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Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
07 Aug 2005
LORTZING: Der Waffenschmied
Nineteenth-century German opera before Wagner is rarely performed in the United States, although it is still quite popular in Germany. While works by Spohr, Marschner, and Lortzing, among others, are very much a part of the repertory in many German houses, they are virtually unknown in America, and none of the above-mentioned composers is even mentioned in the index of the new seventh edition of the Burkholder-Grout-Palisca A History of Western Music. This new recording of Lortzing's Der Waffenschmied (The Armorer [of Worms]) suggests not only why this work is still performed. It also suggests that American audiences are missing out on a delightful body of work for the lyric stage. From Lortzing's relatively better-known works, such as Zar und Zimmermann or Der Wildschuetz, to works by Marschner, such as Der Vampyr, nineteenth-century German opera with spoken dialogue is often highly entertaining and musically satisfying, if one is not anticipating work of great gravitas. And who is always in the mood for Tristan und Isolde, masterpiece that it is?
Lortzing was, as John Warrack has noted, "the most inventive composer of opera with spoken dialogue in mid-19th-century Germany," and his skills are evident in this wonderful performance. While Lortzing knew well the masters who preceded him - we can frequently hear traces of Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, and others, as well as French opera-comique and Italian buffa, in this and other scores - his approach and results were individual. Perhaps guided by a theatrical instinct cultivated by years spent acting, singing, and conducting for the stage, Lortzing was a fine craftsman and, by Der Waffenschmied, excellent orchestrator whose entertainments continue to please a wide range of German audiences.
The accompanying essay by Juergen Schlaeder — Marie Praeder provided the sometimes awkward translation — addresses Lortzing's praise of middle-class values in the work. While Count von Liebenau is of the elite class, for instance, it is under the disguise of an apprentice armorer that he wins the love of Marie, the daughter of Stadinger, the master armorer of the title. Stadinger is the character who embodies the steady middle-class values upheld in the work, and when, near the opera's end, he sings of what Schlaeder refers to as "the restoration of traditional ideas of morality," it is in a strophic folk-like song that would have appealed to the middle-class audience for the whom the work was intended. (The work premiered in Vienna's Theater an der Wien in 1846, however, and, as Warrack points out, the Viennese audience was less taken with the "homely and very German humor" than subsequent German audiences have been.) Sir John Tomlinson, a very highly regarded Wagnerian specialist, brings a remarkable vocal presence to this folk-like Lied, as Lortzing calls it, as well as a fine sense of character and style throughout. It's rather like Hans Sachs lite, and it's more than rather nice.
The other standout vocal performance is by soprano Ruth Ziesak as Marie. While she may fall short of the exceptional insight and warmth that the late Lucia Popp brought to this kind of role (and everything else she sang), she comes close to it. The voice is rich and expressive, and Ziesak's performance of the aria that closes the Act 1 finale is a highlight of the recording. She also scores with the opening of Act 3, another extended aria for Marie, as she does in her duets with the Count (Boje Skovhus) and in the ensembles.
It is in the ensembles that Lortzing shines. The second act sextet is quite well written. It begins with an extended unison passage that blossoms into a passage reminiscent of Mozart; after this, its comic sensibility grows as the ensemble begins to sound more and more like refugees from Rossini. After the sextet, a duet for Stadinger and Georg, the Count's squire disguised as another apprentice, further demonstrates Lortzing's familiarity with the Italian buffa style: under Georg's lilting melody, Stadinger, the bass, sings a patter section, and the whole segment recalls Rossini's Figaro and Almaviva's Act 1 duet at the end of The Barber of Seville. The chorus is exceptionally good throughout, providing a subtlety and richness that at times surpasses the material. Its performance of "Wie herrlich ist's im Gruenen," a delightful chorus in Act 2, is particularly satisfying, both in how it's written and in how it's performed. The finales to each act are also especially effective.
The CD's sound is above average, although the louder ensemble passages suffer a bit. Overall, however, the engineering serves the work well. The booklet, in German and English, provides the essay mentioned above, an exploration of Lortzing's life and the work in terms of their demonstration of middle class values and perspectives. It provides next to nothing in terms of plot synopsis, however, although it does provide a breakdown of the tracks by title, character, and classification (aria, chorus, sextet, etc.).
I probably should have mentioned at the beginning of this review that I am a bit of a fan of this genre - my CD collection includes several works by each of the composers mentioned above, and while I have never seen any of them performed, I have no problem imagining why they remain popular in Germany. They are delightful, stage-worthy, and, at times, exuberant, works with much to offer. This recording would serve as a fine introduction to nineteenth-century German opera after von Weber and before Wagner. It is certainly a welcome addition to my collection.
Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University