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Elsewhere

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.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.


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Reviews

Alexandra LoBianco (Aida). Jacob Lucas photo
21 May 2018

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. »

Recently in Reviews

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23 Aug 2005

GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier

Carlo Bergonzi never recorded the role commercially and he is obviously the " raison d'etre " of this set. Among collectors there are quite a lot of Met-performances circulating but none is in very good sound. These performances date from around 1960 during the tenor's heyday but even they prove that the role is not completely his best: part of the score lays a little too high for his tessitura and he misses the sheer power to overwhelm us in some of the arias. This Venice-performance is in good sound and as the theatre is so much smaller than the Met maybe better suited for a role a shade too heavy for the voice. By 1972 too he knew much better where his strong points were and he fully exploits them. Time and again he makes a point by a diminuendo or a piano where Del Monaco and Corelli hector along. While the voice is slightly less beautiful than in the famous 1970-concert performance in London he succeeds in giving us a truly fine " Come un bel di di maggio "; the only piece Luigi Illica culled from the poems of Andre Chenier himself. In London Bergonzi has to switch in a lower gear when he realizes he is not going to make it but in Venice the voice is at its best in the fourth act. There are some fascinating glimpses of the tenor's experienced singing. When in his second act monologue he gets before the beat, he simply introduces a little sob and stage and pit are once on the same wave length. In that terrible first act monologue " Colpito qui m'avete " he has given so much breath in getting to the top in the first verse, that during the second verse he starts declaiming instead of singing though he does that with such skill and conviction that most people in the audience probably thought of it as an interpretative trick. A live audience probably didn't notice the appearance of the weak link in late Bergonzi's vocal armour: a gliding towards a fortissimo note from high A onwards that would almost always result in flat singing above the staff from 1975 onwards. »

23 Aug 2005

CHRISTINE BREWER — The ‘Anti-Fleming’

As everyone knows, the art of the song recital is in decline. When you and I were young Maggie, Columbia Concerts and Community Concerts regularly sent vocal and other musical artists all around America providing a never fading rainbow of wonderful music, as great classical music performers educated and thrilled us with their art. For example, As a youth I once heard Leonard Warren give a recital in a high school auditorium in Webster Groves, Missouri, price of admission $5. I still have the ticket stub - and the memories. Kathleen Ferrier, Robert Casadesus Jennie Tourel and Guiomar Novaes performed in my town when I was a kid. »

22 Aug 2005

HANDEL: Saul

Any new recording of Handel under the baton of Rene Jacobs has to be greeted with both respect and interest, even if the absolute need for another recording of this well-represented oratorio is debatable. Perhaps some Handel scholars would argue with that and are still discussing the precedence of the current available recordings — the older Gardiner, the Neumann, or the more recent McCreesh for instance. So, one presumes, this recording of "Saul" on the Harmonia Mundi label must be intended to either trump those three or to at least offer a viable fourth choice for those who prefer their Handel oratorios as complete as possible. And a plus point is that the entire work is squeezed onto just 2 CDs with a total running time of 2 hrs 30 minutes, accompanied by some stimulating liner notes by Pierre Degott that are both informative and absorbing for the non-specialist consumer. »

19 Aug 2005

Britten's Curlew River in Edinburgh

Benjamin Britten’s opera Curlew River was inspired by the Noh plays he saw on his 1956 visit to Japan, after which he asked his regular librettist, William Plomer, to adapt Sumidagawa for him. Eight years later, the opera was composed. Since it lasts only an hour and requires a highly stylised kind of performance, it has never been a favourite with regular opera houses, but it makes for excellent festival fare. The Edinburgh Festival has mounted its own production, directed by Olivier Py, which is well worth catching. »

16 Aug 2005

CILEA: Gloria

Collectors have known this piece for more than a quarter of a century due to the MRF-pirate recording. Some have probably transferred these LP's unto CD-R and don't see a reason why they should buy this issue. Well, there is one and it's a compelling one. The MRF-sound was good mono, obviously culled from a radio broadcast. This Bongiovanni-issue however gives us the original brilliant stereo sound and it makes for a world of difference. I always liked the opera though I thought the first act somewhat lacking in inspiration; the performance only taking fire by Labo's first appearance. This set cured me of that impression while the choruses and brilliant orchestration (even somewhat too showy to prove Cilea had mastered his craft after Adriana where the violins are mostly doubling the vocal line) are now crystal clear and one quickly recognizes the inspired melodious ideas of the maestro. »

12 Aug 2005

La Traviata at Salzburg — Anna Netrebko and More

Mit h-moll in den Untergang. Die Zeit laeuft. Der Tod sitzt bereit. Geteilte Geigen in hoechster Hoehe, triste, abfallende Phrasen. Eine Frau in fuchsrotem Brokat und mit wirrem Haar platzt rueckwaerts in das leere Raumrund. Kruemmt sich, sinkt auf eine Bank, schaut fast erleichtert Freund Hein, einem weisshaarigen Alten, ins Auge. Anna Netrebko ist da. Violetta auch. Es kann losgehen. Die Salzburger "Traviata" hat seit zwei Minuten endlich begonnen. »

07 Aug 2005

LORTZING: Der Waffenschmied

Nineteenth-century German opera before Wagner is rarely performed in the United States, although it is still quite popular in Germany. While works by Spohr, Marschner, and Lortzing, among others, are very much a part of the repertory in many German houses, they are virtually unknown in America, and none of the above-mentioned composers is even mentioned in the index of the new seventh edition of the Burkholder-Grout-Palisca A History of Western Music. This new recording of Lortzing's Der Waffenschmied (The Armorer [of Worms]) suggests not only why this work is still performed. It also suggests that American audiences are missing out on a delightful body of work for the lyric stage. From Lortzing's relatively better-known works, such as Zar und Zimmermann or Der Wildschuetz, to works by Marschner, such as Der Vampyr, nineteenth-century German opera with spoken dialogue is often highly entertaining and musically satisfying, if one is not anticipating work of great gravitas. And who is always in the mood for Tristan und Isolde, masterpiece that it is? »

07 Aug 2005

VERDI: Aida

The director of this production, Robert Herzl, composed an impressively thoughtful and serious essay for the DVD booklet. He considers the historical context of both the opera-story and the opera's premiere, taking into consideration Verdi's staging demands as well as the composer's willingness to compromise for the greater benefit of the production. »

07 Aug 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky joins more than a dozen similar volumes published by the Cambridge University Press over the years and devoted to the life and works of a single composer. Each one traditionally is a collection of essays by leading scholars in the field, organized into three main sections — biography; works (mostly by genre); reception and posthumous legacy. »

07 Aug 2005

Renata Tebaldi: A Portrait

For those without videos or DVD's by the Italian soprano, this is a must. For all the others, better to read attentively the sleeve notes as there is nothing new to be found on these two DVD's. The Concerto Italiano can be purchased separately with the same firm. The Bell Telephone Hour selections are still available on the several Great Stars of Opera-DVD's brought out by VAI or on the video exclusively devoted to the soprano. And the selections from Tosca (Stuttgart 1961) are culled from a complete performance, also put on DVD by VAI and somewhat misleadingly called "The only available video of Renata Tebaldi in her signature role" on the firm's web; for convenience's sake forgetting the words "at this moment" as VAI once published another complete Tosca (with Poggi, Guelfi and the late soprano's lover at the time, conductor Arturo Basile). »

05 Aug 2005

BIZET: Les Pecheurs de Perles

Bizet's youthful masterpiece is notoriously difficult to stage. Up to now I have not seen a production which is not slightly ridiculous. So it is an ideal opera for a concert performance or a listening experience. If you are looking for an authentic performance this is not the one to go for. »

05 Aug 2005

BERNSTEIN: Peter Pan

Alexander Frey, upon learning that a song Leonard Bernstein had written for the 1950 production of Peter Pan had been cut before the show opened, wondered if there was other music originally intended for the production that went by the wayside. »

05 Aug 2005

NIELSEN: Maskarade

From the start of its lively and distinctive overture Carl Nielsen's 1906 comic masterpiece Maskarade calls for a light and ironic approach, yet one which brings the ensemble forward with sufficient directorial force. »

03 Aug 2005

ROSSINI: Equivoco Stravagante

A DVD performance of an opera may deserve recommendation for a single memorable performance, or because a rare work has finally been recorded, or simply for nostalgia's sake. How many DVDs primarily offer the pleasures of a witty, imaginative staging, done on a minimal budget? »

02 Aug 2005

Donizetti's Rita at the Wiener Kammeroper

On the evening of 28 July, I had the privilege to attend the Wiener Kammeroper's performance of Donizetti's Rita. Subtitled "The Battered Husband," this one act farce revolves around Rita, the owner of a cafe, and her husband Beppe (Jose Aparicio). »

16 Jul 2005

FAURÉ: Requiem and Other Works

The Requiem mass of Gabriel Fauré is often unfairly overshadowed by other 19th century settings of the mass. The monumental works of Giuseppe Verdi and Hector Berlioz achieve moments of extreme drama by stretching the limits of soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Fauré’s Requiem, in contrast, is an intimate vision of heavenly peace in the afterlife. The soaring melodic lines and compact harmonic progressions evoke profundity through beauty and simplicity. »

16 Jul 2005

MENDELSSOHN: Athalia

In addition, to his popular score to A Midsummer Night's Dream Felix Mendelssohn wrote incidental music to several other plays. Commissioned by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, the incidental music to Athalia was intended for a private performance of the play by Jean Racine.  »

16 Jul 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn

The Cambridge companion series provides one of the more scholarly and intensely interesting examinations of musical composers currently available. This is because of its in-depth and multifaceted contributions to each volume, by a variety of musicologists and musicians, as well as overall management of each volume by a well-established and known scholar in the field. The Mendelssohn volume is no exception in this area. It is a collection of fourteen essays that examine the life and work of the nineteenth-century Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn. It is divided into four major sections: Issues in Biography, Situating the Compositions, Profiles of the Music, and Reception and Performance. »