How often has one of the world’s great pianists played live for you at home? Igor Levit is doing it every day for all of us. As the sun goes down, he walks over to the Steinway in his Berlin living room and gives a concert, live on Twitter. There’s absolutely no formality. Levit wears whatever he has got on that day. He gives a brief introduction, in German and English, maybe with a reflection or two on our strange times, for Levit has always been a concerned citizen in every sense, and these concerts come from the heart. Some nights he plays Beethoven. Other nights it’s Schubert or Brahms. The sound quality is often variable and poor but you hardly care about that. That’s because, if you really listen to, say, his playing of Schubert’s B flat sonata D960, he is saying something so much larger about the work he chooses. He is saying that music is humanity at its best and that we and it will survive. It’s the fact of Levit’s wish and need to play for his worldwide audience that makes this feel so gripping and life-enhancing. It is an artistic act that is at once very informal yet also deadly serious. Martin Kettle
The #Operaonthesofa series from Turin’s Teatro Regio has been running since 11 March, presenting their recent productions, uploaded act by act to the company’s YouTube channel. This is in-house dress rehearsal footage, unedited and filmed in long shot from the stalls, and you get a real sense of watching a performance in the actual theatre. Current offerings include Verdi’s Nabucco, Domenico Cimarosa’s 1792 comedy Il Matrimonio Segreto, and last December’s Carmen in a wonderfully intelligent and compelling staging by Stephen Medcalf, conducted by Giacomo Sagripanti. Refusing to sentimentalise, Medcalf updates Bizet’s masterpiece to the Spanish Civil War, where Andrea Carè’s unstable José goes AWOL from Franco’s army and the smugglers are gun-running for the Republicans. Using the Turin stage’s vast space, Medcalf pulls off a big coup de théatre at the start of Act III, but elsewhere carefully uses spectacle as a backdrop to the catastrophic relationship between José and Varduhi Abrahamyan’s provocative but self-assured Carmen. Marta Torbidoni makes a lovely Micaela, while Lucas Meacham is a laid-back, more subtle Escamillo than most. This is Act I, Act II and Acts III and IV. Tim Ashley
Prime attraction of this Munich staging for Verdi’s bi-centenary in 2013 is the starry pairing of soprano Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann as ill-fated lovers Leonora and Manrico, the singing warrior – thus eponymous troubadour. With her rich lower range and fine coloratura, Harteros’ singing is rather wonderful and she is a remarkably graceful presence, in part for being required to play Leonora as blind. That was presumably to explain managing to confuse her lover with the baddie Conte di Luna – the same after-shave? – but surely unnecessary since mistaken identities and the wrong babies are everywhere in opera. Kaufmann is not an Italianate Manrico, but that hardly matters: he is gloriously passionate and tender both in his love for Leonora and for his gypsy mother, Azucena, whose tortured relationship with her own mother’s death haunts the staging from the outset. Verdi’s music moves inexorably to the tragic ending, yet there is something almost comic and frankly perverse in Olivier Py’s Regietheater spectacle: an elaborate multi-scened revolve, dance, acrobatics, martial arts, and a lot of naked flesh suggest that plot was the least of his priorities. Don’t even bother trying to work out why a single figure beats out the Anvil chorus on a version of Stephenson’s Rocket. Just listen. (available until 28 March, here’s the libretto) Rian Evans
Simon Rattle’s concert with the Berlin Philharmonic on 13 March must rank as one of the strangest of even this conductor’s, this orchestra’s or indeed anybody’s concert experiences. In retrospect it feels worryingly reckless to have gathered the orchestra together one last time without any physical distancing. But at the time it sent a message of human and artistic connection, not in spite of the circumstances but because of them. When large gatherings were banned in Germany on 12 March, concerts were cancelled. Normally, that would have been the end of it, but the Berliners’ concert had been due to be live-streamed on the orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall website and so the self-governing musicians decided to go ahead in their empty Philharmonie hall.
This, then, was a first: a public concert entirely without the public, life-streamed for free and then available on demand (and free with a specially issued voucher that needs to be redeemed by 31/3). As weird concert experiences go, this concert of Berio and Bartók was right up there. But as the pandemic rages, this concert was a catalyst for the dozens of efforts by self-isolating musicians to adapt their performances to the possibilities of reaching their publics through modern media.
Back in the Philharmonie, the traditional concert protocols were observed. The musicians dressed up for the event. The orchestra took their places and tuned up. Then the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, the eight singer soloists for Berio’s Sinfonia, entered, followed by Rattle. There was applause, but only from the orchestra and only within the decorous conventions of orchestral music, with string players striking their music stands with their bows and brass and percussion players tapping their instruments.
Sinfonia, the freewheeling collage written by Berio for the New York Philharmonic in the tumultuous year of 1968, proved a life-enhancing piece for the occasion, teeming with originality and fascinating juxtapositions. Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra produced an altogether more sombre effect, suffused as it is by loneliness and memory, and proving ultimately more powerfully appropriate to the strange isolation of the event. As Rattle had predicted, the oddest moment came when the music ended. He mouthed quiet words of thanks to the players, put his hands together in a gesture of gratitude and prayer and left the stage. The musicians followed silently. For the invisible audience across the world, the music was still alive. Let us pray that Rattle and the orchestra do not come to regret it. (Available to watch on the Digital Concert Hall, free with a voucher that must be redeemed before 31/3) Martin Kettle
In Katie Mitchell’s recent staging of Bartók’s only opera, Bluebeard’s Castle is renamed after its female protagonist. Mitchell prefaces it with a performance of the composer’s Concerto for Orchestra, which becomes the accompaniment to the screening of a film presenting the backstory to her treatment of the narrative. Translated to contemporary London, the central character is now a police detective, sung by Nina Stemme, who takes on the name Judith when she poses as an escort to trap a serial killer preying on sex workers, drugging and imprisoning them at his home. The opera proper begins on stage (without its spoken prologue) when Bluebeard (John Lundgren) and Judith arrive back at his house.
As an exercise in dramatic repackaging the production is hard to fault; it’s imaginatively conceived and expertly realised, and superbly sung and acted by Stemme and Lundgren, even if his baritone is not as dark-hued as it might be for the role. But Mitchell’s treatment is essentially reductive. “Judith” may get her man in the end, bringing closure to the drama, but the ambiguity at the heart of the opera as Bartók conceived it is destroyed, turning a piece of symbolist music theatre, with a profoundly troubled and troubling central character, into an all-too-familiar TV-style police hunt for a sadomasochistic killer. (Available until midday, 26 March) Andrew Clements