Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

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):