Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Joyce DiDonato (Octavian) and Soile Isokoski (The Marschallin)
25 Jun 2007

San Francisco underscores complexity of “Rosenkavalier”

Just whose opera is “Der Rosenkavalier” anyway? The title — to begin with the obvious — says it’s youthful Octavian, pinpointing his role as the bearer of the rose that is to seal the marriage contract of Ochs and child-like Sophie.

Above: Joyce DiDonato (Octavian) and Soile Isokoski (The Marschallin)
All photos by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

It’s in performing that task that he falls in love with Sophie and sets out to unmask Ochs and rescue her from the union with him. Thus it’s surprising to read that the working title of the opera was “Ochs von Lerchenau,” assigning to this elder in the cast a hegemony hard to find in the completed opera.

The answer, of course, is so simple that one hardly need ask the question at all. For the central figure in “Rosenkavalier” is the Marschallin — “Resi,” not only because all others in the drama are defined by their relation to her, but because of the immense weight that composer Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal have woven into the complex character of this woman at a crossroads in life.

Any doubt about this assertion is removed by studying — not merely reading — the text of the Marshallin’s monologue that ends Act One of “Rosenkavalier.” And it was here that the shortcomings of the production on stage at the San Francisco Opera in June were most sharply felt. (At this point one recalls with amazement how relatively recent it was that in this country one listened to this essential section of the drama with only a summary of the plot in hand.)

This self-confrontation that begins with the Marschallin looking in a mirror and realizing that she — caught now between the contradictory faces of “love” as incarnate in Octavian and treasure-seeking Ochs — is at a turning point in her life. And it is the Marschallin of Soile Isokoski that makes this staging problematic. Just 50, the Finnish soprano sang intelligently and with refinement, yet her Marschallin was more country club than Kärntnerstrasse. Indeed, it was surprising to read that she has been a success in the role in both Dresden and Vienna, the two cities that are “home” to “Rosenkavalier.”

Isokoski has an essentially small voice, adequate perhaps in Europe’s smaller venues, but insufficient for the War Memorial Opera House, where the opera was seen on June 21. More disturbing, however, was the absence of warmth, of that climacteric, mid-life, near-valedictory radiance, that the role demands. Isokoski had clearly thought her way through the Act-One monologue, yet one missed the accents, the stress on crucial lines, that make the text meaningful — and moving. In it the Marschallin reflects on her own arranged and loveless marriage. (Although she has been wed for a considerable time, the question is nowhere asked whether she is a mother. One tends to think not, but it’s a further point to consider.) “Die Zeit, sie ist ein sonderbar Ding,” the Marschallin sings, “strange, this time business.” And it’s here that one must pause and praise Hofmannsthal, Strauss’ major librettist, for what is no doubt the finest text in all of opera. (One assumes too blithely, by the way, that “Rosenkavalier” is written in Viennese dialect. Hofmannsthal created rather an idiom all its own to tell the story of this opera — still strangely billed as “comic.”) Heidi Melton (Marianne, far left), Miah Persson (Sophie), Joyce DiDonato (Octavian), and Noah Stewart (Faninal's major-domo, far right) Not to turn a review into a German lesson, but Hofmannsthal took advantage of long-established license to omit the adjective ending that in common practice would make time “ein sonderbares Ding.” It’s the absence of the ending that makes this poetry and complements the haunting meditative force of Strauss’ music at this point.

The monologue is a moment of major crisis in the life of the Marschallin, and it prepares the way for her re-entry into the drama late in Act Three. (She is completely absent in Act Two.) The Marschallin, although she here foresees her loss of Octavian from the outset of the drama, is nonetheless unable to rise above it when it happens. The role calls for renunciation — “Entsagung,” to use the word made commonplace in German by Goethe, that real-life Giovanni, when a late-life love fell short of fulfillment. She must transcend the limits of personal passion to offer an example of humility, dignity and strength. And this Isokoski did not do. Indeed, she approached the monologue as narrative rather than as the introspective interior monologue that it is.

Miah Persson (Sophie) and Joyce DiDonato (Octavian)It’s a hard thing to put into words, but the recollection of another Marschallin helps makes the point. At age 62, Italy’s Renata Scotto, the Butterfly of an era, performed the Marschallin — her first role in German — at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Before opening the final trio, in which the Marschallin recalls her vow to love Octavian so much that she would also love his love another, the Italian soprano left the young couple behind her and stepped close to the footlights. At that moment she conveyed a pain so intense and all-consuming that sitting in the audience one felt is physically. That’s the stuff that a great Marschallin is made of, and Isokoski was more involved in telling the woman’s story than in communicating the searing experience of it. “Rosenkavalier” is not the place for Brecht’s alienation technique.

A last comment on this Marschallin: In a mere two words Hofmanmsthal/Strauss gave the Marschallin one of the great exits in opera. She leaves the stage with Sophie’s upward-striving, nouveau riche father, who — with no idea of what has really gone on — remarks insipidly about the new match: “Well, that’s the way it is with young people.” “Ja, ja,” she says. The words, more spoken than sung, can be delivered in many ways. Bad losers say them with a “come-up-and-see-me-sometime” batting of the eye; others make “Tja, tja,” a resigned shrug of the shoulders that translates loosely: “Another day; another lay.” As with the great monologue Isokoski spoke them outside herself with no indication of feeling. She might have been operating in the third person.

Major interest in the SFO revival of the company’s 1993 production that has seen Felicity Lott and Renee Fleming as the Marschallin was the role debut of Joyce DiDonato as Octavian. The fast-rising American mezzo, already famous on both sides of the Atlantic as Cherubino, Rosina and the Cinderellas of both Rossini and Massenet, was a wondrously youthful, indeed, even adolescent Octavian who sang without effort in a many-colored. While she was a delight in her exuberance, the absence of an equal partner leaves DiDonato’s Octavian for the moment a work-in-progress that will grow through coming years. She is further a fine actress, ideally suited in appearance for this greatest of trouser roles. Strange that Isokoski, a largely removed Marschallin, was never swept into the wake of the erotic exuberance with which DiDonato opened the performance.

The one truly perfect member of this cast was Sweden’s Miah Persson, who — not surprisingly — has already sung Sophie at the Salzburg Festival. Persson had it all — the beauty, the convincing innocence and the healthy touch of rebellion with which she realizes that she is nothing more than the pawn in the self-advancement game that pairs her father with the lecherous Ochs.

Jeremy Galyon (A Notary, far left), Kristinn Sigmundsson (Baron Ochs, in red), David Cangelosi (Valzacchi, background), and Catherine Cook (Annina, background)The Ochs in this Scandinavian-heavy cast, a last legacy of Pamela Rosenberg’s unlamented tenure as SFO general director, was Iceland’s Kristinn Sigmundsson, a favorite here since his exemplary King Marke in last October’s “Tristan und Isolde.” Aware that despite his uncouth and bumptious behavior Ochs is an aristocrat and a gentleman, Sigmundsson eschewed the slapstick that often makes this figure a cartoon caricature played for laughs.

Robert McPherson sang the Act-One Italian aria someone too robustly.

Last but by no means least, the person who made this “Rosenkavalier” memorable in quality was conductor Donald Runnicles, who is approaching the end of his 15-year tenure as SFO music director. Remarkable perhaps that in his non-verbal role it was Runnicles who displayed the greatest appreciation of — and sensitivity to — Hofmannsthal’s poetry. Indeed, the nuances sometimes missing on stage were all there in his work with this late great masterpiece of opera. And although Runnicles gave full rein to the open sexuality of Strauss’ score, he never allowed it to descend to the level of sweat and steam. And thus it’s no wonder that Runnicles is today among the most respected conductors of Strauss and Wagner in Germany.

Adding a historic perspective to the staging was Thierry Bosquet’s recreation of Alfred Roller’s sets for the 1911 Dresden premiere of “Rosenkavalier,” an idea hit upon by then-SFO general director Lotfi Monsouri.

Sandra Bernhard, long a member of the SFO production staff, directed this revival. A person richer in Straussian smarts might have done more to bring coherence to the staging.

Joyce DiDonato recently received the second annual Beverly Sills Artist Award — at $50,000 the largest of its kind in the US — from an endowment in honor of Sills, who, along with Nathan Leventhal, selects the winners. The purpose of the award is to aid recipients in career enhancement, including funding for voice lessons, vocal coaching, language lessons, related travel costs, and other career assistance. The first winner of the award, given last year, was baritone Nathan Gunn. DiDonato is an alumna of the SFO Merola Program, the Houston Grand Opera Studio and the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program.

This production marked the SFO debuts of Isokoski and Persson.

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):