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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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20 Mar 2005

Dvorák's Requiem in Munich

Schön ist, dass sich das Werk Einordnungen entzieht. Monumentalen Aufgipfelungen wie im “Tuba mirum” steht ein opernhafter Gestus gegenüber, volkstümliche Ausgelassenheit (“Quam olim Abrahae”) kontrastiert zu einem charakteristischen, herbstlich verhangenen Tonfall. Und verklammert wird alles durch ein immer wiederkehrendes, kurzes Motiv. Eine Umspielung des Tones “F”, Seufzer und sehnsuchtsvolle Gebärde zugleich. »

20 Mar 2005

Giordano's Andrea Chenier in Glasgow

IN this splendid concert version of Giordano’s most widely performed opera, Sir Richard Armstrong, the orchestra and chorus of Scottish Opera and an outstanding team of soloists provided some of the best moments of operatic verismo I have heard in an age. »

20 Mar 2005

Madama Butterfly at New York City Opera

The central image in Mark Lamos’s production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” is a traditional Japanese house, magnified to the size of the New York City Opera stage. With its sliding doors, clean lines and open spaces, this set, designed by Michael Yeargan, is the very picture of clarity. And for Butterfly, everything within it – her life with Pinkerton, then the memory of that life and the promise of its resumption – is entirely clear. It’s the more complicated world outside that has turned murky, and by avoiding the clutter that often accrues to a “Butterfly” staging, Mr. Lamos has emphasized that tragic delusion. »

19 Mar 2005

Parsifal at La Fenice

Une tristesse flottait sur Venise en ce jour de la première de Parsifal à La Fenice, nouvelle production du chef-d’œuvre wagnérien depuis celle de Pier Luigi Pizzi en 1983. Temps instable au-dehors, vent de la révolte à l’intérieur : le syndicat autonome Libersind et les personnels du théâtre appelaient à la grève générale, le mardi 15 mars, pour protester contre leurs conditions de travail. »

17 Mar 2005

Faust at Opéra de Lille

Dans le Faust à l’affiche de l’Opéra de Lille, le véritable diable, c’est le metteur en scène écossais David McVicar. Grâce à son habileté méphistophélique, sa production peut plaire à tout le monde : à ceux qui rêvent de voir l’histoire racontée comme au bon vieux temps, sans relecture conceptuelle, et à ceux qui pensent qu’un tel morceau de patrimoine a besoin du second degré pour ne pas basculer dans le kitsch. Car dès le début de sa mise en scène, l’ironie règne en maître, même si l’on n’en prend conscience qu’à mesure que son bel univers se dérègle. Une loge de l’Opéra de Paris fait face à une tribune d’orgue d’église gothique : nous sommes bel et bien au théâtre, et si Méphisto a effectivement «la plume au chapeau et l’épée au côté», il les réajuste devant un miroir en pied avant de jouer ses tours. Des sortilèges qu’il extrait d’une malle à accessoires, tandis que Faust change d’aspect dans sa loge, face à une coiffeuse éclairée par des ampoules. »

17 Mar 2005

Martin's Golgotha in Vienna

Zuerst viele Jahre lang Schweigen. Dann einige Aufführungen hintereinander: Frank Martins Schicksal ist symptomatisch für die Repertoire-Restriktionen in Wien. Immer dieselben Dinge verkaufen sich. Bei einem Werk wie Martins Passions-Oratorium “Golgotha” verlassen Abonnenten den Goldenen Musikvereinssaal bei erster Satzpausen-Gelegenheit. Die Bereitschaft, sich zur gegebenen Zeit mit anderem als den Bach-Passionen auseinander zu setzen, ist enden wollend. »

17 Mar 2005

Les Travailleurs De La Mer: Ancient songs from a small island

Cast off the shores of Normandy, the tiny isle of Guernsey lies isolated between the two European powers of England and France. Guernsey, however, has remained independent since 1204, and its government, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, comprises the inhabited islands of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou and Lihou. Rich in an abundant culture and history, Guernsey is well-known for its sea ports, mystic pagan rituals, potent cider, and poetry. »

16 Mar 2005

Per Questa Bella Mano at the Barbican

You don’t expect absurdity in a concert of Mozart arias and instrumental music, but in bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff’s concert with the period-instrument Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the highlight was a work of Pythonesque weirdness. »

16 Mar 2005

On Tour with William Christie

HOW refreshing, you think, as Les Arts Florissants bounds on stage, to see an early-music combo whose contracts appear to contain no clauses forbidding visits to hairdresser, shoe-shop and dressing-table, no injunctions to wear nothing but sacking and zit cream. How delightful, how French. With William Christie’s band, as Emcee in Cabaret might say, “Even ze orgestra is beaudiful.” »

15 Mar 2005

Carmen with a South African Twist

British director Mark Dornford-May’s daring transposition of Bizet’s opera to a South African township has landed him a major film award – and a new wife. He talks to Jasper Rees »

15 Mar 2005

Countertenors Victorious in Copenhagen

Last week in the Danish capital city, still chilly after freezing weather and heavy snow, the spirits were raised by two contrasting but equally fulfilling events in the shape of the Danish Royal Opera’s revival of Francisco Negrin’s production of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” featuring the return of star European countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role, and the debut appearance in the city of his American counterpart, David Daniels, in a concert performance of Bach and Vivaldi. Both singers were in fact enjoying indulging their talents in their less well known fachs: Scholl is rarely seen on the opera stage and admits to feeling less than completely at home there. Daniels, on the other hand, fresh from yet another Handelian triumph at the Metropolitan Opera (Bertarido in the sumptuous new production of “Rodelinda”) is not known as a Bach specialist, but was essaying his second concert performance in Europe of the great cantata BWV82, “Ich Habe Genug”, reviewed elsewhere. »

13 Mar 2005

Bernstein's On the Town at ENO

IT IS easy to sniff at English National Opera’s decision to stage Leonard Bernstein’s first, unashamedly Broadway musical. Unlike some of his later work it has no “operatic” pretensions. But the Broadway musical was a continuation of opera by other means, and Bernstein maintained to the end of his life that, if opera had a future (which he doubted), it would be intimately tied up with the Broadway idiom that he helped to create. »

13 Mar 2005

Leo Slezak sings arias by Wagner, Verdi and Meyerbeer

Leo Slezak is generally regarded as a German tenor, although he was actually born in what is now the Czech Republic. But, Moravia, where he is from, was Austrian at the time, and had a significant German speaking population, with German the dominant language of the middle and upper classes. He made his debut in Brno (then Brunn), at a time when most opera performances were sung in German, and, to the best of my knowledge, all of his recordings were in that language or Italian (the great majority being in German). He made over 400 records from a wide repertory of German, Italian and French operas, as well as many Lieder and some operetta. His two published discographies list no records from Czech operas. The arias he recorded most frequently include 11 versions each of the Preislied and “Celeste Aida”, nine of the “Ah, fuyez douce image” and seven of the “Roi du ciel” from Le prophète. His stage repertory could probably be divided into four more or less equal parts. Verdi predominated, with 133 performances of Radames, 130 of Otello, 91 of Manrico, and at least 41 of Riccardo. He also sang Ernani and the Duke in Rigoletto. Wagner and grand opera (comprising Elèazar, Raoul, Jean in Le prophète and Assad), were probably tied for second and third, with other composers, including Mozart, Boieldieu, Gounod, Puccini, etc. coming in fourth. His career was largely centered on Vienna, but also included an important stint at the Met, some stays in Brno, Breslau and Berlin during his youth, and guest appearances in many other centers. He has been described as everything from a “Heldentenor” (in many sources) to a large voiced lyric tenor (by Michael Scott, in his books on great singers). I would split the difference, calling him the German equivalent of a French “fort tenor”, who could sing everything from Mozart to the lighter Wagner roles, and did. »

12 Mar 2005

St. Matthew's Passion at Notre Dame

Il existe des appartements où vous ne pouvez brancher à la fois la machine à laver, le téléviseur et le sèche-cheveux sans faire tout disjoncter. C’est un peu l’impression que l’on avait jeudi soir à Notre-Dame, pour la Passion selon saint Matthieu, dirigée par John Nelson. A peine le chef avait-il salué le public, que les projecteurs s’éteignirent soudain. Il fallut une demi-heure pour les rallumer un par un, et lorsqu’à 20 h 33, le dernier spot fut enfin rétabli, le courant sauta derechef ! Ce n’est qu’à 20 h 40 que le grandiose double choeur introductif put faire résonner les colonnes de Notre-Dame. On n’a pu qu’admirer le sang-froid des artistes, restés en scène tout du long, soumis à une pression que certains exorcisaient en plaisantant, d’autres en maintenant leur instrument au chaud ou en se concentrant. »

12 Mar 2005

Something Alien in Baltimore

Nearly a century ago, the great pianist and intriguing composer Ferruccio Busoni declared that the duty of the performer is to liberate music “from the deadness of the printed page and bring it to life again.” »

12 Mar 2005

Stravinsky's The Nightingale in Toronto

If you’re going to attend one Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert this year, make it this one. There’s nothing like leaving Roy Thomson Hall with your feet six inches off the ground — especially when it’s snowing. »

11 Mar 2005

BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Nocturne; Phaedra

A spare and yet splendid masterpiece, Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings doesn’t seem to make it into concert halls as often as it deserves. In the recording studio, however, it has fared well. Besides the classic recordings from the composer and his partner Peter Pears, esteemed versions from Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, Robert Tear, Ian Bostridge, and others have a place in the catalogue. »

11 Mar 2005

Tale of Tsar Saltan at the Mariinsky

The new production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tale Of Tsar Saltan, which premiered at the Mariinsky Theater on Tuesday, is like a happy child’s dream: placid, multi-colored, entertaining – and it has a happy ending. »

11 Mar 2005

Cav and Pag in Cardiff

The Mascagni and Leoncavallo double bill was the very first staging ever undertaken by Welsh National Opera in 1946 and sentiment decreed that it should be played in the company’s inaugural season at its new home. Elijah Moshinsky’s production was created for WNO’s jubilee and has done sterling duty. It has proved a glorious vehicle for both chorus and orchestra. And the moment when the battered truck that brings Pagliaccio’s touring troupe on to the stage is emblematic. »

10 Mar 2005

Bernstein's Candide in New York

Anna Christy plays Cunegonde in NYC Opera’s ‘Candide.’ Monty Python fans waiting for “Spamalot” tickets can warm up happily at “Candide,” City Opera’s spring season opener at Lincoln Center. »