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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

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):