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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Christine Brewer
28 Oct 2006

Brewer makes Isolde hers in stage debut

SAN FRANCISCO — Christine Brewer took her time mastering Isolde before making her stage debut in the role with the San Francisco Opera in October.

And she was wise in so doing, for her incarnation of Wagner’s most demanding woman was clearly the sensation of the SFO season.

Although a major Ariadne for the past decade, Brewer had never sung a note of Isolde in public until 2000, when she performed the role in concert — one act an evening — with the BBC Orchestra at London’s Barbicon. Critics celebrated that event as the best Wagner heard in the British capital in four decades. Brewer then did Isolde — again an act at a time — with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Peter Sellars’ “Tristan Project.” Only in August 2005 did she put it all together for the first time in a concert “Tristan” at the Edinburgh Festival. Jonathan Nott conducted the Bamberg Symphony. And prior to the San Francisco debut she recorded the “Liebestod” with Donald Runnicles and the Atlanta Symphony and a complete “Tristan” with the BBC Orchestra and Runnicles for Warner Classics with. John Treleaven as Tristan.

Brewer’s approach to a new role — the subject of many interviews with the soprano — focuses intensely on the text divorced from the music. She reads it over and over in the original language and then in her own literal translation. At the SFO the success of her method was underscored by the profundity that she brought to the exposition of the opera’s plot. For many singers Isolde’s recall of her earlier meeting with Tristan, how she spared his life and nursed him after he had killed her betrothed Morold, is something to be gotten through before delivering the curse upon them both. In her reconstruction of events Brewer made clear that this is the heart of “Tristan.” The love potion and what follows are only the unraveling of the tale spun here. Her growing agitation demanded shipboard confrontation with Tristan, without which everyone would have lived unhappily ever after.

Brewer is not one to wear her heart on her sleeve. Isolde’s torment seethed within her, and she laid bare this tempest of pain and passion step by step, building half the first act to the curse, which she delivered with shattering fury. Yet she sang the curse — just as in Act Two she sang the plunge of the torch into the abyss. She did not declaim; she eschewed Sprechstimme, and there was radiant beauty in every note.

Although American Thomas Moser will hardly go down in music history as a great Tristan, at the SFO he was very good in the role — solid and fully reliable. And he had the stamina to carry through to the end of Act Three — even in this uncut performance heard on October 10. Soon to sing Parsifal in Vienna with Runnicles on the podium, Moser is a tenor of taste and intelligence and a near-ideal partner for Brewer.

In this production Israel-born bass Boaz Daniel made his North American debut as Kurvenal, the role that he sang both in the BBC concert “Tristan” and on the Warner recording. He was the loyal servant of his master without overplaying his obedience, and in Act One his mockery of Isolde was comfortably low key. Daniel seems destined to be heard in leading roles for decades to come.

And it is not size alone that made Kristinn Sigmundsson a monumental King Marke — although the bass from Iceland is of dimensions that suggest Fafner and Fasolt in a single figure. And the voice is of equal proportions. In keeping with the overall perspective of this staging Sigmundsson’s second-act lament spoke not of self-pity, but of a deep and painful wound — something beyond his comprehension. (During the season Sigmundsson also sang a Sparfucile in the SFO “Rigoletto” that made the figure even more sinister than Verdi perhaps intended.)

England’s Jane Irwin, a regular in several European “Ring” productions, made her North American debut here as Brangäne. Her second-act warning to the enraptured couple floated with lilting lyricism into the reaches of the War Memorial Opera House.

Matthew O’Neill and Sean Pannikar, members of the SFO Adler studio, sang Melot and the Shepherd; veteran chorus member Jere Torkelsen was the steersman.

Thor Steingraber directed this re-staging of David Hockney’s production, new at the Los Angeles Opera in 1988. Hockney’s stunning use of primary colors, along with regally stylized costumes, complemented the static nature of Wagner’s score, a quality that allegedly prompted actress Beatrice Lilly to observe after Act One that for Germans love was obviously a state roughly akin to paralysis.

Much, of course, could still be said about this “Tristan” — the hurricane force of desire behind the “Liebesnacht,” the eye-moistening authenticity of lament in the “Liebestod, but what made it even greater than the sum of its many superb parts was the continuity brought to the work by Runnicles, one of today’s top Wagnerian conductors. Runnicles, praised in England as “a psychoanalyst summoning Leitmotivs like hidden memories,” allowed Wagner’s score to unfold with full force. For him this is true music drama, not an assembly of “greatest hits” separated by seemingly interminable — and thus often abbreviated — dialogue.

The SFO staging further profited from the fact that most members of the cast had been involved — in various constellations — in the “Tristan” productions in Edinburgh and London. Their interaction recalled the glories of ensemble perfection in the pre-jet-set age.

Runnicles, by the way, has announced his decision to leave the SFO music directorship at the end of the 2008-‘09 season. He has held the position since 1992.

Wes Blomster

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):