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

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.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Jason and Medea
18 Jun 2007

Leipzig Bachfest explores early opera

When opera is the subject, there’s an uneasy embarrassment at Leipzig’s annual 10-day Bach Festival, for opera is a genre that the city’s most famous musical son never embraced.

Above: Scene from Jason and Medea

Photo of Emma Kirky copyright Bach-Archiv Leipzig/Gert Mothes.
All other photos copyright by Andreas Birkigt [Emilienstraße 11a 04107 Liepizg Tel. 0341 – 960 9625, Bayerische Vereinsbank Leipzig (BLZ 86020086 Kto.-Nr. 4500792)]

 

True, in the St. Matthew Passion Bach composed one of the great music dramas of all time, but the opera house itself was an arena alien to him. In Bach’s Baroque age opera was largely a courtly concern, and the Saxon court was down the road in Dresden. Leipzig, mercantile, middle class and Lutheran laced had neither time nor taste for the excesses of entertainment staged in the Catholic capital.

Bachfest 2007, which brought 50,000 Bach fans to Leipzig, corrected this oversimplification of music history.“From Monteverdi to Bach,” the theme of the season, brought a new view of the situation — and with it new music — to light. Indeed, Leipzig had — or had had — an opera, but it folded in 1720, three years before Johann Sebastian Bach arrived as Thomaskantor, the man responsible for music not only at historic St. Thomas Church, but at other churches in the city as well. That opera, nourished at its outset by talent “imported” from Dresden, was founded in 1693 and soon became a venue for young composers who had come to Leipzig to study.

Foremost among them was George Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), who, born four years before Bach, outlived him by another 17. And, as the world well knows, it was only because the then more popular Telemann turned down the job at St. Thomas that Bach was hired. Although Telemann made written reference to 20 operas in his catalogue, until recently only half a dozen arias documented his efforts in the field.

Now, however, an ambitious Michael Maul has proven that some 40 arias in a Frankfurt archive were from Telemann’s “Germanicus,” which was given its modern premiere at the Bachfest ‘07 on June 11 by Gotthold Schwarz and the Saxon Baroque Orchestra. Written in 1704 and revised six years later, “Germanicus” is a tale of love, lust and political intrigue based very loosely on events during the first-century occupation of Teutonic territory by the Romans. Since only arias survive, for recitatives Maul substituted a tongue-in-cheek narrative wittily delivered by actor Dieter Bellmann. Through facial expression and a minimum of gesture a youthful cast made a strong case for the quality of Telemann’s youthful opus. Unusual for that day, librettist for “Germanicus” was Christine Dorothea Lachs, a woman with close connections to musical circles.

Leipzig is the heart of a region rich in music history, and to take advantage of that the Bach Festival stages outings, several of which include recitals on organs from Bach’s day. The season’s focus on Monteverdi took visitors to the tiny 1803 theater in near-by Bad Lauchstädt, designed in part of Goethe and recently restored to his designs for its interior.

On June 12 it was the setting for Monteverdi’s 1640 “Return of Ulysses to his Fatherland” staged by Christophe Rousset, who conducted his early-music ensemble Les Talens Lyriques from the harpsichord. As Penelope and Ulysses Hilary Sommers and Jan Kobow headed a cast of almost 20 amazing singers, who left one wondering how after this highly dramatic achievement Handel could have abandoned himself so completely to routine da capo arias. Rousset founded Les Talens Lyriques in Paris in 1991.

Emma_Kirkby_Leipzig.pngJune 16,the penultimate evening of Bachfest ‘07, brought the Yorkshire Bach Choir and Baroque Soloists to the Michaeliskirche for a performance of Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” with veteran soprano Emma Kirkby as the tragic heroine. Kirkby, a major presence in early music since her debut in 1973, has a voice magically beyond the reach of time. Her Dido remains of adolescent tenderness and touching innocence. (And, by the way, it is now Dame Emma.)

Bass Stephen Varcoe was — even if a cad — a noble Aeneas, and Helen Neeves a devoted Belinda.

Conductor Peter Seymour, founder of the Yorkshire ensembles, included on the program Daniel Purcell’s “Again the welcome morn we sing” and “Mark how the Lark and Linnet sing” by John Blow, making this concert a generous sampling of English opera in Bach’s day. The above — concert performances all — were accompanied by period-instrument ensembles that documented both the quantity and quality of such players in Europe today.

Most unusual staging of the season was Steffan Schleiermacher’s updated version of “The Combat of Tancred and Clorinda,” Monteverdi’s setting for solo voice of a key scene from Tasso’s “Jerusalem Liberated.” Composer-pianist-conductor Schleiermacher, an outstanding figure on Germany’s crossover music scene, is a man well versed in early music, and his “Mackie Messer” approach to this dramatic confrontation, played on the second stage of the Leipzig Opera, was gripping.

While baritone narrator Christopher Jung told the story amid modern instruments — the accordion dominated — the ill-fated lovers were portrayed by dancers who appeared as if marionettes on strings. Schleiermacher paired the brief work with Peter Maxwell Davies’ single-soprano “Miss Donnithorne’s Maggott” under the title “Lost Battles of Love.”

1263_Jason_et_Medee_1.HP_05.pngTo further underscore the dramatic impulse brought to the arts by the Baroque the Leipzig Opera staged the first-ever German performance of Jean Georges Noverre’s 1763 ballet “Jason and Medea.” Danced by the opera’s superb ballet ensemble and directed in Leipzig by Jean Paul Gravier and Claude Agrafeil, the production, which premiered on June 9, was a revival of a 1992 Strasbourg staging by Sweden’s grand old man of the dance, Ivo Cramer.

Jean Joseph Rodolphe’s original score was arranged by England’s Charles Farncombe. In the title roles Martin Chaix and Kiyoko Kimura stressed the grace of dance before ballet went on its toes, and in the fire and fury of Medea’s dance of revenge Kimura made this blood-curdling story the direct antecedent of Samuel Barber’s score on the subject written almost 300 years later.

All Leipzig Opera performances are distinguished by the playing of its pit band, the esteemed Gewandhaus Orchestra. For this performance on 9 July youthful Vincent de Cort conducted with vigor. “You are a Prometheus!” Voltaire once wrote to Noverre. “You form humans and breathe life into them.” In like manner this recreation was a truly Titanic achievement.

Increasingly aware of the importance of outreach programs, the Bachfest this year devoted an entire day to events for children and families. High point of the day was a one-hour reduction of Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” by Taschenoper Lübeck. The “pocket opera” production featured a mere six musicians, some of them doubling as vocalists and instrumentalists.

Jiri Bartovanec, Laura SiegmundFounded in 2005 by students at the Lübeck Conservatory and dedicated to “big opera for little people,” the talented ensemble brought kids on stage as extras and stage hands, and the entire audience was rehearsed to appeal to Pluto for the release of Euridice. (Moved by their apprentice musicianship Pluto pulled out a handkerchief and wept openly in response.)

While the “this-isn’t-going-to-hurt” approach that often puts classical music on a par with a visit to the dentist at American kiddie concerts, there was here no talking down to the audience — six is the stated minimum age for admission — nor was there any slapstick. Yet the kids that packed the small Schille – Theaterhaus just minutes from St. Thomas Church were mesmerized by the simple staging that depended on the music — not on carnival-of-the-animals gimmicks — for its magic. Indeed, so fine are these young singers that adults in the audience would have welcomed a complete “Orfeo” by the troupe, whose enthusiasm held listeners in its spell.

The production marked the 400th anniversary of “Orfeo,” the oldest opera in the extant repertory. This impressive cross-section of early opera documented the spectrum of musical expression in the early Baroque, while other performances stressed Bach’s role in bringing the age to its fullest musical flower. And having suggested that the composer’s St. Matthew Passion qualifies as music theater, an “extra” of Bachfest ‘07 was a master class, in which Peter Schreier worked with four young tenors on the role of the Evangelist in the score. Schreier, now 72, was the world’s top performer in this role during the final decades of the 20th century.

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):