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

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.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

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):