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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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26 Mar 2005

A Delicate Drama at Merkin Hall

When opera singers reach a certain level of fame and stature, they almost invariably express the desire to present song recitals as well. Often the problem is that they have little training in this specialized art and too much practice in their own stylistic niche. As a result, many highly publicized evenings at Carnegie or Alice Tully turn out to be woeful disappointments, proving only the lack of adaptability of many of our best singers. »

25 Mar 2005

Handel's Sosarme at Theater St. Gallen

Mit noblem Herrschergestus rückt der feine junge Herr im weissen Anzug fürs Schlusstableau die Opernwirklichkeit zurecht. Unvermittelt angeschmachtet von der Liebsten und scheinbar ohne Rücksicht auf den eben ausgefochtenen tragischen Höhepunkt des Familienzwists, von dem hier im Heldenton einer Opera Seria drei Stunden lang die Rede war, darf Fernando alias Sosarme die Totgeglaubten wieder aufrichten und dann, ganz cleverer Familientherapeut, die Sache mit einer zeitgeistigen Aufstellung zu Ende bringen. »

24 Mar 2005

Leontyne Price & Samuel Barber: Historic Performances (1938 - 1953)

Among the leading figures in music in twentieth-century America, the composer Samuel Barber and the soprano Leontyne Price are notable for various reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they worked together at various times. »

24 Mar 2005

Parsifal Gets Poor Reception in Berlin

A controversial new production of Wagner’s “punk” Parsifal, by Bernd Eichinger, film-maker and writer of Downfall, provoked outrage when it was premiered in Berlin last Saturday. Here he defends his production. A lot of critics complained that it was staged too close to the orchestra. But that is not a failure – that is exactly what I wanted to do. In a Wagner opera, you have to understand that there are more than 100 musicians; it is a big orchestra, big music. In order that the singers can really be appreciated you have to bring the action forward, closer to the audience. If you put them too far away in the distance of the stage you hear less. »

24 Mar 2005

Der Rosenkavalier at the Met

The Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier is supposed to be no older than 32 – sensitive, sensual and emphatically sensible. Richard Strauss told us so. She is seldom played that way. Over the decades, the role has become the specialty of well-upholstered divas of a certain age who stress regal pathos at the expense of erotic allure. It wasn’t like that, however, on Friday at the Met, where Angela Denoke basked in revisionist revelation. »

23 Mar 2005

Orlando Furioso at New York City Opera

Handel’s opera “Orlando” is a seductive broadside against love, and New York City Opera’s new production makes this distaste for romance seem irresistible for a while. When the titular knight goes soft, the magician Zoroastro intervenes to warn him away from the vagaries of passion. Better, he counsels, to stick to such sensible, manly stuff as vengeance, mayhem and murder: Make war, not love. »

23 Mar 2005

Madama Butterfly at Covent Garden

IT’S STRANGE that such a basically fine performance can leave so many question marks, but that is perhaps the peculiarity of Madama Butterfly. Puccini’s shabby little shogun shocker contains some of the composer’s greatest music, yet it is put to such shallow, manipulative ends that anyone who likes their opera to be more than a high-class musical is likely to come away feeling unsatisfied. At least the Royal Opera’s latest revival is musically rewarding, and boasts one of today’s leading interpreters of the title role, but the picture-book production shows little willingness to tackle the problem. »

23 Mar 2005

Tosca at the Met

To this day, many sophisticated music lovers dismiss Puccini as a panderer or even a hack. But his supreme craftsmanship is the best refutation of this position. So dedicated was he to creating just the right effect for “Tosca” that he came before dawn one morning to the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome and faithfully recorded the actual pitches of all of the church bells that can be heard there throughout the early hours, including those of the Basilica of Saint Peter’s. »

22 Mar 2005

A Symphony for Hans Christian Andersen

The words of Symphonic Fairytales are not by a musician, but by one of the 19th century’s most extraordinary writers: Hans Christian Andersen. The Danish fairy-tale author’s bicentenary falls on 2 April this year and a worldwide project is under way to celebrate him in music. Ten Danish composers have been commissioned to write pieces based on his stories; as part of this, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Chorus and Youth Chorus has achieved quite a coup with a new work from Per Norgard, Denmark’s musical éminence grise, which they will premiere on Andersen’s birthday at Symphony Hall. »

22 Mar 2005

Handel's Ezio at the London Handel Festival

THE curtain rises on Black-adder-land — epicene monarch, black-clad baddie, hooped ladies and preening hero — and you think, hmm, three hours of trying to turn opera seria into comedy could be a bit wearing. Worst fears aren’t entirely realised, but if you don’t trust Handel to hold an audience with a serious exploration of relationship and motivation, why bother? The London Handel Festival has brought us some notable rarities from among the man’s operas, and this one too has seldom been seen; but if the performance falls short, it’s not because the piece is rubbish. »

22 Mar 2005

Peter Grimes in Salzburg

Salzburg zur Osterzeit steht heuer ganz im Zeichen Benjamin Brittens. Nun ist “Peter Grimes”, die Festspiel oper Anno 2005, auch schon 60 Jahre alt, aber von einer Verankerung im internationalen Repertoire kann, wenn überhaupt, erst in allerjüngster Zeit die Rede sein. Jetzt, da das Stück von der Tragödie des Individuums in der Zeit der Vermassung aktueller denn je scheint, setzen es die meisten großen Häuser auf den Spielplan. Zeit also, bei einem Festival ein mustergültige Produktion zu präsentieren, scheint das Kalkül Simon Rattles gewesen zu sein, der damit den Festspielgedanken so unzeitgemäß wie richtig interpretiert. Zumindest in der Theorie. Man muss vielleicht ein bisschen weiter ausholen, um zu definieren, warum eine Inszenierung, wie sie Trevor Nunn im großen Festspielhaus vorgestellt hat, in diesem Fall ein wenig zu kurz greift. »

22 Mar 2005

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Performs Pergolesi and Rossi

As a seasonal concert, with a mildly ecumenical touch, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra played a concert of sacred music in the Medieval Sculpture Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sunday evening (with a repeat tonight). The principal offering was Pergolesi’s dramatic, deeply emotional setting of the Stabat Mater. It was preceded by string arrangements of six pieces by Salamone Rossi, a Jewish composer who worked in Mantua, Italy, around the same time as Monteverdi, and wrote Hebrew Psalm and prayer settings in a lively madrigal style. »

22 Mar 2005

Rossini's Il turco in Italia in Hamburg

“Es werde Lichter”, sprach der Libretto-Dichter und ließ die Buffa-Puppen tanzen. Keine Charakter, sondern Typen, irgendwie geboren im ganz normalen Uraufführungswahnsinn italienischer Opernhäuser im frühen 19. Jahrhundert; fest am Faden hängend und ganz nach Bedarf herumgeschoben von ihren Schöpfern. Dieser Poeta in Gioachino Rossinis “Türke in Italien”, der sich und seine Erfindungsnöte vorlaut zum Thema einer komischen Oper macht, ist ein ziemlich einmaliger Fall. Und deshalb immer öfter ein gefundenen Fressen als Alter Ergo für seine Regisseure. »

22 Mar 2005

Götterdämmerung at Chicago Lyric

Lyric Opera has been a tease this season. It’s now offering a preview of the delights that will be available March 28, when the company revisits one of opera’s most daunting challenges, Wagner’s cycle of four interrelated works, “The Ring of the Nibelung,” in three cycles through mid-April. »

22 Mar 2005

BACH: Weinen, Klagen — Cantatas BWV 12, 38 & 75

One of the greatest challenges in compiling a recording of J. S. Bach’s cantatas must be choosing which cantatas to group together. For his Harmonia Mundi release, Weinen, Klagen…, Philippe Herreweghe selects three cantatas that represent the human experience of “desolation and comfort.” These two themes are so central to Lutheran theology they could in fact be found in any number of Bach’s cantatas. Nevertheless, the three cantatas on this recording reflect the variety across Bach’s output. “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” BWV 12, comes from Bach’s period in Weimar, the double cantata, “Die Elend sollen essen” BWV 75, was the first work Bach presented at his new post in Leipzig, and “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” BWV 38 is based strictly on the chorale tune throughout the entire work. Despite their differences, all of these works make the theological transition from earthly desolation to eternal comfort. »

21 Mar 2005

Les Ours du Scorff at Mino and Other Children Festivals

Sous le nom des Ours du Scorff, un quintette breton spécialisé dans les airs folkloriques destinés aux enfants de 4 ans et plus. En douze ans d’existence, cette formation est devenue une référence de la chanson jeune public, régulièrement invitée par les festivals spécialisés (Mino et, samedi 19 mars, celui de Magny-les-Hameaux, dans les Yvelines). L’explication de cette réussite tient en un mot : tradition. Non comme forme de réaction, mais comme désir de transmission. »

21 Mar 2005

Bach Restored in Japan

TOKYO (AFP) – Une cantate profane longtemps perdue de Jean-Sébastien Bach a été ressuscitée ce week-end à Tokyo, en première mondiale, sous l’inspiration et la direction du chef américain Joshua Rifkin. »

21 Mar 2005

Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Recital

Dmitri Hvorostovsky is one of the finest singers we have, whether in opera, in song, or in oratorio. (Instead of oratorio, I should say Russian liturgical music – that is one of his real strengths.) We even hear Mr. Hvorostovsky in Italian popular songs. They’re not especially Italian, but they’re enjoyable. »

21 Mar 2005

Kafka's Trial Premieres in Copenhagen

The Danish composer Poul Ruders is one of contemporary music’s free agents—a lover of sweet melodies with a yen for dark chords, a comedian with a flair for apocalypse. His previous opera, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” made sonic thunder out of Margaret Atwood’s novel of a dystopian America ruled by Christian fundamentalists. His major orchestral pieces—“Thus Saw Saint John,” the “Solar Trilogy,” a First Symphony subtitled “Rejoicing from the Heavens, Grieving Unto Death”—unfold hypnotically wayward narratives that reel from antic joy to frozen despair. (There are excellent recordings on the Bridge and Da Capo labels.) Ruders has a special knack for reinventing familiar tonal harmonies and styles; he uses them sometimes to mourn lost worlds, sometimes to suggest otherworldly innocence, sometimes to convey the banality of evil. All these devices are hurled at the audience in his latest work, “Kafka’s Trial,” which had its première on March 12th at the Royal Danish Theatre. »

21 Mar 2005

Maria Cebotari sings Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Strauß and Gounod

So often we get wrapped up in today’s world of great performers that we forget the performers of the past who, directly or indirectly, influenced these performers and shaped the characters they play. Not one singer today can boast working side by side with Richard Strauss or living in Puccini’s heyday, but Maria Cebotari (1910-1949) could. Thanks to a brilliant re-mastered recording by Hänssler Classic, we are now able to take part in signature performances of a woman who is known as the “predecessor” to Maria Callas. »

21 Mar 2005

The Irreplaceable Beverly Sills

OF all the times Beverly Sills was host of the “Tonight” show, her favorite was in 1977, when her guests were three of her closest confidantes: the comedian Carol Burnett, the perky singer and television host Dinah Shore and the pop chanteuse Eydie Gorme. The women got into a spat over who was whose best friend, then kidded the wholesome Ms. Shore about her current beau, the heartthrob actor Burt Reynolds. »