March 13, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Opera, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

"Faust" by Jean-Paul Laurens

(Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House, 7 March 2015) The story of Faust and his bargain with the Devil is old as the hills and versions are manifold.  The first and still greatest example of the legend is Goethe’s monumental poem, in which Mephistopheles bemoans the angels who void his contract by ferrying the old doctor off to heaven and beyond his clutches*.  This production is of Gounod’s (19 March 1859) Opera, which was rather loosely adapted from Goethe**, and conceived by Sir David McVicar in 2004 at Covent Garden, revived here by Bruno Ravella.  The staging easily survives transportation from…

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The Sixteen

March 11, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classical Music |

Julius III accepts score from da Palestrina, promises to pay later.

Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House (10 March 2015) A brilliant evening of sacred choral music.  TVC was not the only guest counting his fingers; with conductor Harry Christophers CBE, there were 19 on the stage but 16 is the historical name for the ensemble formed in 1979, and we are almost embarrassed at such a quibble.  The 18 were magnificent.  Their harmonising made musical accompaniment superfluous – at times, the 4 bass singers simulated an entire wood section.  During the first part of the programme, four of the, er, 16, ascended to an elevated rear part of the hall to supply some…

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March 5, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Opera |

"Pres des remparts!"

(State Opera SA, 10 November 2011) Carmen is golden, deathless and a remarkable example of the great weird paradox; in life as in art, beautiful women who entrance deficient men get shredded.  Perhaps the overt expression of this theme, or an excess of absinthe, caused its stunning, hostile Paris reception on debut in 1875.  Brahms, who knew a thing or two about great music, saw it 20 times.  Why the French turned on Bizet, one of their own, and rejected one of ‘the greatest creations for the musical stage’ is a mystery. Never mind – Carmen survives and flourishes, even…

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Madama Butterfly

March 5, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Opera |

Geraldine Farrar as Cio-Cio-San at the Met, 1907

(State Opera SA, 7/9/2006) In many ways, this piece is ridiculous, but Puccini patched up its failings, including the poverty of the libretto, and triumphed over both the odds and the hostility of Milan, where it premiered in 1904.  With some of his loveliest music connecting a few inky dots and a prescient theme of American domination (and carelessness), Butterfly’s desolation still moves us and in this production, her simple sorry plight was not badly sung by Kirsti Harris, amid some stark but satisfyingly depressing scenery.  Pinkerton’s Stars and Stripes motif never fails to startle!  It was conducted by Aldo…

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Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg

March 1, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classical Music, Opera, WAGNER |

Stage Design by Helmut Jurgens, Munich 1949

(Richard Wagner) (Met, N.Y., Dec. 2014) Whilst perhaps a German might find an opera of over 6 hours duration a droll concept, only Richard Wagner would turn that concept into reality.  Yet in mirific fashion, he succeeds with his most human and entertaining work, a wonderful mix of romance and comedy that does not equate, thanks god, to a ‘romantic comedy’.  From the Magisterial overture to the polyphonous redux of the Masters’ motto, we are enthralled and can even look past the score-settling with critics like Eduard Hanslick (the libretto originally had Beckmesser as ‘Hanslich’), with Jews such as Meyerbeer,…

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