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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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04 Mar 2005

Handel's La Resurrezione in Chicago

Since Brian Dickie arrived as general director, Chicago Opera Theater has become the place to catch Handel’s operas staged with a bold theatrical flair that’s fresh and cutting-edge. The company began its 2005 season with a beautiful and inspiring production of a Handel rarity, “La Resurrezione,” Wednesday night in the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park. »

03 Mar 2005

Musica Sacra at Carnegie Hall

Richard Westenburg led his 36-member Musica Sacra chorus and a small orchestra in works by Bach and Mozart at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday evening, and for the occasion, he revived one of the group’s hits from the 1970’s – the rarely heard early version of Bach’s Magnificat (BWV 242a) [sic]. »

03 Mar 2005

Villazón at the Wiener Staatsoper

Er ist ein Bühnenmensch. Durch und durch. Schon ein Interview mit ihm ist eine äußerst unterhaltsame Dar bietung: witzig, inspiriert und sprühend lebendig. “Ich wollte immer alles darstellen,” sprudelt es aus dem 33-jährigen Mexikaner hervor. Mit Kindereien hat er sich dabei nicht aufgehalten. Bereits mit elf Jahren gehörte sein literarisches Interesse Camus und Kafka. “Die Figuren aus den Romanen waren für mich real, ich wollte so sein wie sie.” Das hat er bisweilen im Extrem ausgelebt. Die Biografie Gandhis hat den Jugendlichen später so fasziniert, dass er mit runder Brille und Glatze zur Schule ging. Das überbordende Ausdrucksbedürfnis entdeckte auch bald den Gesang. Vorerst unter der Dusche, am liebsten die Songs von “Perhaps Love”, Placido Domingos Cross-over-Album mit dem Popsänger John Denver – beide kann Villazón heute noch köstlich imitieren. »

02 Mar 2005

Is it Bach or is it Koopman?

Am Anfang die Frage: Ist’s Bach, ist’s Koopman? Von Johann Sebastian Bachs Markus-Passion ist nur der Text erhalten geblieben. Der Holländer Ton Koopman hat nach einer gängigen Kompositionsmethode Bachs – der Wiederverwendung eigener Werke – die Arien und Choräle der Passion gesetzt und die Rezitative dazwischen neu komponiert. Man könnte sagen, einen handwerklich bearbeiteten Bach erschaffen. An dieses ganz besondere Stück wagte sich nun Philipp Amelung mit seinem Bach-Ensemble und bescherte damit dem Publikum im Münchner Herkulessaal einen äußerst spannenden Abend. »

02 Mar 2005

Stravinsky's Les Noces and Oedipus Rex at the Barbican

After opening its brief Barbican residency with Rimsky-Korsakov, the Mariinsky Theatre moved on to less regular territory for the company, with performances of Shostakovich’s The Nose and a Stravinsky double bill. Although the two Stravinsky works – the “choreographic scenes” of Les Noces and the “opera-oratorio” Oedipus Rex — were first performed (both in Paris) just four years apart, in 1923 and 1927 respectively, they belong to different musical worlds, for Les Noces had been conceived much earlier, in the immediate aftermath of The Rite of Spring, and Stravinsky took a decade to perfect its formal shape and scoring. »

02 Mar 2005

TOMMASINI: The New York Times Essential Library: Opera — A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Works and the Best Recordings

"I particularly want to reach newcomers" writes Anthony Tommasini, Times chief classical music critic, in his preface. I do not think they will be helped very much by this book. A rookie who picks it up and reads the subtitle may expect something more than two operas by Bellini, two by Donizetti, one Gounod (not Faust), one Massenet (not Manon) and no Lohengrin. »

01 Mar 2005

Chabrier's Roi malgré lui in Lyon

Wagnérien passé à la postérité grâce à une espagnolade (España) représentative du brio orchestral français, Emmanuel Chabrier a suscité l’admiration de Ravel et de Stravinsky avec Le Roi malgré lui, dont l’Opéra de Lyon présente une nouvelle production. Pourtant, cet opéra-comique repose sur un livret que peu de commentateurs ont apprécié avec bienveillance. A commencer par le compositeur, aigri par les multiples remaniements du texte : “Une bouillabaisse de Najac et de Burani, que fait cuire Richepin et dans laquelle je colle quelques épices.” »

01 Mar 2005

Bostridge and Uchida in Vienna

Einen Schubert-Liederabend im Großen Musikvereins-Saal zu veranstalten, ist eigentlich eine Schnapsidee. Umso mehr, als ein so persönlicher und intimer Liedzyklus wie die “Schöne Müllerin” auf dem Programm stand, zu singen von Ian Bostridge mit seinem zarten, schlanken Tenor. Immerhin konnten dem Publikum auf diese Weise zwei Schubert-Experten auf einen Schlag präsentiert werden: Bostridge, der zuletzt mit seiner Einspielung der “Winterreise” für Aufsehen sorgte, und Mitsuko Uchida, sicher eine der führenden Schubert-Interpretinnen unter den Pianisten. »

01 Mar 2005

Mosaic: African-American Spirituals

Angela Brown has attracted the attention of those eager for the appearance of the next great Verdi soprano, and she continues to live up to the high expectations. Appearances with the Opera Company of Philadelphia as Leonara in Il Trovatore, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, and Strauss’s Ariadne evoked high praise from local and national critics, and her recent debut as Aida at the Metropolitan Opera was well received. All have noted the powerful and richly expressive voice in early bloom as well as Brown’s commanding stage presence. So this recent recording of spirituals, sung only with guitar or piano accompaniment (they all three contribute to the final “Ride Up in the Chariot”), is an interesting release. Brown is minimizing resources in search of what, in the liner notes, she calls an “intimate recording” of “songs of personal introspection.” The results are a little more mixed than her operatic reception. »

01 Mar 2005

VERDI: Falstaff

This Andante release is a marvelous compilation of two recordings of Verdi’s Falstaff performed at the Salzburg festival, the first conducted by Arturo Toscanini in 1937, the second by Herbert Von Karajan in 1957. The juxtaposition and accompanying extensive program notes encourage the aficionado to compare, contrast and delight in the music through the lens of time. Falstaff was a favorite of the maestri and both took professional chances with it. Toscanini performed Falstaff during his first season at La Scala in 1898; Karajan perplexed his German-speaking audience by programming Falstaff in Aachen during his final season in 1941-2. »

28 Feb 2005

STRAVINSKY: Oedipus Rex; Les Noces

Robert Craft has begun an ambitious project of recording Stravinsky’s oeuvre with two of the best dramatic works, Oedipus Rex — a sort of melodrama in a fever — and Les Noces (The Wedding), which simply defies any generic classification. The two make an ideal pairing, Rex as high drama told at a breakneck crawl, Noces as a kind of musical Polaroid camera that churns through frozen snapshots with a mind numbing velocity. Craft was a close confidant and collaborator with Stravinsky, and was responsible for many premiers and other definitive statements. For better or worse this fact brought down upon his head a certain amount of critical skepticism on the part of academics. This can be set to one side in these recordings, which are certainly reliable in a workaday sense, if a little tepid in terms of insight and energy. »

27 Feb 2005

Rossini's La Cenerentola in Milwaukee

Vivica Genaux hasn’t been singing long enough for the whole world to recognize it, but she is one of the greatest singers of our day. Genaux returned Friday to the Florentine Opera, to sing the title role in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola.” Her voice was huge, and as dark and rich as a profound red wine. Rarely do voices with such weight come to roles such as this, which are loaded with quick, tricky ornaments and aerobatic coloratura tangents. For all its power, Genaux’s singing seems effortless, and her voice is incredibly agile. She articulated every note with utter clarity and accuracy, even in the fastest runs and at the extremes of her range. »

27 Feb 2005

Chicago Opera Theater to Present Handel's La Resurrezione

From an artistic standpoint, Chicago Opera Theater’s inaugural season last year in the new Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park couldn’t have been more successful. Productions of Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea,’’ the haunting Chicago staged premiere of Benjamin Britten’s “Death in Venice’’ and a version of Rossini’s whimsical “Il viaggio a Reims’’ set in the American Wild West were outstanding on both musical and theatrical levels. »

27 Feb 2005

Fledermaus at Opera Australia

This is the triumph of style over content certainly, but in Fledermaus everything triumphs over content. The director, Lindy Hume, with designers Richard Roberts and Angus Strathie, has transposed 19th-century Austro-Hungarian imperial decadence onto 20th-century American imperial decadence, marrying brash New York energy with creaking Viennese charm. »

26 Feb 2005

Salome at the Semperoper

Sie inszenieren die sechste „Salome“ seit der Dresdner Uraufführung 1905 – empfanden Sie die Tradition des Stücks als Last? Da ich die Oper zum ersten Mal anfasse, dominierte die Lust. Eigentlich habe ich ja für „Salome“ Regie-Verbot, welches mir Mitte der 70er Jahre die Strauss-Erben aussprachen. Seinerzeit hatte ich vor Gericht mit der Frankfurter Oper um Urheberrechte an einer Inszenierung von Wagners „Götterdämmerung“ gestritten – und den Prozess gewonnen. Aufgehoben ist das Verbot nicht. Die Erben haben aber auch nicht interveniert. »

26 Feb 2005

Thomas Hampson in Vienna

Kurzweilig und mit pointierten persönlichen Anmerkungen verfeinert eröffnete Bariton Thomas Hampson seinen vierteiligen Amerika-Zyklus: Er ließ das Publikum im Neuen Saal an seiner Spurensuche nach dem “amerikanischen Lied” teilhaben, zog verbindende Fäden von der Alten in die Neue Welt. So sprach etwa der Mahler-Zeitgenosse Edward MacDowell fließend deutsch und wurde von Franz Liszt hoch geschätzt. Seine wonnig-traurige Seefahrer- “Ballade” brachte Hampson dann im Großen Saal darstellerisch raffiniert zur Geltung. Auch Charles Griffes (1884-1920) europäische Wurzeln – er war mit Engelbert Humperdinck befreundet – wurden nachvollziehbar, so in “Des Müden Abendlied”. »

26 Feb 2005

John Blow's Venus & Adonis at the Wiener Kammeroper

“Master of the famous Mr. H. Purcell”: Die Gedenktafel in der Westminster Abbey zeigt deutlich, dass John Blow, geboren 1649, schon für Zeitgenossen ein wenig im Schatten seines um zehn Jahre jüngeren Kollegen im Hofdienst und mutmaßlichen Schülers Henry Purcell stand. Dabei war Blows Karriere als Organist, Komponist und Chorleiter vielfältig und verantwortungsvoll. 1683 schrieb er “Venus und Adonis”, eine “Masque for the entertainment of the King”. Eine Oper im Taschenformat sozusagen, aus der Tradition des höfischen Maskenspiels emporgewachsen zum musikdramatischen Meisterwerk – nur mehr ein Schritt trennt es von Purcells “Dido and Aeneas” (1689). »

25 Feb 2005

BYRD: Consort Songs

This CD collaboration between the early music viol ensemble Fretwork and vocalist Emma Kirkby is devoted to songs of William Byrd composed in the vernacular to be sung with string accompaniment; interspersed with these is a selection of short instrumental pieces in various genres. As a composer whose work was associated especially with the English Catholics, many of Byrd’s compositions from the last quarter of the sixteenth century were based on sacred Latin texts. The less familiar English consort songs chosen for this recording represent a mix of both secular and religious themes. Topics in the song texts include the constancy of Penelope, the narrative of a pet dog who meets an unexpected end, an elegy on Sir Philip Sidney, and the execution of Mary Stuart as bound up with the vicissitudes of Fortune in this world. This selection is further balanced by vernacular songs of an overtly religious character focusing on topics such as the vanity of earthly pleasure and possessions, the Nativity, and a lengthy prayer for divine grace. Finally, some of the song texts draw on a thematic complex of both sacred and profane. »

25 Feb 2005

New York Throws a Party for Handel

Through a felicitous quirk of its touring schedule, Nicholas McGegan and his period instrument ensemble, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, performed a program devoted mostly to music by Handel on Wednesday evening, the 320th anniversary of Handel’s birth. »