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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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10 Mar 2005

KÁLMÁN: Die Csárdásfürstin

Emmerich Kálmán’s name may be familiar primarily to music lovers d’un certain âge, but between the world wars his operettas were as popular as those of Léhar and Strauss on both sides of the Atlantic. Die Csárdásfürstin (The Gypsy [or Czardas] Princess), which premiered in Vienna in 1915, is his best known, and for good reason. Its book by Leo Stein and Béla Jenbach sparkles and delights, but with reversals of fortune that leave the audience wondering until the last minute how love’s complications will be resolved. The Budapest-born Kálmán (1882–1953; his fellow composition students included Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály) apparently was weaned on his homeland’s melodies and czardas, which he mixes generously with Austrian waltzes to create a glorious portrait of the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The piece played the New Amsterdam Theater in New York in 1917 as The Riviera Girl, with a new book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse and added numbers by Jerome Kern. »

08 Mar 2005

Ring des Nibelungen at the Wiener Staatsoper

An der Wiener Staatsoper ist Wagners “Ring des Nibelungen” derzeit in der Inszenierung von Adolf Dresen zu sehen – das nächste Mal am 12., 17., 24. April und am 1. Mai unter der musikalischen Leitung der Australierin Simone Young. Wer der altbacken und teilweise lächerlich wirkenden Produktion überdrüssig ist, muss bis 2007 warten: Am 2. Dezember hat Sven-Eric Bechtolfs Neuproduktion der “Walküre” in Wien Premiere, am Pult steht Franz Welser-Möst. Die beiden sind ein eingespieltes Team. Bis 2009 wird der Regisseur, der am Burgtheater den “Reigen”, “Cyrano de Bergerac” und “Leonce und Lena” inszeniert hat, auch die drei anderen Teile der Tetralogie in Szene setzen. Zu seinem Konzept wollte er noch nicht viel verraten. Er sehe Wotan aber nicht “mit Aktenkoffer” über die Bühne wandern und kann sich auch Walhall “nicht als Großraumbüro” vorstellen. Bechtolf spielte damit auf die heftig gescholtene Bayreuther Ring-Inszenierung von Jürgen Flimm an, die im August 2004 das letzte Mal über die Bühne gegangen war. »

08 Mar 2005

Die Walküre at Covent Garden

Any production of Wagner’s Ring cycle needs some kind of coherence, so it is logical for a staging of Die Walküre to continue where the previous instalment, Das Rheingold, left off. In the case of the Royal Opera’s new production, though, that turns out to be not such a good thing at all. »

08 Mar 2005

BRITTEN: Canticles I–V, The Heart of the Matter

Benjamin Britten is usually thought of as a musical dramatist on a large, operatic scale, but the instinct (or perhaps the inner necessity) to capture psychological conflict in music burst through in his smaller musical forms as well. His five canticles (not to be confused with the church parables) mirror Britten’s artistic growth in his operas and other large-scale works from the late 1940s until shortly before his death. »

08 Mar 2005

The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen

This last in the contributions of Anonymous 4 to the performance of medieval music is a selection of thematically related texts – most by Hildegard von Bingen – dealing with a spiritual or religious fire. Those renditions of traditional hymns, such as “Veni Creator Spiritus” and “Veni Spiritus eternorum alme,” are interspersed with works of Hildegard’s composition. Some of these are based on her prose visions, e.g. “Et ego homo non calens,” identified topically as “The fire of creation,” a depiction of which is also used for the cover illustration. The prose texts are provided with musical adaptations of plainsong by Anonymous 4. “The fire of creation” was performed using plainchant, and Hildegard’s vision “The fiery spirit” was adapted to a two-voice lection tone from Christmas matins of Polish origin. »

08 Mar 2005

VERDI: Les Vêpres Siciliennes

In 1847, Giuseppe Verdi revised his opera I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843) into a work for the Parisian stage. This “new” composition, featuring extensive plot changes, new music, and the requisite ballet, is considered better than the original upon which it was based. A reverse fate awaited Verdi’s next work for Paris, the grand opéra Les Vêpres Siciliennes, which premiered at the Opéra in 1855. Although it was performed there, with minor changes, until 1863, attempts to get the work past censors in Italy failed, for tales of successful revolutions simply were not permitted on the Risorgimento stage. After a poor translation of the opera entitled Giovanna de Guzman made the circuits, Verdi revisited the score in 1856, and, removing the ballet, created I vespri sicilani. This inferior version, which employs much of Giovanna de Guzman’s text, is unfortunately the one that has remained in the repertory. »

08 Mar 2005

Handel's Il trionfo at the Barbican

GROUCHO MARX once quipped: “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.” Bizarrely, that flashed through my mind as I was gripped, ravished and finally moved to tears by this early Handel oratorio. Here was George Frideric before he became, if not a virgin, then something even more pious: the stately, sedate cheerleader for the Hanoverian dynasty. »

07 Mar 2005

EVERETT: The Musical — A Research and Information Guide

Much current popular culture assumes that its audience is knowledgeable of the American musical. References to, and parodies of, specific musicals are frequently a part of episodes of The Simpsons and South Park, and ads for companies as diverse as The Gap and the World Wrestling Entertainment promotion recently have restaged numbers from West Side Story to plug their products or events. Rarely, if ever, are the sources acknowledged; it is simply taken for granted that a general audience will understand the quotations and parodies. »

07 Mar 2005

STRAUSS: Die Fledermaus

Film freezes time and even serves to transport an enrapt viewer into its temporal world. Viewers of the recent DVD release of a December 1980 performance of Strauss’ operetta classic, Die Fledermaus, may not be quite as ecstatic as the local audience, but resistance is futile. Have some champagne ready for the curtain calls. Lovers of this art form will rejoice, and even the operetta-resistant (of which your reviewer is one) must succumb to the energy, star power, and sheer good will of all involved. »

07 Mar 2005

New Music in Boston

The Fromm Music Foundation has been a resident at Harvard for 32 years, commissioning new works and underwriting new-music activity in several venues, including Tanglewood. »

07 Mar 2005

Don Carlo at the Met

“Don Carlo” is Verdi’s “Hamlet.” It’s always an event when the Metropolitan Opera brings back John Dexter’s striking 1979 production of this long, complex, musically profound and psychologically perceptive work, based on Schiller’s play about the indecisive young crown prince Don Carlo and his brutish father, Philip II of Spain, during the madness that was the Inquisition. »

07 Mar 2005

Harnoncourt's Poppea in London

PRACTICALLY my first assignment as a cub critic was to review Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting Zurich Opera’s production of The Coronation of Poppea. That was in 1978, but I still recall the elation I felt at hearing this great Baroque pioneer sweep centuries of dust from Monteverdi’s masterpiece. »

07 Mar 2005

Manon Lescaut in Essen

Essen. Es ist keine Sternstunde für das erfolgsverwöhnte Essener Aalto-Theater. Warum Generalmusikdirektor Stefan Soltesz Giacomo Puccinis Jugendwerk “Manon Lescaut” ins Programm hob, ist rätselhaft. Denn es liegt mit der gleichnamigen Oper des französischen Komponisten Jules Massenet ein qualitativ weitaus anspruchsvolleres Werk vor. Und hätte er den Mut zur Gegenwart gehabt, hätte sich Hans-Werner Henzes “Boulevard Solitude” angeboten. Ob dies erklärt, dass Soltesz bei der Premiere gleich der 1. Akt zum verhetzten Parforce-Ritt missriet? Immerhin wusste er im weiteren Verlauf den Essener Philharmonikern doch noch die feineren Harmonien zu entlocken, an denen es hier ja nun nicht völlig mangelt. »

06 Mar 2005

A Minimalist Entführung aus dem Serail

Die zwei Pärchen in Mozarts “Entführung aus dem Serail” haben ohnehin genug Schwierigkeiten zu überwinden, bis sie endlich auf ihrem Schinakel gen Westen fahren dürfen. Vor dem mutigen Versuch des “Letzten Erfreulichen Operntheaters”, das Singspiel nur mit Klavier, Oboe und Flöte instrumentiert auf ihre Kellerbühne zu stellen, türmte sich bei der zweiten Vorstellung ein weiteres Hindernis auf: die Grippe-bedingte Absage des Osmin-Darstellers. Gerade aus dem dadurch nötigen Provisorium erwuchsen dem Abend aber die besten Momente. »

06 Mar 2005

A Preview of Un ballo in maschera in Kansas City

In the resonant, garishly lighted basement of Trinity United Methodist Church, art is imitating life. »

06 Mar 2005

Nozze in Baltimore

Human beings will always be good for a laugh, especially when they’re in full pursuit of sex. »

06 Mar 2005

PUCCINI: La Bohème

Even for a jaded reviewer like this one who has seen innumerable Bohème’s all over the world, there comes a moment in the third act when music and production simply take precedence over intellectual curiosity: the old magic works again and one is moved by the fate of these youngsters. High praise indeed for the famous Zeffirelli-production, born in 1963 at La Scala together with a juicy scandal when Di Stefano was ousted and replaced by Gianni Raimondi. »

06 Mar 2005

Fidelio at Carnegie Hall

Beethoven’s “Fidelio” is an opera about freedom that is shackled by a limited libretto. A great performance can unlock its treasures. A mediocre one can feel like prison, as the Collegiate Chorale’s performance on Thursday night at Carnegie Hall underlined. It was a long and murky night, although there were many glints of bright light that tantalizingly shone through. »

05 Mar 2005

ZEMLINSKY: Une Tragédie Florentine

The operas of the Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) continue to fascinate audiences with their combination of carefully composed music and well-selected librettos. After using fairy-tale elements in his early operas, such as Sarema (1897), Es war einmal (1900), and Der Traumgörge (1905-6), Zemlinsky turned to Renaissance settings for Eine florentinische Tragödie (1917) and Der Zwerg (1922). In fact, Zemlinsky’s Florentinische Tragödie is based the dramatic fragment A Florentine Tragedy, by Oscar Wilde, whose works intrigued other composers of the time. Beyond the provocative drama Salome set by Richard Strauss, Franz Schreker used a story by Wilde as the basis for his ballet Die Geburtstag der Infantin (1908). »

05 Mar 2005

SCHOENBERG: Gurrelieder

Schoenberg for lovers. Sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact there is enough passion in the too seldom heard Gurrelieder to make even Valentine blush. We know Schoenberg largely from the atonal and dodecaphonic later works (and most listeners know of these mostly by inaccurate rumor). But we forget all too often the fact that Schoenberg had an early period, much of which is readily accessible to conservative tastes. Gurrelieder is the sort of diamond in the crown of this period, a long cantata-like adventure, some two hours in full. Scored for an enormous orchestra, four choirs, and speaker, and five soloists, the work is the logical conclusion of the nineteenth-century penchant for Texas-style excess when it comes to orchestration: you can’t get any bigger than this without havin’ to build a second story. »

04 Mar 2005

Stiffelio at Sarasota Opera

SARASOTA — Many operas are all about the music, but in “Stiffelio” composer Giuseppe Verdi paid a lot more attention than usual to the words. »

04 Mar 2005

Ravel and Poulenc at the Barbican

On paper, Ravel’s mock-Spanish “comédie musicale” (1904) and Poulenc’s mock-everything “opéra bouffe” (1944) should make a toothsome double bill. Less than an hour each, elegantly funny in quite different veins – and excellent for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, for no heroic voices are required. But the team’s Ravel proved a lame affair, and its Poulenc – sung in English, with the same director (Stephen Langridge) and conductor – a delight. »