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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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31 Mar 2005

Raimondi, Kirchschlager and Newcomers in Wiener Staatsoper's Le nozze di Figaro

Schlecht war der erste Eindruck. Einen ganzen Akt lang häuften sich nur Probleme, Missverständnisse und verpuffte Pointen. Ein neuer Figaro mit Höhenproblemen, ein Hausdebütant als Graf, der ständig Gefahr lief, über sein Kostüm zu stolpern – und das ganze Ensemble immer wieder ehrlich überrascht von Jun Märkls Tempi und Zäsuren. Dass die Sänger desto besser wirkten, je länger und genauer sie Ponnelles bald 30 Jahre dienende Inszenierung bereits kannten, stellte der Probensituation an der Staatsoper wahrlich kein gutes Zeugnis aus. »

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. »

30 Mar 2005

Gassmann's A Gas

Florian Leopold Gassmann must have been a gas. There is nothing funny about his other 21 operas but L’Opera Seria is a scream. Everything is lampooned, from squabbling stage mammas to brainless tenors. We know little about the piece’s 1769 premiere, but the audience at Vienna’s Burgtheater must have hyperventilated. »

30 Mar 2005

Aprile Millo in Philadelphia

NEW YORK – Few cosmic mistakes have ever been so glaring: Soprano Aprile Millo, who embodies the traditional operatic values that Philadelphians hold dear, hasn’t sung here in nearly 20 years. »

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. »

29 Mar 2005

Three Renderings of Faust in New York

Knowledge and the unknowable are the keys needed to unlock the 19th-century perception of the Faust myth. The modern idea of a deal with the devil for financial or carnal supremacy is completely irrelevant, and speaks volumes about the difference between 20th-century thought and that of its antecedents. In breaking free of the restrictions of formalism and established religion, however, the Romantics in literature incorporated some cautions of their own. »

29 Mar 2005

Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans in Washington

WASHINGTON, March 27 – “The Maid of Orleans” was to have been Tchaikovsky’s international coming-out party. The Russian landscapes of his previous operas were left behind. His subject would be Joan of Arc. Tragic romance and history would circle each other in the grand French tradition of Meyerbeer. »

29 Mar 2005

Bach's St. Matthew Passion at the Barbican

Like any masterpiece, Bach’s St Matthew Passion can be approached in different ways. Interpretations have varied from austere meditations on the crucifixion to music dramas of almost tragic implacability. Richard Hickox’s Good Friday performance with the City of London Sinfonia and the BBC Singers veered towards the latter, presenting us with an almost operatic experience, characterised by wide emotional fluctuations rather than contemplative homogeneity. »

29 Mar 2005

More Degradation from Calixto Bieito

Rape, alcohol abuse, lesbianism and gratuitous violence: these are the themes of both Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, as Calixto Bieito sees it. Odd. They were also the themes of the last opera he staged. And the one before. Can it be coincidence or did Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Mozart and Verdi all write operas featuring fisting? »

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

WEAVER & PUCCINI: The Puccini Companion

If any opera lover feels daunted by the many biographies and analytical tomes dedicated to the life and art of Giacomo Puccini, Norton has done that reader a tremendous favor with the publication of The Puccini Companion. Tightly organized, this series of essays details the life, discusses the operas, and provides a wealth of supplementary information about the composer. »

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. »

28 Mar 2005

Krassimira Stoyanova at the Rousse Festival

Her occasional home-coming always turns into a music event in her native Bulgaria. This time Krassimira Stoyanova appeared at the Rousse March Music days in a recital including twenty melodies and songs by opera composers: Gounod, Donizetti, Puccini in the first part and Tchaikovsky and Rahmaninov in the second plus two “encores” by Bulgarian composers Dobri Hristov and Liubomir Pipkov. She performed this same recital at Carnegie Hall on January 18, 2005, accompanied by Yelena Kurdina. »

28 Mar 2005

Chicago's Ring

Ringheads, rejoice! The end of the world is nigh. So, for that matter, are the flying Valkyries, swimming Rhinemaidens, spinning Norns, fearless heroes, empowered heroines and all the other mythic characters that make Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Ring of the Nibelung”) the greatest, most monumental fairy tale ever composed. »

28 Mar 2005

Offenbach's Whittington

Here is a splendid curiosity – a three-act operetta by Offenbach, written as the 1874 Christmas panto blockbuster for the famous Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square and never subsequently staged in its original form. All credit to the tirelessly exploratory semi-professional University College Opera for its worthwhile revival. »

28 Mar 2005

Mozart's C Minor Mass Reconstructed

“Die spart (Partitur, Anm.) von der hälfte einer Messe, welche noch in der besten hoffnung da liegt”, erwähnt Mozart 1783 in einem Brief an seinen Vater. Bei der Hoffnung sollte es bleiben: Sein rätselhaftes Gelöbnis, die c-Moll-Messe zu vollenden, hat Mozart nicht gehalten. Das ehrgeizige Projekt einer umfangreichen Kantatenmesse im Stile von Bachs Schwesterwerk in h-Moll blieb ein Torso. Nur Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus und Benedictus hat Mozart abgeschlossen, nicht alles davon ist jedoch in zweifelsfreier Form erhalten. Vom zentralen Credo existieren gar nur zwei Sätze, noch dazu voller offensichtlicher Instrumentationslücken. »

26 Mar 2005

Surprises at Wigmore Hall

Susan Bullock is widely regarded as the finest dramatic soprano to have emerged in the UK for some years. She is an exceptional Wagnerian and many would question why she is not singing Brünnhilde in one of the Rings-in-progress at Covent Garden or English National Opera, particularly since she is already established as an interpreter of the role abroad. »

26 Mar 2005

Leaving the "Audience Clamoring for More"

Handel had his troubles with sopranos as people. There’s a story that he once grew so enraged he tried to throw one of his divas out the window. On the other hand, no composer has written more knowledgeably and lovingly for the soprano voice than Handel did. »

26 Mar 2005

Rape of Lucretia

NO BETTER time than Easter to plead the cause of Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera. Forged in the same white fire of creative energy as Peter Grimes, Lucretia can remain problematic because of the apparent moralising of the framing Chorus. But watching this play of passion in a week of Passions certainly put things into context. »