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

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Tim Albery
28 Sep 2007

Dusting off a Masterpiece… “The Fortunes of King Croesus” by Reinhard Keiser, coming to Opera North, Leeds and Minnesota Opera soon.

Masterpiece? The term rather depends on whether the artist in question was indeed a master and it might come as a surprise to learn that this little-known composer of the brief, but significant, German Baroque Opera period is regarded by many as just that.

Above: Tim Albery

 

We can be forgiven today for not knowing much about either Keiser or his contemporaries in the jigsaw of small Germanic states of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Their work was very localised in terms of audiences, and specific to their towns and townspeople, and they more often than not composed for the German language, not the more widely accepted Italian or French. However, musically, they were perfectly aware of, and amenable to, some of the more southern influences of the times. They also occasionally included in their midst up and coming young composers on the way to greater things – Handel and Telemann to name but two. Indeed a young Handel absorbed many influences from Keiser, acknowledged in his day as the greatest living composer in Germany.

What makes Keiser (1674-1739) so special – and his “King Croesus” is a good example – is that he was a master of variety, expression and colour, and not only vocally. He liked nothing more than arranging the instrumental accompaniments in complex layers of sonority, giving his fast-paced vocal numbers a dizzying variety of effects. He wrote Croesus in 1711 when no longer in charge of the Hamburg opera house, but still writing for it, and returned to the piece revising it extensively (possibly for the better, although the original is lost) in 1730, making full use of the latest dramatic and musical ideas. He knew his audience. Not for them the epidemic sweeping the rest of Europe of strict Italian opera seria format, the rigid recitative-da capo aria-recitative sung by starry castrati and sopranos who could, literally, call the tune. The German tradition was much more eclectic and country-based, full of traditional dance rhythms and structures. The townspeople of Keiser’s time liked to hear tunes and see characters that reminded them of their folk traditions (even if they had long left the fields for more lucrative merchandising), they liked a bit of broad comedy, and wanted to know that all would come good in the end. On top of that, their rather grim Lutheran Church elders also required morality and ethics, for without that they could make big trouble for the local opera houses of the time.

The story of King Croesus as told by Keiser is typical of its period: that is to say, convoluted. The mighty Croesus of Lydia is proud but soon humbled by his enemy King Cyrus, as predicted by the sage Solon. His son, Atis, is dumb (at least in Act 1) but is in love with Elmira, Princess of Media. She is loved by the treacherous Orsanes, who is pursued in turn by Princess Clerida…who is loved by Croesus’ son Eliates. Only Atis’s servant Elcius (the comic character) is immune to these eternal triangles, and prefers the pleasures of the table. After war, imprisonment, concealed identities, betrayal and lessons learnt, we emerge at the end into the light of a wiser and more content court, with joy and happiness apparently unconfined.

By the time Keiser revised the version of King Croesus we will see in Leeds and Minnesota, both his career and the German Opera as a working entity were soon to disappear beneath the flood of Italian works, so it’s a good choice on the part of director Tim Albery, who originally convinced Opera North’s General Director Richard Mantle to stage it, to show off Reinhard Keiser’s brilliance as a master of musical invention.

And it’s that very brilliance of fecund invention – layer upon layer of musical and dramatic ideas pouring forth with an almost indecent profligacy – that Tim Albery has had to both tame and barber to fit our modern sensibilities, and expectations. Asking him to describe his attraction to this piece brought forth an equally profligate flow of enthusiasm: “It’s a wonderful, anarchic, hugely varied piece, suddenly irreverential, suddenly serenely heroic – it’s a gift, and a challenge, to present to today’s audience.”

So how has he done it? He says that they have made some cuts, especially in the recitative that didn’t progress the story to any effect, and a few arias for the same reason – but also moved around a couple of arias that just didn’t feel comfortable where they were and seemed to work better elsewhere – and he hopes that the audience will find it works too. They have cut some of the peasant and children’s dancing scenes and relocated the “country bumpkin” character from the village street to become more of a courtly old roué attached to the palace. Albery also feels that the downside of Keiser’s fecundity – so many ideas, tumbling over each other it seems – is that the opera can provoke a feeling of almost breathlessness as we the audience try to keep up. So when Keiser does slow the pace, and gives a beautiful melody space to expand and evolve, it’s almost as if we feel “oh, thank heavens, yes, let’s just enjoy this a bit”. So to that end, he and Harry Bicket, the musical director, have, on occasion, just repeated a particularly lovely line of song – to give people the chance to appreciate it before it disappears and the story’s off again. At Opera North, we will hear the work sung in English, the work of Albery himself, although in Minnesota it will be sung in the original German.

Helping Albery achieve this alchemy of adaptation and clarification in Leeds is an impressive musical line-up. As well as “Mr Baroque Opera” himself, Harry Bicket, there is a top flight cast of actor-singers including British tenor Paul Nilon in the title role, young Canadian soprano Gillian Keith, the extraordinary, exciting American male soprano Michael Maniaci in the role of Prince Atis, and Henry Waddington as Cyrus.

Will this production finally bring Keiser back to popularity? Albery certainly hopes so and he’s sure that once people get to hear the wonderful richness of melody and orchestration in “King Croesus” they too will want the dust-sheets left off for ever.

Sue Loder © 2007

“King Croesus” can be seen at:

The Grand Theatre, Leeds on 17th & 20th Oct and 7th &10th Nov 2007
The Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 27th Oct
The Lowry, Salford Quays, on 17th Nov

[Click here for information on U.K. performances.]

and at Minnesota Opera from 1st March 2008

[Click here for information on Minnesota performances.]

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):