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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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02 Jul 2005

SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin

An important thing to realize about this DVD is that it is not so much about Die Schöne Müllerin as about the performers, pianist András Schiff and especially baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. There are no liner notes about the song cycle itself, and if you want to see texts or translations you watch them go by as subtitles during the performance (you may choose German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, or none.). But, since the cycle is quite well-known, largely through the earlier recordings by Fischer-Dieskau with other collaborators, this omission is not grave enough to detract from the real focus of the DVD: to make publicly available a 1991 performance at the Feldkirch Schubertiade, in which two Schubertiade regulars, Fischer-Dieskau and Schiff, performed together for the first time. The record of the performance is doubly significant because, while Fischer-Dieskau earlier in his career had been one of the preeminent performers of Die Schöne Müllerin, he had not performed it since 1971, and he was to retire from public performance two years later. »

02 Jul 2005

A Review of Kupfer's Production of Der fliegende Holländer

When I was young, my father said: Don’t judge others before hearing them through, listen before interrupting. His advice applies so well to Wagnerian opera, with its potential for diverse interpretation. The greatest works of art have the power to speak beyond restricted parameters of space and time. We may have a preference for one style or another, but when we listen to a new production, it’s a good idea to listen to it for what it conveys on its own terms. Whether we like or dislike something isn’t ultimately the point, for we learn something along the way. »

30 Jun 2005

Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims

When Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims was rediscovered more than two decades ago, its musical brilliance was immediately recognised. But its almost nonexistent plot, designed to incorporate an abundance of superstars, lent credence to Rossini’s decision to withdraw the opera once it had served its purpose — providing entertainment for the coronation of Charles X of France. Experiencing Il viaggio in the theatre, however, reveals its unconventional drama about a collection of upper-crust Europeans thwarted in their plans to attend the coronation to be an essential strength. The very triviality points up human foibles and, in the context of Rossini’s elaborate music, supplies a source of hilarity. »

30 Jun 2005

Così fan tutte at San Francisco

The San Francisco Opera’s 2004-05 season is winding down in nicely palindromic fashion. The company’s final offering, which opened (or reopened) Friday night at the War Memorial Opera House, is a revival of the handsome new production of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” that began the season back in September, and its virtues remain essentially intact. »

29 Jun 2005

VERDI: Il Corsaro

The CD incarnation of this performance, reviewed earlier on Opera Today, faces the formidable competition of an earlier Philips set conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, with Jose Carreras, Montserrat Caballé, and Jessye Norman in the cast. As a recording, that set remains the best recommendation for this neglected (fairly or not) Verdi score. »

29 Jun 2005

Teatro La Fenice: Gala Reopening

The liner notes dryly state that “This was a stringent programme for an opening-concert audience used to lighter fare at such events.” In the past this would surely have been true but together with “Das Regietheater,” there is now a firm tradition in European houses that the reason for their very existence is art, and preferably in its purest form. Audiences are not there to amuse themselves or even to enjoy the music but to ponder on whatever life’s questions may be at that exact moment. They are mightily helped in their endeavours by conductor Riccardo Muti who cannot be caught with a single smile on his face during more than an hour of music making. Therefore a house where five operas by Giuseppe Verdi were premièred cannot be expected to open with such banalaties as Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata or Simon Boccanegra. Even worse would have been a concert with some prominent singers performing well-known arias and duets from these operas. The danger of enjoyment would have been too great. A conductor who reopened La Scala one year later with that immortal masterpiece L’Europa riconosciuta can be expected to make more original choices. Muti preferred lesser known music by maestros who had some ties with the city itself, even with the opera house. »

28 Jun 2005

HENZE: L’Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe

Henze’s magical opera L’Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (L’Upupa or the Triumph of Filial Love) bears the subtitle, “a German comedy in eleven tableaux based on the Arabic.” The “Arabic” here refers to a traditional dream-tale from Syria, around which Henze crafted his libretto (his first such effort as a librettist). Like dreams, which condense from memory several images (of people, objects, actions) that share underlying characteristics into single composite dream figures, L’Upupa condenses many stories and characters into its over determined images. Far from pastiche, however, Henze’s condensations cohere in a compelling tale. »

28 Jun 2005

Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots at Liège

This performance must have been heart-warming for all diehards of traditionalism — no Spanish Civil War, no Palestinian-Israeli conflict, just plain religious warfare in France on the night of the 23rd of August 1572, the infamous ‘nuit de Saint-Bartholomée’ (St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre). One is now almost so used to the excesses of ‘das Regie-Theater’ that one almost is shocked to see such a realistic looking production where dozens of people move on the stage in magnificent authentic costumes all the time (300 of them during the whole opera). As a consequence director Lacombe had his singers act as realistically as possible with real sword fights instead of stylised ones, no squirming on the floor etc. Apart from the visual splendour, everything was concentrated on the music and the singing. »

27 Jun 2005

The Fairy Queen at Aldeburgh Festival

NO FLOTILLA of swans, no dancing green men, no grand descent of the Sun King; in fact no big production numbers at all. Yet this concert performance of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen will be a hard act for the forthcoming Proms appearance to follow. »

27 Jun 2005

Carmen at Styriarte

Vom Bundeskanzler bis zu Deutsch lands Feuilletonistinnen waren alle da. Denn mit Andrea Breth und Ni kolaus Harnoncourt hatten zwei Liebkinder des Kultur-Establishments erstmals gemeinsam eine Musiktheaterproduktion zu erarbeiten. Derartige Kunst-Bande zu knüpfen, ist die nobelste Aufgabe von Festspielen. Womit die “Styriarte” für ihre heurige Eröffnung ein adäquates Zeichen gesetzt hat. Auf der Strecke blieb dabei Bizets “Carmen”; oder zumindest das, was man bisher dafür gehalten hat. »

26 Jun 2005

BARBER: Orchestral Works

EMI has re-released a 2-disc set of some of Samuel Barber’s most compelling orchestral and chambers works on the Gemini — The EMI Treasures label. An album of the same recordings was released in 2001, itself a remastering of original recordings dating from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Disc 1 from both these sets contains music recorded in 1986 and 1988 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin and released in 1990 as a single disc. The second disc of the set contains chamber music of Barber, recorded in 1995. Each time this music has been released it has received positive reviews. See for example, Jon Yungkans’s review on the The Flying Inkpot; the reviews on Amazon.com; or Victor Carr’s review on Classics Today. »

26 Jun 2005

RESPIGHI: Gli uccelli; Il tramonto; Trittico botticelliano

Ottorino Respighi’s reputation as an arranger of early music sometimes obscures the contributions he made in assembling those works into what are essentially new compositions. The carefully planned suite of music from the Baroque era entitled “Gli uccelli” – “The Birds” – is an excellent example of his ability to adapt older compositions into a new context, and in this case juxtapose music by various composers into a cohesive whole. Respighi completed this suite in 1927, and the orchestrations remain effective, over a half a century later. The idiomatic use of the orchestra makes “Gli uccelli” a fine piece for an orchestra to show its ability to perform as a tightly rehearsed ensemble, and this is borne out in the festival performance preserved in this recording. »

26 Jun 2005

Chief Joseph at Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Das schönste Teil steht als Reklame vor der Tür: einer von Jimmy Durhams Büffeln, gehäutet und skelettiert. Ansonsten hat der indianische Künstler und Bühnenbildner eine Mischung aus Showbühne mit Aussichtspodest und Bahnhofshalle für Hans Zenders neue Chief Joseph-Oper gebaut: Vorn links auf dem teilweise überdeckten Orchestergraben ein Riesenmüllcontainer, aus dem später der kleine Joseph oder auch Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekht, was soviel heißt wie “Der Donner, der über die Berge rollt”, kriecht und den Vater befragt, wie das denn sei mit den Weißen, ob sie alle Lügner sind, oder ob man einigen von ihnen wenigstens trauen kann, bevor er selbst das Kommando übernimmt, übernehmen muss. In rotbraunem Siedleranzug, nicht in umbrafarbener Federkluft, geht er dann sinnend durch die Szene. »

24 Jun 2005

LEHÁR: Zigeunerliebe

One of my oldest memorabilia is a programme of a performance of Zigeunerliebe by my father’s operetta company just after the war. It was one of the many amateur companies in Flanders though the title roles were sung by good singers who earned extra money by combining a few companies. I was too young to assist at this performance but a few years later I would be a regular spectator. The moment I could read I was put into service rehearsing my father’s lines. Every time the company put on a new piece I eagerly read the libretto. Most people nowadays think that an operetta is something like a Carmen with a few dialogues but that’s definitely not true. A Lehár operetta always had a lot of spoken dialogue and often had a 50% spoken 50% sung lines balance. Many an operetta lasted 3 hours without including pauses. »

23 Jun 2005

KRENEK: Three One Act Operas

Ernst Krenek is remembered primarily for one work, his jazz opera Jonny spielt auf, which irritated the cultural conservatives in Germany and Austria in the years between the wars and helped ensure his exile to America during the Nazi era. If an opera strewn with jazzy tunes and a romantic black hero wasn’t enough to tick off the right wing, he turned to serialism for his magnum opus, the anti-Nazi, pro-Austrian Karl V (Charles V, whom you’ll remember from Verdi’s Don Carlo). »

23 Jun 2005

CARISSIMI: Oratorios

Two recent CDs of Carissimi oratorios provide the listener the opportunity to compare very different “takes” on the composer’s remarkable works, which exemplify the sophisticated and exclusive style cultivated by the cardinalate nobility in mid-seventeenth-century Rome. Carissimi’s oratorios survive in manuscript only, and with relatively sparse indications concerning instrumentation; it has long been a challenge for contemporary performers to balance the need for dramatic clarity with the desirability of sonic variety, and the two groups featured on these CDs take different approaches to that challenge, each with fruitful results. »

22 Jun 2005

La Bohème at Covent Garden

This production of Puccini’s classic, originally directed by John Copley, began life in 1974 and is now the oldest in the Royal Opera’s repertory. It’s still serviceable in its old-fashioned way, at least when lit with sufficient discretion to hide its increasing shabbiness. »