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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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30 Jan 2005

WAGNER: Die Feen

How narrow-minded can one be ? Very much so in the case of Richard Wagner who succeeded in not mentioning once the name of Verdi in all his writings. And is not his decision to banish his early youth works from the Bayreuth-barn rooted in that same mentality ? Of course during his lifetime he was the subject of many attacks and maybe he feared to be the victim of ridicule with critics dissecting every bar of Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi and looking for influences of other composers. Rienzi and Liebesverbot had been staged while he lived but Die Feen was only known by a few selections and he never took pains to have his first opera performed at a time when he could easily have done it. Die Feen was premiered 5 years after his death and then led a rather undistinguished life of a few performances. Still the amount of bigotry of his successors is even greater, considering that Siegfried Wagner himself was a composer of fairy tales and should not have respected his father’s wish not to perform Die Feen. The grandchildren complied as well though one can understand their motives. As Wagner lost some of his hallowed reputation during the fifties and the sixties, the stock of Verdi rose very high indeed and maybe it was not in the Wagners’ interest to show the more amateurish trials of granddaddy. Eva Wagner, Wolfgang’s estranged daughter who should have succeeded him long ago, was the first to offer a business plan for a new New Bayreuth where Die Feen, Rienzi and even the operas of composers who influenced the maestro would have their place. And then music lovers could at last hear and see what the fuss is all about if there is something to be excited about. Well, there is. The overture is a gem, all of its 11 minutes and almost worth the purchase of the set. Yes, it’s easy to trace the influence of Mozart and especially Weber but 20-year Wagner had a voice of his own as well, different from that of his contemporaries. Wagner was twelve years younger than Lortzing who could easily have treated the same fairy subject but one immediately hears the far richer orchestration, the ease Wagner has in composing more complicated arias and ensembles. And one regrets somewhat that the mature Wagner gave his best tunes to the orchestra instead of sticking with the singers like the youthful composer still did in the old tradition. »

29 Jan 2005

Barbiere in Madrid

Rénové en 1997 avec un luxe inouï, le Teatro Real de Madrid ne lésine pas non plus sur la qualité des productions. Du rare Osud de Janacek en 2003, marqué par la qualité de la mise en scène de Bob Wilson, de l’orchestre et de la distribution vocale, ne reste que des souvenirs et des photographies, faute de producteurs intéressés par la réalisation d’un DVD. Ce ne sera pas le cas de ce nouveau Barbier de Séville, dévoilé il y a quelques jours, diffusé par Arte dans une semaine, et bientôt dans les bacs. En filmant trois représentations successives, l’ambition est d’offrir le meilleur Barbier en DVD du marché. »

28 Jan 2005

Don Giovanni in Baltimore

The elegantly regilded Hippodrome Theatre could be mistaken for an old-world opera house. On Wednesday night, for three hours at least, that’s exactly what it was. Teatro Lirico D’Europa — administratively based in Hunt Valley — presented a fully staged production of Don Giovanni that offered sufficient entertainment value and demonstrated the theater’s flexibility. »

28 Jan 2005

Poppea at Palais Garnier

Parisians do not like camp. David McVicar’s production of Monteverdi’s last opera was jeered in October at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées and now David Alden has met the same fate. This is unfair because his use of radical kitsch is altogether more sophisticated and his manipulation of the singers faultlessly choreographed. In any case, this classic staging dates from 1997, when it was first seen in Cardiff and Munich. McVicar’s approach now looks like a pale copy of an industry template. »

27 Jan 2005

Singing Ives

In 2004, festivals and concerts commemorated the 50th anniversary of the death of Charles Ives, an insurance executive from Danbury and arguably America’s greatest native-born composer. Tonight and Sunday at Wesleyan University’s Crowell Recital Hall, the tribute will continue with the first of several recitals surveying Ives’ 129 songs. »

27 Jan 2005

Siegfried's Id

Richard Wagner loathed the first performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which he scrabbled together at his own theatre in 1876. “Next year we’ll do everything differently,” was the mildest comment he had to offer, and the most convenient for directors eager to distinguish their Ring productions from all others. »

27 Jan 2005

The Tsar's Bride in Moscow

Following its disastrous staging last April of Georges Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” I had high hopes that Novaya Opera would get itself back on track by turning to a classic of Russian opera for its next production. But, at its debut last Sunday, the theater’s new version of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Tsar’s Bride” proved, if not a disaster, at least a major disappointment, due mainly to the muddled stage direction of Yury Grymov and the theater’s decision to discard as much as a third of the opera’s music. »

27 Jan 2005

Agony and Ecstasy in LA

Nearly a century separates the two beguilements installed at the Music Center in recent weeks: Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida of the 1870s and Luciano Berio’s Laborintus II of 1965. Nobody would mistake the style or purpose of the one for the other; they are both shrewdly welded to the taste of their respective times. Something grander links them – an innately Italian sense of theater that unites all the arts of the region into a single onrush of word, music and movement. To the north, Richard Wagner made a great fuss as he dreamed up his “total artwork” concept with ream upon ream of explanatory philosophy. To the Italian spirit, that unity of the expressive arts was simply a form of breathing. Petrarch, Monteverdi, Tintoretto, Berio . . . just the names by themselves take on a theatrical dimension. »

25 Jan 2005

SCHUBERT: Alfonso und Estrella

New artists are taking greater chances with repertory, looking for niches to call their own. Dawn Upshaw explores new music, Cecilia Bartoli eighteenth-century Italian song, and in this live recording up-and-coming artists Eva Mei and Rainer Trost take on the lead roles in Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella. Mei and Trost’s sympathetic singing with the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro lirico di Cagliari conducted by Gérard Korsten breathes life into this choppy opera, which Liszt famously condemned as a work of only historical interest. »

25 Jan 2005

Kát’a Kabanová at Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Ihre Ruh’ ist hin, ihr Herz ist schwer. Die junge Frau im gelben Sommerkleid duckt sich in ihrem Stuhl, drückt die Hände in den Schoß, blickt nach oben. Diesmal ist es nicht Goethes Gretchen, das hier – um im jüngsten Grass-Jargon zu bleiben – “verthalheimert”, sprich: auf ihr sprachliches und inhaltliches Gerüst skelettiert wurde. Es ist die Kaufmannsgattin Katja Kabanova, die ihre einzige Sehnsucht, die Liebe zum schwächlichen Boris, mit dem Leben bezahlt und in die Wolga geht. So steht es in Alexander Ostrowskis Theaterstück “Das Gewitter” von 1859 geschrieben. Welches Michael Thalheimer, der kühlkopfige Minimalist unter den tonangebenden Theaterregisseuren, sicherlich auf das Wesentliche zurechtzustutzen vermocht hätte. Ohne russische Folklorismen und Nebenhandlungen, nackt, statisch, als pure Versuchsanordnung. »

25 Jan 2005

Il Trovatore at Houston

The opening-night audience for Houston Grand Opera’s revival of Il Trovatore had one thing on its mind: grabbing every chance to cheer the familiar tunes that propel Verdi’s dramatically awkward piece. As soon as soprano Sondra Radvanovsky finished Leonora’s first big aria, the bravos let loose — far more intensely than usual in the middle of a performance. The ache to approve a style of music many people view as true “grand” opera continued right up to the curtain calls. Then, the crowd unleashed cascades of applause and yells. »

24 Jan 2005

LOEWENBERG: Annals of Opera, 1597-1940

This volume has long been regarded as the definitive work on the subject, and has been quoted in countless later works whenever a reference was required to the performance histories of individual operas. Taken as a whole, especially when one considers the state of library science when the book was first written, it is a magnificent piece of work, and belongs on the bookshelf of every researcher in the operatic field. »

24 Jan 2005

Schumann's Genoveva at Volksoper Wien

Robert Schumann hat seine Spitzenposition in der Musikhistorie: herrliche Symphonien, wunderbare Kammermusik, großartige Lieder. Doch er hat auch eine Oper hinterlassen: Genoveva. Eine Komposition auf ein eigenes, ungelenkes Libretto, das durch die Zeiten geistert und weder sanfte Ruhe noch dauerhafte Wiederbelebung erfahren kann. »

24 Jan 2005

Resonanzen 2005: Alessandro Scarlatti's La Vergine dei Dolori

Neun Tage lang darf sich Wien jetzt wieder als Welthauptstadt der Alten Musik fühlen. Zum 13. Mal locken die “Resonanzen” ein begeisterungsfähiges Publikum mit einer wohlabgewogenen Mischung aus bewährten und für Wien neuen Künstlern ins Konzerthaus. Das Motto “Metropolen” hebt sich wohltuend von der zuweilen etwas aufgesetzt wirkenden Wahl vergangener Jahre ab: Sinnvoll ordnen sich die Abende zu einem Reigen europäischer Musikzentren zwischen Padua, London und Paris. So schon “Rom”, das stürmisch akklamierte Eröffnungskonzert im Großen Saal: Keiner könnte die musikalische Pracht der Ewigen Stadt im Barock besser personifizieren als Alessandro Scarlatti mit seinen fast 40 Oratorien – die Gattung erlebte dank des jahrzehntelang aufrechterhaltenen päpstlichen Opern-Verbots eine Hochblüte. “La Vergine dei Dolori” (1717) ist ein Spätwerk; ablesbar an der bis ins Letzte verfeinerten Ausdrucksskala, der preziösen Führung der Singstimmen, der extravaganten Harmonik namentlich in den Rezitativen. Die Seelenqualen der Gottesmutter angesichts der Passion werden so in immer neuen Farben ausgemalt. »

24 Jan 2005

Monteverdi's Le Couronnement de Poppée at Lyon

On revoit encore William Christie, l’été dernier, inquiet de la tournure qu’allait prendre son travail avec Peter Stein pour Le Couronnement de Poppée prévu à Lyon cet hiver : le metteur en scène allemand avait, en effet, très envie de se débarrasser des scènes comiques qui, selon lui, viennent comme un cheveu sur la soupe, alors que c’est justement ce mélange des tons qui fait la grandeur de la pièce ! Ce qui devait arriver arriva : on apprit bientôt que Stein avait jeté l’éponge, remplacé par Bernard Sobel. Et c’est bien avec le fondateur du Théâtre de Gennevilliers que vient d’avoir lieu la première du chef-d’oeuvre de Monteverdi à l’Opéra de Lyon. Sobel apporte ainsi sa pierre à l’engouement actuel pour cet opéra fascinant, après McVicar, au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, et avant David Alden au Palais Garnier. Après la lecture pléthorique et riche en clins d’oeil de McVicar, façon sitcom hollywoodien, Sobel mise sur l’humilité et la lisibilité. Dans le décor unique mais mouvant de Lucio Fanti, un enchevêtrement de figures géométriques bleues tachées d’étoiles et formant une voûte, les personnages évoluent dans des costumes accentuant le drapé des toges à l’antique. Pas de transposition ici, mais une allégorie plus intemporelle qu’actuelle. On est parfois à la limite du kitsch et de la naïveté, comme ce sacre final par un angelot ailé, à la lueur de la lune. »

24 Jan 2005

Gluck's Alceste — A Crumbling Edifice in Boston

Last May, Opera Boston general director Carole Charnow saw a production of Andre Previn’s operatic version of ‘‘A Streetcar Named Desire’’ in Washington, D.C. She knew immediately she had found the director she wanted for the collaborative production of Gluck’s ‘‘Alceste’’ that Opera Boston and Boston Baroque will present this week. »