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

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Lauren Flanigan in the title role of
05 Jun 2007

Pasatieri’s return to opera impressive

The June 2 world premiere of “Frau Margot” at the Fort Worth Opera might be regarded as “an historic return,” for this is Thomas Pasitieri’s first opera in 18 years.

Thomas Pasitieri: Frau Margot
Fort Worth Opera

Above: Lauren Flanigan in the title role of “Frau Margot”
All photos by Ellen Appel courtesy of Fort Worth Opera

 

And the work has all the markings of a masterpiece; indeed, it gives rise to the hope that he has another opera up his sleeve.

The composer of a spate of operas, Pasatieri is best known for “The Seagull,” premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in 1984. A few years later he put opera aside and moved to Hollywood. (If you’ve seen “American Beauty,” “Fried Green Tomatoes” or “Magnolia” you’ve heard him — probably without realizing it.)

“Frau Margot” is a collective endeavor that involved the talents of many people over a long period of time. “Nest egg” was a report brought to librettist and director Frank Corsaro from Vienna by Leonard Bernstein. The then young conductor/composer had visited Helene Berg, widow of composer Alban Berg, whose opera “Lulu” was left incomplete when he died in 1935. Bernstein - like many others - sought permission to finish the score from Berg’s sketches for a third act. (Performances of the completed two acts had become common.)

Frau Berg refused after consulting with her late husband through a sèance, the Internet of that age of rampant spiritualism. (A good bit of laudanum helped her make the connection.) The widow refused permission — as she continued to do until her death in 1978.

Corsaro made a play of Bernstein’s story and called it “Lyric Suite,” the title of Berg’s most performed chamber work. However, given the near-universal aversion to dissonant music, he was unable to find a producer. On a visit to New York in 2003 Pasatieri told Corsaro, the director of the Houston “Seagull” and several other works by the composer, that he wanted to return to opera. Corsaro gave him his play. Then FWO general director Darren Woods ran into Corsaro and Pasatieri at a party. Woods was seeking a project for “down the road,” and “Frau Margot” was commissioned.

Allan Glassman (as Walter Engelmann), Lauren Flanigan (as Margot) and Deborah Baker (as the nurse). Photo credit: Ellen AppelCorsaro then turned his drama into a detective story, a Gothic tale of a widow’s murder of a former mistress of her husband. (It was long suspected that Frau Berg kept the “Lulu” fragment under wraps because it documented her husband’s extra-marital activity.) Corsaro gave the characters fictional names and began the new version with an investigation of the murder, followed by a flashback to the Bernstein story. The young composer shared the beds of both the widow and of Kara Sondstrom, who had been the mistress of the deceased master. He set the story in Amsterdam, which, however, is clearly a facade for Freud’s Vienna with its seething, all-pervasive sexuality. In that l’art pour l’art age “reality” had become an elusive concept that allows us — as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the greatest poet of the age, said — “to play theater — play the characters in our own dramas.”

At first glance it might seem that the librettist muddied the waters needlessly with his additions to music history. Things were complex enough in the Berg household without emendations. Yet even the shadow of lesbianism that darkens the co-dependency that bind Margot to Kara is no more than a reflection of the obsession of fin-de-siècle Vienna with matters of the flesh. About the city at that time Viennese author Stefan Zweig wrote that “the air felt perfumed and unhealthy; a dishonest morality hung over us like a nightmare.” And man-about-town Karl Kraus commented that Vienna was “spiritually bankrupt.” And it was in spite — or perhaps precisely because — of that it was also the scene of a golden age in the arts.

With amazing success Pasatieri has captured all this in a score of a voluptuous splendor that suggests Klimt’s gilded paintings set to music. And this is what makes “Frau Margot” a masterpiece, for the composer has not only laid bare the nervous mental machinations of his characters; he has rendered turn-of-the-century Vienna with its undertow of threatening darkness audible. A muted sadness speaks from the libretto’s reference to “the hope for that love that sustains the fragile heart and makes life durable.” This melancholy sounds again from the final confession of the major male characters in the opera: “I have not lived the life I meant to live.” “Life and death,” Corsaro writes, “are one and the same.” Small wonder that Pasatieri’s gorgeous music speaks with heavy eyelids.

The score — three hours with two intermissions — pulses with an uninterrupted rapture that draws listeners into the music, putting them — as it were — on stage in the middle of the action. Two changes, however, must be made. The “barber-shop” quartet of waiters in Act One breaks with the style of the work and should be excised. And the spoof of ageing divas was especially tasteless when such senior sopranos as Catherine Malfitano and Evelyn Lear — both with long-standing connections to the FWO — were in the audience for the premiere in Fort Worth’s handsome Bass Performance Center.

“Frau Margot” was written for Lauren Flanigan, who in the title role could easily be taken for one of Klimt’s well-born models. And her fundamentally lyric soprano has just the dramatic heft that the part demands. “Stumbling along in her loneliness,” as the libretto says, she was here a stunning incarnation of the uneasy splendor of the age.

Morgan Smith (as Ted) and Patricia Risley (as Kara). (Photo credit: Ellen Appel)As Kara Sondstrom, the friend who betrayed Margot, Patricia Risley provided exactly the contrast between the two women required by the score. And baritone Morgan Smith as Ted Steiner, the composer who had set out to complete the unfinished opera in question, is young, handsome and innocent enough to get caught in this spider web of erotic desire without full awareness of what stood before him.

The “who-done-it?” frame within which the story is told was nicely provided by Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch, and Alan Glassman had the required maturity to make his unrequited love for Margot touching.

The single set by Alison Nalder was entirely in black and white with scene changes achieved through enlarged background projections of buildings and people. Costumes true to the period were by Steven Bryant.

FWO music director Joseph Illick, involved in early workshops on the score, demonstrated a refined understanding of the work, and members of the Fort Worth Symphony outdid themselves in recreating the lush “feel” of the story’s era.

“Frau Margot” has been the centerpiece of Fort Worth Opera’s 60th anniversary celebration, which has witnessed a total reshaping of the company’s season. In recent years FWO has spaced three productions during the fall/winter season. Now it has consolidated them in a three-week early summer festival that focuses special attention on both the FWO and its home city.

“Frau Margot” has alternated on stage with “Madama Butterfly” and “Falstaff,” and in a joint enterprise with the city’s Cliburn Concerts the festival included a gala performance Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. (Fort Worth is home to pianist Van Cliburn and the international competition that honors him.) In 1981 FWO commissioned a children’s opera from Thomas Pasatieri and that adds yet another layer of meaning to his “return” to opera — and Fort Worth — with “Frau Margot.”

Pasatieri, born in 1945, was a prodigy both as pianist and composer. He studied in France with Nadja Boulanger and earned the first doctorate given by the Juilliard School.

Footnote: It was an open secret in imperial Vienna that Helene Berg was the child of Kaiser Franz Joseph I, whose mistress her mother had been. A singer of note, she was cut from the same cloth as femme fatale Alma Mahler. Indeed, it seems that Corsaro and Pasatieri have given Frau Margot something of the allure of the legendary Alma.

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):