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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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11 Jun 2005

SCARLATTI: Disperato Amore

Alessandro Scarlatti, a contemporary of Handel and father of Domenico Scarlatti, was a prolific composer of cantatas, oratorios, and operas. He wrote more than 60 operas and 600 cantatas. Contemporaries frequently distinguished between styles according to the locale in which they might have been performed or to which they were appropriate: the church, chamber, and theatrical styles. The cantata was considered a genre of the chamber style and offered listeners refined counterpoint and delicate changes in dynamics; cantatas of the period generally set pastoral or love texts and employed recitative alternating with arias. Many of Scarlatti’s cantatas were written for performances at aristocratic residences; most survive in manuscript form and were never published. »

11 Jun 2005

GLUCK: Alceste

This two-disc performance was performed and recorded on December 12, 1981 at Covent Garden in London. The recording is one of a series of Ponto releases dedicated to Dame Janet Baker, who performs here the role of Alceste. This drama, a collaboration between Gluck and the librettist Calzabigi, was performed in late 1767 and is based on the tragedy by the ancient Greek poet Euripides. It was written in response to Empress Maria Theresa’s grief over the death of the emperor, given that the text is practically synonymous with conjugal devotion. Calzabigi’s libretto specifically emphasizes Alceste’s sacrifice for her husband throughout, and is dedicated to Maria Theresa. The staging of the opera was delayed by a number of other royal deaths in 1767. Alceste was revived in 1770. »

11 Jun 2005

WEBER: Oberon

In a certain sense, each of Carl Maria von Weber's final three operas: Der Freischütz, Euryanthe, and Oberon belongs to a different genre. Freischütz — the only one of these three that still in any way forms a part of the repertoire — builds on the folk-like traditions of the Singspiel, while Euryanthe is more closely related to the grand operas that were to become so important in the 1830s and 1840s. »

11 Jun 2005

MORRIS: Reading Opera Between the Lines: Orchestral Interludes and Cultural Meaning from Wagner to Berg

Interludes in opera articulate moments when the lush voices of singers and vivid spectacle of scenery and action are removed and often the curtain is drawn, and thus they span a functional gap between textless instrumental music and explicit theatrical vehicle. Although composers and analysts suggest rich and multivalent meanings for the music, those implications often escape decoding by audiences. Even the interlude titles — Zwischenspiel, entr'acte, intermezzo — suggest their intermission-like nature. As functional placeholders for scene changes and the like, the interludes are for many a cue to relax attentive listening, read synopses, and whisper with companions. Undaunted by such complexities, Morris takes up the problematic nature of operatic interludes, engaging their ambiguities with eyes wide open in an effort to enrich our understanding of these challenging bits of music. »

10 Jun 2005

HAYDN: Symphonies no. 91 & 92 (“Oxford”) and Scena di Berenice

This wonderful recording features two Haydn symphonies composed in the year 1789, which frame the short dramatic scena Berenice, premiered in London in 1795. The autograph scores of the two symphonies were dedicated and given to Claude-Francois-Marie Rigoley, Comte d’Ogny, cofounder and patron of the “Concert de la Loge Olympique,” an association for which Haydn had already written the so-called “Paris” symphonies in 1785/86. »

09 Jun 2005

A Portrait of Ernst Gruber

Up to now Ernst Gruber was only a name to me. During the fifties and sixties his career was centered in the houses of the defunct German Democratic Republic; first Dresden and Leipzig and later on at the Deutsche Staatsoper in East-Berlin. Usually he rated one or two entries each year in Opera Magazine; mostly just barely mentioning his name as even in those times reviewers concentrated almost exclusively on the antics of director Felsenstein and some of his copycats. So I thought of him as one of those somewhat to be avoided German tenors like Hans Günther Nocker who, while acting their heads off, sang in that barking way that got them epitaphs like “intelligent, thought-provoking” while words like “beauty of tone” were anathema to them and the critics. Mostly they remained behind the Iron Curtain, unless at the last moment they had to run to the rescue in Western Europe or the US when Windgassen or Thomas fell unexpectedly ill. They were always happy to comply as they mostly got 20% of the fee, immediately handing over the remaining 80% to the Stasi officer accompanying and controlling them, who would always remind them of the fate of their families who had to stay home as hostages. »

09 Jun 2005

Falstaff at LA Opera

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – “Falstaff” might have been Verdi’s last opera; it might have been Verdi’s greatest opera; it is, without doubt, Verdi’s only and most hilariously comic opera. »

09 Jun 2005

Felicity Lott at Wigmore Hall

“What’s a dame like me doing in a dump like this?” It takes a DBE to get away with a line like that in a venue as august as the Wigmore Hall – and this was how Felicity Lott wrapped up a recital marking 30 years of performing here with pianist Graham Johnson. The programme, Fallen Women and Virtuous Wives, is one the pair are currently touring. While its humour found its niche in the Wigmore Hall, how it will play in Luxembourg next week is anyone’s guess. »

09 Jun 2005

Der Freischütz at Carnegie Hall

If Carl Maria von Weber never quite made it into the grand procession of Romantic giants, he left behind an opera of indestructible charm. “Der Freischütz,” which Eve Queler’s Opera Orchestra of New York undertook on Monday night at Carnegie Hall, is first of all a darling of historians – a musicological ground zero for the German musical theater. »

08 Jun 2005

Boris Christoff — Lugano Recital 1976

Boris Christoff was, together with Cesare Siepi, the most prominent bass during The New Golden Age of Singing (1945-1975). At the time of this television recording, he was considered somewhat old hat as he had been singing for more than 30 years. During the mid-sixties he was superseded by Nicolai Ghiaurov who, due to his rolling voice and bigger volume, quickly became the hottest ticket in town. Both men were Bulgarians and there was pure hate between them; especially from Christoff’s side. Christoff was a protégé of the deceased king Boris. He studied in Italy and was not allowed to return home after the war when the communists had snatched power. He didn’t even get a visa to attend his father’s funeral. Ghiaurov was sent to Italy by the communists for further study. Their confrontations as Filippo and Grande Inquisitore in a La Scala Don Carlos are still legendary. Nobody had ever witnessed such (real) hatred in that scene. Afterwards, Christoff demanded that Ghiaurov be ousted but sovrintende Ghiringhelli sided with the younger bass and Christoff’s career at La Scala was finished. »

08 Jun 2005

José Carreras at the Sofia Palace of Culture Hall, May, 28, 2005

With Monserrat Caballé’s sensational concert at the same hall in September 2000, this is the second appearance of a famous Spanish opera singer in Sofia. The advertising campaign that started two months ago brought very good results assembling the la crema y la nata de la sociedad. The Sofia Metropolitan Orchestra conducted by David Himenez performed well in the solos: Rossini’s “La gazza ladra” and the intermezzo of Heronimo Himenez’ zarzuella “La boda de Luis Alonso.” José Carreras chose to partner with the young and promising Bulgarian soprano, Zvetelina Maldzanska, to share his triumph in Sofia. »

07 Jun 2005

Grétry's Zémire et Azor in St. Louis

Theatrical magic and cheerful charm abound in Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ new production of Andre-Ernest-Modeste Gretry’s version of “Beauty and the Beast,” seen Sunday evening in its premiere. »

06 Jun 2005

VERDI: Il Corsaro

Alessandro Trovato’s admirably honest and forthright booklet essay (translated by Daniela Pilarz) for this Dynamic release of Verdi’s Il Corsaro goes a long way to explaining why this ranks as one of the master’s least-performed works. »

06 Jun 2005

Angela Gheorghiu at the Liceu

Ahí estaba Angela Gheorghiu, recogiendo la ovación que se llevaba tras cantar el aria Prendi, per me sei libero, de la penúltima escena de L’elisir d’amore. Lo hacía abrazada al tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, a quien consolaba mesándole el pelo. En la escena anterior, Filianoti había cantado Una furtiva lagrima, y lo hizo, ay, con dos espectaculares gallos incluidos. »

05 Jun 2005

Magdalena Kozená in Berlin

Ein gesellschaftliches, aber auch ein musikalisches Ereignis der besonderen Art: auf Einladung der Philharmoniker im Kammermusiksaal neben Sir Simon Rattle sitzen zu dürfen, um gemeinsam mit ihm die zauberhafte Lady Rattle, alias Magdalena Kozená, singen zu hören. Ihr Vortrag glich einem Streifzug durch Kunst gewordene Volkstümlichkeit: einer klingenden Speisekarte der Erinnerungen an die Heimatsprache der Musik. »

05 Jun 2005

SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin

In some circles, Bostridge isn’t fashionable, perhaps because he achieved success so early, because he didn’t come up through the choirboy route, and, perhaps, most of all because he is so startlingly different. But those with a real interest in intelligent music making would do well to ignore the clichés and really listen to this. It’s an experience to change most perceptions of the cycle, and indeed of Schubert. This is no quaint bucolic romp. The protagonist kills himself, doomed even before he meets the girl. As Bostridge points out, the poet Wilhelm Müller said it should be “im Winter zu lessen.” The songs refer to Maytime and blossoms, but since Nature itself is destructive, this is just seductive sham. This cycle is to read in the spirit of a harsh Prussian winter, not an innocent Austrian spring. Schubert picked up on the inner meaning of Müller’s poetry because he had himself just been diagnosed with syphilis — the AIDS of his era. He had no bucolic delusions. He knew only too well that Nature can turn love into death. »

04 Jun 2005

1984 — Another View

Lorin Maazel has done a very bad thing. Have you heard? He wrote an opera, “1984” (based on the Orwell novel, of course). It was premiered at London’s Covent Garden last month. And he paid for part of the production himself. Very, very bad. »

04 Jun 2005

Carole Farley at Wigmore Hall

We haven’t seen much of American soprano Carole Farley in the UK for a very long time. She was something of a cult figure in the late 1970s and early 1980s, specialising in roles such as Berg’s Lulu and the unnamed woman in Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine at a time when some singers were unwilling to tackle them. »

02 Jun 2005

KILAR: Tryptyk (The Triptych)

Wojciech Kilar (b. 1932) is an exciting composer from Poland, and he may be best known in the West for his film scores, which include Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Polanski’s Death and the Maiden (1994), Campion’s Portrait of a Lady (1996) and others. At the same time, Kilar also composes concert music, and his Tryptyk (1997) is a fine example of his work. Nevertheless, film is a useful point of reference in discussions of his style, since some of the techniques he used in creating effective soundtracks may be found in his other music. »