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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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09 Jul 2005

ALFANO: Cyrano de Bergerac

Franco Alfano is best known for having composed the standard ending to Puccini’s Turandot. But he wrote some 12-13 operas under his own name as well. A few of these are revisions of earlier operas. The most familiar of his works have long been La resurrezione (1904), Sakuntala (1922, revised 1952) and Cyrano de Bergerac (1936). Cyrano seems to be coming into its own in the last few years, what with a performance in Kiel and a revival planned for Montpellier in 2003. The latter was cancelled due to strikes (although it was filmed anyway). This was followed by a few performances at the end of the 2004-5 Metropolitan Opera season, with more performances planned at Covent Garden in 2005 and the Met for the 2005-06 season. It is very much the tenor’s opera, with the revival (that never really happened as far as the general public is concerned) in Montpellier featuring Roberto Alagna, and that at the Met featuring Placido Domingo, now approaching the end of a fantastic career. He is also scheduled to sing it at Covent Garden, and again at the Met next year. It is my understanding that Alagna will also sing some additional performances. »

09 Jul 2005

FELSENFELD: Benjamin Britten and Samuel Barber: Their Lives and Their Music

The second in a series called Parallel Lives, this book consists of a series of essays by one author. The same Daniel Felsenfeld also authored the first in the series, which set Charles Ives and Aaron Copland side by side. By comparison to that juxtaposition only, Britten and Barber make an intriguing and appropriate pair for analysis. Felsenfeld's book, however, is slim yet repetitive, and far from stylishly written. The inclusion of a CD of selections from Naxos recordings of both composers may, however, make the volume of interest to some readers. »

08 Jul 2005

STRAUSS: The Complete Songs, Vol. 1

Among the best-known works of Richard Strauss is his set of Vier letzte Lieder, the so-called four “last” songs. These are just a fraction of the music he composed in this genre, with over 200 songs for voice and piano, and around fifty of them arranged with orchestral accompaniment. The prospect of a new series of complete songs is promising, and it should augment the various recorded selections of his Lieder that are currently available. »

07 Jul 2005

Vanessa at Central City

Central City – Perhaps because of its home in a small, historic mining town far from the two coasts, Central City Opera has long championed American opera. »

07 Jul 2005

Lucie de Lammermoor at Glimmerglass

There is one splendid reason to see Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucie de Lammermoor” at Glimmerglass Opera this season, and her name is Sarah Coburn. »

07 Jul 2005

BRITTEN: Folk Song Arrangements

Britten’s folksong arrangements, which span much of his career from 1943 to 1976, provide unique insights into the composer’s oeuvre. Having been strongly encouraged by his teacher, Frank Bridge, to at all times be true to himself and to develop his own voice, one might expect Britten to eschew the folksong tradition, which had been so used (and misused?) by the generation before him. But Britten, following more in the line of Grainger than Vaughan Williams, voiced his distinctive style in these arrangements with appealing results. Sometimes making merely subtle changes and the simplest of accompaniments, Britten’s arrangements display artistic grace and sensitivity that has made them some of the most beloved choices of singers and audiences alike. »

06 Jul 2005

HÄNDEL: Admetus, King of Thessaly

Handel's Admeto premiered in London in 1727 at the King's Theater and was an unambiguous critical and popular success. It had an initial run of nineteen performances between January 31 and April 18 of 1727, each of which was attended by King George I.  »

06 Jul 2005

Mitridate, re di Ponto at Covent Garden

I can only dimly imagine how this singular and arresting production was first greeted at Covent Garden back in 1991. To this newcomer’s eye it is still both amazingly original in its design and concept, and yet also oddly frustrating. Essentially, director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown and their team created a world, half historic, half fantastic, and one is left with a visual memory replete with starkly simple blood-red sets, kaleidoscopically coloured bizarrely shaped costumes and arrowed shafts of silver light, almost painfully reflecting from armoured breastplates. The time is about 65 BC and the world is one of an old Asia Minor versus a rising Rome, with an ageing King Mitridate fighting off both martial and sexual invasions of his territories. The heavy, stylised, costumes — extravagant to the point of caricature — are in themselves a theatrical tool that both enable and yet also constrain the drama of this young Mozart’s early work. If the singers were disadvantaged physically by what they were wearing, they didn’t seem to show it — although to be fair none had to move at anything more than a dignified pace. It was the supporting actors/dancers, Kabuki-like, who supplied the human activity — including a memorable “a capella” rhythmic foot-stamping war-interlude. All other dramatic extremes — be it fevered love declaration, jealous rage or elegant death — was conducted in an almost balletic minimalism of physical effort. »

06 Jul 2005

HURWITZ: Getting the Most Out of Mozart: The Vocal Works

The investment of money, not to mention time, to listen carefully to a complete opera can be intimidating for some uninitiated listeners. After all, operas can be quite long and — with all that strange singing in a foreign language — could be incomprehensible, and therefore less than enjoyable. Opera still carries the cachet in our culture of being the pastime of the wealthy, the educated, and the elite. References to opera in popular culture, such as ads or music videos, signify a different world of privilege and exclusion. »

06 Jul 2005

ZELENKA: Die Responsorien zum Karfreitag
TUMA: Sonatas in A minor & E minor; Sinfornia in B major

In the Baroque era, the liturgical intensity of Holy Week and the affective richness of its themes would find a powerful echo in the music of various European chapels. Old-fashioned counterpoint on antique models would solemnify the sound, while the expressive harmonic freedoms of the day would bring the affective sense of words and themes into sharp focus. This dual path is much in evidence in the Responsories for Good Friday by Jan Dismas Zelenka, recorded here by the Czech ensembles, Boni pueri and Musica Florea. »

05 Jul 2005

La Bohème in Zurich — Two Reviews

Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” is really a winter piece. It is the cold and the dark that draw seamstress Mimi together with poet Rodolfo. Christmas in Cafe Momus brings the illusion of warmth, though not even the spring of the last act can take the chill from dying Mimi’s hands. »

05 Jul 2005

Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne — Four Reviews

LEWES, England, July 3 – Glyndebourne’s achievements are too various for one to speak of a company style, but there is certainly a Glyndebourne scent: of excellence and elegance, of singers and musicians enjoying at once the freedom gained by thorough rehearsal and the intimacy of a small, warm house. And its waft is strong, luxurious and exciting around the new production of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare,” which opened on Sunday afternoon. »

04 Jul 2005

Turandot at Santa Fe

The Santa Fe Opera waited almost 50 years to mount Puccini’s final opera, Turandot—a warhorse of a work full of color and pageantry, and a heart-breaking love story. Puccini died before he could finish the work, whose story comes from myth and fable. »

04 Jul 2005

THOMAS: Aesthetics of Opera in the Ancien Régime, 1647-1785

Contrary to what one might expect from its title, Downing A. Thomas' book on Aesthetics of Opera in the Ancien Régime is not a comprehensive historical treatment of the subject. Instead, the chapters — which seem to have been drawn from separate articles or other studies — cover a wide range of topics, but are successfully drawn together through a view of aesthetics from a pre-nineteenth-century vantage point; according to Thomas, discussions of aesthetics from the time of the ancien régime "rose out of the many developments in medicine and philosophy ... in relation to questions of sensibility, sympathy, and taste" (p. 323). Cultural and aesthetic issues of the day centered on "the experience of passion, of intersubjective feeling, and of pleasure" (p. 323). Thomas' work rests on extensive studies of philosophical and theoretical writings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it also shows a broad knowledge of present-day analytical approaches and musical and cultural studies. Thomas uses this broad range of sources to argue for the importance of opera as an influence on — and a reflection of — French culture and thought during the ancien régime. The author identifies two basic assumptions that lie behind the varied studies in the book: "First, ... individual operas not only display traces of the aesthetic and ideological circumstances of their creation, but ... they also engage productively in those circumstances. Second, ... opera came to serve as a touchstone in the eighteenth century for understanding the mechanisms behind human feeling and for reflecting upon how emotion impacts social relations." »

03 Jul 2005

FLECHA: Ensaladas

This is a recording that makes a full meal of various salads: in this case, several ensaladas by the Spanish composer most associated with the form, Mateo Flecha, the elder (?1481-1553). Ensaladas toss together different languages and verbal quotations (sometimes musical quotation, as well) in a quodlibet that promotes an appealing sense of variety within the unified frame of their textual themes. »

03 Jul 2005

Claudio Abbado: Hearing the Silence — Sketches for a Portrait

Five minutes into this DVD there has been a lot of talk on Abbado’s aura, his aristocratic reserve and the fact that he is a private thinker. With a deep sigh I was reminded of some of those dreadful documentaries on Arte (a German-French arts channel which I have on cable) that have promising titles and then soon lose themselves in a lot of philosophical treatises without any real content. And what was almost the last image of this documentary?: “In collaboration with Arte” »

03 Jul 2005

Gerhard Hüsch Sings Die schöne Müllerin & An die ferne Geliebte

With a masterpiece like Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, each generation of singers seems to rediscover the music and make the work its own. The nature of music almost demands that performers arrive at their own approaches, and the resulting differences offer insights into the way the music works and, perhaps, on how perception functions. With something as familiar as Die schöne Müllerin, it is possible to gain some perspective by listening to the way a singers of earlier generations performed the work to sample it, just as aficionados appreciate wine at vertical tastings. By approaching the music in this manner, it is possible to put the differences in perspective by using the nuances as points of reference where interpretations diverge. »