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

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, London - Rattle, O'Neill, Gerhaher

By pairing Mahler Das Lied von der Erde (Simon O'Neill, Christian Gerhaher) with Strauss Metamorphosen, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra were making a truly powerful statement. The Barbican performance last night was no ordinary concert. This performance was extraordinary because it carried a message.

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

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.

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):