Dissonance

ALPHA COVER-ITUNES- SEPT.inddDissonance is a new CD of Rachmaninov songs from Lithuanian pair Asmik Grigorian and Lukas Geniušas.  Regular readers will know Ive been getting quite excited by Ms. Grigorian’s opera performances so I jumped at the chance to hear her sing art song; especially paired with Geniušas who is more of a concert pianist than an accompanist.

The result is very pleasing.  The songs, drawn from throughout Rachmaninov’s career are quite varied.  There’s definitely a bias towards fin de siècle tristesse and, indeed, some of the songs sound quite French but there is plenty of contrast though.  The song that opens the recital and gives it its name; Dissonance Op.34 No.13 is long and has a very assertive piano part played boldly by Geniušas. They Answered Op.21 No.4 is a rather dramatic call and response number based on a poem by Victor Hugo.  What Happiness Op.34 No.12 is actually a bit demented, putting heavy demands on both singer and pianist while Let Us Rest Op.26 No.3 sets the closing lines of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and is achingly beautiful.

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Fuoco Sacro

Fuoco Sacro is a film by Jan Schmidt-Garre.  It’s subtitled “A Search for the Sacred Fire of Song” and was inspired by Schmidt-Garre’s passion for Italian singing of a slightly earlier era rekindled when he heard Ermonela Jaho on his car radio.  This led him to explore how certain singers create something more than “just singing”.  In the film he does this by following the lives of three singers; all women (he clearly doesn’t believe that men have this elusive “sacred fire”) and all very different.  They are Ermonela Jaho (of course), Barbara Hannigan and Asmik Grigorian.  Now these are all singers about whom I have strong opinions and that may colour my view of the film.  You have been warned.  What follows concentrates on what I think the film tells us about its three principals.  The film does this more by show than tell with lots of performance and rehearsal footage as well as interviews.

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In this vale of tears

In May of this year I reviewed a recording of Janáček’s Jenůfa from the Staatsoper unter den Linden that impressed me enough to get onto my all time favourites list.  I really did not expect to come across another as good for a very long time, let alone one that is, perhaps, even better within a few months but I have.  It’s the 2021 recording from the Royal Opera House and it’s really fine.

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Tcherniakov’s Holländer

Dmitri Tcherniakov directed Der fliegende Holländer in Bayreuth in 2021 where it was recorded.  It’s no surprise given (a)Tcherniakov and (b)Bayreuth that it’s not a straightforward production.  I’m not sure I have fully unpacked it and there isn’t anything in the disk package to help (just the usual essay telling the reader what he/she/they already know/s).

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Psychological Elektra

Strauss’ Elektra, for all its “grand” music, is essentially a rather intimate psychological study of the psyches and relationships of three women.  Given this, one might think that the enormous stage of the Felsenreitschule in Salzburg a very odd choice of venue.  Krzysztof Warlikowski’s approach to the challenge is bold but almost impossible to do justice to on video.  Despite that, what does come across on video is a rather compelling version of the work.

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An anti-Salome?

I’ve learned not to dismiss Romeo Castellucci’s work on first watching because it has a nasty habit of starting to make sense on reflection.  His 2018 production of Richard Strauss’ Salome for the Salzburg Festival may be a case in point.  Castellucci seems determined to destroy any preconceptions we have about the work and Franz Welser-Möst in the pit is a willing accomplice.

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Queen of Spades

Yuri Temirkanov’s 1992 Kirov Opera production of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades is extremely traditional but not dull.  It’s given the default Catherine the Great setting and there are opulent ball rooms, gold braid, wigs and crinolines aplenty.  There’s also careful direction of the action and some good acting so it’s far from a “park and bark” snoozefest, though it has nothing new or original to say.  The lighting for the supernatural bits is especially atmospheric.

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