Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

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):