Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Patricia Risley and Rod Gilfry in The Tempest at Santa Fe (Photo: Ken Howard, © 2006)
31 Jul 2006

Strong Tempest at Santa Fe

The news from Santa Fe Opera last week-end is good, unexpectedly so. The British composer Thomas Ades’ new (2004) opera, a riff on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, has been rumored hard to perform and harder to hear.

Sitting in at the final dress rehearsal Thursday night, this auditor tended to agree, and departed after Act I to rest his ears. The first act had seemed dense musically, over-loaded with exposition and narrative line and unrelieved by much lyric beauty. The much-hyped Ades has been criticized widely for ‘singing with the voices of others,’ and his prickly and disdainful outbursts against other composers, especially Johannes Brahms, have left a sour impression with many classical music audiences. “He’s not out to please,” one BBC official told me.

All negatives vanished Saturday (July 29) at the opening. The Tempest showed itself, in a masterful Santa Fe Opera production, a valid and even moving theatre piece, with a score that slowly develops into one of considerable beauty and emotional power. Ades, and his librettist Meredith Oakes, have condensed and somewhat rearranged the Shakespeare play, removed virtually all of its poetry, and made room for their own music to tell the story of the magician Prospero, more in love with his books than with life (perhaps), his innocent daughter Miranda and their adventures on a magical isle with the servant sprite Ariel and the earthy monster Caliban — figures much beloved in English literature over the centuries. You may still love them, as the comedy and humanity of the sweet old play remain and are reinforced by Ades’ beautiful and elegant music.

In terms of ‘singing with the voices of others,’ I will stick with that description of Ades, but not in any negative way. As the opera proceeds it increases in lyric quality, especially beginning with the Miranda/Ferdinand love scene closing Act II, and throughout Act III to its eloquent resolutions at the end. His inspiration is clearly Benjamin Britten — and the more ‘Britten’ we hear, the better the piece sounds.

Ades has his own way with harmonics and the musical rhetoric, but it is certainly sired by Wagner out of Britten, for without those two ancestors this score would not exist. The particular characteristics we hear are the uses of voice as another instrument of the orchestra, so to speak, and the moving back and forth between orchestra and stage of the special elements of musical drama. Wagner often claimed the real drama of his operas was in the orchestra; there is much of that here. But the colors and patterns of speech and line, familiar from Britten (especially Peter Grimes), inhabit this work and give it human scale and emotional availability. As one of the singers said of the closing pages of Act III, “in the end, it’s just open intervals and air.” The results are magical. The final act runs about ten minutes too long; I would have been happy to have Prospero close the piece with his benediction of the young lovers and acceptance of his need to forgive in life, but the creators wanted a reprieve for Caliban. “I have refocussed Caliban,” Ades said in a panel discussion before The Tempest’s opening, “and while Shakespeare was not looking, changed him a bit.”

There is so much more to say, and no room here. But the Santa Fe production team has to be given credit — and a major debt of gratitude it is! The unit set is an ingenious raked golden beach giving off into an edge of blue water at the footlights. Characters appear and disappear in surprising places — up from the sand or out of the water. A single barren tree overhangs the beach as a perch for Ariel and Prospero, while props and trappings come and go as if by magic. Costumes range from modern formal wear and stylish dresses for the court and chorus of survivors of the shipwreck that starts the action, to a magician’s robe for Prospero, and blue paint and not much else for the high soprano singing Ariel. The mise-en-scène delights, but it does not overshadow, for the music saturates everything and properly dominates the mood. Jonathan Kent’s direction and Paul Brown’s visual design are worthy supporting players in the scheme, as is Duane Schuler’s intense lighting.

The cast is uniformly strong, but out of a company of peers Rod Gilfry’s winning playing and resilient baritone singing as Prospero, as well as the high-pitched antics of Cyndia Sieden‘s Ariel predominate — as they should; their characters run the play and the opera. Young lovers Miranda and Ferdinand are attractive in the charge of Patricia Risley and Toby Spence, while familiar figures such as Chris Merritt and Gwynne Howell handle their lesser assignments well enough. Caliban is a nasty little brute energetically played and sung with a strong if reedy tenor by William Ferguson.

Much laud and glory are due Santa Fe Music Director Alan Gilbert for his musical control of the enterprise. He commanded the complex Ades score brilliantly; the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, which has thriven under Gilbert’s management, played with great effect. One regrets hearing this is Gilbert’s last season in his position with Santa Fe Opera, not yet officially announced, but much discussed in the community. He will be hard to replace. Gilbert, chief conductor of the Stockholm, Sweden Philharmonic, is said to be ambitious, and it’s to be regretted his aims may not include more Santa Fe seasons, for his contribution could be highly valuable to the long-term health of the opera company. Starting with his very first operatic assignment (Falstaff), in his Santa Fe debut (2001), Gilbert has developed into an eloquent operatic talent in only a few seasons.

General Director Richard Gaddes and his UK team of producers are to be complimented for presenting the North American premiere of an important new opera. It is in the best historic tradition of the pioneering festival company.

J. A. Van Sant
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(c) 2006

Note: After posting this commenatry, your reporter received a telephone call from Richard Gaddes, General Director of the Santa Fe Opera, who reads Opera Today. He wanted to make the point that he is perfectly delighted to have Alan Gilbert as Music Director of the opera company, and further that Gilbert has never told Gaddes he will not continue to serve. When I mentioned that Gilbert’s contract is said to have run out this season, Gaddes responded, “Yes, we do have some talking to do.” He said further, “Alan and I have an excellent relationship.” I thought these facts were worth adding to my review. J.A.V.S.

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):