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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.


OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

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. »

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24 Jan 2005

Samson and Delilah at Opera Carolina

Maybe Camille Saint-Saens should’ve chosen his friends more carefully. When he marshaled a singer to treat them to two arias from an opera he was working on – about the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah – they scoffed. »

24 Jan 2005

Missa Solemnis at Chicago

Two of Beethoven’s most difficult yet most inspiring masterpieces, “Fidelio” and “Missa Solemnis,” are making Chicago the epicenter of a grand Beethoven festival. Each work is a heroic undertaking that tests the performers’ mettle to the utmost. And yet, with soprano Karita Mattila leading Beethoven’s only opera to triumph at Lyric Opera, and, the Chicago Symphony and Chorus delivering a strong and stirring performance of the “Missa Solemnis” this weekend at Orchestra Hall, one comes away exalted, grateful to have heard these pieces performed at the highest level. »

23 Jan 2005

Kurt Schwertsik's Katzelmacher at Neue Oper Wien

Der kabarettistisch freche Ton der Pariser Moderne der Dreißigerjah re ist es, der Kurt Schwertsik fes selt. Das bekannte er jüngst im Gespräch. Dieser Ton weist ihm offenkundig auch den Weg in Gefilde des Musiktheaters, die nichts mit den erdschweren, klangwuchernden Experimenten der deutschen und österreichischen Moderne der Nachkriegszeit zu tun haben, sondern sich am moralisierenden Unterhaltungstheater der Zwischenkriegszeit orientieren, das nicht nur von den Franzosen – in einer durchaus konsequent aus dem ursprünglichen, sozialkritischen Operetten-Esprit eines Jacques Offenbach – entwickelt wurde. »

23 Jan 2005

Cantors & Capellmeisters at Queen Elizabeth Hall

WHEN a programme contains music by Gregor Aichinger, Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, Daniel Bollius and Johann Christoph Pezel, to name only four (or is it ten?), an auditorium less than full might, unfortunately, be suspected. These are 17th-century German worthies known largely to scholars alone. But why can’t audiences be more adventurous? In that century you’re bound to get memorable tunes, catchy rhythms, enticing counterpoint: I don ’t see what the problem is. »

22 Jan 2005

A Disarming Pelléas et Mélisande

You cannot blame this longtime lover of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” for being suspicious when L’Opéra Français de New York announced that it would present a staged production of the work in its “original version” for voices and piano. No orchestra? Wasn’t this small company simply producing the opera on the cheap? The L’Opéra Français production opened on Wednesday night at the French Institute Alliance Française on East 59th Street, and it was a revelation. »

22 Jan 2005

Così fan tutte at Wiener Staatsoper

Mag sein, manch einer findet die forsche Gangart, die Julia Jones bei Mozart einschlägt, ein wenig zu schnoddrig. Doch erweist sich: Die Dirigentin weiß in jeder Phase einer Aufführung, was sie will, behält die Übersicht über die Dramaturgie und hält Orchester und Bühne immer fein zusammen – und das in raschem Lustspielton. Alles Eigenschaften, die heutzutage offenkundig auch in der Wiener Staatsoper rar geworden sind. »

21 Jan 2005

BERLIOZ: Les Troyens

For the last couple of decades, the “concept production” has been a controversial presence on opera stages, generally director-driven and decried by traditionalists as detracting from the essence of opera which they define as “voice, voice, voice.” Here’s a refreshing and overdue variant, a production concept that is conductor-driven, devoted to rethinking the sound and casting principle appropriate for French grand opera by starting at the top with the grandest of them all. The point is often made that we now lack heroic voices for the great works. John Eliot Gardiner’s casting argues, rather convincingly I think, that “heroic” is a concept relative to an opera’s overall style and the period in which it was written. He casts in the French tradition that knows the difference between a German heldentenor whose strength lies in the middle and bottom of the voice, and a French heroic tenor, of whom is demanded a free and brilliant top and the ability to soar over ensembles with precisely focused tone. Many in this cast are associated with music of the Renaissance, Baroque and early nineteenth century. Their voices are clearer and lighter than we have become accustomed to in Les Troyens and Gardiner surrounds them with a chorus that can not only move and act with distinction, but whose voices in ensemble have the required buoyancy, flexibility and brilliance for Berlioz’s demanding choral writing. »

21 Jan 2005

An Evening With Clara's Piano

Among the often spurious partnerships beloved by musical history — Bach and Handel, Bruckner and Mahler, Britten and Tippett — that of Schumann and Brahms at least has the merit that the composers were not actually antithetical in style and manner. They were, if not a conscious partnership, a powerful joint force for the perpetuation of classical values in the 19th century, the elder — Schumann — the sponsor and active publicist of the other. Brahms was “discovered”, encouraged, sustained and venerated by Schumann. He, in turn, devoted his whole bachelor life to the succour of the Schumann family, giving rock-like support to Clara Schumann as her husband’s syphilitic madness took him over, and seeking to preserve Schumann’s oeuvre at its most illustrious and least clouded-over, withholding publication of some later works. »

21 Jan 2005

It's Shag-A-Delic, Baby!

Perhaps the Tippett centenary has come too soon, and the seven years since the composer’s death have been insufficient for his achievement to be digested and for the anniversary celebrations to take on any real significance. But no matter how much time had passed, I doubt that his third opera, The Knot Garden, will ever seem more than a period piece, wedded to the late 1960s when it was written. »

21 Jan 2005

Generallissimo Francisco Franco is still dead

After some wild recent productions it comes as a surprise to find a Don Giovanni set in Spain, as Mozart intended. How many directors care to remember that Don Giovanni’s tally of women there numbered 1,003, as Leporello’s catalogue reminds us every time we see the opera? Having decided on a Spanish setting, Opera North’s new production tries to make the most of it. Photos of bullfights are flashed across a screen to draw a glib parallel with Don Giovanni the predatory sexual toreador. The cast gird their loins for some rather dubious Spanish dances. And — most important — the time is updated to the Spanish Civil War, bringing the class antagonism of the opera into modern focus. »

20 Jan 2005

BERG: Wozzeck

Andante’s new mastering of famous live performances aims to capture what those performances might have felt like. This gives these recordings an automatic cachet of authenticity and a kind of cult status. However, much depends on the quality of the particular performance. The skill is to choose quality performances that really are interesting in themselves, and to remaster them in ways that do them justice. The Andante series comes impressively packaged, with luxuriously bound booklets, beautifully presented. However, in this case the music does not quite match the promise. Worthy as this performance is, and worthy it is indeed, it is not an ideal first choice. Artistically it is good, but best appreciated by those who know Abbado, Boulez, Dohnanyi and even Böhm’s later recording. While I’m one who listens for music, not for sound quality, in this case the sound quality is poor enough to distract – not enough to ruin listening, for it would take a lot to deter a genuine listener – but just enough to feel that you’re listening through an artificial medium. This may have been recorded live, but it doesn’t “feel” live, with the pops, crackles and occluded passages. Ultimately that defeats its own purpose. »

20 Jan 2005

Karita Mattila — A Stunning Leonore

'Fidelio' returns Lyric, cast rise above flawed Beethoven opera By John von Rhein Tribune music critic January 19 2005, 1:00 AM CST "Fidelio" has been missing in action at Lyric Opera for nearly 24 years, much too long for... »

20 Jan 2005

Live from New York — Death and Transfiguration

The level of Luciano Berio’s music was still on the ascent when he died two years ago at 77. “Stanze” – five poems for solo voice, chorus and orchestra – were his last pieces, and they shine with poise and quiet confidence. We are reminded that the possibilities of instrumental combinations are far from exhausted. The Philadelphia Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach introduced New York to “Stanze” at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night, adding Act III from Wagner’s “Parsifal” in concert form. Paul Celan’s “Tenebrae,” the first poem, is accompanied by drifting, attenuated chords of extraordinary beauty. If Berio’s music moves slowly, or sometimes not at all, there is activity within: textures swelling and contracting like lungs, woodwind colors swimming and undulating. So striking are the sounds that high drama is unnecessary. »

20 Jan 2005

Renée Takes Seattle

Renée Fleming came and conquered the full house Tuesday night at Benaroya Hall. Now 45, the soprano is in her prime, not only with that voluptuous voice but her musical acuity and dramatic instincts. When singers become as famous as Fleming, connoisseurs find something to criticize, often justified: a mannered style or lackluster ambition in terms of repertory, for instance. When the voice is as gorgeous and gleaming as Fleming’s, there is always the danger the singer will be content to deliver a pretty sound and little else. »

20 Jan 2005

Pelléas et Mélisande in New York

NEW YORK Sigmund Freud’s seminal “Interpretation of Dreams” was published in 1900. But Claude Debussy had already poked around in the unconscious in his landmark opera “Pelléas et Mélisande,” which he had essentially composed (though not orchestrated) by 1895. Of course, Maurice Maeterlinck, whose play Debussy adapted into his opera, had been treading through Freudian terrain even earlier. Maeterlinck, a leading figure in the Symbolist movement, which arose in the 1880s, espoused veiled emotions, mystery and indirection over realism. »

20 Jan 2005

The Russians Bomb at Kennedy Center

What were they thinking? The “Kirov Spectacular” — which opened last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House — proved the sort of celestial vaudeville that should have . . . well, gone out with vaudeville. It seemed a generous program — some three hours of selections from ballets and operas performed by the Kirov Ballet, Opera and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, under the direction of Valery Gergiev. But the pieces had little to do with one another (indeed, they could almost have been chosen by lottery) and the musical performances were too often shopworn and lackluster — a scanty reward for those who managed to find their way to the Kennedy Center through the cold, clotted streets of pre-inauguration Washington. »

19 Jan 2005

Manon Lescaut at Seattle — Two Reviews

Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut,” which Seattle Opera has produced only sporadically in its 40-year history, is a work that goes in fits and starts. Moments of genuine inspiration and compelling drama mark the composer as a man of genius, but in this early opera, his talent is not always consistent. The demands on the tenor are notoriously difficult. So, with its eyes wide open, the company mounted the third production in its history to bring in the new year Saturday night at McCaw Hall. It succeeded more than many efforts without breaking the bank, using conventional but serviceable sets and costumes from Montreal Opera. »