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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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21 Feb 2005

SALGADO: The Teatro Solis 150 years of Opera, Concert and Ballet in Montevideo

During the latter half of the 19th century, and much of the 20th, countless opera companies, mostly Italian, but also some French and an occasional German, toured much of the Southeast coast of Latin America. Cities visited most frequently included Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo, with occasional swings inland (Rosario and Cordoba), but sometimes going as far West as Santiago and Valparaiso. »

19 Feb 2005

Verdi's Otello at Opéra-Bastille

Ce ne sont pas des notes qui jaillissent de la baguette de Valery Gergiev, c’est un foudroiement : une tempête d’air, d’eau, de feu qui déchire l’espace et fige d’horreur le chœur des Chypriotes massés au port pour le retour vainqueur d’Otello. Une puissance dévastatrice, métaphysique. »

19 Feb 2005

PENDERECKI: A Polish Requiem

Krzysztof Penderecki’s A Polish Requiem is a monumental work expressing the struggles of 20th century Poland against oppression. Written over the course of several years in the 1980s and 90s, sections of A Polish Requiem memorialize significant events in Poland’s history. The Lacrimosa was written for Lech Walesa and his Solidarity movement as a memorial to Gdansk dock-workers who died in a conflict with authorities. The Agnus Dei was composed as a memorial tribute to the Polish religious leader, Cardinal Wyszynski and the Recordare marks the beatification of Father Maximilian Kolbe who sacrificed his life at Auschwitz so that another man and his family could live. In addition, the Dies Irae was written to mark the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising against the Nazis. In its whole, A Polish Requiem is a work of piety as an expression of Penderecki’s devout Catholicism and a conviction of the human ability to triumph over evil. »

19 Feb 2005

Renée Fleming in Boston

Renée Fleming sang the Boston leg of her current recital tour last night at Symphony Hall accompanied by the distinguished German pianist Hartmut Höll. Not only was Ms Fleming in free, shimmering and beautifully controlled voice, but last night’s program of Purcell, Handel, Berg and Schumann was some of her most disciplined work in a very long time. »

18 Feb 2005

KRAMER: Opera and Modern Culture — Wagner and Strauss

"New musicology" is the cultural study, analysis and criticism of music, which proffers the belief that music has societal, religious, political, personal, and sexual agendas. Consequently, new musicology, much like the discussion of such topics at social gatherings, can be polarizing. »

17 Feb 2005

Nabucco at the Met — Another View

NABUCCO. Music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Temistocle Solera. Metropolitan Opera, James Levine conducting. Through March 8 at Lincoln Center. Call 212-362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Biography can be a distorting lens through which to view art. A case in point is Verdi’s “Nabucco” (1842), his first great success, which followed the deaths of his children and wife between 1838 and 1840 and the humiliating failure of his second opera. »

17 Feb 2005

Cosi fan tutte at San Diego

For San Diego Opera conductor Karen Keltner, returning to the score of Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte” is like slipping on a pair of well-worn leather gloves. The music fits snugly with the vocal parts, and the luxurious feel of the piece improves with each wearing. »

17 Feb 2005

Semele in Scotland — Another View

In Scottish Opera’s early days, Handel was not a high priority. Debussy, Verdi, Mozart and Mussorgsky were the composers with whom the company made its name. As a Handel conductor, Alexander Gibson – like Pierre Boulez – went no further than the Water Music. In his role as administrator, Peter Hemmings was forthright and forbidding. Handel’s operas, he declared, were the kiss of death. »

16 Feb 2005

Tristan und Isolde at Geneva — Other Views

Faced with Wagner’s marathon symphonic poem with voices, it is easy to see why producers are panicked into hyperactivity. Olivier Py’s new staging does just that. Wagner whittled down the characters to the bare minimum, to present an unadulterated account of doomed passion. Py, a promising, provocative talent in France but on this evidence short on maturity and focus, elects to flood the stage, literally in act three, with supernumeraries and hackneyed symbolism that feeds on Shakespeare and Arthurian legend. »

16 Feb 2005

Verdi's Nabucco at the Met

There is an honesty to Elijah Moshinsky’s four-year-old production of Verdi’s “Nabucco,” which returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night. No excuses are made for the opera’s creaky theatrical state, no attempts to bring up-to-date relevance to what became a symbol of revolution and national unity for Italians 160 years ago. »

16 Feb 2005

Die Zauberflöte at ROH

AN ODD thing about David McVicar’s productions is the way they improve with time. When this show first appeared it was too po-faced by half, full of regard for the pomposities of the piece but hardly at ease with its lightness, enchantment and childish simplicity. »

16 Feb 2005

Julius Caesar in Hamburg

Hamburg – These. Antithese. Synthese. So einfach ist das manchmal. Anstatt ein sehr abstraktes, gern auch sehr allegorisches Genre wie die Barock-Oper in ein um Wirklichkeit bemühtes Regie-Korsett zwingen zu wollen, das ihren schillernden Typen das Entrückte, Allgemeingültige nehmen würde, geht Karoline Gruber bei “Giulio Cesare in Egitto” einen ganz eigenen, ganz cleveren Regie-Weg: Zuerst wird auf Pointe komm raus gealbert und überdreht. Dann auf Gedeih und Verderb geliebt. Im dritten Akt ohne Wenn und Aber geläutert. Die Katharsis kommt spät, aber gewaltig. »

15 Feb 2005

Gounod's Faust in Cleveland

“Making a pact with the devil’’ is one of those expressions that have gotten diluted with overuse. Nobody really means it when they say it, unless maybe they happen to be talking about Charles Gounod’s opera Faust, where the music is as transcendently lovely as the story line is dark. »

15 Feb 2005

Semele in Scotland

WHY IS IT we feel so comfortable with the Handel who wrote such pot-boilers as the Hallelujah Chorus, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Music for the Royal Fireworks or Water Music, yet dread the thought of sitting through one of his many operas? »

15 Feb 2005

La Traviata As Ballet Stumbles

This is the way the art of ballet will end, with a sentimental whimper, an easy tear in its eye, and not a squeak of true life as theatrical dance. If the novelisation of successful movies is thought a pretty bogus form of literature, how much worse is a balletisation of an opera masterpiece such as Verdi’s La traviata. »

15 Feb 2005

Opera Colorado Presents Julius Caesar

Odd that Opera Colorado would encourage ticket-buyers for its production of Julius Caesar to “Bring your Valentine . . . and witness a love so great it changed the course of history.” This, be advised, is not your typical love story, nor is it a date opera. Just as the production that opened Saturday at the Buell Theatre is hardly your basic, by-the-book staging. For starters, Handel’s legendary leading lovers, Caesar and Cleopatra, are both sung by women. And, yes, they do smooch – sort of. »

15 Feb 2005

José van Dam in New York

Recitals should be about something, I always say. So I should have been delighted that “dans ce vague d’un Dimanche,” on a dreamy Sunday (a line from Debussy’s song “L’échelonnement des haies”) at Alice Tully Hall, José van Dam, the excellent Belgian bass-baritone, perfectly suited his delivery to words like “parcourent en rêvant les coteaux enchantées/ où, jadis, sourit ma jeunesse” (“wandering dreamily across the enchanted slopes where, once, my youth smiled”), a line from Fauré’s “Automne.” »

15 Feb 2005

Bernstein's Candide in London

Leonard Bernstein’s Candide may only have been written 50 years ago, but it presents as many problems of texts and editions as any baroque opera that mouldered in an ecclesiastical library for three or four centuries. The idea of turning Voltaire’s scabrously satirical novella into an operetta was originally Lillian Hellman’s, but five other writers eventually contributed to the piece, while for the rest of his life Bernstein carried on worrying away at it too. »

15 Feb 2005

Tristan und Isolde at Grand Théâtre de Genève

Le metteur en scène français Olivier Py a conçu une nouvelle production de Tristan, de Wagner – la première depuis vingt ans à l’Opéra de Genève. A pari téméraire, réussite exemplaire : le metteur en scène, auteur et comédien français réalise une magistrale version du chef-d’œuvre wagnérien, plastique et superlativement musicale, intelligente et hautement sensible. Un Tristan tiré au cordeau que magnifient les ingénieux décors de Pierre-André Weits, les lumières d’Olivier Py et une direction d’acteurs aboutie. »

15 Feb 2005

Tosca at Bayerische Staatsoper

Es gibt CD-Aufnahmen mit Roberto Alagna, auf denen erkennt man seine Stimme nicht wieder. Entspannt und schmiegsam klingt sie da, ebenmäßig und mit sehr dezenten Nuancierungen – genauso also, wie im dritten “Tosca”-Akt an der Bayerischen Staatsoper. Das “E lucevan le stelle” behandelte der München-Debütant ganz behutsam, nicht als Nummer eines Schlagerabends, sondern wie eine versonnene Erinnerung an Vergangenes – also der Situation kurz vor dem tödlichen Schuss durchaus angemessen. »

14 Feb 2005

SCHUMANN AND BRAHMS: Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden

The CD entitled Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden contains a selection of music by three friends who composed Lieder: Robert Schumann, his wife Clara, and their colleague Johannes Brahms. Their friendship is well known, and this recording is an attempt to pay tribute to what Berner calls “the manifold interactions between this artistic trinity” by presenting music by each of them; the pieces include Robert Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op. 24, seven Lieder by Clara Schumann, and ten of Brahms’ Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33. »

13 Feb 2005

CUI: A Feast in Time of Plague
RACHMANINOV: The Miserly Knight

The new Chandos recordings present Valeri Polyansky and the Russian State Symphony Orchestra in two little-known Russian operas of the early twentieth century, Sergei Rachmaninov’s The Miserly Knight (1905), and César Cui’s A Feast in Time of Plague (1900), the latter recorded for the first time. Each work is a setting of one of Alexander Pushkin’s Little Tragedies (1830), a series of four short plays in blank verse that elaborate on popular literary topics: “Don Juan, or The Stone Guest,” “The Miserly Knight,” “Mozart and Salieri,” and “A Feast in Time of Plague.” Sharply penetrating psychological portraits of people consumed by their obsessions – passion, greed, jealousy, and fear – Pushkin’s “dramatic scenes” have enjoyed a near cult status among the classics of Russian literature over the past 175 years. So has the first attempt to set one of them to music – a radical 1869 word-for-word setting of The Stone Guest by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (1813-69). Cast almost entirely as a continuous arioso, the work was proclaimed a revolution in operatic style by the Russian Five whose unbridled enthusiasm contributed to its enduring reputation. »

13 Feb 2005

DONIZETTI: L’elisir D’amore

Of today’s opera stars, tenor Rolando Villazón may be the “hottest” (if readers will allow that Entertainment Tonight term). He has gone from being an Operalia winner a few years back to assuming leading roles in the major houses of Europe and the U.S. His second major label recital disc has just been released to even higher praise than his first received, which appeared on many “best of the year lists” for 2004. Wherever he appears, major profiles and interviews appear in the local papers. He’s so hot he may be contributing to global warming. »