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

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.

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a disappointing Tosca

During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.

Matthias Goerne : Mahler Eisler Wigmore Hall

A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

New Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Lyric Opera, Chicago

In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.

A Salome to Remember

Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.

L’Elisir d’Amore Goes On Despite Storm

On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.

Boris Godunov in Marseille

There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

German bass Franz Hawlata sings the title role of Wozzeck in San Diego Opera’s production of Wozzeck, directed by Des McAnuff. Photo © Cory Weaver
23 Apr 2007

Wozzeck at San Diego Opera

“What drives a man to insanity and murder?” asks the poster for San Diego Opera’s new production of Wozzeck, which closed this Sunday after a run of four performances.

Alban Berg: Wozzeck
San Diego Opera, 22 April 2007

All photos courtesy of San Diego Opera

 

In the week after the horrific crime at Virginia Tech, the question strengthened this great but harsh masterpiece’s claim on the attention of an opera-going public still hesitant to expose itself to the work, over 80 years past its premiere. San Diego Opera General Director Ian Campbell’s greeting to his company’s patrons in the program almost begged for their indulgence: Wozzeck “is ‘not’ Aida or Madama Butterfly,” he helpfully explained, but a work that “took opera in new directions.”

During the performance Sunday, a few audience members took the “old” direction toward the exits during the scene changes, creeping out as Wozzeck, apparently, creeped them out. The majority stayed to extend warm appreciation to the hard-working cast at the opera’s conclusion — a rather abrupt one, with the last note from the orchestra beating the curtain down, a true rarity.

American tenor Chris Merritt is The Captain in San Diego Opera’s production of Wozzeck, directed by Des McAnuff. Photo © Ken HowardCampbell turned to a theater director new to opera, as the news-making Peter Gelb of the Metropolitan Opera has done. San Diego has been the home base for Des McAnuff, who has helmed Tony-award winning musicals from Big River in 1985 to Jersey Boys in 2006. With scenic designer Robert Brill, McAnuff created an eerie, tense Wozzeck, without the slightest hint of any showbiz glitter. The cast, in Catherine Zuber’s time-appropriate costumes, live in a cold, clinical world: the uni-set most resembles a hospital amphitheater for clinical examinations, with metallic scaffolding forming tiers on the outside, and a huge, tilting disc of lights hanging over the empty center. Unfortunately, the designers decided this should be a revolving set, and the turntable apparatus made an unacceptable amount of noise, especially in the scene where Chris Merritt’s Captain noted how quiet the evening was.

The “examination room” concept makes sense as a metaphor for the work’s detailed analysis of Wozzeck’s breakdown, but it also serves to distance the audience from the poor soldier’s plight. If everyone is living in the same cruel confines, why is he the only one who descends into madness? In the interludes between scene changes, film (designed by Dustin O’Neill) filled the stage-covering scrim. Some of the images brushed up against cliche, such as time-elapsed shots of dark clouds streaming through a gray sky. For the most part, the dead-eyed visage of Franz Hawlata’s Wozzeck stared out. His unchanging expression — or lack of same — served to work against a sense of increasing anxiety to approaching doom.

So with this, his first attempt at an opera, McAnuff may have felt hesitant to bring the full-force of his skills to the production. His direction, while detailed and well-structured, provided no fresh perspectives. Merritt’s Captain screamed and strutted like a borderline psychotic himself. Dean Peterson’s doctor, on the other hand, seemed a pallid figure, offering tame diet advice after a perfunctory prostate examination. Jay Hunter Morris’s Drum Major did capture both the masculine appeal and brutality of his character.

American soprano Nina Warren sings Marie in San Diego Opera’s production of Wozzeck, directed by Des McAnuff. Photo © Cory WeaverAs Marie, Nina Warren truly cut a pathetic figure of desperation, both in the face of her own lust and her partner’s advancing paranoia. Her top rang out with a cutting edge that made your reviewer interested in hearing her Salome, or even Elektra.

At the center stood the forlorn figure of Franz Hawlata, pale and haunted, the lower range of his voice seeming to echo in the emptiness of the character. Wozzeck’s demise, however, came with the production’s arguable misfire, with Hawlata, instead of descending into water, having to strap himself onto a disc that mirrored the lights above. The disc then rose and tilted as a scrim descended, with film of a watery surface projected on it. The theatrical effect deadened the dramatic intention.

By far the greatest strength of the performance came from the orchestra under the leadership of Karen Keltner. Last heard by your reviewer leading the musicians in the very different score of Bizet’s Pearlfishers (!), Ms. Keltner caught the grinding dissonance and also the many moments of spectral beauty in Berg’s score.

Though by no means a “missed opportunity,” after this only intermittently successful Wozzeck McAnuff, if he continues to direct opera, should be confident enough to bring more daring and personal insight into his work. In the meantime, almost as a reward for their attendance at this still-challenging work, the SDO patrons can look forward to Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro, closing the 2007 season with familiar melodies and a starry cast. And perhaps after Wozzeck, the pain underneath the laughter in Da Ponte’s libretto will seep through.

Chris Mullins

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):