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

Holy Apostle Matthew
12 Apr 2007

Passion, pain paired in Berlin

It was, of course, a coincidence; on the other hand, on Berlin’s vital, vibrant and all-encompassing arts scene one is continually overwhelmed by new perspectives on the creative process and its product.

On April 4, for example, Kurt Nagano conducted the Deutsche Sinfonie Orchester in Bach’s Passion According to St. Matthew in the now 40-year-old Philharmonie, widely cherished as the world’s most perfect concert hall.

Earlier on that day the press was invited to preview an exhibition in the Hamburger Bahnhof, one of the many sites of Berlin’s National Gallery. Title — and subject — of the show, a collaboration with the Charité’ the Berlin hospital that dates from the 18th century — is “Schmerz/Pain,” the phenomenon that for centuries has perplexed doctors — and inspired artists.

For the visitor the juxtaposition of “Schmerz” and Bach’s Passion enriched the Easter week with provocation and profundity, for the opening section of the exhibition is focused on Christ’s Crucifixion, the primary experience of pain so central to Christian culture. Paintings on display reach from an anonymous 1470 work to Francis Bacon’s 1965 “Crucifixion” triptych. And the interest that modern medicine has taken in this chapter of intense suffering is documented through a multitude of references, including the 1948 experiment of Frederick T. Zugibe, an American forensic specialist who suspended his assistant from a cross to measure the forces involved. Also on display is a 1700 study by Martin von Cochen, who assembled a catalog of 5475 wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, plus 110 blows to his face.

The greater issue within the exhibition is the degree to which the torture of Christ has tempered the approach to pain within Western culture. Also of concern is the consequent emphasis upon compassion for this miraculous man-become-God. To the musical-minded, however, of central interest is a small room focused on Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Du”rer’s woodcut series on the Crucifixion hang on the walls. A page of the Passion manuscript from the German State Library is on display, and at four locations open scores and headsets pinpoint sections of the work that concentrate on Christ’s physical suffering. (In an adjacent room Nathalie Djurberg’s cartoon video of a woman whipping a man offsets the solemnity of Bach. The caption reads: “Just because you are suffering doesn’t make you Jesus.”)

A unique — even if unintended — prologue to the St. Matthew Passion, “Schmerz” left the listener doubly receptive to Nagano’s carefully understated interpretation of the work. Indeed, although performed on modern instruments (except for the group of period instruments that accompanied arias), the performance underscored the wide influence that the early-music movement has had on performances of Bach. Nagano often stood near motionless during arias and was otherwise content to involve himself only in choruses and chorales, the latter sung with winning innocence by the Windsbach Boys Choir.

Yet his reserve in no way reduced the drama of the score that is the closest Bach came to writing an opera. Tenor Martin Petzold brought “you-are-there” urgency to the Evangelist, suggesting that he is more an on-the-scene reporter than a mere narrator. And Dietrich Henschel, elsewhere a seductive Giovanni and as a Lieder artist often called the successor to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, was a monumental Christ.

Nagano’s St. Matthew was one of a plethora of Berlin Bach performances during the Easter season, a richness that emphasizes the Bach tradition in the city that goes back to Felix Mendelssohn’s reintroduction of the then largely forgotten work in 1829, 102 years after its premiere in Leipzig’s Thomaskirche. This “come-back,” which led one critic to place Bach in the company of Shakespeare, amazed even Eduard Devrient, the bass who sang Christ in the 1829 performance. During rehearsals, however, he had questioned just what this 20-year-old “Jew boy” was up to with this daring endeavor.

Of course, Mendelssohn — his father had converted to Christianity — knew great music when he saw it. At 14 he had asked for a copy of the St. Matthew score for Christmas and a year later he, who on a visit to Weimar had played from the “Well-Tempered Clavier” for the aged Goethe, and sister Fanny joined the Singakadamie, which sang Bach — including the St. John Passion — for its own pleasure, but never in public. (Mendelssohn’s grandmother Sara Levi was once a favorite student of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.)

Bach — as Nagano made clear with this Passion week performance that packed the Philharmonie — remains a way of life in Berlin. “Schmerz” is on display through August 5. The Hamburger Bahnhof, Invalidenstrasse 50-51, is a short walk from the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s spectacular new central railway station.

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):