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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.


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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. »

Recently in Reviews

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28 Nov 2005

ROSSINI: Guillaume Tell

On 24 October 1998, the Vienna State Opera presented the opening night of its staging of Gioachino Rosssini’s Guillaume Tell. It was the first Staatsoper production in 91 years of Rossini’s final opera and masterpiece, as well as the Vienna premiere of the 1829 opera’s original French-language version. »

28 Nov 2005

MACMILLAN: Seven Last Words from the Cross

The compositions of John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, and Henryk Górecki have accustomed us to the degree that religious spirituality has found serious musical voice in the late twentieth century. In their works, a profound language of musical mysticism is wed to various liturgical evocations, creating compositions that seem both authentic in their expression and unusually personal in their genesis. »

28 Nov 2005

LANGGAARD: Antikrist

Watching this DVD, your reviewer suddenly recalled a brief exchange from the film Reversal of Fortune, when the Ron Silver/Alan Dershowitz character says to the Jeremy Irons/Claus von Bulow one, “You are a very strange man, “ and Irons, in the moment that may have won him the Academy Award, replies with eerie blandness, “You have no idea.” »

28 Nov 2005

Thomas Hampson in Recital

Monday evening, November 21, 2005, I was fortunate enough to attend a benefit recital given by Thomas Hampson in the Fox Theater in Spokane, Washington. »

26 Nov 2005

GINASTERA: Musica de camera y Canciones

Orfeo has joined the ranks of CD companies adding artwork to the inner casing beneath the disc. For this recording of Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), a series of photographs of gauchos riding horses on the pampas receives a modified Andy Warhol treatment. »

25 Nov 2005

VERDI: La Traviata

Eight long and dark years later, La Fenice rose, once again, from the ashes following a devastating fire which destroyed the theater in 1996. For the “formal” re-opening of the refurbished Venetian landmark, its management wisely chose Verdi’s original score for his 1853 opera for La Fenice: La Traviata—another survivor that rose from the ashes. »

22 Nov 2005

Lamento — Arias, Cantatas and Scenes by the Bach Family

Dorothea Schroder, as translated by Stewart Spencer, begins her booklet essay for Magdalena Kozena’s recent CD by quoting a review of an earlier disc of the mezzo: “…Kozena is simply marvelous.” Brazen record company self-promotion? »

21 Nov 2005

RAMEAU: Les Indes galantes

Jean-Philippe Rameau is usually remembered today (when he is remembered at all) as an important musical theorist. This limited reputation is unfortunate, because Rameau was a masterful composer known for his sumptuous melodies and colorful harmonies. »

20 Nov 2005

Verdi's Macbeth — The Critical Edition

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a weighty play, and Verdi’s Macbeth seems to be a weighty opera: the three volumes of this edition (two of the full score, plus a smaller Critical Commentary containing the critical notes and a description of the sources) weigh 16.6 pounds. It is remarkable to think that this is the first full score of either the 1847 original or the 1865 revised Macbeth ever published. »

20 Nov 2005

Verdi Songs

I’m told that, if an auditioning singer’s repertoire includes a Verdi piece, the auditors will very likely choose to hear it, because singing Verdi well requires the full catalogue of skills: musical exactness, dynamic range, breath control, sensitive phrasing, the ability to provide a variety of colors in the voice, and, if possible, a large enough personality to truly fill out whichever character is being portrayed. »

19 Nov 2005

DELIBES: Lakmé

I have to admit it: this is the first time I ever listened to the complete version of this early Decca-issue of 1952 (though some sources say it was recorded one year earlier). »

19 Nov 2005

KRENEK: Lieder

While I was listening to this recording of Krenek’s song cycles Durch die Nacht (op. 67) and Gesänge des späten Jahres (op. 71), I started to think about art and memory. »

19 Nov 2005

GLASS: Orion

I first became acquainted with Glass’s music when Lyric Opera of Chicago staged his Satyagraha in the 1980s. Having grown up on a small-town Midwestern diet of Beethoven sonatas and Broadway musicals, I was blown away by his vision of Mahatma Gandhi. »

19 Nov 2005

Heroic Tenors

A happy feature of the King CD is the booklet in German and English: at least 7 pages full of information on the tenor. Then there is the pristine sound of the recordings. Though there is no mention of a concert source I’m fairly sure all the pieces (always followed by generous applause), are derived from the famous Münchner Sonntag Konzerte. »

18 Nov 2005

SULLIVAN: The Rose of Persia

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s legacy suffers from that common malaise that, once a good or bad reputation is made, it is very difficult to be remembered for anything else—be it better or worse. »

17 Nov 2005

An Introduction to... MASSENET Werther

For anyone who is remotely familiar with opera, the first question would be, “What is the need for a recording like this?” Of course, not being familiar with the CD justifies the question, but once it has been played, the realization sets in that the answer was there all along. »

17 Nov 2005

Soprano Songs and Arias

For those who frequent the Santa Fe Opera and Houston Grand Opera, Ana María Martínez is well-known as a superb lyric soprano on her way to a stellar career. With the release of this collection of songs and arias for soprano, the rest of the world will come to know this as well. »

16 Nov 2005

Decca Classic Recitals

The first thought one has is « how nice to have those recitals back like they were issued ». One remembers too well the first days of the CD when historical vocal recitals appeared more or less mutilated, often culled from two or more LP’s so that some tracks were sorely missed. »

15 Nov 2005

STRAUSS: Lieder

The Lieder of Richard Strauss lend themselves well to various interpretations that bring out different aspects of the music. »

15 Nov 2005

ROSSINI: William Tell (Two Reviews)

Not Just a Famous Overture »

13 Nov 2005

STRAVINSKY : The Rake’s Progress

This production, from Glyndebourne in 1975, is a treasure of literate, artistically informed stagecraft. Opera is meant to be seen as much as heard, and productions like this prove that good staging brings a score alive. »

13 Nov 2005

VERDI: Stiffelio

This is the third re-issue (in Europe anyway) on CD of the only existing studio recording of Stiffelio. Luckily it is a rather good one as its live competitors are not recordings for eternity. Neither Limarilli in 1968 nor Del Monaco (at his coarsest in 1972) have much sense of style, let alone a knack for true Verdi-phrasing. Not that José Carreras is flawless. »

09 Nov 2005

TCHAIKOVSKY: Sleeping Beauty

Tchaikovsky counted Sleeping Beauty as one of his best works. The idea came from Ivan Vsevolozhsky (1835-1909), director of the Russian Imperial Theatres from 1881 onward. He had staged several of Tchaikovsky’s operas, and he wanted Tchaikovsky to produce a ballet score with him. »

09 Nov 2005

STRAUSS: Daphne

The formidable Straussian Sir Georg Solti wrote that after the 1929 death of Strauss’s long-time librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, “Strauss lived for another twenty years, but he never again wrote a great work.” »

09 Nov 2005

KHACHATURIAN: Spartacus

Khachaturian was one of the few Soviet composers of the Stalin regime to overcome his public demotion in 1948. Even though he was removed from his job and his works disappeared from the theatres, Khachaturian moved to the world of film music and waited for the storm to blow over. »

08 Nov 2005

Hear My Prayer

This anthology, a twentieth-anniversary commemoration of Aled Jones’ first recording for the Welsh company, Sain, is a re-issue of that 1983 recording, “Diolch â Chân,” along with several other tracks from the mid-1980’s. Jones stepped out of the choir stalls at Bangor Cathedral to become a highly marketed treble, and his relative celebrity, as attested here, was well deserved. »

07 Nov 2005

Méthodes & Traités, series II: France 1800-1860 (Les grandes méthodes romantiques de chant), Vol. IV

As far back as the Middle Ages, students (often only identified as Anonymous) have recorded the methods of performance imparted by their masters. In later centuries, such illustrious teachers wrote and published their own methods. »

06 Nov 2005

RIGHINI: Il Convitato di Pietra (The Stone Guest)

Born in Bologna on January 22, 1756, Righini’s musical career started early when he was a choirboy at San Petronio. When he was nineteen, Righini made his professional singing debut as a tenor in Parma, and one year later he joined the Bustelli Opera in Prague. »

02 Nov 2005

ROSSINI: Der Barbier von Sevilla (Barbiere di Siviglia)

Rossini’s masterpiece is based on Beaumarchais’ first of three plays—Le Barbier de Séville, La folle journée ou Le Mariage de Figaro, and La Mère Coupable—detailing the adventures of Figaro, a barber from Seville, Spain. Rossini was not the first, nor the last composer to set the story to music: Giovanni Maria Pagliardi, Friedrich Ludwig Benda, Johann André, Francesco Morlacchi, Miguel Nieto and Gerónimo Jiménez, Nicolo Isouard, and H. R. Bishop are some of the names that come to mind. »

01 Nov 2005

BORODIN: Prince Igor (Highlights)

Not long ago the record label Delos announced that they would embark on a series of studio recordings of highlights from operas. This intriguing idea seemed to address the recording crisis spawned by the shrinking market for full studio sets, with their high cost for both producer and purchaser. »

01 Nov 2005

BIBER: Missa Christi resurgentis

In 1682 the Archbishopric of Salzburg celebrated its 1100th anniversary with an appropriately festal service in the Cathedral, depicted in an engraving by Melchior Küsel. Küsel’s engraving is a striking image, bringing into harmony the grand scale of the building (not yet one hundred years old), the ornamental richness of the interior, and the strong subdivisions of its space. »

30 Oct 2005

SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns was a child prodigy, musicologist, astronomer, archeologist, poet, writer, teacher, and one of the most important and prolific composers of his generation. Yet, Saint-Saëns’ reputation has, for some time, mainly rested on his instrumental works the “Organ” Symphony, the overture Carnival of the Animals and his oratorio turned opera, Samson et Dalila. »

30 Oct 2005

PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut was Puccini’s first big success, and his first contribution to the repertory. Yet it’s popularity has always lagged behind that of the composer’s following three mega-hits La Boheme, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly, as well as some later successes such as Turandot and even Gianni Schicchi. »

30 Oct 2005

Ewa Podleś — Rossini Gala

If Rossini could set a laundry list to music, then Ewa Podleś is one of the few candidates available to sing it. In this CD, recorded live at the Polish Radio Hall in Wroclaw (Wratislavia), during the thirty third International Festival Wratislavia Cantans Music and Fine Arts, the Polish contralto gives ample proof of her status as one of the great singers of her generation. »

27 Oct 2005

ROSSINI: La Cenerentola

Naxos is perhaps the only significant major label regularly releasing complete opera sets. A few have won widespread praise, and certainly the prices, at super-budget level, make them attractive to both first-time buyers and those whose collections scarcely justify an additional set. »

27 Oct 2005

ALBRIGHT: Berlioz's Semi-Operas

This book examines two of the more interesting musical pieces of the Romantic movement: Romeo et Juliette (1839) and La damnation de Faust (1846). Both were composed by Hector Berlioz (1803-69), and were very much constructed in a Gesamtkunstwerk mode where literature, music, and the other arts are fused together in a hybrid style that defies genre and categorization. »