Recently in Performances
Anthony Minghella's visually-arresting staging, a co-production with New York's Metropolitan Opera and the Lithuanian National Opera, returned this month to its original home at the London Coliseum after a gap of two years.
While I eagerly seized upon an opportunity to hear Angelika Kirschlager live for the first time, having written in very recent weeks about not one but two of the star mezzo’s current CD releases, I ventured to Frankfurt’s Alte Oper feeling a little bit like her stalker.
When I worked in the Archives of the Met, I was custodian of several hundred costumes, many from the days when divas traveled with steamer trunks full of things run up just for them, by the finest designers, with the most glamorous materials, in the colors and styles that suited the ladies themselves.
There is nothing redeeming about Sir John Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s most lively comic characters and the subject of Verdi’s final opera, and yet, inexplicably, we love him.
What constitutes an “international opera star” these days, anyway?
The Metropolitan Opera audience loves its Wagner, and the management for the last several decades has, alas, made sure we aren’t spoiled: it’s a rare season that gets more than two production revivals of Wagner, and some years there have been none.
With her performance of the “Four Last Songs,” ably partnered by Michael Tilson Thomas and his San Francisco Symphony, Deborah Voigt emphatically confirmed her place as one of the glories of the current roster of Strauss interpreters.
John Adams, whose opera Nixon in China set the bar for post-minimalism in the lyric theatre, has once again scored a success with his latest work.
Wagner’s all-conquering chic made apocalyptic music-dramas drawn from folklore the ideal of the nationalistic era; every serious opera composer of the time felt obliged to attempt something in that line.
In this country art and politics are rarely bedfellows — strange or otherwise; indeed, it’s seldom that the two meet under the same roof.
Regarded, until the modern vogue for earlier masters, as the senior surviving grand master of opera, Gluck never quite becomes fashionable and never quite vanishes.
There is no middle ground in War and Peace — or, rather, it’s all middle ground, like a battlefield, and you may feel as if every soldier in Russia (and in France) has marched over you.
Once upon a time, we used to only dream about a stellar pairing like Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu has fielded for their current offering on display: “La Cenerentola.”
Enough ink was spilled last year gushing over Valencia’s new Calatrava-designed opera house and Arts and Science park that I had been chomping at the bit for the opportunity to take in a performance there as soon as my availability and, more important, the availability of a still-very-hard-to-find ticket coincided.
Do we too easily take Richard Strauss for granted? The question is prompted by the superlative production of “Frau ohne Schatten” that was the highlight of the fall season at the Chicago Lyric Opera.
Watching The Queen of Spades staged by a Russian company is often an unforgettable experience.
If Belfast in Northern Ireland isn’t a city that immediately springs to mind as a centre of musical excellence then it’s not for want of talent, initiative and professionalism within its cultural community.
After the triumph of his fifth opera, Ernani, Verdi could have gone on writing howling melodramas and made a mint.
Not long ago, English National Opera declared an intention to capitalise on its name and history by placing greater emphasis on English works.
Despite 19th-century Russia’s reputation as an Italian opera haven, Verdi’s late masterpiece Otello found acceptance there only with great difficulty, even though in its 1889 premiere the title role acquired a great local interpreter in the Mariinsky Theater primo uomo, Nikolai Figner.
31 May 2007
Death in Venice at ENO
Deborah Warner’s new production of Death in Venice is ravishingly beautiful, with stunning lighting designs by Jean Kalman who manages to capture the spirit of every facet of Venice and of the drama’s more general themes, from the misty eeriness of Aschenbach’s first gondola ride through to ominous darkening skies and blazing sunsets.
Against this backdrop, Ian Bostridge’s Aschenbach is vocally extraordinary, using his unique
other-worldly voice to its best sensual advantage in response to this man’s yearning for the ability
to be a part of the beauty of his surroundings.
But there is always a sense here that Aschenbach is not really experiencing Venice for himself:
the opera becomes almost a solo drama with the rest of the ensemble as a mere, if glorious,
backdrop. More worryingly, the staging’s overwhelming visual beauty and meticulous attention
to detail means that Aschenbach’s internal disintegration is almost an afterthought, instead of
being the drama’s principal theme. There is a proliferation of style over substance, a feast for the
senses but very little for the soul to hold on to or be moved by.
One big thing missing is any genuine sense of erotic allure in the portrayal of Tadzio. The role is
danced gracefully enough by Benjamin Paul Griffiths, but not enough thought has been given to
the need to place him on a pedestal, to enable the audience to experience whatever indefinable
quality it is which captivates Aschenbach. In the group of athletic boy dancers there are two or
three who look and move in very much the same way, so Tadzio is often lost in the crowd.
Indeed, when Iestyn Davies’s Apollo makes his first appearance the sudden presence of genuine
homoerotic allure is so revelatory that one wonders what the purpose of Tadzio has been during
the preceding hour or so.
There was a chance that cohesion could have been achieved through the multiple baritone roles,
sung here by Peter Coleman-Wright. However, rather than develop the roles as different
incarnations of the same sinister character, they are too cleanly defined and individually
characterised, and as a result become merely a set of character vignettes which contribute little to
the overall shape of the piece.
While Tom Pye’s set designs have a meticulous regard for atmospheric detail which is mirrored
in the ensemble direction and choreography, the same cannot be said either for the orchestra
(under Edward Gardner in the first production of his tenure as ENO Music Director) whose
first-night playing seemed harsh and detached from the action, or for the chorus, whose ensemble
singing was scrappy and well beneath their usual standard.
Though on the surface this production had everything, it was deeply frustrating in its failure to
amalgamate the internal downward spiral of Bostridge’s extraordinary Aschenbach with the
ensemble performance and ravishing surroundings. Ultimately, it failed to create a coherent
whole – even from a set of almost faultless ingredients.
Ruth Elleson © 2007