Recently in Performances
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.
Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.
Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.
Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw
Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s
Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for
the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.
Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.
The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.
Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.
After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took
place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful
production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea
Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von
Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden,
Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing
For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.
“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”
When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.
Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an
intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth
the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.
Bruckner, Bruckner, wherever one goes; From Salzburg to London, he is with us, he is with us indeed, and will be next week too. (I shall even be given the Third Symphony another try, on my birthday: the things I do for Daniel Barenboim
) Still, at least it seems to mean that fewer unnecessary Mahler-as-showpiece performances are being foisted upon us. Moreover, in this case, it was good, indeed great Bruckner, rather than one of the interminable number of ‘versions’ of interminable earlier works.
Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony (written 2015-16) here received its United Kingdom premiere, its first performance having been given by the Vienna Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov in June this year. A commission from the Austrian National Bank for its bicentenary, it is nevertheless not a celebratory work, instead commemorating those refugees who have met their deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘expressing grief over those who have died and outrage at the misanthropy at home in Austria and elsewhere’.
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.
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
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
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!