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Probing Bernstein and MacMillan double bill in Amsterdam

The Opera Forward Festival (OFF) in Amsterdam is about new things: new compositions, rediscovered works and new faces. This year’s program included a double bill produced by Dutch National Opera’s talent development wing. Leonard Bernstein’s portrait of a miserable marriage in affluent suburbia, Trouble in Tahiti, was the contrasting companion piece to James McMillan’s Clemency, a study of the sinister side of religious belief.

Macbeth in Lyon

A revival of the Opéra de Lyon’s 2012 Occupy Wall St. production of Verdi’s 1865 Macbeth, transforming naive commentary into strange irony, some high art included.

An Interview with Soprano Lisette Oropesa

Lisette Oropesa sings Eurydice in Los Angeles Opera’s French version of Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice that can currently be seen at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

Opera in Amsterdam in 2018-2019

The operatic tradition is not as old in the Netherlands as in other European countries, yet opera is a vital part of the Dutch classical landscape. Both Dutch National Opera & Ballet and the Concertgebouw are in Amsterdam, so the capital gets the lion’s share of the opera on offer.

Lyric Opera of Chicago to Premiere Fellow Travelers—A Preview

On 17 March 2018 Lyric Opera of Chicago will premiere the 2016 opera Fellow Travelers by Gregory Spears (with a libretto by Greg Pierce, based on the novel by Thomas Mallon. Mallon’s 2007 novel offered fresh perspectives on the paranoiac investigations of McCarthy-era Washington, DC, through the lens of a gay relationship.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.



Photo courtesy Dutch National Opera & Ballet
23 Mar 2018

Probing Bernstein and MacMillan double bill in Amsterdam

The Opera Forward Festival (OFF) in Amsterdam is about new things: new compositions, rediscovered works and new faces. This year’s program included a double bill produced by Dutch National Opera’s talent development wing. Leonard Bernstein’s portrait of a miserable marriage in affluent suburbia, Trouble in Tahiti, was the contrasting companion piece to James McMillan’s Clemency, a study of the sinister side of religious belief. »

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24 Jan 2005

Samson and Delilah at Opera Carolina

Maybe Camille Saint-Saens should’ve chosen his friends more carefully. When he marshaled a singer to treat them to two arias from an opera he was working on – about the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah – they scoffed. »

24 Jan 2005

Missa Solemnis at Chicago

Two of Beethoven’s most difficult yet most inspiring masterpieces, “Fidelio” and “Missa Solemnis,” are making Chicago the epicenter of a grand Beethoven festival. Each work is a heroic undertaking that tests the performers’ mettle to the utmost. And yet, with soprano Karita Mattila leading Beethoven’s only opera to triumph at Lyric Opera, and, the Chicago Symphony and Chorus delivering a strong and stirring performance of the “Missa Solemnis” this weekend at Orchestra Hall, one comes away exalted, grateful to have heard these pieces performed at the highest level. »

23 Jan 2005

Kurt Schwertsik's Katzelmacher at Neue Oper Wien

Der kabarettistisch freche Ton der Pariser Moderne der Dreißigerjah re ist es, der Kurt Schwertsik fes selt. Das bekannte er jüngst im Gespräch. Dieser Ton weist ihm offenkundig auch den Weg in Gefilde des Musiktheaters, die nichts mit den erdschweren, klangwuchernden Experimenten der deutschen und österreichischen Moderne der Nachkriegszeit zu tun haben, sondern sich am moralisierenden Unterhaltungstheater der Zwischenkriegszeit orientieren, das nicht nur von den Franzosen – in einer durchaus konsequent aus dem ursprünglichen, sozialkritischen Operetten-Esprit eines Jacques Offenbach – entwickelt wurde. »

23 Jan 2005

Cantors & Capellmeisters at Queen Elizabeth Hall

WHEN a programme contains music by Gregor Aichinger, Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, Daniel Bollius and Johann Christoph Pezel, to name only four (or is it ten?), an auditorium less than full might, unfortunately, be suspected. These are 17th-century German worthies known largely to scholars alone. But why can’t audiences be more adventurous? In that century you’re bound to get memorable tunes, catchy rhythms, enticing counterpoint: I don ’t see what the problem is. »

22 Jan 2005

A Disarming Pelléas et Mélisande

You cannot blame this longtime lover of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” for being suspicious when L’Opéra Français de New York announced that it would present a staged production of the work in its “original version” for voices and piano. No orchestra? Wasn’t this small company simply producing the opera on the cheap? The L’Opéra Français production opened on Wednesday night at the French Institute Alliance Française on East 59th Street, and it was a revelation. »

22 Jan 2005

Così fan tutte at Wiener Staatsoper

Mag sein, manch einer findet die forsche Gangart, die Julia Jones bei Mozart einschlägt, ein wenig zu schnoddrig. Doch erweist sich: Die Dirigentin weiß in jeder Phase einer Aufführung, was sie will, behält die Übersicht über die Dramaturgie und hält Orchester und Bühne immer fein zusammen – und das in raschem Lustspielton. Alles Eigenschaften, die heutzutage offenkundig auch in der Wiener Staatsoper rar geworden sind. »

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. »

21 Jan 2005

An Evening With Clara's Piano

Among the often spurious partnerships beloved by musical history — Bach and Handel, Bruckner and Mahler, Britten and Tippett — that of Schumann and Brahms at least has the merit that the composers were not actually antithetical in style and manner. They were, if not a conscious partnership, a powerful joint force for the perpetuation of classical values in the 19th century, the elder — Schumann — the sponsor and active publicist of the other. Brahms was “discovered”, encouraged, sustained and venerated by Schumann. He, in turn, devoted his whole bachelor life to the succour of the Schumann family, giving rock-like support to Clara Schumann as her husband’s syphilitic madness took him over, and seeking to preserve Schumann’s oeuvre at its most illustrious and least clouded-over, withholding publication of some later works. »

21 Jan 2005

It's Shag-A-Delic, Baby!

Perhaps the Tippett centenary has come too soon, and the seven years since the composer’s death have been insufficient for his achievement to be digested and for the anniversary celebrations to take on any real significance. But no matter how much time had passed, I doubt that his third opera, The Knot Garden, will ever seem more than a period piece, wedded to the late 1960s when it was written. »

21 Jan 2005

Generallissimo Francisco Franco is still dead

After some wild recent productions it comes as a surprise to find a Don Giovanni set in Spain, as Mozart intended. How many directors care to remember that Don Giovanni’s tally of women there numbered 1,003, as Leporello’s catalogue reminds us every time we see the opera? Having decided on a Spanish setting, Opera North’s new production tries to make the most of it. Photos of bullfights are flashed across a screen to draw a glib parallel with Don Giovanni the predatory sexual toreador. The cast gird their loins for some rather dubious Spanish dances. And — most important — the time is updated to the Spanish Civil War, bringing the class antagonism of the opera into modern focus. »

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. »

20 Jan 2005

Karita Mattila — A Stunning Leonore

'Fidelio' returns Lyric, cast rise above flawed Beethoven opera By John von Rhein Tribune music critic January 19 2005, 1:00 AM CST "Fidelio" has been missing in action at Lyric Opera for nearly 24 years, much too long for... »

20 Jan 2005

Live from New York — Death and Transfiguration

The level of Luciano Berio’s music was still on the ascent when he died two years ago at 77. “Stanze” – five poems for solo voice, chorus and orchestra – were his last pieces, and they shine with poise and quiet confidence. We are reminded that the possibilities of instrumental combinations are far from exhausted. The Philadelphia Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach introduced New York to “Stanze” at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night, adding Act III from Wagner’s “Parsifal” in concert form. Paul Celan’s “Tenebrae,” the first poem, is accompanied by drifting, attenuated chords of extraordinary beauty. If Berio’s music moves slowly, or sometimes not at all, there is activity within: textures swelling and contracting like lungs, woodwind colors swimming and undulating. So striking are the sounds that high drama is unnecessary. »

20 Jan 2005

Renée Takes Seattle

Renée Fleming came and conquered the full house Tuesday night at Benaroya Hall. Now 45, the soprano is in her prime, not only with that voluptuous voice but her musical acuity and dramatic instincts. When singers become as famous as Fleming, connoisseurs find something to criticize, often justified: a mannered style or lackluster ambition in terms of repertory, for instance. When the voice is as gorgeous and gleaming as Fleming’s, there is always the danger the singer will be content to deliver a pretty sound and little else. »

20 Jan 2005

Pelléas et Mélisande in New York

NEW YORK Sigmund Freud’s seminal “Interpretation of Dreams” was published in 1900. But Claude Debussy had already poked around in the unconscious in his landmark opera “Pelléas et Mélisande,” which he had essentially composed (though not orchestrated) by 1895. Of course, Maurice Maeterlinck, whose play Debussy adapted into his opera, had been treading through Freudian terrain even earlier. Maeterlinck, a leading figure in the Symbolist movement, which arose in the 1880s, espoused veiled emotions, mystery and indirection over realism. »

20 Jan 2005

The Russians Bomb at Kennedy Center

What were they thinking? The “Kirov Spectacular” — which opened last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House — proved the sort of celestial vaudeville that should have . . . well, gone out with vaudeville. It seemed a generous program — some three hours of selections from ballets and operas performed by the Kirov Ballet, Opera and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, under the direction of Valery Gergiev. But the pieces had little to do with one another (indeed, they could almost have been chosen by lottery) and the musical performances were too often shopworn and lackluster — a scanty reward for those who managed to find their way to the Kennedy Center through the cold, clotted streets of pre-inauguration Washington. »

19 Jan 2005

Manon Lescaut at Seattle — Two Reviews

Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut,” which Seattle Opera has produced only sporadically in its 40-year history, is a work that goes in fits and starts. Moments of genuine inspiration and compelling drama mark the composer as a man of genius, but in this early opera, his talent is not always consistent. The demands on the tenor are notoriously difficult. So, with its eyes wide open, the company mounted the third production in its history to bring in the new year Saturday night at McCaw Hall. It succeeded more than many efforts without breaking the bank, using conventional but serviceable sets and costumes from Montreal Opera. »