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Elsewhere

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Pavarotti: a touching, yet not dispassionate, account of the legendary Italian tenor

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

An interview with composer Dani Howard

The young Hong Kong-born British composer Dani Howard is having quite a busy year.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.


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Reviews

Luciano Pavarotti [Photo by Terry O'Neill/Decca Records]
18 Jul 2019

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Pavarotti: a touching, yet not dispassionate, account of the legendary Italian tenor »

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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. »