Carmen with a South African Twist

British director Mark Dornford-May’s daring transposition of Bizet’s opera to a South African township has landed him a major film award – and a new wife. He talks to Jasper Rees

Countertenors Victorious in Copenhagen

Last week in the Danish capital city, still chilly after freezing weather and heavy snow, the spirits were raised by two contrasting but equally fulfilling events in the shape of the Danish Royal Opera’s revival of Francisco Negrin’s production of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” featuring the return of star European countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role, and the debut appearance in the city of his American counterpart, David Daniels, in a concert performance of Bach and Vivaldi. Both singers were in fact enjoying indulging their talents in their less well known fachs: Scholl is rarely seen on the opera stage and admits to feeling less than completely at home there. Daniels, on the other hand, fresh from yet another Handelian triumph at the Metropolitan Opera (Bertarido in the sumptuous new production of “Rodelinda”) is not known as a Bach specialist, but was essaying his second concert performance in Europe of the great cantata BWV82, “Ich Habe Genug”, reviewed elsewhere.

Bernstein’s On the Town at ENO

IT IS easy to sniff at English National Opera’s decision to stage Leonard Bernstein’s first, unashamedly Broadway musical. Unlike some of his later work it has no “operatic” pretensions. But the Broadway musical was a continuation of opera by other means, and Bernstein maintained to the end of his life that, if opera had a future (which he doubted), it would be intimately tied up with the Broadway idiom that he helped to create.

Leo Slezak sings arias by Wagner, Verdi and Meyerbeer

Leo Slezak is generally regarded as a German tenor, although he was actually born in what is now the Czech Republic. But, Moravia, where he is from, was Austrian at the time, and had a significant German speaking population, with German the dominant language of the middle and upper classes. He made his debut in Brno (then Brunn), at a time when most opera performances were sung in German, and, to the best of my knowledge, all of his recordings were in that language or Italian (the great majority being in German). He made over 400 records from a wide repertory of German, Italian and French operas, as well as many Lieder and some operetta. His two published discographies list no records from Czech operas. The arias he recorded most frequently include 11 versions each of the Preislied and “Celeste Aida”, nine of the “Ah, fuyez douce image” and seven of the “Roi du ciel” from Le prophète. His stage repertory could probably be divided into four more or less equal parts. Verdi predominated, with 133 performances of Radames, 130 of Otello, 91 of Manrico, and at least 41 of Riccardo. He also sang Ernani and the Duke in Rigoletto. Wagner and grand opera (comprising Elèazar, Raoul, Jean in Le prophète and Assad), were probably tied for second and third, with other composers, including Mozart, Boieldieu, Gounod, Puccini, etc. coming in fourth. His career was largely centered on Vienna, but also included an important stint at the Met, some stays in Brno, Breslau and Berlin during his youth, and guest appearances in many other centers. He has been described as everything from a “Heldentenor” (in many sources) to a large voiced lyric tenor (by Michael Scott, in his books on great singers). I would split the difference, calling him the German equivalent of a French “fort tenor”, who could sing everything from Mozart to the lighter Wagner roles, and did.

St. Matthew’s Passion at Notre Dame

Il existe des appartements où vous ne pouvez brancher à la fois la machine à laver, le téléviseur et le sèche-cheveux sans faire tout disjoncter. C’est un peu l’impression que l’on avait jeudi soir à Notre-Dame, pour la Passion selon saint Matthieu, dirigée par John Nelson. A peine le chef avait-il salué le public, que les projecteurs s’éteignirent soudain. Il fallut une demi-heure pour les rallumer un par un, et lorsqu’à 20 h 33, le dernier spot fut enfin rétabli, le courant sauta derechef ! Ce n’est qu’à 20 h 40 que le grandiose double choeur introductif put faire résonner les colonnes de Notre-Dame. On n’a pu qu’admirer le sang-froid des artistes, restés en scène tout du long, soumis à une pression que certains exorcisaient en plaisantant, d’autres en maintenant leur instrument au chaud ou en se concentrant.

Something Alien in Baltimore

Nearly a century ago, the great pianist and intriguing composer Ferruccio Busoni declared that the duty of the performer is to liberate music “from the deadness of the printed page and bring it to life again.”

Stravinsky’s The Nightingale in Toronto

If you’re going to attend one Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert this year, make it this one. There’s nothing like leaving Roy Thomson Hall with your feet six inches off the ground — especially when it’s snowing.

BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Nocturne; Phaedra

A spare and yet splendid masterpiece, Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings doesn’t seem to make it into concert halls as often as it deserves. In the recording studio, however, it has fared well. Besides the classic recordings from the composer and his partner Peter Pears, esteemed versions from Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, Robert Tear, Ian Bostridge, and others have a place in the catalogue.

Tale of Tsar Saltan at the Mariinsky

The new production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tale Of Tsar Saltan, which premiered at the Mariinsky Theater on Tuesday, is like a happy child’s dream: placid, multi-colored, entertaining – and it has a happy ending.

Cav and Pag in Cardiff

The Mascagni and Leoncavallo double bill was the very first staging ever undertaken by Welsh National Opera in 1946 and sentiment decreed that it should be played in the company’s inaugural season at its new home. Elijah Moshinsky’s production was created for WNO’s jubilee and has done sterling duty. It has proved a glorious vehicle for both chorus and orchestra. And the moment when the battered truck that brings Pagliaccio’s touring troupe on to the stage is emblematic.