Lessons in Love and Violence

Benjamin: Lessons in Love and Violence

Dutch National Opera, 25 June 2018

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The Earls of Lancaster, Hereford and Arundel inspect Piers Gaveston’s head, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Six years ago composer George Benjamin and playwright Martin Crimp gave the world Written on Skin. It caused a sensation at its unveiling at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Hot on the heels of its world premiere at the Royal Opera House in London, the composer is now conducting their second full-length opera, Lessons in Love and Violence, at the Holland Festival, where he is this year’s Composer in Focus.

Full review on Opera Today.

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Superb, sinister Tales of Hoffmann at Dutch National Opera

Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann

Dutch National Opera, 3 June 2018

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Caricature of Offenbach by André Gill, 1874, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

No colourful tavern scenes and Venetian gondolas in this new Amsterdam production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Off-white and black dominate its three-floor set of many rooms. Moreover, this three-hour version assembled by conductor Carlo Rizzi and director Tobias Kratzer is likely to dissatisfy both purists and traditionalists.

Full review on Bachtrack.

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Funeral fun with Franui at the Holland Festival

Florian Boesch/Franui: Mahler/Schubert/Schumann et al.

Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam, 21st June 2017

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Innervillgraten, East Tyrol, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A concert hall is the wrong venue for Franui. The “musicbanda” from East Tyrol belongs on a bandstand in a park or on a breezy pier. Their audience should be eating ice-cream and drinking beer instead of sitting quietly in the dark. Franui’s bittersweet folk arrangements of German art songs, with elements of jazz and klezmer, call up village fêtes, weddings and, especially, funerals.

Full review on Bachtrack.

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Beautiful role debut for Malin Byström in Amsterdam Salome

Strauss: Salome

Dutch National Opera, 9th June 2017

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Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (c. 1861) by Jan Adam Kruseman at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

While the audience cheered at the end of the new Salome at Dutch National Opera, Malin Byström punched the air triumphantly with her fist. With good reason, because this was a wonderful role debut.

Full review on Bachtrack.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

Monteverdi: Marian Vespers

Gashouder, Amsterdam, 3rd June 2017

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The “Nappy Madonna” by Bernardino Luini (circa 1481-1532)

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass. Then, for close to two hours, a spellbinding ritual unfolds. This was not a wake for a Catholic notable, but Claudio Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespro della Beata Vergine…

Full review on Opera Today.

Stenz conducts an impressive Babylon at the Holland Festival

Widmann: Babylon

Concertgebouw, 3rd June 2017

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The Ziggurat of Ur in Iraq, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

According to the programme, at one point composer Jörg Widmann requires the chorus in his opera Babylon to split into 94 parts. I hope this is a misprint, but Babylon is a fearlessly ambitious composition. This impressive performance at the Holland Festival, led by the intrepid Markus Stenz, was deservedly cheered at length.

Full review on Backtrack.

Pulsating new Andriessen with prosaic libretto at the Holland Festival

Andriessen: Theatre of the World

Royal Carré Theatre, 11th June 2016

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Design for Sunflower Clock from Magnes, sive De Arte Magnetica by Athanasius Kircher (c. 1643)

“Abandon all hope of comprehension, ye who enter here”, to paraphrase Dante. The elliptical libretto of Theatre of the World, Louis Andriessen’s fifth full-length opera, directed by Pierre Audi, should come with this warning, though not Andriessen’s masterly score.

Full review on Bachtrack.