Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Peter Seiffert (Tannhäuser)
16 Oct 2007

San Francisco stages triumphant Tannhäuser

At this point in his career David Gockley has no need to prove himself. He did that with awesome success as general director of Houston Grand Opera for 33 years, during which he made that company a front runner both on the American and international opera scenes.

Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser
San Francisco Opera

Above: Peter Seiffert (Tannhäuser)
Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

In Houston he set a record for world and American premieres and built a house - with both a 1000- and 2000-seat theater that bespeaks the commitment of that oil-rich town to the arts. Indeed, Gockley is the man who made opera grand in Houston and made the HGO a way of life in the city.

And when Pamela Rosenberg departed from the San Francisco Opera after six rather unfortunate seasons, it was widely agreed that Gockley was the only person who could put the company together again and restore it to the position of prominence that it had had for well over half a century. Gockley arrived as SFO general director just before the opening of the 2006-2007 season and during that year he was largely the executor of plans made and laid by Rosenberg. Thus it is in with the season that opened in September that Gockley’s presence is now clearly felt in the Bay Area, and it is clear that he is doing even more than might reasonably have expected of him in so short a time.

Gockley set out to make his mark with two productions: the world premiere of Philip Glass’ “Appomattox” and Richard Wagner’s “Tannhäuser, which opened on September 18 as his first all-new staging at the SFO. And in choosing “Tannhäuser” as his signature piece, he has gained the respect not only of his community, but of the larger opera world as well.

In an essay in the program book for the staging Gockley says that he chose Wagner’s “Italianate” work to “make a statement on how a company views itself and what it thinks opera ultimately is,” stressing further the necessity “to keep moving into the future just as we are rooted in tradition.” Thus the new “Tannhäuser” is more than just one more “go” at the opera; the production is something of a lab experiment that lets the public in on what Gockley has in mind for the SFO. And there is hardly another work in the established repertory that presents the challenge that Gockley sought - and found - in Wagner’s early and often revised work.

Despite those who would yoke the composer to his own 19th-century Bayreuth stagings, it was Wagner who commanded: “Kinder, macht Neues!” - “Do something new, guys!” That Gockley had those words in mind is obvious from the fact that 13 of 17 members of the cast made SFO debuts in this “Tannhäuser,” and the same is true of five of the production staff - including at the top director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown.

Vick, Brown’s frequent co-worker in Europe, speaks of the opera as a mix of “site-specific Romanticism and open-ended symbolism,” a combination that sparks the creative imagination. The two men see no need to move visually out of the Middle Ages, as was rather cutely done in last season’s “Tannhäuser” at the Los Angeles Opera, where as the eponymous hero Peter Seiffert cast his mini-harp aside and - clad in black tie and tales - sat down at an on-stage Steinway to belt out his song of sensuous love.

That’s doesn’t make academic medievalists of Vick and Brown, for as the director explains, his mission was to define the point at which “the content of the opera interacts with the world today” in his quest for “a wilder, more mythic view.” And they found this by focusing upon the troubled man that Tannhäuser is. Or as Vick puts it: “Tannhäuser’s problem is Tannhäuser.” Thus the knightly minstrel is not torn between the sexual excesses of life on the Venusberg and a calmer existence with virginal Elisabeth; he is rather the helpless victim of conflicting desires raging within him.

Once the director opens the listener’s eye to this view, it is hardly surprising to realize that Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung, those early explorers of the psyche, were born - respectively - in 1856 and 1875, well before Wagner composed “Parsifal,” his last work, and then died in 1882. Vick thus takes Tannhäuser on a turbulent stream-of-consciousness journey that brings unusual fascination to the opera.

“It’s the story of the married man who has left his wife and gone to live with the other woman,” says Vick. “But he can’t settle down with his mistress, so he returns to his wife, only to discover that he can’t live with her either. “He loses out on all fronts and has a nervous breakdown.” Thus Tannhäuser is not lured to destruction by woman, but by his own desire; he is struggling to find fulfillment and integration of his own personal life.

Even at the penultimate performance of the season on October 7, the production was of exuberant freshness. Peter Seiffert sang as if 20 years younger than he was in Los Angeles a year ago, and Petra Maria Schnitzer, the Los Angeles Elisabeth, gave an inspired performance of her “Prayer” aria. Petra Lang was an appropriately seductive Venus. Veteran bass Eric Halfvarson seemed rejuvenated as the Landgraf. The show-stealer, however, was youthful James Rutherford as Wolfram; his “Evening Star” will long shine in the memory. And Czech Stefan Margita — Walther — is clearly a tenor worth watching. Ian Robertson, long chorus master at the SFO, had his ensemble gloriously well prepared for both the arrival of the guests and “Pilgrims’” Chorus.

In Donald Runnicles the SFO has for 15 years had the services of one of the top Wagnerian conductors of the day. Runnicles opted for the Paris version of the score with its expanded ballet, which was choreographed by Ron Howell. While in this scene others today titillate the ageing opera audience with a bit of soft porn, Howell took “Bacchanal” at face value and unleashed his dancers upon the stage in a true state of Dionysian frenzy. It might not be ballet, but Howell’s concept was totally in keeping with Vick’s approach to the story. Completing the cast, by the way, was Alloy, a white quarter horse, who — handled by his owner Gary Sello — behaved impeccably on stage.

This “Tannhäuser” leaves no doubt about it: the San Francisco Opera and David Gockley has both made correct choices!

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):