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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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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. »

15 Jul 2005

MOZART: Don Giovanni

This staging of the Mozart/da Ponte masterpiece took place in 1977, at the Glyndebourne Festival. Although the conductor is Dutch, and members of the cast come from Eastern Europe and the States, a more British performance would be hard to imagine. »

15 Jul 2005

MAHLER: Symphony No.8 in E-Flat

Every so often there appears a recording so good, so almost revelatory, that we find ourselves re-examining the work recorded and our relationship to it, no matter how well we thought we already knew it. Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake’s recording of Schumann’s Dichterliebe was one of the more recent recordings to do this. Now we have Kent Nagano’s amazing reading of (and Harmonia Mundi’s equally amazing engineering of) Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 8. Many excellent recordings of this work already exist, and all of them bring a number of insights and extraordinary performances to the work. None of them, however, quite equals Nagano’s overall vision of the work, and no recording of the symphony can match the impressive acoustic accomplishments found here. »

15 Jul 2005

HELLER: Emblems of Eloquence — Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice

In her awesome Emblems of Eloquence, Wendy Heller tirelessly investigates treatises, myths, libretti and letters to illuminate the natures of “real” and “imagined” women who reigned over seventeenth-century opera as subjects of musical portraiture. From Dido to Semiramide, Poppea to Calisto, Heller argues that women and women’s issues dominated the Venetian stage. Librettists struggled with issues of women’s sexuality, dominance, suppression of desire, overt desire, covert desire, homoeroticism and misogyny. And all at the time when, “Venice’s absolute exclusion of women in public life was written into the organization of the Republic.” This apparent contradiction is at the heart of her eminently readable text that displays Heller as a musicological Simon Schama. »

15 Jul 2005

RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op.13; The Isle of the Dead, Op.29.

The initial reception of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 1 marked an unhappy yet decisive moment in the composer's life, one that propelled his stylistic development and the trajectory of his career in new directions. »

14 Jul 2005

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Festival d'Aix-en-Provence

Like Glyndebourne, Aix treats Mozart and Rossini as “house” composers, but Rossini has traditionally taken second place. This summer, in Provence as much as in Sussex, Rossini comes off better. After its two disappointing Mozart productions in the Théâtre de l’Archevèche at the weekend, the Aix festival decamped to the gardens of a dilapidated but enchanted estate outside the town for an evening of pure joy, courtesy of a new Barber. »