The Wigmore Hall, 13th December 2010, Sebastian Petit
Recitals by singers (especially sopranos) who specialise in the hochdramatisch repertoire in intimate halls such as the Wigmore tend to be a somewhat mixed blessing. Often the singer finds it difficult or uncomfortable to tailor their huge vocal resources to the close surroundings and the audience can feel as if their eardrums are being subjected to repetitive strain injury tests.
The Barbican, 11th December 2010, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Mae West, a role model for the ages, once sagely observed that if you keep a diary, one day it will keep you. Alas then that my ones – a merry mélange of pith and wind - are temporarily out of reach, so that I can’t quite clearly date the first time I heard La Brewer live. I think it was as Ariadne, at the Coliseum, probably the better part of twenty years ago. She is now, quite unbelievably, 55 (faux gallantry has never been my strong suit) but on the strength of Friday’s concert, the years haven’t so much been kind to her as positively munificent, since there is not a scratch on the surface, nor a wrinkle in the texture of what is still the most completely rock-solid, house-filling, golden-toned natural Hochdramatisch voice I have ever been lucky enough to encounter live (and yes, I heard Nilsson in most of her glory roles). On the contrary, like the finest Clarets, Ms. Brewer just keeps on steadily developing, acquiring more colours, greater concentration of body, a more simple and unaffected excellence of the essentials. To have reached the middle of one’s sixth decade - for any opera singer, but particularly for a soprano and especially a dramatic – and still not to be showing the faintest signs of wear and tear is a remarkable achievement, and handsome tribute to not only an evidently formidable technique, but to a kind of constitutional fortitude.
The Barbican, 7th December 2010, Dominic Wells
The last time I saw Andreas Scholl (at the Barbican earlier this year) was one of the most memorable and enjoyable concerts of my life, despite its rather obscure repertoire of music by the medieval composer Wolkenstein. Last night’s concert offered much more familiar repertoire and was again dedicated to a single composer: Purcell. Although the programme was ‘to be confirmed’, I suspected Purcell would feature prominently to coincide with Scholl’s latest all-Purcell release (a return to Decca). So it all seemed promising: an evening of music by one England’s greatest composers performed by two of the most celebrated counter-tenors of the moment, for Scholl was partnered with none other than Philippe Jaroussky.
The Royal Festival Hall, 6th December 2010, Faye Courtney
England may be freezing under a blanket of snow and ice, but that certainly didn’t stop Rolando Villazón from running around the Royal Festival Hall in a big sombrero on Monday night. Yes, the lovably eccentric Mexican was back and thankfully in considerably better vocal shape than his previous appearance here in May. This programme of classic and popular songs from his homeland was the final concert in an eleven date European tour to promote his new album Mexico! and Villazón turned in a passionate and hot-blooded performance that had the rapturous audience cheering, clapping their hands and singing along by the end – even those somewhat sceptical opera fans who had been muttering “This isn’t really my thing” before the concert started.
Carnegie Hall, New York, 29th October 2010, Richard Garmise
Grace Bumbry, asked some time ago about her status as a ‘diva’, is reported to have said, in her inimitable way, “In Europe, I am the Number 1 female singer, but in America I can’t even see the front of the line.” In the American world of the counter-tenor, there is only, truly, one spot in that line, and it has been taken, for several decades, and for better and largely, in this critic’s view, for worse, by David Daniels. In fact there are a large number of home-grown American counter-tenors of high quality, from Asawa to Zazzo, but while many of them sing in opera (and from time to time at the Metropolitan Opera), only Daniels has the imprimatur of audience recognition. While this country still welcomes those yearning to breathe free (particularly if they have advanced degrees in computer programming, or a nursing qualification), we don’t really want your counter-tenors, thank you, and if they do come, please be assured that they will only receive short-term visas.
Wigmore Hall, 29th October 2010, John E.de Wald
The Wigmore Hall has been celebrating the bicentenary of Schumann’s birth with a series of concerts aptly entitled Annus Mirabilis: The Complete Songs of 1840. 1840 marked a year in Schumann’s life in which his output of lieder was as prodigious as it was remarkable; as the composer wrote to his fiancée in February of that year, ‘Oh Clara, what bliss it is to write songs. I can’t tell you how easy it has become for me…It is music of an entirely different kind which doesn’t have to pass through the fingers—far more melodious and direct.’ Though Schumann’s facility for writing songs and song cycles during this period was astonishing, surely amongst his best were his settings of poems written by Heinrich Heine. It is on this important part of Schumann’s oeuvre that the present concert focused; voiced by baritone Gerald Finley, the Heine settings stood out as some of the most singularly haunting and luxuriantly expressive in the whole of Schumann’s corpus of lieder.
Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 23rd September 2010, Dominic Wells
We know all too well that the cruel hand of history can grant even highly talented composers a very limited degree of posthumous recognition. In some instances, artists have desperately sought to fight such injustices, and Carl Loewe (1796-1869) has certainly had a plethora of champions to make his case, from Fischer-Dieskau and Schwarzkopf to Pregardien and Banse. Yet this contemporary of Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann is hardly a household name, even though CPO has bravely recorded the complete lieder and ballads of Loewe in twenty-one volumes with some first rate lieder-singers. In his lifetime, Loewe’s songs were well enough known for some to call him the "Schubert of North Germany", and the great lieder-specialist Hugo Wolf came to admire his work.
Wigmore Hall, 11th September 2010, Calvin Wells
The celebrated English mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly needs no introduction to English audiences. According to her official website, among her many accomplishments are a CBE and a position as a Fellow of the Royal College of Music. Some of her past accolades include a nomination for a Laurence Olivier Award, a TMA Award, and two Grammy Awards. In addition she has won an Edison, Gramophone and South Bank Award. Her operatic roles range from Handelian parts such as Ruggiero (Alcina) and Serse (ENO), Giulio Cesare (Glyndebourne) and Purcell’s Dido (La Scala) to the romantic “big guns” repertoire of The Composer (The Metropolitan) and Didon (Les Troyens) etc.
Wigmore Hall, 10th September 2010, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Well, I suppose I can start on an unequivocally positive note: by the end, the audience was whooping and cheering with the kind of unbuttoned emotionalism that Mattila herself manifests. Alas, then, that for the rest I hardly know what to say, feeling more like the spectre at the feast than a participant in it.
Royal Albert Hall, 6th September 2010, John E. de Wald
I must admit to having looked slightly warily at the notion of staging a chamber concert devoted to Baroque music—especially one featuring the beautiful if slender strains of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky--in the cavernous Royal Albert Hall. Considering its 5,500 person capacity and ready penchant for suffocating far more robust genres and instruments, it did not at first glance strike me as terribly ideal.
Royal Albert Hall, 4th September 2010, Stephen Jay-Taylor
For its second Prom of the 2010 season, the Berlin Philharmonic, under its principal conductor Sir Simon Rattle, presented a wide ranging conspectus of late, post and anti Romantic music written by Wagner, the three alumni known collectively as the “Second Viennese School”, and Richard Strauss. The second half, purely orchestral, comprised Schoenberg’s 5 Orchesterstücke Op. 16, Webern’s hyper-attenuated Sechs Stücke Op.6, and Berg’s Drei Orchesterstücke Op. 6, all three separate works performed continuously, as if some giant atonal triptych had been written by a schizophrenic, part dour demagogue and part impassioned hedonist framing Webern’s ascetic little hermit. Nothing much apropos for the Opera Britannia readership to be sure, but the more successful half of the programme I’m afraid, expertly played, scrupulously conducted and wholly engrossing.
Royal Albert Hall, 23rd August 2010.
Prom 51 afforded a showcase of high Romanticism, centred on an intriguing pairing of Schumann and Berlioz. Those composers aside, the evening was a decidedly Scandinavian one, with Swedish soprano Nina Stemme singing Les nuits d’ete, and Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard leading the Swedish Chamber Orchestra; it also marked the UK premiere of Albert Schnelzer’s A Freak in Burbank, a touch of modernity to mitigate the performance’s otherwise distinctly nineteenth century feel.
The Royal Opera, 17th July 2010, Antony Lias
The annual Jette Parker Young Artists summer concert at The Royal Opera is a must see event for all those who enjoy talent-spotting and watching the future generation of opera stars mature and become prepared for a life on the stage. The diversity of talent on display is very encouraging, with those singers who are about to “graduate” from the programme joining those who have just completed the end of their first year. One can readily appreciate the difference that two years makes instead of one, with those second year performers generally exhibiting well-rounded, polished skills throughout the concert.
WASO, Perth, Australia, 2nd July 2010,Sandra Bowdler
Korean born soprano Sumi Jo is no stranger to Australian shores, where she is probably better known as a concert artist than as an opera performer. This evening (and the following) were billed as Western Australia Symphony Orchestra’s 2010 Grand Gala and labelled a “black tie” event; some attendees at the well-filled concert hall did actually rise to that challenge. Special chandeliers were installed above the stage - this was never going to be some arcane recital but an all-stops-out crowd-pleaser, as indicated by the not exactly unfamiliar repertoire. The audience, including an obvious core of Sumi Jo acolytes, was primed for an excursion into the showy and well-loved. Alas, Ms Jo was suffering an ailment and from the first note it was clear that her voice was not its usual full-bodied self. She carried on gamely however and despite struggling vocally provided an enjoyable evening of well-honed diva display.
St Stephen's, Dulwich, 26th June 2010, Antony Lias
St Stephen’s Church in Dulwich may not immediately spring to mind as one of the must attend cultural venues in theDulwich Choral Society managed to put on an evening of truly superb entertainment, showcasing a soprano whom I can confidently predict, will become one of the truly great voices of the future. Consequently it is worth travelling anywhere to catch a performance featuring Elisabeth Meister. All praise therefore is due to Aidan Oliver (the Musical Director of the Society) who managed to secure Meister’s services whilst it is still possible. The end result was the sort of evening which will become ingrained in the memory of all who attended for a very, very long time.
Wigmore Hall, 16th June 2010, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Wigmore Hall, 14th June 2010, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Wigmore Hall, 11th June 2010, John E.de Wald
St John's Smith Square, 25th May 2010
Wigmore Hall, 14th May 2010
The Royal Festival Hall, 3rd May 2010
Barbican, 19th April 2010, Dominic Wells
Wigmore Hall, 1st April 2010, Faye Courtney
Wigmore Hall, 31st March 2010, Sebastian Petit
Leeds Town Hall, Orchestra of Opera North, 27th March 2010, Geoffrey Mogridge
Wigmore Hall, 8th March 2010
London Handel Festival, 8th March 2010
Wigmore Hall, 7th March 2010
Wigmore Hall, 25th February 2010
Wigmore Hall, 21st February 2010
Kings Park, Perth (Western Australia), 13th February, 2010
Wigmore Hall, 20th January 2010
Wigmore Hall, 26th January 2010
Purcell Room, 9th January 2010
Kings Place, 17th December 2009
Wigmore Hall, 9th December 2009
The Barbican, 2nd December 2009
The Barbican, 24th November 2009
Wigmore Hall, 23rd November 2009
Wigmore Hall, 18th November 2009
Royal Festival Hall, 11th November 2009
Royal Festival Hall, 10th November 2009
Wigmore Hall, 10th November 2009
New York State Theatre, 5th November 2009
The Royal Festival Hall, 3rd November 2009
Howard Assembly Rooms (Leeds -Opera North), 30th October 2009