Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

31 Oct 2004

Mefistofele in Amsterdam

by Jan Neckers Let's start with the main assets of the new Mefistofele in Amsterdam: the singers. Gidon Saks has one of the biggest booming bass voices that ever sounded in an opera house (yes, I heard Ghiaurov but Saks...

by Jan Neckers

Let's start with the main assets of the new Mefistofele in Amsterdam: the singers. Gidon Saks has one of the biggest booming bass voices that ever sounded in an opera house (yes, I heard Ghiaurov but Saks had a few decibels to spare). It's not an especially beautiful or personal sound and it is somewhat weak in the lower regions, more a bass baritone than a real bass; but it is smooth and impressive and very well apt for this title role. Saks gave us such an overwhelming amount of sound that by "Ecco il mondo" the voice slowly started to give way. As his role is somewhat limited afterwards he nevertheless could ride out this matinee (17th of October 2004). With his imposing height, his easy flowing movements on the stage he proved himself to be a superb actor.

Arrigo Boito 1842 1918

Tenor Dario Volonté actually has four voices but let me first state that his is not a small voice as one can read sometimes on other opera fora. First there is the deep dark burnished sound of the lower voice, partially produced with the lowered larynx method of Corelli. This sound sails into a very beautiful lyric middle voice somewhat reminiscent of a good Italian tenore di grazia though some people might think the vibrato perhaps too excessive (though not this reviewer). But, in the passaggio we hear an odd strangulated and somewhat throaty sound that we know so well from his countryman, José Cura. And from that ungainly or sometimes even downright ugly sound suddenly emerges a clear and strong high A or B. Capped by all this is one of the most beautiful pianissimo sounds I ever heard in the theatre. His amazingly beautiful "Lontano, lontano" was clearly modelled upon Ferruccio Tagliavini's classic recording and it could be proof that Mr. Volonté is more of a lyric tenor than his choice of heavy repertoire would lead us to believe. He is not a bad actor but his "physique" is such that he looks far better as an old man than as the young Faust.

The years have taken their toll on Miriam Gauci's voice. Ten years ago she was one of the best liricos around with a beautiful and homogeneous voice somewhat reminding one of Mirella Freni. The voice has grown somewhat bigger but has developed a wobble. Above the staff there is only shrillness and no beauty left. Her Elena was better than her Margerita, though in both roles she made no visible impression due to some cheap rags she had to wear.

I know it is politically correct in circles of Met attendees to deride conductor Carlo Rizzi and I wonder why. Two years ago he gave us an excellent Macbeth in this same theatre (Carol Vaness was the superb Lady) and this time too he chose perfect tempi, driving the opera along without unduly hurrying his singers so that they could breath. The orchestra (a radio orchestra which is doomed to disappear) played along for him as if they wanted to prove that they have the right to life and they easily matched the far more famous Concertgebouworchestra under Chailly in Don Carlos a few months ago (though Volonté is not Villazon).

There remains the fly in the ointment and, as so often in this theatre, it was the director: Graham Vick, one of those theatre people who think that Boito wrote this opera as a vehicle to one of the greatest gifts of God to humanity: the genius of Vick himself. Vick tried to kill the opera by overloading it in the well-known disastrous Zeffirelli-New Met-Opening-Manner. Almost every scene had a new and often laborious set change and, as there were five such changes, this added half an hour to the proceedings, which often broke all musical suspense. At the première, the Dutch press noted that Rizzi showed his opinion by ostentatiously drumming with his fingers during those changes. During rehearsals, there had been several terrible rows with Vick who refused to budge one inch on his original concept, though he was himself often unclear on his intentions due to a lack of preparation. Vick vented his anger for his own fault on the theatre and its personnel, which they didn't take lightly. At the final rehearsal, and contrary to usual theatre policy, nobody was allowed to attend. As a result, the performances had to be moved up half an hour at the very last moment; and, for the première, several employees had to phone, e-mail or sms every known guest of honor and ticket buyer to ask them to spread the good news. Vick added insult to injury by demanding that the magnificent chorus sing one of the greatest choral parts in operatic history behind the scenes.

And still, this production was not a complete failure as there were some devilishly beautiful scenes. The first scene, played during a village feast somewhere in modern Germany, was full of colour and opulence. The revolving scene didn't break down as with Zeffirelli's Anthony and Cleopatra. The Greek scene was a faithful reproduction of the famous reading room at the British Museum, though I don't think some beautiful young ladies and young men would be allowed into the building without the smallest piece of textile at all. But, you know, Greece and Greek statues etc., though these statues usually didn't move or strike sexy poses. On the other hand the Walpurgis night was simply ridiculous as it all took place within a circle of 25 large refrigerators. All in all, every scene was often more impressive than the whole of it. At the première, Vick was almost booed off the scene; probably the ultimate proof in many a director's mind that he/she is a genius. One more proud and well deserved medal in a catalogue of unbroken triumphs.


Cast

Mefistofele: Gidon Saks

Faust: Dario Volonté

Margherita/Elena: Miriam Gauci

Marta/Pantalis: Sally Burgess

Wagner/Nerèo: Carlo Bosi

Synopsis

Prologue
In Heaven Mephistopheles offers God a wager: he says that he can succeed in seducing the learned Faust onto the paths of evil and that he will gain possession of his soul. God accepts.

I
Mephistopheles travels to Frankfurt disguised as a Franciscan monk. He enters Faust's study and convinces him to sign a contract.

II
Mephistopheles and Faust are in a garden with Margherita and Martha, her neighbour. Faust converses with Margherita and seduces her. To prevent their being disturbed, he gives Margherita a powerful sleeping-draught for her mother.

Mephistopheles and Faust travel to a witches' sabbath on a mountain top. Faust beholds a vision of Margherita, pale as death with a blood-red rope around her neck. He hears Mephistopheles' curse upon the world.

III
Margherita is in prison awaiting her execution. She has been accused of having killed her child and poisoned her mother. Faust attempts to convince her to flee with him, but she refuses. She recognises Mephistopheles as the devil and prays for forgiveness. Choirs of angels announce the salvation of her soul.

IV
On the banks of the Peneios in ancient Greece, young girls perform a dance in honour of the full moon. Helen of Troy and her companion Pantalis lament the fate of Troy. Mephistopheles and Faust appear. Faust professes his love for Helen and they withdraw to a cave.

V
Faust sits in his study in Frankfurt. He has grown old and thinks back upon all he has experienced. He realises that his life has been mere vanity. He dies with the Bible in his hand, without giving in to the last temptations sent by Mephistopheles. Faust is welcomed by the angelic host into Heaven.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):