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

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.

Mahler Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

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):