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

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The Empress (Deborah Voigt) and Emperor (Robert Dean Smith) embrace and anticipate the supreme joy of parenthood. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.
04 Dec 2007

Die Frau ohne Schatten in Chicago

Die Frau ohne Schatten is the story of a being of purely sensual spirit who defies the temptation to do evil, thereby demonstrating a moral soul and achieving humanity.

Richard Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten
Lyric Opera of Chicago; Performances of November 20, 26.

Empress: Deborah Voigt; Dyer’s Wife: Christine Brewer; Nurse: Jill Grove; Emperor: Robert Dean Smith; Barak: Franz Hawlata. Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis. Production by Paul Curran.

Above: The Empress (Deborah Voigt) and Emperor (Robert Dean Smith) embrace and anticipate the supreme joy of parenthood.
Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

 

Set in some hazy fin-de-siècle fairy tale Orient, the tale is ageless, its symbolic structure based on many an ancient trope and theme, especially beloved in such near-contemporary versions as Andersen’s “Little Mermaid,” Pinocchio and Die Walküre — but Frau could never have been created for the stage before the era of electric stage lighting. There is the matter of the Empress’s shadow (which must not exist until the penultimate scene, when it should be apparent and obvious), but the many other spectral intruders and the pauseless flow of scene to scene and world to world would have defied the pre-electronic stage. Hofmannsthal and Strauss deserve credit for rooting their homegrown myth so securely in a mystic fabulous while making full use of the latest (1919) technology to bring it to life. Companies that venture to stage Frau must gather the finest vocal and instrumental forces, needless to say, or risk falling on their faces — but they also risk disaster if they simplify excessively, if they do not go for broke in the visual line.

All of this was clear to the Lyric Opera of Chicago when they put a new production of the opera (the second in their history) together this fall. The stage is agog with smoke and mirrors, turntables within turntables so that characters and set elements drift apart and off the stage, ominous ramparts and portals whose openings and closings must be calculated to a hair, scrims and smoke machines, cages and lightning bolts of neon tubing, whirling dancers almost invisible in the darkness and startlingly visible (nearly nude) hung from the ceiling or rising from a well mid-stage, singers obliged to perform while on horseback in mid-air, or from a rickety bridge across mid-stage, or behind a distorted eye or confined to a spotlight by fluttering hands, barely seen. The gimcrackery is choice, the stage pictures and the vision of three separate worlds (spirit, earthy, and the imperial middle realm) rather more coherent as well as handsome than in, for example, Herbert Wernicke’s recent Met production.

Another word about the dancers, who deserve it: dance is most often used in opera either as divertissement or sideshow, in any case as a separate thing where one relaxes the ear and lets the eye take over, welcome or unwelcome as that may be. The LOC Frau is a rare and impressive example of using dance as part of the action, enhancing the magic, motile scenery. The dancers never call attention to themselves (as they so often do when choreographers take up direction); they are part of the stage magic here, creating the dungeons in Act III simply as hands fluttering in the faces of those imprisoned, swaying about the Amme in Act I to suggest the world of dark spirits she inhabits, becoming the hands and heads of the unborn children and the flood that sweeps the scene away in Act II.

Die_Frau_LOC2.pngA scene from Act I of the Paul Curran-directed new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, part of Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2007-08 season. Photo by Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The singing is sumptuous, especially from the ladies. Christine Brewer is today’s great Wagnerian heroine, her voice room-filling and rock-solid but never cold; rather, warm, deeply moving, an earth-mother Dyer’s Wife. Deborah Voigt’s Empress is a shooting star spewing Ds and C-sharps into the heavens of Act III and Jill Grove, in a breakout performance, was in complete command as the wicked Amme, one of the toughest roles in the repertory. Robert Dean Smith is evidently immune to acrophobia — and I refer to the Emperor’s tessitura as well as the flying horse. There were a few rocky phrases from Franz Hawlata, generally a sturdy and sympathetic Barak, the figure whose baritone must be the center of this morally centered tale. The twenty small roles were well-handled, in part by having some of them acted (the Falcon, the Apparition) by dancers while the singers stood discretely behind them, garbed in black. Sir Andrew Davis drew all the complexities together to tell this complicated story clearly and mellifluously. The usual cuts were, alas, observed — the show nonetheless ran to four and a half hours with intermissions.

One comes away from such a performance feeling, in the first place, the awe any first-rate presentation of this complicated opera must produce — who was keeping track of which doors should rise and which fall while tableaux and performers floated in and out of them, often in pitch dark? Rare is the military operation that boasts such precision. Paul Curran’s production, Kevin Knight’s designs and David Jacques’ lighting were constantly inventive and astonishing — though I did think the mystic Empress should be dreaming in something classier than a big brass bed, and the upturned umbrella used as a boat in Act III seemed to have strayed in from some other production entirely. These two props screamed “Fix me!” in tones as loud as any brass in Strauss’s orchestra.

I did have one misgiving about the direction: In their efforts to “humanize” a story full of tropes and archetypes, the producers and the actors (one must discuss them here in their non-singing aspects) have given the characters behavior and expression that suggest unnecessary and inexplicable subtexts to the action. We are in a fairy tale world here, where “spirit” beings aspire to human-hood, fish dinners sing, and apparitions seduce. This can be staged “realistically” — as at the Wiener Staatsoper, where the Empress is a modern Viennese lady on a couch talking her way through psychoanalysis — but having chosen, as Chicago has, to give us a fairy tale with all the trimmings, it is unwise to give the characters unnecessary layers: good should be good here, and wicked, wicked. Fairy tale, like our unconscious, knows no half measures.

Awkwardness is most clearly apparent with Deborah Voigt’s Empress, the titular lady without a shadow. Having played the role “archetypically” in half a dozen other stagings, the newly svelte and agile Miss Voigt has decided to get into the swim of things. Instead of sitting in the shadows observing the Nurse’s devious plots and the pain they inflict on Barak and his Wife, developing a moral conscience and, thus, a soul, this Empress is actively complicit with the wickedness, crowning the Dyer’s Wife, flirting with the Dyer, observing the temptations with a cynical smirk. It makes her transformation — the central moments of the drama — more difficult to accept. Grove’s Amme, too, tended at times to convey comic fluster rather than malice in her gestures, which contradicts the assurance of her stated utterances.

But these are minor points in a thoroughly winning evening of opera at its grandest.

John Yohalem

Click here for audio and video courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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):