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

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Lohengrin, Dresden

The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne

Having been privileged already to see in little over two months two great productions of Die Meistersinger, one in Paris (Stefan Herheim) and one in Munich (David Bösch), I was unable to resist the prospect of a third staging, at Glyndebourne.

The Threepenny Opera, London

‘Mack does bad things.’ The tabloid headline that convinces Rory Kinnear’s surly, sharp-suited Macheath that it might be time to take a short holiday epitomizes the cold, understated menace of Rufus Norris’s production of Simon Stephens’ new adaptation of The Threepenny Opera at the Olivier Theatre.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Petra Maria Schnitzer (Elisabeth) & James Rutherford (Wolfram von Eschinbach). Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera.
19 Sep 2007

Music Triumphs in S.F. Tannhauser

For those who can’t (or won’t) see the forest of an opera for the trees of performance minutiae, here’s the word about the San Francisco Opera’s new production of Wagner’s “Tannhauser” that opened tonight:

Richard Wagner: Tannhauser

Above: Petra Maria Schnitzer (Elisabeth) & James Rutherford (Wolfram von Eschinbach)
All photos by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera.

 

Donald Runnicles’ Opera Orchestra and Ian Robertson’s Opera Chorus give a magnificent account of the music, which is among Wagner’s most sweeping and bewitching. Runnicles and General Manager David Gockley have assembled an outstanding cast for this, the first new production of Gockley’s 20-month-old intendancy, and the cast delivered the goods, in an ensemble performance of international stars, the like of which has not been heard in these parts for some time.

However demanding and difficult the opera may be vocally and instrumentally, this tale of the 13th century minstrel torn between Venus’ earthly, “sinful” and Elisabeth’s idealized, redemptive love is a near-impossible bear when it comes to staging, especially in the 1861 Paris version and its extended ballet scene.

On that point, Graham Vick’s overbusy, occasionally just plain silly direction will be discussed (and derided) heatedly. Attention-diverting production excesses, especially the primitive overuse of awkward missionary positions, seem close to some of those under Gockley’s predecessor, Pamela Rosenberg.

Tannhauser_SFO_2.pngPetra Maria Schnitzer (Elisabeth) & Eric Halfvarson (Landgraf Hermann)

There is a wealth of greatness squeezed in the four-hour performance that unfortunately opens with a ballet that’s a mix of Pina Bausch, Greco-Roman wrestling, and a Groucho Marx routine, and ends with little boys emerging from the stage floor as if in a prairie dog hunting game.

But music, the essential component of the evening, triumphs over it all, making the stage monkey business almost immaterial. Runnicles’ customarily outstanding direction of Wagner holds true here, with rock-solid tempi, balances, sterling support for the voices, and wonderful control of (the many) climactic passages where he avoids “burping” the orchestra, presenting powerful, convincing, steady high points instead.

The Opera Chorus, handicapped by Vick’s requirement to wave arms, roll on the floor, and act ecstatic or possessed at the most inappropriate moments, gave a memorably solid, beautiful performance, holding back (for good or ill) from blowing the walls down when it had the chance.

Peter Seiffert — a large man and no actor — was vocally sensational in the title role, fulfilling the dual and conflicting requirements of heroic and lyric tenor. His Rome Narrative was powerful, if rather dry. Warmth and beauty, on the other hand, characterized Petra Maria Schnitzer’s Elisabeth; vocally and dramatically, she gave a true star performance, especially in the difficult third act, creating an affecting “female Parsifal,” waiting for him in vain.

Mezzo Petra Lang was the bold Venus, singing well, but not quite at her best. The young English baritone James Rutherford made a memorable San Francisco debut as Wolfram, with a meaningful, moving Song to the Evening Star. All the principals, except for Eric Halfvarson’s mighty Landgrave (and fine horsemanship atop the white quarter horse Alloy), had their local debut in this production.

Vocally, one of the most striking performances of the evening came from a young singer in a three-minute role. Having been made to sit on stage motionless for almost an hour, Adler Fellow Ji Young Yang sangthe Shepherd’s aria with affecting brilliance, exhibiting both musical intelligence and peerless communication of emotions. When she sang of the sun’s warmth (“da strahlte warm die Sonnen”), you could feel the bright light, the nourishing heat. An extraordinary talent.

Ron Howell’s choreography for Venusberg — women in long, clinging white shifts, men naked to the waist — was angular, clinically (and unsuccessfully) sexual, and altogether distracting from some of the most sensual music ever written. The Opera’s program notes decried productions with “unfortunate (and justly parodied) exaggerations... cheap eroticism and a kind of corybantic, danced Kama Sutra” of the scene — describing perfectly what took place in the War Memorial.

Tannhauser_SFO_3.pngPetra Lang (Venus) and Peter Seiffert (Tannhäuser)

Stage directors have forever tried to “improve” on Elisabeth’s quiet, offstage death as she is sacrificing her life for Tannhauser’s salvation Vick’s direction on that point will cause much controversy, but in fact it makes sense, while remaining true to the meaning of the text. In a kind of assisted suicide, Wolfram reluctantly, gently, lovingly snaps Elisabeth’s neck when she begs for death, and he goes on to sing to the Evening Star: “Wie Todesahnung, Damm’rung deckt die Lande...” (“As a presentiment of death, twilight covers the land”).

Paul Brown’s stage design uses a hangar-like unit set, with large windows, all scenes enhanced by opulent costumes. Brown and Vick are provoking the audience to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater by using up gallons of propane that flares as a large circle on the ground, as branches of a tree, for long periods.

But just how crowded was the theater? A startling fact from opening night, something clearly indicating what a tough row Gockley must hoe to attract audiences back to the War Memorial: in this once-Wagner mad town, on the opening night of a major new Wagner production, the second balcony — with its affordable seats and best acoustic in the house — was half empty. Wagner fans, opera lovers: you don't know what you're missing.

Janos Gereben © 2007

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):