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Elsewhere

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.


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Recordings

Lyrita REAM2122
17 Jul 2017

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.  »

Recently in Recordings

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14 Feb 2005

SCHUMANN AND BRAHMS: Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden

The CD entitled Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden contains a selection of music by three friends who composed Lieder: Robert Schumann, his wife Clara, and their colleague Johannes Brahms. Their friendship is well known, and this recording is an attempt to pay tribute to what Berner calls “the manifold interactions between this artistic trinity” by presenting music by each of them; the pieces include Robert Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op. 24, seven Lieder by Clara Schumann, and ten of Brahms’ Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33. »

13 Feb 2005

CUI: A Feast in Time of Plague
RACHMANINOV: The Miserly Knight

The new Chandos recordings present Valeri Polyansky and the Russian State Symphony Orchestra in two little-known Russian operas of the early twentieth century, Sergei Rachmaninov’s The Miserly Knight (1905), and César Cui’s A Feast in Time of Plague (1900), the latter recorded for the first time. Each work is a setting of one of Alexander Pushkin’s Little Tragedies (1830), a series of four short plays in blank verse that elaborate on popular literary topics: “Don Juan, or The Stone Guest,” “The Miserly Knight,” “Mozart and Salieri,” and “A Feast in Time of Plague.” Sharply penetrating psychological portraits of people consumed by their obsessions – passion, greed, jealousy, and fear – Pushkin’s “dramatic scenes” have enjoyed a near cult status among the classics of Russian literature over the past 175 years. So has the first attempt to set one of them to music – a radical 1869 word-for-word setting of The Stone Guest by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (1813-69). Cast almost entirely as a continuous arioso, the work was proclaimed a revolution in operatic style by the Russian Five whose unbridled enthusiasm contributed to its enduring reputation. »

13 Feb 2005

DONIZETTI: L’elisir D’amore

Of today’s opera stars, tenor Rolando Villazón may be the “hottest” (if readers will allow that Entertainment Tonight term). He has gone from being an Operalia winner a few years back to assuming leading roles in the major houses of Europe and the U.S. His second major label recital disc has just been released to even higher praise than his first received, which appeared on many “best of the year lists” for 2004. Wherever he appears, major profiles and interviews appear in the local papers. He’s so hot he may be contributing to global warming. »

11 Feb 2005

LULLY: Les Fêtes de l'Amour et de Bacchus

Born in Florence, Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) came to France in 1646 as an Italian tutor to Louis XIV’s cousin Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans. Thanks to her, Lully became acquainted with French music, and got to study with several eminent musicians in Paris. In early 1653, he was asked to play several roles in the spectacular Royal Ballet of the Night. His performances caught the eye of King Louis XIV, who immediately appointed the young musician to the post of “Instrumental Music Composer.” Soon, Lully became Louis XIV’s favorite musician — he was appointed to the post of “Master of Music of the Royal Family” in 1662 — and the most important composer in France. Today, Lully is known primarily as the first major composer of French opera. (Unfortunately, he is also remembered for the way he died. In January 1687, Lully stabbed his foot with a cane that he used to beat time, and he succumbed to infections that resulted from this injury.) »

10 Feb 2005

Il primo dolce affanno… The first sweet pain

True to the intent of its series, Il Salotto, Opera Rara offers in this seventh volume a delightful sampling of art songs from the mid- to late-nineteenth-century repertory. Performing them are sopranos Elisabeth Vidal and Laura Claycomb, mezzo Manuele Custer, tenors Bruce Ford and Willliam Matteuzzi, baritone Roberto Servile, and bass Alastair Miles, accompanied on piano by David Harper. »

10 Feb 2005

BUSNOIS: Missa O Crux lignum, Motets, Chansons

The most recent recording by England’s premier performers of Renaissance vocal music, the Orlando Consort, features a selection of works by the renowned fifteenth-century composer Antoine Busnois, works that represent the major genres of music composition of the time — mass, motet, and chanson. The performances are what we have come to expect from the fine singers of the Orlando Consort: warm, vibrant, and precise. »

07 Feb 2005

MAHLER: Songs

While a number of fine recent recordings of Mahler’s Lieder with orchestral accompaniment have been released in recent years, his songs are also of interest in the versions the composer made for voice and piano. In presenting the songs with piano accompaniment, Stephan Genz and Roger Vignoles bring out details that can become apparent only in this setting. Genz is known for his fine recordings of Lieder, include the award-winning CD of Beethoven’s Songs, as well as various recordings of Hugo Wolf’s Lieder (all on Hyperion). In this recording of Mahler’s music, he performs with Vignoles three complete sets of Lieder, that is, the cycles Lieder eines farhrenden Gesellen and Kindertotenlieder, as well as the set of Fünf Rückert-Lieder and, further, seven selections of settings from Mahler’s early publication of Lieder und Gesänge. »

02 Feb 2005

BELLINI: I Capuleti e I Montecchi

Surely the reader of this reviewer is passionate about opera – why else, faithful one, have you found yourself at the fount of information and wisdom knows as Opera Today? Therefore, the need for an outfit such as Premiere Opera need not be belabored – true opera lovers know that there sometimes arises a need to have a performance that cannot easily be obtained, and that need may trump the desire to have the recording, (whether only audio, or visual as well, as in the case of this DVD) be of optimal quality. So what we have here is a performance of April 7, 2002, at the Teatro Cuyas in the lovely Canary Islands. The opera is Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi, and the star gracing the stage as the lovely young Capulet is Cristina Gallardo-Domas. Perhaps it is her fans who will be most grateful to Premiere Opera for making available a record of the performance. Not to be slighted, however, is her imposing Romeo, a mezzo/trouser role. Daniela Barcellona is a rising star, and the reasons why are evident here. And Bellini lovers, as your reviewer knows well, are apt to want most any document of the master’s work, as the operas get performances but not as often as his fans might wish. »

30 Jan 2005

A Batallar Estrellas — Music in Spanish Cathedrals of the Seventeenth Century

Interest in the music of “New Spain” (the Spanish colonies in the Americas) has blossomed in the last decade, with a number of fine recordings of sacred music composed by musicians who emigrated to the New World in support of the mission of the Catholic church. A parallel interest in the music of those who stayed in Spain – indeed, who set the tradition that was exported to the Americas – has been slower to build, so this recording is especially welcome, since it provides an opportunity to hear a tradition seldom performed outside of Spain, whether in the Baroque era or in the present. »

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. »