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

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

Opera San Jose kicked off its 35th anniversary season with a delectably effervescent production of their first-ever mounting of Mozart’s youthful opus, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Isouard's Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square

A good fairy-tale sweeps us away on a magic carpet while never letting us forget that for all the enchanting transformations, beneath the sorcery lie essential truths.

A Winterreise both familiar and revelatory: Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès at Wigmore Hall

‘“Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” the wanderer asks. If the answer were to be a “yes”, then the crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again. This could explore a notion of eternal recurrence: we are trapped in the endless repetition of this existential lament.’

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2018

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, given during last weekend, was both a tribute to the many facets of opera and a preview of what lies ahead in the upcoming repertoire season.

Dorothea Röschmann at Wigmore Hall: songs by Schumann, Wolf and Brahms

One should not judge a performance by its audience, but spying Mitsuko Uchida in the audience is unlikely ever to prove a negative sign. It certainly did not here, in a wonderfully involving recital of songs by Schumannn, Wolf, and Brahms from Dorothea Röschmann and Malcolm Martineau.

The Path of Life: Ilker Arcayürek sings Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall’s BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert 2018-19 series opened this week with a journey along The Path of Life as illustrated by the songs of Schubert, and it offered a rare chance to hear the composer’s long, and long-germinating, setting of Johann Baptist Mayrhofer’s philosophical rumination, ‘Einsamkeit’ - an extended eulogy to loneliness which Schubert described, in a letter of 1822, as the best thing he had done, “mein Bestes, was ich gemacht habe”.

Heine through Song: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau open a new Wigmore Hall season

The BBC Proms have now gone into hibernation until July 2019. But, as the hearty patriotic strains rang out over South Kensington on Saturday evening, in Westminster the somewhat gentler, but no less emotive, flame of nineteenth-century lied was re-lit at Wigmore Hall, as baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau opened the Hall’s 2018-19 season with a recital comprising song settings of texts by Heinrich Heine.

Prom 74: Handel's Theodora

“One of the most insufferable prigs in a literature.” Handel scholar Winton Dean’s dismissal of Theodora, the eponymous heroine of Handel’s 1749 oratorio, may well have been shared by many among his contemporary audience.

Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera present The Second Violinist

Renaissance madrigals and twentieth-century social media don’t at first seem likely bed-fellows. However, Martin - the protagonist of The Second Violinist, a new opera by composer Donnacha Dennehy and librettist Enda Walsh - is, like the late sixteenth-century composer, Carlo Gesualdo, an artist with homicidal tendencies. And, Dennehy and Walsh bring music, madness and murder together in a Nordic noir thriller that has more than a touch of Stringbergian psychological anxiety, analysis and antagonism.

The Rake's Progress: British Youth Opera

The cautionary tale which W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman fashioned for Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera, The Rake’s Progress - recounting the downward course of an archetypal libertine from the faux fulfilment of matrimonial and monetary dreams to the grim reality of madness and death - was, of course, an elaboration of William Hogarth’s 1733 series of eight engravings.

Prom 71: John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique play Berlioz

Having recently recorded the role of Dido in Berlioz' Les Troyens on Warner Classics, there was genuine excitement at the prospect of hearing Joyce DiDonato performing Dido's death scene live at the BBC Proms. She joined John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique for an all-Berlioz Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 5 September 2018. As well as the scene from Les Troyens, DiDonato sang La mort de Cleopatre and the orchestra performed the overture Le Corsaire and The Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens, and were joined by viola player Antoine Tamestit for Harold in Italy.

ENO Studio Live: Paul Bunyan

“A telegram, a telegram,/ A telegram from Hollywood./ Inkslinger is the name; And I think that the news is good.” The Western Union Boy’s missive, delivered to Johnny Inkslinger in the closing moments of 1941 ‘choral operetta’ Paul Bunyan and directly connecting the American Dream with success in Tinseltown, may have echoed an offer that Benjamin Britten himself received, for the composer had written expectantly to Wulff Scherchen on 7th February 1939, ‘(((Shshshsssh … I may have an offer from Holywood [sic] for a film, but don’t say a word))).’ Ten days later he wrote again: ‘Hollywood seems a bit nearer - I’ve got an interview with the Producer on Monday’.

Young audience embraces Die Zauberflöte at Dutch National Opera

The Dutch National Opera season opens officially on the 7th of September with a third run of Simon McBurney’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, an unqualified success at its 2012 premiere. Last Tuesday, however, an audience aged between sixteen and thirty-five got to see a preview of this co-production with English National Opera and the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

Prom 67: The Boston Symphony Orchestra play Mahler’s Third

Mahler and I, at least in the concert hall, parted company over a decade ago - and with his Third Symphony it has been an even longer abandonment, fifteen years. Reviewing can nurture great love for music; but it can also become so obsessive for a single composer it can make one profoundly unresponsive to their music. This was my tragedy with Mahler.

A Landmark Revival of Sullivan's Haddon Hall

With The Gondoliers of 1889, the main period of Arthur Sullivan's celebrated collaboration with W. S. Gilbert came to an end, and with it the golden age of British operetta. Sullivan was accordingly at liberty to compose more serious and emotional operas, as he had long desired, and turned first to the moribund tradition of "Grand Opera" with Ivanhoe (1891).

Die Meistersinger at Bayreuth

Famously, controversy is the stuff of Bayreuth, be it artistic, philosophic or political. As well occasionally a Bayreuth production can simply be illuminating, as is the Barrie Kosky production of Wagner’s only comedy, Die Meistersinger.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

David Daniels
25 May 2006

Flights of Madness — Munich’s New “Orlando”

Returning from Munich’s new production of Handel’s “Orlando” at thirty thousand feet above clouds which might have done service as props for that opera when first staged in 1733, it occurred that the great man himself could have had things to say about what might be director David Alden’s valedictory baroque piece for the Bayerische Staatsoper.

As it happened, “Orlando” was a turning point in Handel’s own career as an opera composer as it only lasted for ten performances before his singers defected to a rival theatre, with devastating consequences. As Sir Peter Jonas steps down as the Intendant at Munich Opera, another era is passing, one which has helped to change the face of baroque opera in Europe, and Alden, together with his equally significant design colleagues Paul Steinberg (stage) and Buki Shiff (costumes), has been a major innovative talent and pusher of boundaries. He also pushes the patience, particularly that of the famously-conservative Munich patrons, and, with this offering, he has thrown just about everything into the deliberately provocative mix: video wall, sex, anti-war clichés, ridiculously over-the-top props, a reference to suicide bombers, and a character obviously based on a well-known B-list celebrity. So the very mixed reception on opening night was hardly a surprise with the boos resounding loudly, only finally being out-gunned by the crowd’s appreciation of the excellent cast of singers and perhaps by some also appreciating the undeniable wit and zest of Alden’s work.

“Orlando” follows on the heels of his equally controversial productions of “Rinaldo”, “Ariodante” and “Poppea” and this time he places Handel’s take on Ariosto’s tale “Orlando Furioso” firmly in the present day, give or take a decade or two. We are invited to join our hero and the godlike sorcerer Zoroastro inside some corrugated military space research facility, and both Orlando (David Daniels, countertenor, as an unwilling general fixated on the pleasures of love rather than military glory) and Dorinda (Olga Pasichnyk, soprano, here transmuted from pastoral shepherdess into army-private-cum-personal assistant to Zoroastro) wear blue army camouflage fatigues. The non-singing actors continue the theme, although they seemed to have been chosen more for their athletic build than for their drill-skills. Zoroastro, (Alastair Miles, bass, in neat grey suit, shiny shoes and horn-rimmed glasses under abundant silver grey hair) presumably runs this rather malignant operation from a stark grey desk — just a desk, as Alden doesn’t believe in a superfluity of tokens. Miles achieved an amusing, if thought-provoking, conflation of Dr.Strangelove and Donald Rumsden. The lovely high-born Angelica who Orlando adores, (Rosemary Joshua) is more smitten with her mysterious Medoro, and is played as a flashy, trampish socialite with great relish by the English handelian soprano. Her lover Medoro, who once loved Dorinda, is sung by American mezzo Beth Clayton who adopts the disguise of a neo-Valentino in black Arab robes and beard, amid much flashing of daggers and swirling of black silk.

If the setting was pure Alden euro trash — all flashing orange walls and pink sequins — the singing and music was pure handelian delight from start to finish. Ivor Bolton in the pit once more with this excellent house orchestra made the most of their baroque experience and style and, if occasionally allowing them too much dynamic rein for the quieter lower voices of Clayton and Daniels, also encouraged some stunning playing — such as from the two viole d’amore in the third act who accompanied Daniels as he sang the exquisite lullaby Già l’ebro mio ciglio. Together they accomplished the most memorably beautiful music of the evening. Daniels is something of a Munich favourite and his following here has grown with successive triumphs in “Poppea”, “Rinaldo” and “Saul” and although he gets inside this role with his usual vocal artistry and dramatic sense, it cannot be said that it is one that showcases his voice as those certainly did. There is little writing high on the staff where his velvet-toned instrument loves to live and is heard most effectively in a house this big. When he does get the freedom to use his higher range — particularly in some liquid and stylish ornamentation — the Daniels magic is undeniable and was rewarded with both hushed attention in the lullaby and noisy appreciation of the more florid arias such as Fammi combattere and Cielo! Se tu il consenti. His sheer physical commitment deserves mention too, as the intensely demanding “mad scene” that ends Act Two culminates in Orlando throwing himself repeatedly up against an inward-curving wall depicting the inside of his skull. Incidentally, this scene was probably one of the most effective and interesting in the opera: the singer entangled in yards of coloured cables, representing, one assumes, the synapses of the maddened hero’s brain.

The soprano roles in “Orlando” are the fire-cracker ones and get most of the best traditional A-B-A da capo arias. Here Handel was playing safer than with his quite daring, more unstructured arioso and accompagnato work for Senesino to sing in the title role. Olga Pasichnyk was making her debut here as Dorinda, and quickly established her credentials as a most fluent and technically accomplished interpreter of the role — pin sharp coloratura, easy leaps and sweet legato were all added to an appealing stage presence of gamin charm. Her Amore è qual vento was attacked with verve and astonishing virtuosity, yet also a warm tone that perfectly suited the characterisation. She received some of the loudest applause of the night, which was well deserved. In contrast, Rosemary Joshua was a crystalline and razor-sharp Angelica, using her dramatic skills to underline vocally the rather brazen nature of this spoilt baby of the boulevards. Certainly she looked the part — slim, lithe and glittering — but she also managed to suggest the character’s insecurity with admirable skill. If occasionally she strayed a little too far down the path of vocal assertiveness, at the cost of some tonal irregularity in, for instance, Non potrà dirmi ingrate, all was forgiven when she returned just minutes later to quieter, more reflective work in Verdi piante.

In casting the role of romantic swain Medoro as a mezzo, Munich is in fact following Handel’s original casting plan, even though today the part is as often taken by a countertenor. Beth Clayton, a graduate of Houston’s Opera Studio, seems to specialise in the trouser role repertoire of Handel and Mozart and her facility with the genre was evident as she strode convincingly, yet elegantly, around as the “Bedouin warrior” of Buki Shiff’s imagination. However, her voice, warm and full-toned as it was, left something to be desired as she somehow seemed to miss the essential pathos and endearing honesty of the character. This was most evident in Medoro’s musing upon his writing of his own and Angelica’s initials on the rocket ship (Alden’s transposition from the original tree), expressed by Handel so evocatively in the ravishing, limpid aria Verdi allori. Of all the singers, she was perhaps the least accomplished in the baroque style stakes, although admittedly was up against stern opposition.

In contrast, Alastair Miles is a bass of huge experience in this type of role and it shows — he drew a nice portrait of a probably-mad Chief Scientist playing with the hearts and minds of those around him. Vocally he was secure and, for a bass, very adept at the demanding coloratura required by Handel who, unlike later composers, made few concessions to tessitura. It was unfortunate that one of his most demanding bravura arias, Sorge infausta una procella, co-incided with a particularly crass bit of Aldenesque jokeyness: he was expected to climb up and cling to the side of a large rocket ship as it “took off”, complete with billowing white smoke and strobing red light flames, by the slightly ridiculous means of a hefty “soldier” pushing it determinedly off-stage whilst trying not to be seen. It was too much for some: the boos started before the music had quite finished and whist the unfortunate Miles was still being shunted out of sight.

If the boo-ers thought that the worst bit of kitsch was over (they had managed to restrain themselves with mere stripping-off, simulated sex, putting gerberas down the muzzles of machine-guns et al) then they were to be disappointed: Alden had one more stroke of over-the-top genius dreamed up and it was certainly memorable. When Orlando is totally crazy, unable to cope with either his own split personality or being betrayed by his beloved, he resorts to violence in a dreadful acquiescence to the military prowess advocated by Zoroastro. This is where Alden, Steinberg and Shiff really throw down the gauntlet and dare us go along for the ride — but it’s a big call when, with lights flashing, walls trembling and guns booming, Orlando arrives on scene astride a monstrously funny robotic tank, which moves somewhat hilariously on individual legs like some huge sci-fi spider from a comic book. The audience laughed out loud. Equally comic-book was the hero’s attire: throughout the opera Daniels had been gradually upping the hardwear slung about his body, as the hero’s mental state deteriorated, but now he resembled nothing less than Arnold Schwarzeneggar in “Terminator”, pumped up and helmeted, eyes glittering madly through smears of camouflage paint as he rode his war machine into battle with the “evil spirits” — the boys in blue again — in his mind. Bang, crash, smoke and flame, and they all fell down.

Yet, paradoxically, from this chaos of ugly and frankly juvenile pastiche came beauty, in the form of Orlando’s final lullaby to himself; and the more so as it was sung from front of stage, the phalanxes of dead behind, with creamy tone and superb control — yet also with an eerie calm that sent shivers. From the ridiculous to the sublime in five minutes. Maybe that is this director’s saving grace.

It will be a shame if David Alden doesn’t direct Handel here again — for all his perverse and challenging ways, he has helped open up baroque opera to a new way of thinking, a new way of putting it into modern context, and he works with his singers rather than imposing upon them. Whether he takes all his audience with him is debatable — but as long as he takes most of them, and his singers continue to be willing to risk all for him, then he won’t end up like Mr. Handel in 1733 with an empty stage.

© S.C. Loder

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):