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

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.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

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.

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):