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Elsewhere

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Pavarotti: a touching, yet not dispassionate, account of the legendary Italian tenor

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

An interview with composer Dani Howard

The young Hong Kong-born British composer Dani Howard is having quite a busy year.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.


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Reviews

Luciano Pavarotti [Photo by Terry O'Neill/Decca Records]
18 Jul 2019

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Pavarotti: a touching, yet not dispassionate, account of the legendary Italian tenor »

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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. »