No Expense Saved in Maastricht TEFAF 2013
"When a man or a woman is tired of TEFAF, he or she is tired of life; for there is in Maastricht all that life can afford", the English writer Samuel Johnson said once upon a time and I have only slightly altered the locations. More ...
NOTHING TO HIDE, Hidden Treasures of Afghanistan
I made the audio feature you will find on this page five years ago for ABC Radio National. It is about the exhibition 'Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul' which is coming to the Melbourne Museum and will travel on to the Brisbane, Sydney and Perth. More ...
SYDNEY ART 2013
It is impossible to totally dislike the work of the Indian–British sculptor Anish Kapoor (1954 ). He became world-renowned last year with his spiralling, 115 metre high take on the Eiffel Tower. More...
Bostridge's Kind if Magic
It is true that the English tenor Ian Bostridge is making his debut in Australia, but he has sung in this country before. That was in 1994 when he rehearsed Benjamin Britten's opera A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Baz Luhrmann for Opera Australia. Bostridge sang the role of Lysander but the production headed straight for the Edinburgh Festival where he made his professional operatic debut. More ...
Miloš, breakthrough guitar God
Can you mention one famous Montenegrin? Unless you are seriously into soccer or a fanatical Slobodan Milosevic supporter, it is unlikely that you are familiar with Montenegro's celebrities or even with its one dubious second generation son. More...
SIMONE YOUNG, AUSTRALIA'S WAGNERIAN NUMBER ONE
She was a trailblazer in the 90’s and uncompromising at that. In 2005 she became the first woman to conduct the male bastion that was the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. By then she had already crashed the barriers at the Vienna State Opera. More...
WAGNER, DAVIS and STRAUSS = MSO BLISS
American soprano Debra Voigt's last minute cancellation meant that there were some empty seats at a concert that deserved to be packed to the rafters.
Admittedly the German soprano Angela Denoke is not even in Europe a hugely famous singer and I have no recollection of hearing her perform in Amsterdam, Berlin or London. But Mein Gott, let's take advantage of that relative anonymity and book her for Opera Australia. More...
Sir Andrew Davis will keep his shirt on
The bad news is that the American soprano Debra Voigt is having hip surgery and will now not make her planned Australian debut. The good news is that we in Sydney and Melbourne instead get to see and hear the German soprano Angela Denoke. Voigt would probably have been more formidable as Sieglinde singing 'Du bist der Lenz' from Wagner's opera Die Walküre, but I can confidently say that we are gaining a more plausible Salome with Denoke instead. More...
CAT'S MUSICAL EMERGES OUT OF THE SHADOW
Premiere of Moonshadow at Princess Theatre in Melbourne, 31 May 2012.
Are you interested in jukebox musicals? If you are not familiar with the terminology, then just think of Mamma Mia (ABBA) and We Will Rock You (Queen). Jukebox musicals just recycle the hit songs by a popular band or artist and wrap them in a not too distracting storyline. More ...
THE WAIT IS ALMOST OVER FOR THE RIJKS, AND THE MARITIME IS BACK!
I love Amsterdam, but I dislike their simplistic marketing campaign ‘I amsterdam’. Mokum (as the locals used to call it) is very walkable and even more bikeable than any other capital in the world. More ...
THE MAGIC FLUTE Opera Australia Fairy Tales can come true.
Papageno, the bird catcher from Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, was the composer's favourite character. But only a few months after the premiere of 'Die Zauberflöte' (30 September 1791), Mozart was lying on his deathbed.More ...
MAGNETIC ISLAND PULLS YOU IN
The name Magnetic Island stuck after Captain Cook's compass went haywire when his ship sailed past Yunbenun – the traditional Aboriginal name for the island – in 1770.
The most striking features of this island are the giant granite boulders and the Hoop Pines that line the many headlands and secluded bays...more
TEFAF 2012,MAASTRICHT The Round Up, part I
The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht is where all the serious collectors of the world go on their annual buying pilgrimage. Over the ten days in March that this visual feast lasts, 72,000 people stroll, idle or proceed past the 265 galleries from 16 countries. More...
LUCIAN FREUD, Portraits
National Portrait Gallery, London. Surely Lucian Freud, who died last year, was the greatest British portrait painter since Thomas Gainsborough, or possibly Anthony van Dijk. All right, Sir Anthony was Flemish but his most powerful work was produced at the English court. Lucian Freud (1911– 2011) worked for the last 50 years ... More
Review YES, PRIME MINISTER
by Antony Jay & Jonathan Lynn Comedy Theatre, Melbourne Nobody disputes that the comedy television series Yes, Minister (1980-84) and Yes, Prime Minister (1986-88) were groundbreaking. The dialogue was at times pompous, acerbic or even verging on the ridiculous but the situations and the language in general rang true with politicians and civil servants all over the world. More ...
HE VAMPIRE DIARIES AND BURKETOWN
Savannah Way, Day 5. If Burketown, in North West Queensland, doesn't have a twin town, it should be Mystic Falls, the fictional town in Virginia at the centre of the TV series The Vampire Diaries. More ...
SAVANNAH WAY 3
It is not immediately obvious but the savannah landscape was created by the aboriginals, as much as any pastures you will find in NSW or Victoria were created by European settlers. The landscape between Borroloola and Doomadgee consists largely of savannah grassland. More...
THE MUST-SEE MAD SQUARE
Admirers of the claustrophobic sound scapes and seedy underbelly as depicted by Nick Cave in his Murder Ballads and songs of a similar ilk, should without fail visit the exhibition 'Mad Square, Modernity in German Art 1910-37', currently showing at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). More...
THE MAD SQUARE
The shocking expressionistic 'Suicide' on the front of the catalogue is quite indicative of what you can expect to see in the exhibition 'Mad Square, modernity in German Art 1910-37', currently showing at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). More ...
MATARANKA TO SEVEN EMU STATION, SAVANNAH WAY
We have reached the kind of unpopulated countryside that doesn't have a high profile status in the tourist-marketing department. The Savannah Way may not feature on your bucket list, but I promise you that you will not want to die anytime soon once you start on this journey. More ...
LA TRAVIATA at the Arts Centre, Melbourne. OPERA AUSTRALIA
The ladies are resplendent in their crinolines, lace flounces, bodices, and curly hair-dos. The men in their frock coats, waistcoats, upstanding collars and with fancy facial hair look more cock-sure than most gentlemen in their briefs do. You could say that all the characters appear a tad too upper class, but I am not going to grumble because in general this production is a decorative feast. MORE ...
The Savannah Way, the journey commences
Wednesday, 16th November 2011
Darwin to Mataranka, 429 km
The savannah is not a landscape most people associate with Australia. Africa comes to mind and perhaps South America but even many Australians are not aware of the fact that vast tracts of the Northern Territory (NT) and Queensland (QLD) consist of a typical savannah landscape. This is pretty remote and sometimes inhospitable countryside, but by following The Savannah Way I am going to traverse this wild side of the continent in a (hopefully) safe manner from Darwin to Cairns. More ...
Debussy, Liszt, Rakhmaninov CD Reviews
Friday, 4th November 2011
Claude Debussy Walter Gieseking
STEELY DAN RISES TO THE OCCASION
Saturday, 29th October 2011
Melbourne. Steely Dan is what you get when you fuse smart-ass New York jazz-rock with sophisticated Californian production values. Oh, and don't forget to add the intelligent pastiches, the great but obvious paraphrases (thank you Horace Silver, Duke Ellington and Keith Jarrett) and pay maniacal attention to the details in the soundscape. The best lyrics are full of snarky and acerbic observations, alternated by texts that reflect heightened paranoia and/or the point of view of an alienated jilted lover.more ...
ANNE SOFIE VON OTTER
Wednesday, 19th October 2011
Melbourne. We have been very lucky this year with some of the opera world's biggest names paying Australia a visit. Earlier this year the megastar with the mini voice, Cecilia Bartoli, came on a whirlwind tour. Placido Domingo visited two weeks ago, and even if he no longer sounds like he did in the early days of the Three Tenors, at 70 he is still a force to be reckoned with. Domingo was by all accounts still impressive enough.More...
WAGNER AND LISZT, forget about Brahms
Friday, 14th October 2011
Ferenc Liszt was the most photographed person of the 19th century before he died in 1886. Only Napoleon was a more popular sculptural subject and Liszt probably meant more for piano sales than anyone did until the recent emergence of Lang Lang and the Chinese piano boom. More ...
This is Albert Ehrnrooth’s website. I am a journalist and cultural commentator.
As a freelance journalist I have contributed to The Guardian(UK), The European, De Telegraaf(NL), NOS(NL), Hufvudstadsbladet(FIN), Yle(FIN), Svenska Dagbladet(SWE), ABC(AU) and many other media organisations. I write and broadcast in three languages: English, Swedish and Dutch.
I have lived in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Helsinki and London. I now call Melbourne, Australia home.
VERDI IN MELBOURNE AND LONDON
Most people outside Italy probably don’t associate Giuseppe Verdi’s operas with politics and revolution. But surprisingly many of Verdi’s 27 operatic works have a political message that would have been understood by his contemporaries. It is a wonder that so many managed to make it past the Austrian censor.
The setting and characters of ‘Un ballo in maschera’ (A Masked Ball) had to be altered before it could be premièred in 1859 in Rome Instead of a plot based on a real life event, the murder of the 18th century Swedish king Gustav III, Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma had to change the setting to 17th century Boston where the fictitious English governor of the city gets killed. Originally commissioned for Teatro San Carlo in Naples the royal murder plot was never going to be approved by the kingdom and to make matters worse three Italians had recently tried to assassinate Napoleon III in France.
Opera Australia (OA) is presenting the opera in the restored version with the aristocratic and royal Swedish characters. It is a co-production with La Monnaie in Brussels and Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, but Sydney hosted the world première. The real coup is that OA managed to get Alex Ollé on board. He is the artistic director for the Catalan theatre company La Fura dels Baus, Spain’s most interesting and idiosyncratic theatre ensemble. He clearly believes that ‘A Masked Ball’ still has a social and political message that is highly relevant, and not only in Spain where extremely high unemployment and corruption even now threaten the reputation of the monarchy. Ollé draws parallels with “the protester from the Arab Spring to Athens, from Occupy Wall Street to Moscow”. He writes in the program notes: “Interestingly, this protester is a global figure characterised by covering its face; in other words, by using a mask. “
Hence, everyone in this production wears a mask throughout the opera except for Amelia, Gustav and Ankarström who for their most revealing arias shed their masks. Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the onset, considering the title of the opera, but the meaning is a little bit too obvious. On the other hand it doesn’t get in the way of the singing.
Indeed Gustav III was an absolute monarch but hardly a ruthless dictator and Verdi gave the king, Count Ankarström and his wife Amelia some real psychological depth.
Gustav actually forgives the conspirators at the very end and also reveals that his love for Amelia was never consummated. But director Ollé wishes to impose his own political take on the proceedings at the very end of the opera – do not read this if you hate spoilers – and stages a kind of deus ex machina, a radical counter-revolutionary slaughter that would have pleased Heinrich Himmler and modern day jihadists.
The set design by Alfons Flores and the lighting by Lluc Castells are very effective and convey a cold and forbidding place where the palace is like a bunker and where love can only be declared underneath the gallows.
The singers vary from decent to good. Csilla Boross (Amelia) is in total control when singing sottovoce, but unfortunately she tends to shout her way to the very top notes. That is a dead shame because otherwise she is quite splendid, particularly in the aria ‘Morro, ma prima in grazia’.
Diego Torre (Gustav III) is a very useful lyric tenor but I find it hard to warm to his voice and it is even more difficult to associate his physical appearance with the, in real life, rather stylish king. José Carbo (Count Ankarström) is a fine baritone who convincingly portrays the dark journey from friend to foe, but only in Act III with ‘Eri tu che macchiavi...’ does he seize his spot in the limelight. OA needs more top class singers to match some of the excellent production values.
The Opera Australia Chorus is kept very busy and does not disappoint but the stars of the evening were for me the very perceptive conductor Andrea Molina and Orchestra Victoria who always puts the singers first, even when they drag out their cabaletta.
Opera Australia performs A Masked Ball in Melbourne, in Melbourne, 23 and 26 April, 3 May at the Arts Centre.
Verdi’s first real commercial success was Nabucco which was premièred at La Scala in 1842. It consequently had a run of 65 performances(!!) that same year, which is still a feat unequalled in that theatre before or since.
Every Italian knows this biblical tale simply because it contains their ‘second national anthem’ Va Pensiero (commonly known as the Slaves chorus). It is more of a lament than a revolutionary type of song but the role of the chorus in Nabucco is significant. It is the first time in an Italian opera that the chorus acts as the protagonist, and hence the ‘risorgimento’ movement (which was trying to achieve the unification of Italy) adopted Verdi as their musical spokesperson.
The current production of Nabucco at the Royal Opera House in London was presented at La Scala earlier this year, where it apparently didn’t receive very good reviews.
Italians often take issue with foreign singers who aren't adequately Italianate and fair enough, Verdi is their national treasure and they demand perfect diction.
I saw this co-production recently in London and I can’t imagine anyone not appreciating the Ukrainian spinto soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska’s interpretation of Abigaille. She has the booming lower notes, the plangent lovelorn quality and is powerful in the upper regions. Oh, and she can act! Her Aida is apparently also awesome. I haven’t heard a better interpretation of Abigaille since Elena Suliotis’s almost raw and uninhibited recording from 1965.
Giuseppina Strepponi was the first to sing the very demanding role of the supposed daughter of the King of Babylon. Surely that helped her to find favour with the composer himself, who a few years later started cohabiting with her and finally also married the by then retired soprano.
Daniele Abbado (yes, the son of the conductor Claudio Abbado) does a fairly decent job directing the production but makes the Hebrews and Babylonians dress in a very similar fashion, which can be confusing. The Hebrews are very reminiscent of the pictures of Jewish refugees from the 1930’s. In a couple of scenes the set clearly is inspired by the concrete stelae that form the Holocaust Memorial to the murdered Jews in Berlin.
The veteran Leo Nucci, who probably is the most experienced Rigoletto and Nabucco on the planet, sounded a bit croaky to begin with but by Act 2, scene 2 the Babylonian King was more than ready to lose his senses. Placido Domingo, who is even older than Nucci, has by now taken over and it is his début in this role. The basses Vitalij Kowaljow (High Priest Zaccaria) and Robert Lloyd (High Priest of Baal) are both solid and that is my overall impression of this production. Nicola Luisotti’s is conducting more than adequately and the orchestra is never too loud (easily done in this opera!).
Check this production out in Australian cinemas in June with Domingo as Nabucco.