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Elsewhere

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.


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Reviews

17 Mar 2019

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas. »

Recently in Reviews

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07 Apr 2005

Der Ring in Chicago

For opera conductors, the Ring cycle remains the professional Everest. So the fact that Andrew Davis has just completed his first Ring at the Lyric Opera in Chicago marks not merely a career peak for one of this country’s most important conductors, it is also a major event for British music – even if it is taking place thousands of miles from home. »

07 Apr 2005

Un ballo in maschera at the Met

Humor is not a quality normally associated with Verdi. He was a dour fellow, dubbed “the bear of Busetto” by his long-suffering wife. His first comic opera, “Un giorno di regno,” was a crashing failure, and “Falstaff,” his final work for the stage, looks more intently into the abyss than most commentators care to admit. »

06 Apr 2005

HANSEN: The Sibyl Sanderson Story — Requiem for a Diva

Jack Winsor Hansen's 520-page biography of Sibyl Sanderson (1865 - 1903) is packed with romanticism and gossip that will delight and titillate true worshipers of operatic divas and inquisitive opera fans. It also fills a gap in the music-historical writings about opera at the end of the 19th century. »

06 Apr 2005

More On Fanciulla

While ruminating about “Madama Butterfly” in these pages the other week, I mentioned that the de facto premiere of the work was not in Italy at all but rather New York, since the David Belasco play originally opened on Herald Square. In the case of “Girl of the Golden West,” both the Belasco theatrical piece and the Puccini opera were launched in Manhattan, the latter under Toscanini in 1910. »

06 Apr 2005

ENO Closes the Ring

Four years after the initial concert performances, English National Opera’s Ring cycle has reached its Wagnerian summit. It is not a triumph of the kind that the young company enjoyed with its first-ever cycle in the 1970s, but at least the staging is complete, with cast and production team intact, as planned. Other, more prestigious companies have achieved less. »

06 Apr 2005

Il Trovatore in Toronto

Just how good is the Canadian Opera Company’s current Hummingbird production of Il Trovatore? Good enough, that we wouldn’t be all too surprised to find opera buffs donning hard hats and workboots to pitch in down at the corner of Queen and University, just to ensure that this world class company finally has a home that is worthy of it. »

06 Apr 2005

Hasse's Cleofide in Dresden

Es gab was zu feiern am Ostersonnabend in der Semperoper, und das Publikum feierte gern mit: 274 Jahre nach der Uraufführung stand erstmals wieder „Cleofide“ im Rampenlicht. Die wieder entdeckte Oper des früheren Dresdner Hofkapellmeisters Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) hatte einst den Ruf Dresdens als Opernmetropole begründet. Klar, dass sich die Staatskapelle besonders ins Zeug legte, um dem barocken Kleinod wieder Leben einzuhauchen. »

05 Apr 2005

Anna Takes Vienna

Donizettis “Liebestrank” ist sonst eine gern gepflegte Repertoire-Bank. Diesmal war jedoch alles anders. Gleißendes Scheinwerferlicht schon beim Betreten der Oper: Der ORF war angetreten, um das Ereignis für die Nachwelt zu bannen. Solches passiert eher selten im Repertoire-Alltag. Selten passiert es aber auch, dass der Besucher eine derart adrett aufpolierte und klingend besetzte Staatsopernaufführung einfach unterm Jahr serviert bekommt. Sogar Außenministerin und Star-Tenor lauschten in der Loge. Der Grund? Anna Netrebko, der schöne, junge russische Sopranliebling, war als Jungbäuerin Adina angesetzt. »

05 Apr 2005

Fanciulla: The Banality of Reality?

Conventional wisdom has it that Puccini’s operatic tale of the wild West, “La Fanciulla del West,” is too melodramatic to be fully credible – a reason it hasn’t joined his “Tosca,” “La Bohème” and “Turandot” in the top-most echelon of audience favorites. And it’s true that there are lots of things in it that seem silly today (like a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian) or even offensive, like American Indians whose pidgin vocabulary frequently includes “ugh!” »

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

Albert Herring/Eugene Onegin/Genoveva in Boston

I ended last week with three very different operas here in Boston. On Thursday, the Boston Conservatory of Music put on a nicely designed, lovingly directed production of Britten’s Albert Herring. Based loosely on a Guy de Maupassant short story Albert sends up English small town blue stockings who stage an annual May Queen pageant, finding themselves unable to find a young woman of acceptable virtue in the immediate area. Their choice falls on a May King in the person of Mamma’s boy Albert Herring who is mortified by the whole experience. Albert proceeds to use the cash part of his prize to go off on a toot, stay out all night to return home a happier, wiser and far more independent young man, to the chagrin of all. »

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

The Cambridge Companion to John Cage

Cage's music is like Einstein's theorem: most people know it exists, know it's important, but beyond these facts know nothing about it (count me in this category when it comes to Einstein). »

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. »

02 Apr 2005

Runnicles at Carnegie Hall

Donald Runnicles, the longtime music director of the San Francisco Opera, has been earning excellent reviews for his conducting of Strauss’s “Rosenkavalier” at the Metropolitan Opera, a run that ends with a matinee performance today. But New Yorkers also know of him as the principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Wearing that hat he appeared at Carnegie Hall for a program on Thursday night titled, rather too cutely, “Postcard From Prague.” »

01 Apr 2005

Eugene Onegin in Boston

Most operas are about love, but Tchaikovsky’s ‘’Eugene Onegin” is a special case because the composer took the subject so personally. Tchaikovsky’s own life was tracing the plot of Pushkin’s verse novel, with catastrophic consequences, and the music is full of yearning, passion, pain, and regret. »

01 Apr 2005

Genoveva in Boston

Three of the greatest composers of art songs — Schubert, Schumann, and Hugo Wolf — also harbored operatic ambitions. All of them wrote operas and set great store by them, but none has ever gained a foothold in the repertory. »

01 Apr 2005

Don Giovanni at the Met

Bleak but uproarious, bawdy but singed with hellfire, Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” is just as elusive as its title character. Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard identified Don Giovanni with music and desire: “a force, a wind, impatience, passion,” forever ungraspable. »

01 Apr 2005

Rosenthal's Children at the Bolshoi

New operas by Russian and Soviet composers once played a prominent part in the repertoire of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. But nearly 26 years have passed since the theater last produced an operatic world premiere. On Wednesday, the long drought finally ended with the staging of “Rosenthal’s Children,” a work fresh from the pens of St. Petersburg composer Leonid Desyatnikov and writer Vladimir Sorokin. »

01 Apr 2005

With the Face of a Tyrant Before Their Eyes

LA SCALA this past week has been like the Kremlin during the putsch against Mikhail Gorbachev. For days on end, no-one knew who was in charge or what was going on. The only certainty was that the world would never be the same again. »

01 Apr 2005

Cuba libre in Erfurt

Es wird nicht mehr lange dauern bis zur Forderung, Filmleute generell von Opernbühnen fernzuhalten. Nicht nur wegen der jüngsten Fehlschläge an großen Häusern, bei denen Filmregisseure und Kinoproduzenten mit Neuinszenierungen dilettierten – sogar in der sich charmant bemühenden Stadttheaterprovinz grassiert nun offenbar das cineastische Virus. »

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. »

31 Mar 2005

The Ring of the Nibelung in Chicago

Valhalla proved to be a failed paradise for Wotan and his band of doomed gods and goddesses in Wagner’s epic set of four related operas, “The Ring of the Nibelung.’’ But Lyric Opera of Chicago audiences are experiencing the real thing this week as the company opens the first of three weeklong revivals of its production of the “Ring’’ unveiled in the 1990s. »