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Elsewhere

No Time in Eternity: Iestyn Davies discusses Purcell and Nyman

Revolution, repetition, rhetoric. On my way to meet countertenor Iestyn Davies, I ponder if these are the elements that might form connecting threads between the music of Henry Purcell and Michael Nyman, whose works will be brought together later this month when Davies joins the viol consort Fretwork for a thought-provoking recital at Milton Court Concert Hall.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

Garsington's Douglas Boyd on Strauss and Skating Rinks

‘On August 3, 1941, the day that Capriccio was finished, 682 Jews were killed in Chernovtsy, Romania; 1,500 in Jelgava, Latvia; and several hundred in Stanisławów, Ukraine. On October 28, 1942, the day of the opera’s premiere in Munich, the first convoy of Jews from Theresienstadt arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and 90 percent of them went to the gas chamber.’

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.


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Reviews

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork perform Purcell and Nyman at Milton Court Theatre, 28th May 2018
22 May 2018

No Time in Eternity: Iestyn Davies discusses Purcell and Nyman

Revolution, repetition, rhetoric. On my way to meet countertenor Iestyn Davies, I ponder if these are the elements that might form connecting threads between the music of Henry Purcell and Michael Nyman, whose works will be brought together later this month when Davies joins the viol consort Fretwork for a thought-provoking recital at Milton Court Concert Hall. »

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28 Sep 2005

The Very Best of Thomas Hampson

The Very Best of Thomas Hampson is an excellent selection on CD of Hampson’s recordings from various points in his career. The American baritone is one of the international stars of classical music for both his roles on the opera stage and his work as a recitalist. »

28 Sep 2005

SCHNEITZHOEFFER: La Sylphide

This is one of the most enchanting and lovely ballet performances that I have ever seen, and believe me I have seen quite a few! First performed in Paris on May 12, 1832, La Sylphide marks the advent of Romanticism in ballet. »

28 Sep 2005

BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 8

On Christmas 1999, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists with conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner set out on one of the most unusual musical tours ever undertaken. »

28 Sep 2005

BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 6

J. S. Bach’s large output of church cantatas and their prominence in his duties as Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig have made them central to our modern understanding of Bach. »

27 Sep 2005

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5

Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is a tour de force that can tax a conductor and orchestra in live performances. While it often takes several sessions in the studio for performers to match the required intensity of playing with exuberance that is also part of the work, some live performances convey that fine balance immediately. »

26 Sep 2005

On Wings of Jewish Songs — Music from the New Jewish School

Yiddish is a language based on medieval German that developed separately from modern German. It spread throughout Eastern Europe, where it acquired words from Hebrew, as well as Russian, Polish, and other Slavic languages. »

26 Sep 2005

SCHUMANN: Liederkreis, op. 24; Dichterliebe, op. 48

In addition to some notable, recent recordings of selected Lieder by Robert Schumann (1810-56), two comprehensive editions of the composer’s works in this genre are underway, one by Hyperion, which is almost complete and another that is just starting on the Naxos label. Performed by Thomas E. Bauer, baritone and his wife, the pianist Uta Hielscher, the first volume is as promising as it is ambitious. »

26 Sep 2005

Arvo Pärt: A Tribute

Paul Hillier has written the book on Arvo Pärt, quite literally. He has spent significant time with the Estonian composer interviewing him, working with him, and studying his music. He has not only authored the only text researching Pärt's music and background, but Hillier also seems to one of the first to perform and record his music, thereby exposing it to the general public. »

26 Sep 2005

LIDERMAN: The Song of Songs

Now this is one beautiful piece of music, a setting of the text of the “Song of Songs,” taken from the Hebrew Bible by the composer Jorge Liderman. Liderman is Argentinian by birth, now on the composition faculty of the Department of Music at the University of California at Berkeley. His work shows a distinct ability at the craft of composition: this is a very attractively put together work. »

25 Sep 2005

BENNETT: The Mines of Sulphur

Glimmerglass Opera has been doing innovative and often remarkable work for a number of years. Thankfully, many of their productions have been shared with the New York City Opera and, thus, with a large opera-going public. »

25 Sep 2005

GLINKA: Ruslan and Lyudmila

Based on a tongue-in-cheek poem by young Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Glinka’s second opera Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842) is an epic adventure tale, in which three rival Russian knights roam the land in search of a Kievan princess kidnapped by a sorcerer. »

24 Sep 2005

ROSSINI: L’Italiana in Algieri

This newly re-mastered recording was originally released in 1954 by Columbia (Qcx 10111/12), later reprinted by EMI (C163-00981/2), and it includes, besides Giulieta Simionato in the title role, three other members of the original 1953 production at La Scala: tenor Cesare Valleti, and bass Mario Petri in their respective roles of Lindoro and Mustafà and Conductor Carlo Maria Giulini. »

24 Sep 2005

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 13 ("Babi Yar")

Audiences accustomed to hearing the grandeur of Shostakovich’s early symphonies may initially be disillusioned when listening to his Thirteenth Symphony for the first time. »

22 Sep 2005

TALLIS: Spem in alium – Missa Salve intemerata

With a career spanning the monarchies of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I, Thomas Tallis’s musical pragmatism became both a necessary and distinctive trait. »

22 Sep 2005

DONIZETTI: Francesca di Foix

Among Gaetano Donizetti’s compositions are just over a dozen one-act operas. Save for his one (Venice 1818), a genre that many twentieth-century historians considered respectable primarily because of contributions made to it by Gioachino Rossini, the Donizetti’s other single-act works generally have been brushed aside as less important than the larger operas. »

22 Sep 2005

STOCKMANN: Musica Nuptialis

This recording of Musica Nuptialis celebrates occasional music and does so in a fittingly occasional manner. »

22 Sep 2005

Lado Ataneli — Opera Arias

Baritone Lado Ataneli’s self-titled debut CD contains an impressive selection of arias intended to showcase the singer’s style, range, and versatility. »

22 Sep 2005

Penny Merriments: Street Songs of 17th Century England

In 1728 John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera was produced in London as a sardonic response to the ongoing craze for Italian opera seria. »

22 Sep 2005

MAHLER: Symphony no. 2 “Resurrection”

Among recent recordings of music by Gustav Mahler, the 2004 release of the composer’s Second Symphony conducted by Claudio Abbado stands out as an intense and highly charged performance. »

22 Sep 2005

SCHOENBERG: Accentus | Ensemble intercontemporain

Schoenberg, born in Vienna in 1874, is remembered as a composer and a music theorist. He held strong attitudes toward the craft of composition and its pedagogy, which have been received as the beginnings of a theory of music, though Schoenberg denied ever attempting to create a systematic theory. »

21 Sep 2005

WEILL: The Firebrand of Florence

When I was a young child, my mother purchased a blouse and brought it home to the acclaim of my aunts and older sisters. "Oh, that's smart!" they pronounced, cooing and stepping back to admire the thing. Not a little bit jealous, I was taken aback. »

19 Sep 2005

All My Heart — Deborah Voigt sings American Songs

“I send my heart up to thee, all my heart in this, my singing” Robert Browning. The title of this CD is taken from the text of one of Amy Beach’s Three Browning Songs, which close the program. Given Deborah Voigt’s ability to sing this program with completely natural expression and crystal clear diction while maintaining a consistently high standard of vocal production and musicianship, it is easy to believe that in her singing she shares with us something of what is most dear to her own heart. Fortunately for us, in doing this she is also giving us a fine recording of American art songs, some of which will be quite familiar to many listeners, others of which will be wonderful new discoveries. »

19 Sep 2005

HANDEL: L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV 55

Joachim Carlos Martini is well represented in the Naxos catalog with recordings of Handel oratorios, including Athalia, Saul, Il Trionfo del Tempo . . ., Deborah, the “pasticcio” oratorios, Gideon and Nabal, and this recent release of L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Narrowly traditional views of what an oratorio ought to be—a Biblical narrative in a dramatic frame—are stretched here, and this is a good reminder that the term “oratorio” was used flexibly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. »

19 Sep 2005

GOUNOD: Musica Sacra

The 19th Century French composer Charles Gounod is best known for his lyric dramas / operas Faust (1859) and Roméo et Juliette (1867), and the very popular Méditation sur le 1er prélude de piano de J. S. Bach (1852), arranged as an Ave Maria in 1859. Yet the dominant portion of Gounod’s creative output was church music, the amount of which surpassed that of any other composer of the 19th Century. In spite of this, the church music of Gounod remains an obscure portion of his oeuvre. »

16 Sep 2005

RACHMANINOV: All Night Vigil, op. 37

Sergei Rachmaninov established his reputation early in his career as one of the twentieth- century’s foremost pianists and conductors. Critical assessment of his abilities as composer, however, was harsh. In the fifth edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Eric Blom wrote dismissively: “…as a composer [Rachmaninov] can hardly be said to have belonged to his time at all,…His music is well constructed and effective, but monotonous in texture, which consists in essence mainly of artificial and gushing tunes….[His] enormous popular success…is not likely to last,…” In general, critics dismissed his musical language as outmoded, as being far from the mainstream of twentieth-century musical styles--indeed, most considered his works as anachronisms, composed by a man whose style had not left the late nineteenth century. Even Rachmaninov acknowledged feeling lost amid the music of most other twentieth-century composers. In a 1939 interview he gave for the Musical Courier, Rachmaninov said, “I felt like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien. I cannot cast out the old way of writing and I cannot acquire the new.” »

16 Sep 2005

ADÈS: Piano Quintet

Despite his relative youth (b.1971), Thomas Adès is well-known among today’s serious opera connoisseurs for his 1995 opera hit, Powder Her Face, as well as his more recent opera, The Tempest, which opened in February 2004 to rave reviews. The success of these imaginative, ground-breaking compositions has led him to be recognized as one of Britain’s most promising young composers. As such, Adès has enjoyed the privilege of having his music performed by only the highest caliber of musicians. The featured performers in the 2005 EMI Classics release of his Piano Quintet (2001) are no exception. »

15 Sep 2005

WEBBER: Phantasia; The Woman in White

Probably the best thing that can be said about Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe, and Charles Hart’s The Phantom of the Opera becoming the longest running Broadway musical, which it almost certainly will, is that it will take that honor away from Cats. (I am reminded of David Letterman’s comment, made with mock horror, “What if it really is ‘now and forever’?”) Phantom, as it is known both with and without affection, is perhaps Lloyd Webber’s most “traditional” show: it has far more book scenes than his earlier, concept-album-as-musical shows, although the latter, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, are tremendously and, arguably, more effective; it recalls operetta despite its pop-heavy score; and it is based on a novel that is already known through incarnations on stage and screen. Its unabashed romanticism, despite its occasional descent into bathos, has endeared it to millions, many of who see it again and again and continue to be moved by it. So I suppose it was only a matter of time until an arranger came up with an orchestral version of the score to satisfy pop concert audiences and other aficionados of the score. »

15 Sep 2005

THEILE: Arias; Canzonettas

Johann Theile is best known for his significant body of church music and his reputation as “the father of contrapuntists.” It is easy to summon the image of a learned graybeard, well-practiced in contrapuntal art (especially invertible counterpoint, it would seem). This recent recording from Ludger Rémy, however, shows us a less well-known and very congenial side of Theile: the composer of student love songs. »

15 Sep 2005

MONTSALVATGE: Integral de canto

It is unfortunate that audiences tend to pigeonhole Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) as a one-work composer. There is no doubt, however, that the popularity of his Canciones negras has overshadowed the rest of his output. »