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The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Boesch and Martineau Schubert Complete Songs, Wigmore Hall, London

The Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert Songs series of 40 concerts began with a recital by Florian Boesch and Graham Johnson. (Read my review here). If anything, though, the second concert, where Boesch was accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, was even better. The programme was beautifully planned, and the performance exceptional, even by the very high standards of the Wigmore Hall.

Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - ENO London

It took artistic courage to choose Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtensk to start the ENO's 2015-2016 season. Shostakovich isn't an easy sell, and so full of sex and violence that some minds - like Josef Stalin - would be aghast. But Mark Wigglesworth is passionate about Shostakovich , and as new Music Director of the ENO, he's making a point. Good opera needs artistic vision.

Berg Wozzeck Fabio Luisi Zurich Opera

Zurich Opera brought Alban Berg Wozzeck to the Royal Festival Hall, London . Fabio Luisi conducted Philharmonia Zurich and a very good cast in a concert performance. With all pretence at staging removed (apart from natural good acting) we could focus on the sheer musical audacity of Berg's writing, and pick up on the processes the music employs to create the drama.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Sondra Radvanovsky Stars in the Title Role of Anna Bolena

The First of Three Donizetti Queens She Will Sing at the Met This Season

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

For Odyssey Opera, No Operatic Challenge is Too Great

For a company founded in 2013, Odyssey Opera has an astounding track record. To take on Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is ambitious enough, but to do so within only a year of the company’s founding seems almost single-minded.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.



Sony 509248
03 Oct 2015

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.  »

Recently in Recordings

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30 Jan 2005

WAGNER: Die Feen

How narrow-minded can one be ? Very much so in the case of Richard Wagner who succeeded in not mentioning once the name of Verdi in all his writings. And is not his decision to banish his early youth works from the Bayreuth-barn rooted in that same mentality ? Of course during his lifetime he was the subject of many attacks and maybe he feared to be the victim of ridicule with critics dissecting every bar of Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi and looking for influences of other composers. Rienzi and Liebesverbot had been staged while he lived but Die Feen was only known by a few selections and he never took pains to have his first opera performed at a time when he could easily have done it. Die Feen was premiered 5 years after his death and then led a rather undistinguished life of a few performances. Still the amount of bigotry of his successors is even greater, considering that Siegfried Wagner himself was a composer of fairy tales and should not have respected his father’s wish not to perform Die Feen. The grandchildren complied as well though one can understand their motives. As Wagner lost some of his hallowed reputation during the fifties and the sixties, the stock of Verdi rose very high indeed and maybe it was not in the Wagners’ interest to show the more amateurish trials of granddaddy. Eva Wagner, Wolfgang’s estranged daughter who should have succeeded him long ago, was the first to offer a business plan for a new New Bayreuth where Die Feen, Rienzi and even the operas of composers who influenced the maestro would have their place. And then music lovers could at last hear and see what the fuss is all about if there is something to be excited about. Well, there is. The overture is a gem, all of its 11 minutes and almost worth the purchase of the set. Yes, it’s easy to trace the influence of Mozart and especially Weber but 20-year Wagner had a voice of his own as well, different from that of his contemporaries. Wagner was twelve years younger than Lortzing who could easily have treated the same fairy subject but one immediately hears the far richer orchestration, the ease Wagner has in composing more complicated arias and ensembles. And one regrets somewhat that the mature Wagner gave his best tunes to the orchestra instead of sticking with the singers like the youthful composer still did in the old tradition. »

25 Jan 2005

SCHUBERT: Alfonso und Estrella

New artists are taking greater chances with repertory, looking for niches to call their own. Dawn Upshaw explores new music, Cecilia Bartoli eighteenth-century Italian song, and in this live recording up-and-coming artists Eva Mei and Rainer Trost take on the lead roles in Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella. Mei and Trost’s sympathetic singing with the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro lirico di Cagliari conducted by Gérard Korsten breathes life into this choppy opera, which Liszt famously condemned as a work of only historical interest. »

21 Jan 2005

BERLIOZ: Les Troyens

For the last couple of decades, the “concept production” has been a controversial presence on opera stages, generally director-driven and decried by traditionalists as detracting from the essence of opera which they define as “voice, voice, voice.” Here’s a refreshing and overdue variant, a production concept that is conductor-driven, devoted to rethinking the sound and casting principle appropriate for French grand opera by starting at the top with the grandest of them all. The point is often made that we now lack heroic voices for the great works. John Eliot Gardiner’s casting argues, rather convincingly I think, that “heroic” is a concept relative to an opera’s overall style and the period in which it was written. He casts in the French tradition that knows the difference between a German heldentenor whose strength lies in the middle and bottom of the voice, and a French heroic tenor, of whom is demanded a free and brilliant top and the ability to soar over ensembles with precisely focused tone. Many in this cast are associated with music of the Renaissance, Baroque and early nineteenth century. Their voices are clearer and lighter than we have become accustomed to in Les Troyens and Gardiner surrounds them with a chorus that can not only move and act with distinction, but whose voices in ensemble have the required buoyancy, flexibility and brilliance for Berlioz’s demanding choral writing. »

20 Jan 2005

BERG: Wozzeck

Andante’s new mastering of famous live performances aims to capture what those performances might have felt like. This gives these recordings an automatic cachet of authenticity and a kind of cult status. However, much depends on the quality of the particular performance. The skill is to choose quality performances that really are interesting in themselves, and to remaster them in ways that do them justice. The Andante series comes impressively packaged, with luxuriously bound booklets, beautifully presented. However, in this case the music does not quite match the promise. Worthy as this performance is, and worthy it is indeed, it is not an ideal first choice. Artistically it is good, but best appreciated by those who know Abbado, Boulez, Dohnanyi and even Böhm’s later recording. While I’m one who listens for music, not for sound quality, in this case the sound quality is poor enough to distract – not enough to ruin listening, for it would take a lot to deter a genuine listener – but just enough to feel that you’re listening through an artificial medium. This may have been recorded live, but it doesn’t “feel” live, with the pops, crackles and occluded passages. Ultimately that defeats its own purpose. »

18 Jan 2005

Songs of Schumann, Vol. 9

The latest volume of Hyperion’s comprehensive collection of the Songs of Robert Schumann is an impressive recording of Schumann’s Liederalbum für die Jugend, Op. 79 (1849). The songs are settings with children in mind, and not necessarily music for children to perform; the texts are by a number of poets, such as Goethe, Hebbel, Schiller, Rückert, Uhland, and von Fallersleben. In selecting the texts for this collection of Lieder, Schumann touched upon a variety of subjects, including topics associated with children, like Christmas, and verse about animals (“Marienwürmchen” and “Die Schwalben”); other texts deal with seasons, like Spring (“Frühlingsbotschaft” and “Frühlingsgruss”) and the fantastic, as occurs in “Vom Schlaraffenland.” »

13 Jan 2005

WAGNER: Die Walküre

This release documents performances of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre at the Munich National Theater in July of 2002. The cast includes several contemporary singers well known for their Wagnerian performances, as well as a famous conductor who has enjoyed a long and successful career, both in the concert hall and opera house. Die Walküre is an opera that has been particularly well served on records, with several outstanding versions derived both from the studio and live performances. Unfortunately, this new Walküre does not stand up well to that formidable competition. »

13 Jan 2005


Now, who needs another Aida? There are (or there have been) available 65 complete recordings (commercially available pirates included) and I don’t take into account the staggering amounts of non-commercial recording now widely circulating among collectors. Another Aida therefore can only interest buyers interested in specific singers. Happily, this set indeed fills a gap and it is not centered upon il divo himself, as the nice sleeve notes make clear. This set is for the admirers of Julia Varady, though not only for them. The Hungarian soprano has a reputation. As the fourth Mrs. Fischer-Dieskau she was undoubtedly helped in her career in the early seventies by this connection. But I presume this asset soon turned into a liability. Allow me to digress a few moments. »

11 Jan 2005

Le Monde Reviews Lamento

Cela arrive rarement, le souffle coupé dès les premières notes. Une minute entière à retenir sa respiration dans une apnée d’émotion totale pour recevoir la première phrase du Lamento pour contralto, de Johann Christoph Bach, d’après les Lamentations de Jérémie, son ascension douloureuse, ornée de sanglots, puis les deux accords d’une longue plainte instrumentale, avant l’entrée, magique, de la voix de Magdalena Kozena. “Ach, dass ich Wassers g’nug hätte.” “Ah, si ma tête était remplie d’eau, si mes yeux étaient une source de larmes.” L’insouciance a été jusqu’alors votre lot ? Vous, toi, nous tous, pécheurs, allons connaître ce que pèse le lourd fardeau de nos iniquités – et la récompense de cette connaissance : 7 minutes 22 d’une pure splendeur musicale. »

10 Jan 2005

MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro

Recorded in Tokyo on October 23, 1963, this live recording of Nozze di Figaro boasts fine sound, a top cast, and the leadership of a conductor of great skill and experience. The label, Ponto, has joined the ranks of such other companies as Opera D’oro and Gala in making available broadcast and in-house recordings at affordable prices. Sometimes these releases are not even worth the modest price asked for; this one may well have more to offer than higher-priced studio sets. After a slightly hesitant first few moments, the sound quality settles down and becomes admirably strong and well defined. There is relatively little stage noise, the voices have a natural presence without being too forwardly placed, and Böhm’s orchestral control can be relished. His may be an old-fashioned reading, but it never lags or lacks for humor or beauty. The audience can be heard laughing from time to time at the stage antics; applause only interferes with the musical pleasures at the end of Non piu andrai, when unrestrained clapping covers a bit of Böhm’s ironically happy martial send-off. »

10 Jan 2005

WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde

Elsewhere on Opera Today readers can find a recent review of a live recording of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro from the Ponto label, a company that has joined the ranks of Opera D’oro and Gala in offering, at budget price, live recordings of various provenance. At their best, as with that Nozze, these recordings offer in acceptable sound (sometimes better) performances of such quality they rival their more expensive competitors. At less than the best, however, even the budget price becomes exorbitant. This Tristan und Isolde, recorded on January 25, 1967, unfortunately belongs to the latter category. Unless one has a strong personal reason for wanting a keepsake of this company or the artists involved, the recording is unlikely to please most listeners. The primary reason is the sound. While not unlistenable, the recording is clearly an “in-house” affair, and probably from an audience member, as some of the coughing is more up-front than the singing. Worse, during the climax, some audience members are whispering as Isolde enters the Leibestod. One would love for a Jon Vickers to have been present to yell out, “Stop your damn whispering!” »

07 Jan 2005

BOLCOM: Songs of Innocence and of Experience

William Bolcom is arguably the preeminent American opera composer of today. His third commission for Lyric Opera of Chicago, A Wedding, recently opened to mostly positive reviews. His previous work in the form, A View from the Bridge, had a successful run at the Metropolitan Opera following its premiere in Chicago. »

04 Jan 2005

VERDI: Il Trovatore

Il Trovatore Giuseppe Verdi, music and Salvatore Cammarano and Leone Emanuele Bardare, libretto TDK DVUS-CLOPIT Raina Kabaivanska (Leonora) Fiorenza Cossotto (Azucena) Plácido Domingo (Manrico) Piero Cappuccilli (Conte di Luna) José van Dam (Ferrando) Maria Venuti (Inez) Heinz Zednik (Ruiz) Karl... »