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

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rosalind Plowright as Marfa
22 Feb 2007

MUSSORGSKY: Khovanshchina

At the curtain call for the first night of WNO’s new production of the infrequently performed Khovanshchina director David Pountney wore a simple Russian shirt.

Above: Rosalind Plowright as Marfa

 

This was one of the few references in this sprawling production that was immediately recognizable. Maybe he wore the shirt for a bet. To see what he could get away with on stage. Maybe he staged the entire production with the same thought.

Of course he did not. But had he, the audience would have had one reason for their polite (and I stress polite) applause at the end what I can only say was one of the most incomprehensible productions I can remember. It even gave Pountney’s space station Dutchman a run for its money. WNO audiences are very polite and at times you rather wish they would make their views clearer in curtain calls than the mutterings and mumblings you hear on the way out.

Khovanshchina was never going to be a laugh a minute night out. And those who bought their tickets to hear the wonderful music of Musorsgsky, as orchestrated after his death by Shostakovich, will have been amongst those not disappointed.

Under the baton of Lothar Koenigs the music to those of us not very familiar with the work was a revelation, always beautiful and evocative, at times lyrical and tuneful, at others Wagnerian and haunting.

The same must be said of the chorus of Welsh National Opera who, stalwarts as they are, put up with whatever was thrown at them in this potpourri of historical, architectural and cultural references crammed into one production with stoic aplomb. 

Someone, somewhere, decided this opera would be sung in English. This would have been fine had it been possible to make out more than about one in a hundred words. There were whole arias — and by no means little ditties — where I could not fathom a single word. It sounded quite nice, in a moody Russian sort of way, and was no doubt deeply significant.

I have never been a fan of surtitles. But after a few minutes of struggling to make out a word of what was being sung I was all at sea, struggling to hear singers, follow the dastardly plot and file yet another Pountney visual reference in my cerebral inbox for future analysis.

Even with the show sung in English, we should have had Welsh surtitles. My Welsh is pretty basic but I would have more of a chance of understanding the Welsh than what I could hear from the stage.

At the interval it quickly became clear I was not alone. “Can anyone tell me what is going on, can you make out what they are singing and what is the point of the production?” was the main thrust of interval discussions I overheard. The responses were along the lines: “Haven’t a clue, can’t make much of the words and I stopped trying to understand it ages ago”.

This, of course, is a great pity. This is indeed a powerful and musically gorgeous work that deserves to be enjoyed. Possibly in a year or so the opera can be revived with surtitles or as a straight concert performance.

Admittedly the plot is so complex and the piece so gloomy it is better to regard it as an evocation of Russia and themes religious, political and emotional, rather than a literal tale.

It is about power struggles in the time of Peter the Great between rivals and a spiritual leader with individual views on the future of Mother Russia. By the end they have all been ground down in one dreadful way or another and we are left with yet another image of troubled Russia, its struggles between East and West, modernism and tradition, a people invaded, plundered and constantly in search of a solution.

There really is little point going through the legions of symbolism Pountney and designer Johan Engels wade through with as much subtlety and progress as a German Panzer, low on fuel and stuck in the mud in the Russian winter of 1941. There are undoubtedly scenes of intensity and sheer horror that are visually gripping and chilling. Yet, as a package, the whole is too abstract production led.

Yes, the cast worked extremely hard and Peter Sidhom, singing Shaklovity, made an impact. Robert Hayward and Tom Randle as Prince Ivan Khovansky and Prince Andrei Khovansky had presence and Rosalind Plowright generally coped admirably with the demands of singing Marfa.

The audience managed miraculously to stop coughing during Beate Vollack’s erotic, at times seemingly naked, dance as the Persian Slave. A bit of light relief if nothing else.

There is a further performance at WMC on Saturday, February 14 and the Grand Theatre, Swansea on April 7.

Mike Smith

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):