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Elsewhere

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

Mark Padmore reflects on Britten's Death in Venice

“At the start, one knows ‘bits’ of it,” says tenor Mark Padmore, somewhat wryly, when I meet him at the Stage Door of the Royal Opera House where the tenor has just begun rehearsals for David McVicar’s new production of Death in Venice, which in November will return Britten’s opera to the ROH stage for the first time since 1992.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

Annilese Miskimmon appointed as English National Opera’s Artistic Director

English National Opera has appointed Annilese Miskimmon as Artistic Director.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.


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Reviews

21 Oct 2019

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.  »

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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. »