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

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Roxana Briban and Ismael Jordi (La Traviata, Volksoper, 16 May 2007)
04 Jun 2007

“La Traviata” from the Volksoper Wien

In Verdi’s beloved opera, love does not conquer all but the sweet-taste of what “might have been” lingers on our lips forever when we think of the beautiful Violetta.

“La Traviata” from the Volksoper Wien
16 May 2007

Above: Roxana Briban and Ismael Jordi

 

Before attending the Volksoper’s season première of La Traviata, I had only days before visited the tomb of the great man in Milan. As I stood at the foot of Verdi’s grave, it became a vibrant reality that here lay one of the greatest musical dramatists in history and what’s more, he was human; made of flesh like the rest of us and left us with a legacy of operas that have withstood the test of time and continued to influence and instruct us on human behaviour and emotion. The Traviata presented at the Volksoper was not at all what Signor Verdi would have had in mind for his beloved Violetta.

The stage was pre-set with soprano, Roxana Briban, lying on a white bed in full view of the audience for at least half-an-hour prior to the Prelude. The stage was minimalist, and at first it seemed acceptable to use a minimalistic set since this opera is really about characters and the depths of their emotions, not visual displays and spectacular props. Maestro Leopold Hager and the Orchester der Volksoper Wien opened the opera with a precise tempo and inflection in the Prelude, but it perhaps lacked the dramatic intensity that Verdi’s “high strings” should produce. Meanwhile, Violetta stretched her hand out toward a little girl standing behind a scrim, tossing a large plastic ball up and down. It was evident that Violetta was hallucinating and seeing herself as a child during the Prelude, a concept that may have worked well, but ended up failing in the end.

The dramatic opening was immediately interrupted by a masquerade complete with “masks” and clown-like costumes; obviously, a different perspective from the typical ballroom party with flowing gowns and tuxedos. The orchestra here began its slow and painful detachment from the vocal component of the opera and unfortunately Maestro Hager never fully regained a sense of unity. The “Brindisi” was rather boring in this masquerade-like conception; with young tenor, Ismael Jordi trying his best to produce a sense of gaiety and excitement. A very handsome and sincere performer, his tenor was very light for a role of this intensity and often imprecise; especially taking Verdi’s orchestral support into consideration. Verdi differs from Puccini in that he often leaves the tenor exposed at the ends of passages and in the higher tessitura with little orchestral foundation. Mr. Jordi would have made a better Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia than an Alfredo at this point in his career.

Most disturbing was the stage direction for the party-scene, with Violetta changing, on-stage, into a clown outfit. Verdi’s intention was to have the audience witness her at her most exquisite: beautiful, full-of-life, and healthy (or so we believe…or maybe want to believe); but here, the direction casts her in a pantomime outfit and in the same pale white in which she would later die. Her entrances in Un dì felice were detached from the orchestral fabric and she lacked any sense of legato singing whatsoever. The orchestra was almost in another realm from Alfredo and Violetta here, and the duet was spastic and unfocused rather than the intended display of profound passion. The pair did not once look at each other throughout the duet and the necessary spark that audiences crave between Alfredo and Violetta would never be ignited in this production.

Ismael Jordi and Roxana BribanThe first exhilarating moment…or what should have been, comes in Violetta’s Ah, fors’è lui che l’anima, however it was not Violetta’s persona that became apparent here; rather, it was Ms. Briban’s vocal and technical instability. It became clear that Maestro Hager and she were not in sync and this aria became a fight for control. She stood in the center of the stage with the rotating set moving around her. Her Italian enunciation was less than acceptable and she was often out-of-tune on her pianissimi. It was as if Ms. Briban sang with three different voices rather than the type of unified voice most vocal pedagogues and technicians impress upon the young singers of today. Her low tessitura was extremely heavy for a Violetta, the middle was pushed and strident. Her well-publicized pianissimi were so fabricated that one could hardly hear them because she was, in fact, closing off the throat and air supply rather than using proper breath support and an open throat to float them in a resonant place alla Leontyne Price or, more recently, Renée Fleming. The bell-like quality of Violetta’s singing was missing. The Sempre Libera was painful, and Ms. Briban was exuding huge waves of voice and then it would cut out without transition from one part of the voice to another. Her missed entrance of Violetta’s “Follie! Follie!” was enough to make any aficionado cringe and an embarrassment to the Volksoper as a whole.

Once this disaster was over, the drama ceased to one ignited scream of “Brava!” and immediately the entire audience mimicked the audience member. WHAT HAS THE OPERA WORLD COME TO? Have we all succumbed to the glamour of beautiful faces and forgotten what this art is really about? In my opinion, we have conformed to mediocrity and this performance of Traviata would have had Signor Verdi rolling around in his grave. Who are we if we do not stand up and protect the wishes and aesthetics of the composer who creates with such diligence and precision? This production seemed more of a parody of Traviata than an actual presentation of it. Is it acceptable to stage anything as long as we stage it in half-inflected Italian, with loud and uneven voices and lots of clown outfits?! I stand in defense of Verdi’s honour and am appalled that a Viennese opera house would stage something of this mediocre caliber. Had this staging been performed somewhere where Verdi is seen as a national hero, like La Scala let’s say, there would have surely been a scandal in the streets.

Mr. Jordi entered to try and save what had been a disastrous competition between conductor and soprano and unfortunately made it sound even more like an undergraduate performance by students. The only glimmer of light in this production was Baritone, Morten Frank Larsen, who was at least in character and dramatic. His Italian was better than his colleagues, although not where it should have been. His Pura siccome un angelo was somewhat strictly sung with a stagnant orchestral accompaniment. There was not much room for rubato or any shading and Maestro Hager kept it as strict as possible. Unfortunately, because of Mr. Larsen’s acting capabilities and his colleagues lack thereof, it seemed that he was more in love with Violetta than Alfredo was.

The chorus of Gypsies was the icing on the cake for this production imbued with clown-costumes and more of a Pagliacci-like atmosphere than anything. All at once the chorus from Carmen entered the stage!!!…well, they weren’t singing Bizet’s music but the chorus was decked out in red and black Spanish outfits and the men were bullfighters flirting nonsensically with the women. The chorus, although representative of Matadors, was very much detached from the music and the actions seemed to have nothing to do with the text that was being sung. Again, the audience seemed to accept this mish-mash of ideas that was incoherently held together by a struggling orchestra and conductor.

The Chor der Volksoper WienAct III of Traviata should be a display of what Verdi does best. He pulls at our heartstrings and in a moment of luscious melodrama he allows Violetta to read her letter to the sounds of the orchestra. Briban spoke in a harsh and violent chest voice and let out a yelp that resembled something that an Elektra would scream, rather than a Violetta. Her Addio del passato, the highest point of Violetta’s dramatic personae was spastic and her actions seemed more like a Lucia (mad) than a consumptive Violetta. I felt no sympathy for her character as the uneven and imprecise singing was enhanced by Ms. Briban’s throwing herself violently on the stage with such a thud that I wondered if she had hurt herself. There was no saving Violetta by this point, or the production for that matter.

The end had Violetta, who had remained in her white negligee throughout, lying back on her bed with her outstretched hand motioning to the little girl tossing the big plastic ball up in the air.

In the end, she threw the ball and it went high into the rafters, representative of Violetta’s soul leaving her body. How Violetta’s soul can possibly be represented by a ball is beyond me. In all, this production could have been saved had the singing been at least precise and had Ms. Briban and Maestro Hager agreed on “one” way to perform this opera. It was an example of how two conflicting opinions can create havoc on-stage. What’s more, audiences of today seem to accept anything as long as it’s presented in an “opera house.” Just because something is performed on a stage does not necessarily mean that it deserves a scream of “Bravo.” At one time, the term “Bravo,” or “Brava” was used for fantastic and outstanding performances; the type that one remembers for years and years afterwards because of the immense talents of the performers, musicians, and directors. This performance of La Traviata did not deserve such accolades.

Mary-Lou Vetere-Borghoff
PhD (ABD), M.A., Mus.B

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):