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Elsewhere

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.


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Recordings

Harmonia Mundi HMC902107 [CD]
15 Dec 2014

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.  »

Recently in Recordings

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13 Mar 2005

Leo Slezak sings arias by Wagner, Verdi and Meyerbeer

Leo Slezak is generally regarded as a German tenor, although he was actually born in what is now the Czech Republic. But, Moravia, where he is from, was Austrian at the time, and had a significant German speaking population, with German the dominant language of the middle and upper classes. He made his debut in Brno (then Brunn), at a time when most opera performances were sung in German, and, to the best of my knowledge, all of his recordings were in that language or Italian (the great majority being in German). He made over 400 records from a wide repertory of German, Italian and French operas, as well as many Lieder and some operetta. His two published discographies list no records from Czech operas. The arias he recorded most frequently include 11 versions each of the Preislied and “Celeste Aida”, nine of the “Ah, fuyez douce image” and seven of the “Roi du ciel” from Le prophète. His stage repertory could probably be divided into four more or less equal parts. Verdi predominated, with 133 performances of Radames, 130 of Otello, 91 of Manrico, and at least 41 of Riccardo. He also sang Ernani and the Duke in Rigoletto. Wagner and grand opera (comprising Elèazar, Raoul, Jean in Le prophète and Assad), were probably tied for second and third, with other composers, including Mozart, Boieldieu, Gounod, Puccini, etc. coming in fourth. His career was largely centered on Vienna, but also included an important stint at the Met, some stays in Brno, Breslau and Berlin during his youth, and guest appearances in many other centers. He has been described as everything from a “Heldentenor” (in many sources) to a large voiced lyric tenor (by Michael Scott, in his books on great singers). I would split the difference, calling him the German equivalent of a French “fort tenor”, who could sing everything from Mozart to the lighter Wagner roles, and did. »

11 Mar 2005

BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Nocturne; Phaedra

A spare and yet splendid masterpiece, Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings doesn’t seem to make it into concert halls as often as it deserves. In the recording studio, however, it has fared well. Besides the classic recordings from the composer and his partner Peter Pears, esteemed versions from Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, Robert Tear, Ian Bostridge, and others have a place in the catalogue. »

10 Mar 2005

KÁLMÁN: Die Csárdásfürstin

Emmerich Kálmán’s name may be familiar primarily to music lovers d’un certain âge, but between the world wars his operettas were as popular as those of Léhar and Strauss on both sides of the Atlantic. Die Csárdásfürstin (The Gypsy [or Czardas] Princess), which premiered in Vienna in 1915, is his best known, and for good reason. Its book by Leo Stein and Béla Jenbach sparkles and delights, but with reversals of fortune that leave the audience wondering until the last minute how love’s complications will be resolved. The Budapest-born Kálmán (1882–1953; his fellow composition students included Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály) apparently was weaned on his homeland’s melodies and czardas, which he mixes generously with Austrian waltzes to create a glorious portrait of the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The piece played the New Amsterdam Theater in New York in 1917 as The Riviera Girl, with a new book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse and added numbers by Jerome Kern. »

08 Mar 2005

BRITTEN: Canticles I–V, The Heart of the Matter

Benjamin Britten is usually thought of as a musical dramatist on a large, operatic scale, but the instinct (or perhaps the inner necessity) to capture psychological conflict in music burst through in his smaller musical forms as well. His five canticles (not to be confused with the church parables) mirror Britten’s artistic growth in his operas and other large-scale works from the late 1940s until shortly before his death. »

08 Mar 2005

The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen

This last in the contributions of Anonymous 4 to the performance of medieval music is a selection of thematically related texts – most by Hildegard von Bingen – dealing with a spiritual or religious fire. Those renditions of traditional hymns, such as “Veni Creator Spiritus” and “Veni Spiritus eternorum alme,” are interspersed with works of Hildegard’s composition. Some of these are based on her prose visions, e.g. “Et ego homo non calens,” identified topically as “The fire of creation,” a depiction of which is also used for the cover illustration. The prose texts are provided with musical adaptations of plainsong by Anonymous 4. “The fire of creation” was performed using plainchant, and Hildegard’s vision “The fiery spirit” was adapted to a two-voice lection tone from Christmas matins of Polish origin. »

08 Mar 2005

VERDI: Les Vêpres Siciliennes

In 1847, Giuseppe Verdi revised his opera I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843) into a work for the Parisian stage. This “new” composition, featuring extensive plot changes, new music, and the requisite ballet, is considered better than the original upon which it was based. A reverse fate awaited Verdi’s next work for Paris, the grand opéra Les Vêpres Siciliennes, which premiered at the Opéra in 1855. Although it was performed there, with minor changes, until 1863, attempts to get the work past censors in Italy failed, for tales of successful revolutions simply were not permitted on the Risorgimento stage. After a poor translation of the opera entitled Giovanna de Guzman made the circuits, Verdi revisited the score in 1856, and, removing the ballet, created I vespri sicilani. This inferior version, which employs much of Giovanna de Guzman’s text, is unfortunately the one that has remained in the repertory. »

07 Mar 2005

STRAUSS: Die Fledermaus

Film freezes time and even serves to transport an enrapt viewer into its temporal world. Viewers of the recent DVD release of a December 1980 performance of Strauss’ operetta classic, Die Fledermaus, may not be quite as ecstatic as the local audience, but resistance is futile. Have some champagne ready for the curtain calls. Lovers of this art form will rejoice, and even the operetta-resistant (of which your reviewer is one) must succumb to the energy, star power, and sheer good will of all involved. »

06 Mar 2005

PUCCINI: La Bohème

Even for a jaded reviewer like this one who has seen innumerable Bohème’s all over the world, there comes a moment in the third act when music and production simply take precedence over intellectual curiosity: the old magic works again and one is moved by the fate of these youngsters. High praise indeed for the famous Zeffirelli-production, born in 1963 at La Scala together with a juicy scandal when Di Stefano was ousted and replaced by Gianni Raimondi. »

05 Mar 2005

ZEMLINSKY: Une Tragédie Florentine

The operas of the Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) continue to fascinate audiences with their combination of carefully composed music and well-selected librettos. After using fairy-tale elements in his early operas, such as Sarema (1897), Es war einmal (1900), and Der Traumgörge (1905-6), Zemlinsky turned to Renaissance settings for Eine florentinische Tragödie (1917) and Der Zwerg (1922). In fact, Zemlinsky’s Florentinische Tragödie is based the dramatic fragment A Florentine Tragedy, by Oscar Wilde, whose works intrigued other composers of the time. Beyond the provocative drama Salome set by Richard Strauss, Franz Schreker used a story by Wilde as the basis for his ballet Die Geburtstag der Infantin (1908). »

05 Mar 2005

SCHOENBERG: Gurrelieder

Schoenberg for lovers. Sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact there is enough passion in the too seldom heard Gurrelieder to make even Valentine blush. We know Schoenberg largely from the atonal and dodecaphonic later works (and most listeners know of these mostly by inaccurate rumor). But we forget all too often the fact that Schoenberg had an early period, much of which is readily accessible to conservative tastes. Gurrelieder is the sort of diamond in the crown of this period, a long cantata-like adventure, some two hours in full. Scored for an enormous orchestra, four choirs, and speaker, and five soloists, the work is the logical conclusion of the nineteenth-century penchant for Texas-style excess when it comes to orchestration: you can’t get any bigger than this without havin’ to build a second story. »

01 Mar 2005

Mosaic: African-American Spirituals

Angela Brown has attracted the attention of those eager for the appearance of the next great Verdi soprano, and she continues to live up to the high expectations. Appearances with the Opera Company of Philadelphia as Leonara in Il Trovatore, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, and Strauss’s Ariadne evoked high praise from local and national critics, and her recent debut as Aida at the Metropolitan Opera was well received. All have noted the powerful and richly expressive voice in early bloom as well as Brown’s commanding stage presence. So this recent recording of spirituals, sung only with guitar or piano accompaniment (they all three contribute to the final “Ride Up in the Chariot”), is an interesting release. Brown is minimizing resources in search of what, in the liner notes, she calls an “intimate recording” of “songs of personal introspection.” The results are a little more mixed than her operatic reception. »

01 Mar 2005

VERDI: Falstaff

This Andante release is a marvelous compilation of two recordings of Verdi’s Falstaff performed at the Salzburg festival, the first conducted by Arturo Toscanini in 1937, the second by Herbert Von Karajan in 1957. The juxtaposition and accompanying extensive program notes encourage the aficionado to compare, contrast and delight in the music through the lens of time. Falstaff was a favorite of the maestri and both took professional chances with it. Toscanini performed Falstaff during his first season at La Scala in 1898; Karajan perplexed his German-speaking audience by programming Falstaff in Aachen during his final season in 1941-2. »

28 Feb 2005

STRAVINSKY: Oedipus Rex; Les Noces

Robert Craft has begun an ambitious project of recording Stravinsky’s oeuvre with two of the best dramatic works, Oedipus Rex — a sort of melodrama in a fever — and Les Noces (The Wedding), which simply defies any generic classification. The two make an ideal pairing, Rex as high drama told at a breakneck crawl, Noces as a kind of musical Polaroid camera that churns through frozen snapshots with a mind numbing velocity. Craft was a close confidant and collaborator with Stravinsky, and was responsible for many premiers and other definitive statements. For better or worse this fact brought down upon his head a certain amount of critical skepticism on the part of academics. This can be set to one side in these recordings, which are certainly reliable in a workaday sense, if a little tepid in terms of insight and energy. »