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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

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):