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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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06 Feb 2005

Handel's Julius Caesar in Denver

Stephanie Blythe recalls exactly where she was 10 years ago when she fully grasped the power of great acting in opera. Then an apprentice artist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, the mezzo-soprano was standing offstage about 25 feet from famed tenor Placido Domingo as he sang a love duet in “Die Walküre” with soprano Deborah Voigt. »

06 Feb 2005

Carmen at Opera Australia

IT would come as a shock to opera-goers if the cast of Carmen were suddenly to break into a chorus of Sisters are Doing it for Themselves. They might be forgiving, however, once they heard the gospel-tinged tones of American mezzosoprano Andrea Baker, who sings the title role in the Opera Australia production that begins a six-week run under the baton of Russian conductor Alexander Polianichko at the Sydney Opera House tonight. »

06 Feb 2005

Venus and Adonis at Seattle

It may not have been the best of times or the worst of times, but it was certainly among the naughtiest of times. Restoration England, which marked the end of Cromwell’s Puritan regime with the accession of merry monarch Charles II, was an era that makes Paris Hilton seem like a convent girl and “Sex and the City” like a school picnic. In Charles II’s reign, all the prohibitions of Cromwell’s era were repealed; the theaters were reopened, low-cut lace replaced buttoned-up wool, and the royal motto was evidently “thou shalt party hearty.” »

06 Feb 2005

Gruberova Performs Norma at the Wiener Staatsoper

Für Edita Gruberova hat die Staatsoper eine konzertante Fassung von Vicenzo Bellinis “Norma” aufs Programm gesetzt. Endlose Begeisterung, Blumen, Stan ding ovations dankten Edita Gruberova und ihren Mitstreitern für einen packenden Opernabend, der die szenische Aufbereitung keinen Augenblick vermissen ließ. Gerne verzichtete man darauf, die zeitgebundene Schauerromantik der Druiden und ihrer Opferriten anno 50 v. Chr. leibhaftig vor sich zu sehen. Und mehr noch: Keine Regie-Eitelkeit lenkte von der puren Musik ab. »

05 Feb 2005

Das Wachsfigurenkabinett at the Münchner Reaktorhalle

Ein buntes Schaubudenprogramm, anmoderiert von zwei Damen in knackigen Kostümen, so präsentieren sich die fünf Kurzopern von Karl Amadeus Hartmanns “Das Wachsfigurenkabinett” in der Münchner Reaktorhalle (Regie: Stefan Spies). Der Inszenierung des ersten Stücks “Der Mann, der vom Tode auferstand” fehlt noch Witz und Schwung. Die Geschichte vom reichen Fabrikanten, der vor seinem Radiogerät einschläft und das Hörspiel von der Arbeiterrevolution für Wirklichkeit hält, leidet an den Schaufel schwingend auftretenden, plump marschierenden Arbeitern. »

05 Feb 2005

Star Cross'd Lovers In LA

Stale marzipan it may be, but given the appropriate set of protagonists, Charles Gounod’s ponderous 1867 adaptation of Shakespeare’s youthful tragedy still has the power to arouse the senses and engage, if not engulf, the soul. In Rolando Villazón and Anna Netrebko, the Los Angeles Opera has found doomed lovers who are as much star material as “star cross’d”. Whatever else is lacking in the first west coast production of the opera here in 18 years, the Mexican tenor and Russian soprano radiate youthful ardour, stylistic sophistication and sheer theatrical magic. »

05 Feb 2005

SMART: Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera

Here's a serious niche book, a relatively slender volume dealing with a topic at once both arcane and surprisingly central to some of the major controversies in opera production today. I think it has major problems but it has become for me the pebble dropped into the pond that sends ripples to unexpected places, raising interesting questions in the process. »

04 Feb 2005

Democracy: An American Comedy in Washington

How is it possible that a new opera crammed with hot-button subjects—political corruption, ecclesiastical self-satisfaction, feminism, homosexuality—could be a blandly inoffensive entertainment? “Democracy: An American Comedy,” by composer Scott Wheeler and librettist Romulus Linney, commissioned by the Washington National Opera and given its world premiere last weekend, was disappointingly safe. Its provocative themes were smothered by a talky libretto that alternated between earnest exposition and sitcom jokes, set in smoothly tonal, insipid musical language. »

04 Feb 2005

An Evening of Soprana and Mezzo Duets at the Barbican

There are many profound experiences to be had in a concert hall, but an evening of soprano and mezzo duets isn’t one of them. Still, on the disc they brought out last autumn, Barbara Bonney, Angelika Kirchschlager and accompanist Malcolm Martineau managed to pick out some of the more interesting numbers in this frothy repertoire. Many of those made it into this recital – along with lashings of sugary charm, a few girly hugs and a line in the programme from Kirchschlager about how it wasn’t only their voices fitting together but their souls, too. Yeuch. »

02 Feb 2005

BELLINI: I Capuleti e I Montecchi

Surely the reader of this reviewer is passionate about opera – why else, faithful one, have you found yourself at the fount of information and wisdom knows as Opera Today? Therefore, the need for an outfit such as Premiere Opera need not be belabored – true opera lovers know that there sometimes arises a need to have a performance that cannot easily be obtained, and that need may trump the desire to have the recording, (whether only audio, or visual as well, as in the case of this DVD) be of optimal quality. So what we have here is a performance of April 7, 2002, at the Teatro Cuyas in the lovely Canary Islands. The opera is Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi, and the star gracing the stage as the lovely young Capulet is Cristina Gallardo-Domas. Perhaps it is her fans who will be most grateful to Premiere Opera for making available a record of the performance. Not to be slighted, however, is her imposing Romeo, a mezzo/trouser role. Daniela Barcellona is a rising star, and the reasons why are evident here. And Bellini lovers, as your reviewer knows well, are apt to want most any document of the master’s work, as the operas get performances but not as often as his fans might wish. »

01 Feb 2005

Thomas Hampson in Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf. Das Lied gehört zu den konzentriertesten Kunstformen überhaupt. Es ist einerseits, wie Thomas Mann sagte, “eine ganze Welt”, andererseits nimmt es nur wenig Zeit in Anspruch und bedarf lediglich zweier Musiker. Text und Musik vereinigen sich zu einer synchronen Sprache, die menschliches Empfinden in potenzierter Intensität ausdrückt. Aber das Lied ist auch eine für die Ausführenden anspruchsvolle Gattung. »

01 Feb 2005

Vivaldi's Farnace at Resonanzen 2005

Dreizehn als Glückszahl: Das 13. Festival Alter Musik wird in die Annalen des Wiener Konzerthau ses als besonders geglückt eingehen. Das kenntnisreich zusammengestellte Programm deckte nahezu alle wesentlichen Epochen, Nationalstile und Klangmöglichkeiten Alter Musik ab; fast durchwegs gut gewählt waren die Interpreten, und der Almanach könnte so manches historische und musikgeschichtliche Handbuch ersetzen. »

01 Feb 2005

Doina Dimitriu Wows Chicago

The season’s first performance of Puccini’s “Tosca” at Lyric Opera on Monday night brought an authentic slice of operatic history to the Civic Opera House: The vintage production director Franco Zeffirelli mounted in 1964 for London’s Royal Opera to lure Maria Callas out of semi-retirement. Tito Gobbi, the great Scarpia of his generation, was her co-star. The well-worn staging has done honorable service for more than 40 years, having seen 38 revivals and 242 performances before it was finally retired in July. The classic production was promptly bought lock, stock and battlements by Lyric Opera, which is dedicating it to Gobbi’s memory. »

01 Feb 2005

La Traviata at Covent Garden

Verdi demanded three qualities for his “fallen woman”: looks, anima (soul) and a good stage presence. What he did not want was a glossy prima donna. The part broke convention not just histrionically, in its depiction of a contemporary prostitute, but also vocally. It needs a soprano agile enough to throw off the Act 1 coloratura, and strong enough to meet the dramatic requirements of Acts 2 and 3. That’s asking a lot, and most sopranos fall short. So it was fascinating, at the Royal Opera’s latest revival on Saturday, to come across Norah Amsellem. She has period looks, a pretty smile, a malleable physiognomy. She knows how to adapt her whole demeanour to Violetta’s changing situation, so that the figure we behold on stage is not an opera singer but a human being with the power to disarm us emotionally. That may be a gift of acting, but it also reflects Amsellem’s complete identification with the music. Her soprano is a bit one-dimensional, especially at the top, and she proved a surprisingly plain letter-reader. In all other set-pieces she had the theatre spellbound. “Dite alla giovine” and “Addio, del passato” were especially effective: Amsellem sang them in a beautifully controlled half-voice, stretching the tempo to its very limit. Some might call it self-indulgent; to me it sounded like the truth. »

31 Jan 2005

La Forza del destino at Opéra Royal de Wallonie

So this was how a Forza would have sounded in the fifties and sixties in one of the better Italian provincial houses. At that time those extinguished species (lirico-spinto tenor and soprano) were still in abundant supply and one could easily hear nowadays forgotten names like Zambruno, Mori, Vicentini, Borso on the male and Mancini, De Osma, Barbato etc on the female side: big booming voices, maybe not always very subtle but steeped in the Verdian tradition and not afraid to give unstintingly all of their voices as if there is no tomorrow. »

30 Jan 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera

Among the recent publications on opera, The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, edited by David Charlton, breaks new ground with its systematic and thorough exploration of grand opera, a specific part of the genre which played an important role in the musical culture of the nineteenth century. »

30 Jan 2005

A Batallar Estrellas — Music in Spanish Cathedrals of the Seventeenth Century

Interest in the music of “New Spain” (the Spanish colonies in the Americas) has blossomed in the last decade, with a number of fine recordings of sacred music composed by musicians who emigrated to the New World in support of the mission of the Catholic church. A parallel interest in the music of those who stayed in Spain – indeed, who set the tradition that was exported to the Americas – has been slower to build, so this recording is especially welcome, since it provides an opportunity to hear a tradition seldom performed outside of Spain, whether in the Baroque era or in the present. »