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

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

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):