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

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

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’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Richard Wagner
08 Mar 2007

Berlin “Ring” remains a sterling achievement

It was in the “Orwell year” 1984 that Götz Friedrich, general manager — Intendant — of the Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) from 1983 until his death in 2000, staged the first half of Wagner’s “Ring des Nibelungen” in the 1900-seat house on Berlin’s Bismarckstrasse.

Above: Richard Wagner (1862)

 

He completed it the following season.

Orwell’s chimera of total state control then still existed in communist Eastern Europe, and cold-war tensions were brought to a new height by new Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles implanted in East Germany and — in response — Pershing II warheads sowed in West German forests by the US.

It was not a happy time. Germans saw their country as a nuclear battleground. Today, however, the nuclear threat is only an added feature of global terror.

Small wonder that Friedrich took Wagner’s gods and giants underground, suggesting refuge from a nuclear holocaust. And it’s hardly a surprise that this “Ring” continues to pack its wallop two decades after it was new.

Friedrich literally found his “underground” in the Washington, D.C. Metro, the model for the “time tunnel” designed by Peter Sykora as the site of this “Ring.”

In this hermetic refuge time and space are fused in a contemporary comment on the human condition.

Before Wagner’s music begins the curtain rises on immobile gods shrouded beneath white cloths. They come to life as actors in their own drama, knowing well a story they have told and re-told through the ages. And, as beginning and end merge in mythic recurrence, the gods return to their shrouds as the Rhine rises over Valhalla’s ruins at the end of “Götterdämmerung..”

This, one the one hand, is a new “Oresteiä;” on the other, it’s Beckett’s “Endgame” revisited. It engages the audience in a critical confrontation with the gods; the listener asks whether there might not be a way out of this complex labyrinth of greed, envy and death.

Thus Friedrich’s “Ring” achieves new relevance with each return of the production to the stage. (In its early years it also traveled to Japan and Washington.)

Even Bayreuth would find it difficult to assemble the cast on stage at the DOB for the cycle that ran from February 20 to 25.

Norway’s Terje Stensvold is a thoughtful Wotan, a man of authority and awesome both in vocal and physical stature. The cycle’s Sieglinde, Danish Eva Johannson will soon sing her first Brünnhilde in Vienna, and American Robert Dean Smith brings the heft of the baritone that he was earlier in his career to her “twin” Siegmund.

Richard Paul Fink, another American and today’s reigning incarnation of the role, takes obvious delight in Alberich’s evil machinations, while tenor Burkhard Ulrich eschews the emasculated, hand-wringing Mime now common elsewhere to offer a full-blooded portrait of this unattractive figure. And veteran American bass Eric Halfvarson sings an impressively dark and demonic Hagen.

Most versatile member of the cast is mezzo Marina Prudenskaja, who finished studies in St. Petersburg — her home town — just a decade ago. Here, on the heels of a regal Fricka, she sings Erda in “Siegfried” and both the Second Norn and Waltraute in “Götterdämmerung.”

Evelyn Herlitzius, Bayreuth’s 2004 Brünnhilde, could easily be taken for an energetic, teenaged athlete; she transcends the stereotypical image of the corpulent Wagnerian soprano.

She is a passionate singer in every range and at every dynamic level. Her portrayal of the betrayed Brünnhilde is as tragically moving as it is chilling. A bit of Edith Piaf grit in the lower register adds a special frisson to her work.

Beyond this overall excellence one member of this cast is truly remarkable: Alfons Eberz, who as Siegfried can simply be taken at face value. Indeed, if this character had a historic progenitor, one can only hope that was the match of this young German tenor.

Eberz, Parsifal at Bayreuth last season, isn’t merely young, blond and handsome, he’s that kid from the country whose innocence in the opening acts of “Siegfried” is totally unfeigned. He has no need to fake the pure fool that Wotan’s grandson is, he’s the blank page who makes it all genuine.

Eberz is obviously the Heldentenor that the world has dreamed of since World War Two; his voice balances beauty and power, and his stamina is endless.

With Herlitzius he elevates the “Awakening” scene that concludes “Siegfried” to a legendary level, for it is here that this “Ring” pays telling tribute to Götz Friedrich.

Friedrich, born and schooled in the East of then-divided Germany, was an assistant to Walter Felsenstein, who as mastermind of East Berlin’s Komische Oper in the first post-war decades taught Europe that opera isn’t just about singing, but that it is music theater.

His imprint is clearly felt in Friedrich’s direction of this scene.

True, the love of Siegfried and Brünnhilde was preordained, yet the text tells of the ex-goddess’ hesitation to surrender herself to her impassioned suitor. Compared, however, to the study in incipient eroticism that these two singers make of this scene, everything else is at best greasy kid stuff.

Indeed, Herlitzius makes clear here that even her earlier response to Wotan’s incestuous fondling was only the reaction of an inexperienced young woman to the advances of a man of high authority.

The greatest single contribution to the overwhelming success of the cycle, however, comes from conductor Donald Runnicles, the Scottish-born maestro now moving toward the end of his tenure as music director of the San Francisco Opera.

Through Runnicles’ intimate knowledge of — and experience with — this vast work, one hears things overlooked by Wagnerian wanna-bees. His attention to inner voices is relentless and never in the 16 hours of cycle does he resort to mere routine.

And the DOB orchestra, now heard in concert several times each season, is a superb ensemble. It was an unusual touch that after “Götterdämmerung” the entire group appeared on stage with Runnicles to accept the acclaim of the audience that packed the house.

Two concurrent events underscored the priority that Wagner is at the DOB: a single program that offered all the composer’s songs and “Klein-Siegfried,” Curt A. Roesler’s introduction to the “Ring” for kids eight and above.

A “Ringless” night was well spent at the Komische Oper, where Astor Piazzolla’s “María de Buenos Aires,” premiered in 1968 as a secular oratorio, has been fully staged by Katja Czellnik.

The libretto by Horacio Ferrer equates the sensual Mari’a both with sin-stained Buenos Aires and the Virgin Maria, sung on February 25 by Julia Zenka, while Daniel Bonilla-Torres delivered the lines of the spirit Duende in Sprechstimme. Tenor Matthias Klein was a gripping Cantor.

And although Berlin is home to three companies of international stature, opera in the city is not restricted to them.

On 19 February Texas-born soprano Laura Claycomb was the soloist in a program of Baroque opera with the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm, a young French woman who brings a winning combination of grace, charm and energy to the podium, where she presided in part from the harpsichord.

A decade into her career, Claycomb, a product of Southern Methodist University and the San Francisco Opera studio, is without a peer among today’s young American sopranos.

In a packed Philharmonie, Hans Scharoun’s hall built under the watchful eye of Herbert von Karajan, Claycomb sang suites arranged by Haïm from two operas by Rameau and Handel’s 1707 cantata “Il delirio amoroso,” all works suited to the agile flexibility of her gifts.

Since German unification in 1990 pride of place among Berlin’s three opera houses has gone to the once-Eastern Staatsoper, at home in the historic Unter den Linden house built by Friedrich the Great.

 Happily, this “Ring” confirms that the Deutsche Oper remains a formidable force in the city’s vibrant musical life.

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):