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

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Der Rosenkavalier: Welsh National Opera in Cardiff

Olivia Fuchs' new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. The production debuted in Magdeburg last year and now Welsh National Opera is presenting the production as part of its Summer season, the company's first Der Rosenkavalier since 1990 (when the cast included Rita Cullis as the Marschallin and Amanda Roocroft making her role debut as Sophie).

Don Giovanni takes to the waves at Investec Opera Holland Park

There’s no reason why Oliver Platt’s imaginative ‘concept’ for this new production of Don Giovanni at Investec Opera Holland Park shouldn’t work very well. Designer Neil Irish has reconstructed a deck of RMS Queen Mary - the Cunard-White Star Line’s flag-ship cruiser during the 1930s, that golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising. Spanning the entire width of the OHP stage, the deck is lined with port-holed cabin doors - perfect hideaways for one of the Don’s hasty romantic dalliances.

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Semele: star-dust and sparkle at Garsington Opera

To open the 2017 season at Garsington Opera, director Annilese Miskimmon and designer Nicky Shaw offer a visually beautifully new production of Handel's Semele in which comic ribaldry and celestial feuding converge and are transfigured into star-dust.

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):