Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Otello -- Kirov Opera
11 Dec 2007

Otello — Kirov Opera

Despite 19th-century Russia’s reputation as an Italian opera haven, Verdi’s late masterpiece Otello found acceptance there only with great difficulty, even though in its 1889 premiere the title role acquired a great local interpreter in the Mariinsky Theater primo uomo, Nikolai Figner.

Giuseppe Verdi: Otello
Kirov Opera, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

 

Francesco Tamagno, the original Otello, also gathered accolades during his tour a couple of years later. Yet, Otello came to Russia on the crest of the nationalist wave there that had critics and audiences laughing “the old man” Verdi out of the theater. This complex and arguably “un-Verdian” opera proved especially puzzling: too difficult and “modern” for traditionalists raised on Barbiere and La traviata; too old-fashioned for the Wagnerians, and too Italian for everyone else. Today, amid a Verdi boom in St Petersburg unseen since La forza del destino premiered there in 1862, Otello is enjoying a renaissance at the Mariinsky (a.k.a. the Kirov). The opera appears to be one of Valerii Gergiev’s particular obsessions: since he took the reigns at the Kirov as artistic director and principal conductor in 1988, it has had at least five different productions there. The most recent one, premiered this fall and directed by Vasily Barkhatov, is currently playing at the Kennedy Center as part of the Kirov’s annual residency there.

The visually arresting production (sets by Zinovy Margolin; costumes by Maria Danilova; phenomenal lighting by Gleb Filshtinsky) bears little resemblance to Renaissance Crete. The main set (used in Acts 1-3) is an angle of (presumably) a city square; tall white walls stained with gray, like aged marble, narrow towards the back of the set dominated by a huge working lighthouse that might be more at home on a bluff in 1950s New England than in 16th century Italy. The front left side of the stage transforms in the middle two acts into Otello’s office, with heavy wooden furniture, an old-fashioned (i.e., 1950s again) coat stand and round table lamp. The opposite wall (or is it the wall of the city square?) is lined with silent female figures, dressed in black, their heads covered with shawls more Russian than Italian. Beggars, or petitioners, these figures (not a part of the chorus located in these acts on platforms on top of the walls) darken the landscape like an obsessive gloomy ostinato in this increasingly gloomy tale. Particularly striking is the opening of the Act 3 finale, in which Desdemona, dressed in black, joins their line, made destitute by her husband’s suspicions. The costumes overall are modern yet outdated: office suits for the leading men, crisp business-like creations for the socialite Emilia (wonderful Lyubov Sokolova), traditional long skirts and cloaks (increasingly drained of color) for Desdemona; brown and black, drab, nondescript Russian peasant fare (occasionally with a hint of an Italian scarf design) for the crowd. There was no bonfire in Act 1 for the chorus to sing and dance to, but there were fireworks of sorts, with the colorful explosion of confetti from the ceiling and the wings. Single pieces of the confetti then continued to fall down onto the stage through Acts 2 and 3. It was unclear whether the effect was a purposeful one; if not, the coincidence was fortuitous: like falling autumn leaves that evoke the memories of summer, the confetti pieces served as poignant reminders of glories past.

The lead attraction of the production, dramatic tenor Vladimir Galouzine has been the leading man of the Kirov for more than a decade, and an international star for almost as long. The sharp, focused, metallic timbre of his youth, best exemplified on the 1994 Kirov DVD recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko, in which he sings the lead, has now turned darker, heavier, with more emphasis on the lower register, and on sheer sound power over crispness and precision of diction and intonation. The change parallels that generally observed in arguably the world’s most famous living Otello, Placido Domingo, who once performed the role in St Petersburg under Gergiev, and whose influence is recognizable in certain moments of Galouzine’s gut-wrenching performance (apart from the “usual suspects” — all four duets with Desdemona and the scene with Iago in Act 2 — I particularly recommend his fabulously menacing asides to his wife in the Act 3 finale). Yet overall, his interpretation is distinctly different from Domingo’s: instead of the tragic noble hero destroyed by evil, Galouzine offers a broken, anxious, almost fragile Otello (despite his suitably earth-shattering Esultate!), damaged not from the outside but from within. The brittleness of the character shows almost from the start of the opera — that is, from the Act 1 love duet, in which the bliss suggested by the score is constantly undermined by Galouzine’s angular gestures, terrified looks over the shoulder, and slouching posture, wrapping both the coat and arms tight around his body as if shivering.

If Vladimir Galouzine’s Otello is hardly a wholesome hero, Sergey Murzaev’s Iago is no Mephistopheles. In his gray three-piece suit, tie, and glasses, he is more of a petty bureaucrat who smiles placidly as he stabs his boss in the back with a letter opener — or in this case a pocket knife he uses to sharpen pencils on the handsome mahogany desk in Otello’s office as he is proclaiming his infamous creed. Incidentally, the singer was clearly outperformed by maestro Gergiev and the orchestra in the fiendishly difficult Credo, central to Iago’s self-representation as the resident devil of Verdi’s opera. Yet his softer, more sinister moments, such as the Era la notte later in Act 2, were pulled off beautifully, with fine sound and nuanced acting. Thus, in the finale of Act 3, in which Iago, with fatherly smile, points out the “lion of Venice” prostrated at his feet to a group of kid extras, Murzaev looked downright creepy.

Young Viktoria Yastrebova was a terrific Desdemona, fearlessly determined not to be dominated by her illustrious partner and occasionally outshining him with a rich, warm, clear sound, effortless projection and pure high notes. The dynamics clearly reflected Barkhatov’s directorial interpretation of the drama itself, and particularly his revisionist take on Desdemona. Instead of the usual weepy blond, Yastrebova offers a dark-haired Desdemona — smart, assertive, unapologetic (as much as that is possible without altering Verdi’s score), and not above manipulating her husband, as evident in the Act 2 duet when she literally lets her hair down in order to seduce Otello into forgiving Cassio (portrayed nicely by Sergei Semishkur). This Desdemona is less naïvely terrified by Otello’s accusations than she is angry, and genuinely concerned for her husband’s mental state; one almost expects her to whip out a business card for a neighborhood shrink. As a result, Yastrebova’s least convincing moment came near the end of Act 4: begging for her life seemed almost beneath the strong and thoroughly modern character projected throughout the opera. The earlier part of that act, however, and particularly the Willow Song, was by itself worth the price of admission.

Apart from making Desdemona a brunette, Barkhatov’s production dispensed with yet another Otello classic — the bedroom scenes. The Act 1 duet is a moonlit picnic on the city square (although Desdemona does bring the bed linen, presumably to use as a tablecloth). Act 4 does include a bed — severe, narrow, pillowless, and used as an ironing board by silent servant women who fold and pack the colorful dresses of Desdemona’s virginal youth (none of which she wears in the opera), as she slowly rips up her wedding night bed sheets, turning them into handkerchiefs. The final scene (from Ave Maria on) takes place not in the bedroom (the opening of the act is performed in front of the black curtain), but on top of the lighthouse that dominated the earlier set. Now in a close-up, it is divided into two narrow fenced circular platforms, one above the other; Desdemona sings her prayers from the lower platform, then watches Otello literally descend upon her from the top. There are no messy murders after Desdemona’s; Iago flees from Otello’s verbal thunderbolts, and the other characters — Cassio, Emilia, and Lodovico the ambassador (excellent Fedor Kuznetsov) — watch silently as Otello (mortally wounded not by his favorite revolver but by something resembling an ice pick — or a screwdriver...) drags his dead wife to the back of the lighthouse, out of sight, like a dying lion crawling back into his lair, unwilling to let go of his final prey.

My review would not be complete without the highest praise for Kirov’s outstanding Choir (principal chorus master Andrei Petrenko). Its performance was strong, clean, rhythmically and intonationally precise, yet alive, particularly in the powerful opening scene played out on a darkened stage lit only by the searching beam of the lighthouse. Finally, maestro Gergiev in the pit was unquestionably the leader of the production, as he should have been in this orchestra-driven score. It was performed with power and intensity, precision and nuance, and very nearly flawlessly, with the exception of some intonation problems in the strings, particularly in the difficult double bass solo that accompanies Otello’s entrance in the last act (not many in the audience would have noticed that flaw, however, as the section was drowned by an epidemic of coughing from the back of the orchestra seats).

Overall, I would highly recommend catching this innovative, powerful, and intensely watchable production, still available Wednesday night (with partially new cast) and Sunday afternoon (with the main soloists reprising their roles).

Olga Haldey

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):