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

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

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):