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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. »

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03 May 2005

VERDI: La Forza del Destino

“The policies of recording companies never fail to wonder me.” I am often reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal’s expression in the magazine, Opera, and I definitely had it in mind when I received this recording. Why would anyone bring out a set with two singers (Bergonzi and Cappuccilli) duplicating their roles of the classic EMI-recording of 1969; maybe still the best buy around? And yet, yet I’m not so sure anymore of the superfluousness of this set. There are two reasons for it. Number one is Carlo Bergonzi. I didn’t think he would be able to surpass his formidable EMI-Alvaro and nevertheless he does. Bergonzi’s voice was slowly changing in the early seventies. He had been singing the most strenuous roles of the repertoire for almost a quarter of a century and still the voice had not suffered. On the contrary, there were no traces of his baritone past anymore. The top was secure, though there never was much squillo and a high C usually became a high B. It was the middle voice that had changed most. It became honeyed, silvery in an almost Gigli-like way. Combined with his inexhaustible breath control, his legato and the way he could colour some small phrases and switch from forte to a heavenly pianissimo it slowly dawned upon many listeners that here was one of the greatest tenors of the century who maybe had been taken too much for granted. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: Ernani

“Few tenors today have his ringing top” and “his ringing, clear top” are not exactly qualities one associates with baritenor Placido Domingo, as he has been calling himself for the last ten years. Still, those were the exact words used by critic Peter Hoffer in his reports for Opera Magazine and Opera News on the opening of La Scala for the season 1969-1970. In all honesty, a ringing top à la Corelli is not exactly what one hears on this recording. But there is no hint of a pushed up baritone either. This is 28-year old fresh voiced Domingo with all the beauty and youthful freshness of the middle voice and quite an acceptable top always taking the higher option (A or B-flat) at the end of a solo or a duet. Mr. Domingo has been so long among us that one somewhat has forgotten how meltingly beautiful the young tenor sang, relying on his outstanding vocal gifts. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: Attila

This DVD release, taken from an RAI telecast, documents a 1991 La Scala performance of Verdi’s 1846 opera, based on the life of Attila the Hun. I’ve always felt that early Verdi is one of Riccardo Muti’s greatest strengths. When Muti was Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I was privileged to see their concert performances of Nabucco and Macbeth. Both featured breathtaking execution, intensity, and momentum. »

02 May 2005

Der Ring at the Wiener Staatsoper

Beinahe ist die Geschichte zu Ende. Einen Durchlauf wird die Adolf-Dresen-Inszenierung von Wagners “Ring”— Tetralogie in der kommenden Spielzeit noch erleben, dann ist — nach der 25. Aufführung der “Götterdämmerung” — Schluss. Am 2. Dezember 2007 beginnt mit der Premiere der “Walküre” ein neues “Ring”-Projekt, inszeniert von Sven-Eric Bechtolf, dirigiert von Franz Welser-Möst. Dieses wird im Mai 2009 abgeschlossen sein, ziemlich genau ein halbes Jahrhundert nach dem ersten Wiener Nachkriegs — “Ring” Herbert von Karajans. »

02 May 2005

Il Ritorno d'Ulisse at Birmingham

It’s always sensible to arrive early for a show by Birmingham Opera Company, simply to locate the venue. After a marquee for Fidelio three years ago and an abandoned car workshop for Candide in 2003, the company’s Monteverdi project, running since the beginning of last year, comes to a climax in a disused ice rink. »

02 May 2005

Rising Stars in Concert at Chicago

A plenitude of sweet music was in the air Saturday night at the Civic Opera House. It arrived long before Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music,” its Shakespearean text a paean to “sweet music,’’ that closed the concert by members of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists. »

02 May 2005

Clemenza di Tito at the Met

Operas like “Don Giovanni” or “Die Zauberflöte” today look like repudiations of the formal, almost motionless style that ruled Europe’s musical theater for most of the 18th century. Yet Mozart was surrounded all his life by opera seria, and he wrote four of them, including the early “Idomeneo” and the late “Clemenza di Tito,” which was heard Friday night at the Metropolitan Opera. »

01 May 2005

La Forza in Frankfurt

Vielleicht ist es das beste, was dem krausen Opernschauerdrama passieren kann: Die Macht des Schicksals konzertant, vom ersten Schuss an, der sich von selbst aus der Pistole löst. Die Oper Frankfurt lässt das Werk in der Fassung von 1869 in der Alten Oper unter Leitung Paolo Carignanis hören und hat damit die Einschätzung Theodor W. Adornos angesichts einer Inszenierung des Stücks 1928 am gleichen Ort noch überboten. Die schicksalswütige Romantik des Forza-Buchs, so der damals 25-jährige Musikkritiker, “sei in sich bereits so welk, dass zu seiner Beurteilung Marionettendramaturgie allein zuständig wäre”. »

01 May 2005

Magic Flute in Ferrara

The power of the very greatest conductors to reinvent whatever they conduct is one of music’s great mysteries. Claudio Abbado’s conducting is not the only reason to catch the production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte being toured in Italy and Germany by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, but it is by a very long way the most important. Abbado’s performance is, quite simply, mesmerising. It is so full of musical insight and operatic experience that every bar seems perfectly placed, every detail of the scoring perfectly illuminated. »

01 May 2005

La Bohème at the Florentine

Bring a hankie, the Florentine just opened “La Bohème.” Puccini’s opera, which combines likable characters, elements of verismo realism, poignantly beautiful music and a tragic tale of young love lost, is one of the world’s best-loved operas. The Florentine Opera opened a strong production of the classic on Friday, in which director Lillian Groag found a balance between the story’s humor and pathos. »

01 May 2005

Figaro at the Beach

Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” set in a chic apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte’’ played out in a trendy club complete with burly, stone-faced doormen and a sleek VIP room. Chicago Opera Theater has had some smashing successes with stage director Diane Paulus’ contemporary take on centuries-old operas. She is back this spring, teamed once again with conductor Jane ver, her colleague on four previous COT productions, for a fresh look at another Mozart opera, the bittersweet “The Marriage of Figaro.’’ A “Figaro’’ set in Miami’s South Beach, anyone? »

29 Apr 2005

Suor Angelica and Pagliacci at Liège

Not the usual twins but a rather original though no less appealing combination. Both operas were cast from strength and far bigger houses would have been proud of it. Hasmik Papian with her splendid spinto voice was a moving if less than usually placid Angelica. She once more became a princess during the confrontation with her aunt. She poured out wonderful tone during her aria ending it however with the soft ravishing high A the score demands. I know Puccini cut it himself though after some protest but one of these days I’d love to hear Angelica’s second big aria after the intermezzo though it was not to be this time. A lot of interest centred upon Fiorenza Cossotto who at the day of the première celebrated her 70th birthday. Well, you cannot erase 50 years of stage experience and she brought to Zia Principessa all the necessary haughtiness and at one small moment even seemed to relent ( nice touch) but then regained her composure. And the voice? In the low register there are still some sounds reminding me of the impetuous Amneris I first saw in 1969. But higher on there is nothing that resembles that bright silvery sound of yore. Decibels there are and a wobble as well. Still, she was not a travesty as was Rita Gorr a few years back in Antwerp who grunted the role. All other roles were sung convincingly. »

29 Apr 2005

Giovanna d’Arco at Antwerp

The performance started with another prologue than the usual Verdi one. The Minister of Culture had just announced that the Vlaamse Opera would lose its orchestra so that it could be cut into two to complete the two Flemish Symphonic Orchestras which have some empty chairs. As a token of protest the Opera Orchestra decided to play in their daily outfit, not wanting to deprive their clients (and future supporters) of a performance and not repeating the odious Italian way of striking. Their action resulted in a wave of sympathy. At the end of the performance, frail 81 year old Silvio Varviso spoke briefly but forcefully and asked for the spectators’ support. He is completely right as the Opera Orchestra has grown enormously these last 15 years and can easily compete (and sometimes surpasses) Pappano’s former phalanx: De Munt Orchestra. This was only the last stage in a series of happenings that illustrate the difficulties in performing a less known opera. »

29 Apr 2005

The Bartered Bride at Julliard

In the dark before the lights came up, the stage looked like a set for “Oklahoma!,” down to the dozing cowpoke. The rising lights revealed the object that had looked like a windmill to be a maypole and the setting to be Czech, yet the “Oklahoma!” resemblance didn’t altogether fade. Bedrich Smetana’s opera “The Bartered Bride” has a whiff of an American musical to its simple sweet story (boy loves girl, boy figures out how to get together with girl) and pretty tunes, and the Juilliard Opera Center’s production, which opened on Wednesday, brought out the similarities. »

29 Apr 2005

Upshaw in Downtown Philadelphia and Carnegie Hall

A few seconds into Dawn Upshaw’s singing, you decide that the most important thing is purity of tone – honest, solid, unadorned tone – and Upshaw has it in spades. »

29 Apr 2005

Bo Skovhus at Wigmore Hall

We don’t hear Bo Skovhus in the UK as much as we should. One of today’s great singers, the handsome Danish baritone is both a star and something of a sex symbol on the European mainland, although his work has been inexplicably undervalued by British opera companies and concert managements. »

28 Apr 2005

Tales of Hoffmann at Baltimore

Looking for an escape—from reality? The Baltimore Opera Company has just the ticket. Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) is not called an “opera fantastique” for nothing. »

28 Apr 2005

HANDEL: Rodelinda

There was a time, not so long ago, when Handel was a rare bird on the video shelves of opera shops and record retailers, but it seems that with the advent of the slim ‘n sexy DVD disc, and (in Europe at least) a more flexible attitude to rights issues between record companies and opera houses, that those days are now, happily, past. The latest offering from Farao Classics is the 3 year old Munich Staatsoper production of his “Rodelinda” with staging by David Alden, music direction by Ivor Bolton, first given at their Festival in 2003. I’m not entirely sure why certain operas get chosen for DVD release and others don’t, and this one is a bit of a puzzle for several reasons. »

28 Apr 2005

LARSEN: love lies bleeding — Songs by Libby Larsen.

This CD, entitled "Love Lies Bleeding," is a companion to the fascinating recording by the same soprano and pianist, entitled "With All My Soul" (The Orchard 6003). »