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Wagner’s Rienzi opens Riga 2014 European Capital of Culture

30 January 2014, Riga, Latvia

Opus in images: Wagner's 'Rienzi' at Latvian National Opera
Opus in images: Wagner's 'Rienzi' at Latvian National Opera(Photo: Kaspars Garda)

Review by Karyl Charna Lynn

Wagner composed the overture and first two acts of Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes in Riga, before fleeing to Paris. That connection was the reason the opera, in an abbreviated version, was chosen to open Riga 2014, European Capital of Culture.
 
Rienzi, based on the real-life Italian Cola di Rienzi, deals with power, revenge, class struggle, and star-crossed lovers – universal and timeless themes. It follows Rienzi’s rise to power as a populist leader against the nobility’s tyranny until he became a tyrant himself, and falls from power as the people and Church turned against him.

This production of Rienzi, condensed to two hours and two acts (from six hours and five acts), was renamed Rienzi, Rise and Fall. The Rape of Lucretia ballet was replaced by a classic snippet from Bayadère, performed to Voldemārs Jansons’ electronic music, and the opera opened with a boys chorus singing (Wagner’s song) Der Tannenbaum to set up the evening’s ‘surprise ending’, when the boys chorus (so corrupted) took up arms and aimed at the audience.

Director Kirsten Dehlholm conceived the opera as an opus in images with a message, suffused with symbolism and dominated by a white horse that traditionally represents Fate in Latvia; a projection of Vienna’s Spanish Riding School was the production’s only ‘scenery’. The characters’ costume and make-up took on a larger role, embodying their psychological states and positions: Rienzi wore ‘Tannenbaum’ green, face blackened with soot of sin; Irene (Rienzi’s sister) wore ‘water’ blue, still haunted by her brother’s drowning death; Adriano (Colonna’s son) wore rose, signifying sentimentality in sacrificing his life trying to save his love Irene; and the Roman noblemen (Paolo Orsini and Stefano Colonna) dressed in yellow, recalling their cunning to keep power. Characters often moved in a stylised manner, and the ever-present chorus walked back and forth in place to add motion to this action-deprived work.

Modelled after French Grand Opera, Rienzi exuded a tone more French than German, recalling Les Huguenots and La Juive, but also numerous sounds from Wagner’s next opera, Der fliegende Holländer. The flowery, occasionally bombastic music, lushly played by the Latvian National Opera Orchestra, was efficiently led by maestro Modestas Pitrenas. The cast, especially Torsten Kerl (Rienzi), Elisabet Strid (Irene), Ursula Hesse (Adriano) executed their roles with aplomb.


Scottish Opera scores a hit with their new Don Pasquale

27 January 2014, Glasgow, UK

Alfonso Antoniozzi as Don Pasquale
Alfonso Antoniozzi as Don Pasquale(Photo: K K Dundas)

Review by Neil Jones

If Scottish Opera’s new production of Donizetti’s opera buffa was a cup of Italian coffee it would be a very frothy cappuccino. Smooth, exceptionally tasty and without a hint of bitterness, created lovingly by a trio of top class baristas.

The baristas in question were director Renaud Doucet, designer André Barbe and lighting designer Guy Simard. Opening the visual feast of this production during the overture they produced a largely black and white cartoon-like book projected on the front curtain, complete with turning pages that told a new backstory of Pasquale as a cat-loving but feline allergic hotel owner, desperately searching for a cure with the help of his doctor friend.

The main course though was Don Pasquale’s abode, a small, old-fashioned – bordering on seedy – pensione in the 1960’s, complete with a handful of equally dubious and decrepit staff. Barbe’s set design was a masterpiece, akin to looking at the set through a fish-eye lens, the central section more or less normal but the edges curving dramatically and vertiginously towards the vertical.

Initially, the top of the building was hidden by a screen of drying sheets, pillow cases and towels, which were dramatically whipped away just before Ernesto’s arrival in Act I to reveal a rooftop restaurant.

If visually this production was entertaining, it was matched musically and vocally by an orchestra and cast at the top of their game. Scottish Opera’s former music director, Francesco Corti, returned to conduct the Scottish Opera Orchestra, rowing them along with such sparkling energy that there was a danger that they could have overwhelmed the singers had not those singers been well capable of holding their own.

Making his company debut was Alfonso Antoniozzi as Don Pasquale, delightfully unkempt in vest, scruffy trousers and braces – an Italian parody of Alf Garnet – with a splendid voice that belied his wonderful ‘dirty old man’ characterization.

Also debuting for the company was Aldo Di Toro as Ernesto, at his best in the sadder arias ‘Sogno soave e casto’ and ‘Cercherò lontana terra’ with a lovely clear voice, as beautiful as it was technically adept.

Equally delightful was Nicholas Lester as Doctor Malatesta, perhaps too young to be credible as Pasquale’s ‘friend’, whilst Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson was both vocally and visually gutsy as Norina, making her a strong, delightfully duplicitous character.

Andrew McTaggart completed the solo singing cast as the Notary whilst the afore-mentioned pensione staff included Sandra Haxton as a fag addicted maid, watching the action with a knowing and cynical eye!

With brilliant solo performances and excellent ensemble singing, this was a hugely entertaining and memorable take on this most consistently performed of Donizetti’s operas.


English National Opera names new music director

25 January 2014, London, UK

Mark Wigglesworth
Mark Wigglesworth(Photo: Sim Canetty-Clark)

In September 2015 English National Opera will bid farewell to their current music director Edward Gardner and welcome Mark Wigglesworth as his successor.

Wigglesworth comes to ENO with a wealth of operatic experience, including a year as music director of La Monnaie in Brussels. He is widely respected as an interpreter of Mozart, Wagner, Britten and Shostakovich, though some critics have been quick to point out his lack of experience when it comes to leading companies over a long period of time.

Gardner, by contrast, has been with ENO for nearly eight years, yet he had only held the post of music director at Glyndebourne on Tour for two years when he moved to the Coliseum. During his tenure, the ENO Orchestra has gone from strength to strength and Gardner is on his way to being ranked alongside Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir Mark Elder, under whom the company also thrived.

After praising Gardner’s ‘phenomenal’ leadership, ENO artistic director John Berry described the 49-year-old Wigglesworth as ‘one of the most outstanding conductors of his generation’. He added: ‘I know Mark will make his presence felt and will support our mission to make ENO one of the most theatrically dynamic and musically exciting opera houses in the world.’


Win 10 song recital discs from Harmonia Mundi

20 January 2014



This wide-ranging selection of recital discs offers a panorama of 19th- and 20th-century European song traditions performed by some of today’s finest interpreters. Highlights include two volumes from Matthias Goerne’s Schubert Edition (Die schöne Müllerin and Schwanengesang), a live recital from Ravinia Festival by the celebrated mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Schumann’s Dichterliebe with Mark Padmore. French, English, Spanish and Moravian songs complete the collection – see full details below.

To enter, simply drop us an email with the subject ‘GOERNE’ to competitions@rhinegold.co.uk, or send a postcard to Rhinegold Competitions, 20 Rugby Street, London WC1N 3QZ. Please include your full name, address and a contact telephone number. (Deadline for entries: 28 February 2014.)

  • Britten 'Before life & after'
    Mark Padmore - tenor
    Roger Vignoles - piano
    HMU907443
  • Canciones españolas
    Bernarda Fink - mezzo-soprano
    Anthony Spiri - piano
    HMC902133
  • Dvořák Zigeunerlieder, Songs & Duets
    Genia Kühmeier - soprano
    Bernarda Fink - mezzo-soprano
    Christoph Berner - piano
    HMC902081
  • Eisler Ernste Gesänge
    Matthias Goerne - baritone
    Ensemble Resonanz
    HMC902134
  • Recital at Ravinia
    Lorraine Hunt Lieberson - mezzo-soprano
    Drew Minter - countertenor
    Peter Serkin - piano
    HMU907500
  • Schubert Die Winterreise
    Werner Güra - tenor
    Christoph Berner - piano
    HMC902066
  • Schubert Schwanengesang
    Matthias Goerne - baritone
    Christoph Eschenbach - piano
    HMC902139/40
  • Schumann Dichterliebe op.48, Liederkreis op.24
    Mark Padmore - tenor
    Kristian Bezuidenhout - fortepiano
    HMU907521
  • Victor Hugo en Musique
    Konstantin Wolff - bass-baritone
    Trung Sam - piano
    HMC901997


Italian conductor Claudio Abbado dies aged 80

20 January 2014, Bologna, Italy

Claudio Abbado
Claudio Abbado(Photo: Felix Broede / Deutsche Grammophon)

The Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, former music director of the Teatro alla Scala, has died in Bologna at the age of 80, following a long illness.

Abbado held several positions at La Scala between 1968 and 1986, rising to become artistic director in 1976. He also held the post of music director at the Vienna State Opera from 1986 to 1991, and went on to succeed Herbert von Karajan at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1989 – then regarded the top job in the classical music world.

A message on La Scala website mourned Abbado’s passing while celebrating his legacy: ‘Claudio Abbado has left us. But he will remain at La Scala for ever. This is his theatre: the place that will retain, concretely and tangibly, the mark of the conductor without boundaries, the musician without preconceptions, the man of the theatre who was ready to take risks and the human being whose mind reached out to the world.’ Daniel Barenboim, who led a concert in Abbado’s memory at La Scala, said that the world had lost ‘one of the greatest musicians of the past 50 years’.

Above all, the many tributes that have flooded websites and publications since Abbado’s death have highlighted the maestro’s humanity, gentle mastery and genuineness as hallmarks of his personal style. These qualities also came through in his music-making, where he approached even the biggest orchestral scores like chamber music, coaxing results out of his players through his ability to listen rather than behaving like a podium tyrant.

Abbado was born in Milan to a musical family – both parents taught music – and decided to become a conductor at the age of seven after hearing Debussy’s Trois Nocturnes. He went on to study at Milan’s Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory and with Hans Swarowsky at the Vienna Music Academy.

The maestro first came to public attention when he won the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood in 1958, although on his own admission he was astonished to come first. He made his debut at La Scala, Milan, two years later; however, the real turning point in his career came when Karajan invited him to perform Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival in 1965. This symphony was to become a cornerstone of Abbado’s concert repertoire in the decades that followed.

Aside from his years in Milan, Vienna and Berlin, Abbado was also a principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1987, and in 2003 founded the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. His commitment to working with younger musicians led him to establish the European Union Youth Orchestra (later to become the Chamber Orchestra of Europe) as well as the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Orchestra Mozart.

Abbado leaves behind him an extensive recording legacy with Deutsche Grammophon, his label for 46 years. In July 2013, DG released a 41-CD Abbado edition covering the core works of the symphonic repertoire, and in February 2014 will release a new recording of Mozart’s Piano Concertos K466 and 467 with Martha Argerich.

Claudio Abbado, conductor, born 26 June 1933; died 20 January 2014


 


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