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

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

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):