reflect the variety across Bach’s output. “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” BWV 12, comes from Bach’s period in Weimar, the double cantata, “Die Elend sollen essen” BWV 75, was the first work Bach presented at his new post in Leipzig, and “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” BWV 38 is based strictly on the chorale tune throughout the entire work. Despite their differences, all of these works make the theological transition from earthly desolation to eternal comfort. »

21 Mar 2005

Maria Cebotari sings Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Strauß and Gounod

So often we get wrapped up in today’s world of great performers that we forget the performers of the past who, directly or indirectly, influenced these performers and shaped the characters they play. Not one singer today can boast working side by side with Richard Strauss or living in Puccini’s heyday, but Maria Cebotari (1910-1949) could. Thanks to a brilliant re-mastered recording by Hänssler Classic, we are now able to take part in signature performances of a woman who is known as the “predecessor” to Maria Callas. »

21 Mar 2005

The Irreplaceable Beverly Sills

OF all the times Beverly Sills was host of the “Tonight” show, her favorite was in 1977, when her guests were three of her closest confidantes: the comedian Carol Burnett, the perky singer and television host Dinah Shore and the pop chanteuse Eydie Gorme. The women got into a spat over who was whose best friend, then kidded the wholesome Ms. Shore about her current beau, the heartthrob actor Burt Reynolds. »

17 Mar 2005

Les Travailleurs De La Mer: Ancient songs from a small island

Cast off the shores of Normandy, the tiny isle of Guernsey lies isolated between the two European powers of England and France. Guernsey, however, has remained independent since 1204, and its government, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, comprises the inhabited islands of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou and Lihou. Rich in an abundant culture and history, Guernsey is well-known for its sea ports, mystic pagan rituals, potent cider, and poetry. »