Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Christine Goerke - Strauss Elektra BBC Proms London

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role. Felicity Palmer was Clytemnestra, Gun-Brit Barkmin was Chrysothemis, Robert Kunzli was Aegisthus and Johan Reuter was Orestes. The concert staging was by Justin Way.

Christine Goerke - Strauss Elektra BBC Proms London

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role. Felicity Palmer was Clytemnestra, Gun-Brit Barkmin was Chrysothemis, Robert Kunzli was Aegisthus and Johan Reuter was Orestes. The concert staging was by Justin Way.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the HallĂ© Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

21 Dec 2004

Carmen at De Vlaamse Opera

The sigh of relief was almost audible during the short love duet after “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée”. Carmen started to strip down, fumbled a little bit with José’s pants and both started their love making. So after all, Bieito’s signature tune was being played. In reality apart from the many lewd gestures, both singers remained firmly and fully clothed. The only full nude was a male dancer during the prelude to the third act and even he was lighted in clair-obscur. Another Bieito-feature, horrible violence, was also somewhat muted. Granted, José gutted Carmen in the finale of the opera in plain sight and in the well-known way Islamists treat those poor people they can lay their hands on and therefore it was a bloody affair but still everybody knows “this is theatre”.

Wonderful Carmen at De Vlaamse Opera (and indeed, Calixto Bieito was the nominal director)


Carmen: Nora Gubisch and Brandon Jovanovich
Photo © Annemie Augustijns

The sigh of relief was almost audible during the short love duet after "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée". Carmen started to strip down, fumbled a little bit with José's pants and both started their love making. So after all, Bieito's signature tune was being played. In reality apart from the many lewd gestures, both singers remained firmly and fully clothed. The only full nude was a male dancer during the prelude to the third act and even he was lighted in clair-obscur. Another Bieito-feature, horrible violence, was also somewhat muted. Granted, José gutted Carmen in the finale of the opera in plain sight and in the well-known way Islamists treat those poor people they can lay their hands on and therefore it was a bloody affair but still everybody knows "this is theatre". No, the literally blood-chilling moment came during the third act when the smugglers arrived with six used Mercedes-cars ( For a moment I thought they were smuggling Mercedes'). Enter Escamillo and the fight between him and José with tenor and baritone jumping on and off all those cars, meanwhile singing their lines and succeeding without breaking their necks and finishing a promising career (for the tenor anyway; the baritone wouldn't be a great loss). It made for a formidable theatrical effect but still one wonders if artists should take such a horrendous personal risk.

Now some Bieito-exegetes would say that the somewhat muted stress on sex (for Bieito anyway; I don't think Volpe would allow it at the Met) and violence is due to the director's youth and inexperience as this production is a reworking of a production of 4 years ago. Well, maybe it is but it has to be judged on its own merits and not on the director's obsessions a few years later. And the final word is: it works and succeeds in revitalizing this tired old warhorse. Yes, I don't like the opera anymore. I have known it for 50 years, have played it over and over again and the overexposure and the many productions have led to boredom which can only be redeemed by a fine theatrical experience or formidable music-making and preferably both. The last Carmen I fondly remember was a traditional Verona-production with Franco Corelli, Grace Bumbry, Piero Cappuccilli etc. but since those times it was downhill. And then a director and a fine cast prove that there is quite a lot of life left in the horse. Bieito updated it somewhat to modern Sevilla and immediately changed the traditional perspective. Micaela is not the star-struck virgin but someone who has her eyes firmly set on José and by their behaviour they prove that their affair is a long running one. Carmen and co are not some nice country girls in colourful clothes but hard working factory girls in drab uniforms. For Bieito Carmen's gypsy background is just something that maybe explains a little bit of temperament but traditional gypsies don't work in a factory and therefore Carmen is far more a working class girl in poor surroundings in an individualistic society. This lady reminded me far more of some of those harsh assertive hard working-class New York girls than of romantic Spain of the 19th century where there weren't many Carmens to be found. This Carmen is a fully self-centred woman, wanting her pleasures and wanting them now and definitely not above provoking José: in short nearer to Merimée's Carmen and to Bizet's as well than Carmen as a victim or the somewhat aristocratic Carmen of Béatrice Uria-Monzon who monopolizes the role in France. In this action packed thriller the greatest compliment came from my wife whom I had not warned beforehand. "It looks like a good movie" she said and that was exactly what De Vlaamse Opera had in mind with the production. Still, there are a few things Bieito should take care off. Action and movement is fine but a few moments (like in the terrible last act) of quiet, of immobility may make a deeper impression than the permanent running hither and thither. And one grows somewhat tired with the constant sexual gestures: less can sometimes be more.

Bieito was more than helped by a wonderful cast. French mezzo Nora Gubisch was a revelation. Apart from perfect pronunciation, she brings with her a big booming and finely coloured voice; somewhat better in the low than in the higher regions where the top starts to thin out. Her Mediterranean looks (short, a little bit plump, hawkish nose) are more typical for most Andalusian women than the classical North-European beauty. She was a wonderful performer who radiated strength and determination.

Brendan Jovanovich was the José who delivers good looks, an ability to smoke a lot of cigarettes without bad results for his singing and the athletic features I have already mentioned. And then there is the voice: not a sound every one likes at first hearing, not a thing of traditional beauty and maybe better not heard in the great Italian roles; too little morbidezza. But the voice is smooth, big and in a small house like Antwerp it makes a tremendous impression while it has a gleaming edge of steel in it. In short this is what the French call "un vrai demi-caractère", the French equivalent of the Italian lirico-spinto and if Mr. Jovanovich continues to sing as impressive he should be the rare bird: a real successor in the great line of Franz, Granal, Vezzani, Poncet. Even now I think he is superior to Ben Heppner. And mind you he knows the difference between strength and just shouting: his high B in La fleur was a beautiful pianissimo.

The Latvian soprano Rosita Kekyte is chosen for "le fysique du role" one is tempted to think: a youthful blonde beauty and then she opens her mouth and out comes a fine Italianate lirico. She is now at the Karlsruhe Opera but with her assets she should go far in the French and Italian repertory.

The (little) fly in the ointment was Polish baritone Wojtek Drabowicz: a throaty baritone with a weak top and a badly focused sound. The Antwerp people often try to prove that they are not provincial but cosmopolitan but I cannot believe there is no young baritone in the country who cannot sing better this short role and gain some valuable experience as well. Xenia Konsek and Corinne Romijn (Frasquita and Mercédès) are well-known and beloved comprimarie who as always combine fine acting and fine singing.

Music director Ivan Törzs started out somewhat tentatively but soon got his hands on the score, helped by the very good orchestra and there never was a single hiatus in relationship between pit and singers (On principle I never attend the premiere but always prefer a fourth or fifth performance and every artist I know says that a production always improves after a few evenings). A special word should go to the chorus which sang and acted its heart out. In the last act they just faced the auditorium, pretending they were watching the procession of picadors, toreadors etc and they did it so lustily and convincingly that they earned a well-deserved ovation.

Jan Neckers

[Note: For additional production details, click here.]

Suggested recordings:

Karajan, Price, Corelli, Freni, Merrill

Solti, Troyanos, Domingo, Van Dam, Te Kanawa

Cluytens, Michel, Jobin, Angelici, Dens
cover

Pelletier, Swarthout, Kullman, Albanese, Warren
cover

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):