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

Christine Goerke - Strauss Elektra BBC Proms London

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role. Felicity Palmer was Clytemnestra, Gun-Brit Barkmin was Chrysothemis, Robert Kunzli was Aegisthus and Johan Reuter was Orestes. The concert staging was by Justin Way.

Christine Goerke - Strauss Elektra BBC Proms London

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role. Felicity Palmer was Clytemnestra, Gun-Brit Barkmin was Chrysothemis, Robert Kunzli was Aegisthus and Johan Reuter was Orestes. The concert staging was by Justin Way.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

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.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Leo Tolstoy by Ivan Kramskoi
30 Dec 2007

Prokofiev's War and Peace at the Met

There is no middle ground in War and Peace — or, rather, it’s all middle ground, like a battlefield, and you may feel as if every soldier in Russia (and in France) has marched over you.

Sergei Prokofiev: War and Peace

Andrei: Vasili Ladyuk; Natasha: Irina Mateva; Pierre: Kim Begley; Anatol: Oleg Balashov; Sonya: Ekaterina Semenchuk; Kutuzov: Samuel Ramey
Production: Andrei Konchalovsky; Set Design: George Tsypin. Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Metropolitan Opera, December 15, 2007

 

But you will also feel as if you knew each and every one of them — there is nothing monochrome or impersonal about the onslaught.

The attempt to make an opera out of Russia’s emblematic epic novel is so improbable that even in the hands of a genius it was unlikely to be anything but a succès d’estime. As companies have enlarged their jaws sufficiently to encompass it, as orchestras and choruses and singers have trained themselves to handle it, War and Peace has revealed itself as one of those masterpieces almost too grand for this grandest of art forms: As with the Ring and Les Troyens (and Khovanschina), War and Peace reveals itself at every new hearing as full of new depths, new angles, unplumbed riches. This is an opera that cannot be undertaken casually, but if a company has the resources to present it, it’s almost a crime not to. That the Kirov, with all its tradition and its position in Russian culture, should bring it off magnificently is hardly a surprise; that the opera could be co-produced with the Metropolitan with all of its very dissimilar resources (though the conductor and many singers and an increasing number of designers share both stages) and bring itself glory was by no means a foregone conclusion. The first run, six years ago, was spectacular; the revival is nothing short of a major triumph, the very grandest game in town. (And that town, let me remind you, is New York.)

For those new to War and Peace, I advise: read the synopsis carefully a couple of times (even if you did read the novel twenty years ago, and remember perfectly well who Hélène and Anatol are, and Andrei’s rude old father, and Natasha’s foolish, kindly one) but do not pay too close attention to the subtitles; the text will only distract you from the music and the acting. The story of Act I has been boiled down to bare essentials: Russian nobles thinking about love and dances and the various dissatisfactions of their lives; a young girl accepts a proposal of marriage, then a proposal of a different kind; her heart breaks but recovers — like Russia, she’s tougher than she looks. More interesting than the dialogue is the variation of orchestral grandeur (for the balls) and intimacy (for nature, or private reflection) that is going on behind and beneath and all around it. George Tsypin’s setting is the world as a baroque ballroom, with columns or flats descending to whisk us here or there, never leaving the globe behind. Then just as we get involved in the quotidian round of petty existence, a very Russian chorus interrupts: Napoleon has invaded Russia. The atmosphere changes at a stroke; the mood we have yielded to is shattered.

In Act II, armies march here and armies march there — Prokofiev composed these scenes after scoring films for Eisenstein, knowing what audiences now expected in the way of realism and willing to attempt it in a most unrealistic medium. Not coincidentally, while he composed, the Germans had Moscow under siege — the intended audience knew the experience of war as modern audiences (especially in the west) do not. There are stretches not easy to accept, not easy to make sense of: why is this scene here? Why is there a similar one right after it?

You have to trust Prokofiev — and also the master of the revels, Valery Gergiev. Prokofiev knows what he’s doing here (he didn’t always), and Gergiev knows the score as perhaps no one else on earth knows it; yield to their authority and you will feel you have lived through a transformative experience. And just when the battle scenes and the terrible scenes of what goes on around the battle reach fever pitch — the terrorism, the looting, the ravaging, the brutalization, the untold petty heroisms of ordinary people — we reach the grandeur of the burning of Moscow, perhaps the pivotal event of Russia’s history, at least in its sense of self, at least as Prokofiev’s far from disinterested patron Stalin wanted it to be seen. Then, with no sense of anticlimax but a magnificent consummation, we are in the bedroom of the dying Andrei, and he and Natasha recollect the earlier scenes of their love against a fabric, choral and orchestral, that jumps from the personal to the general moment by moment. Such musical recollections are a sentimental “convenience,” familiar from fifty operas — but their use here is anything but sentimental; it is on a par with Tolstoy’s mirror for Russian history in simple, single persons. The orchestration rewards attention at every spare moment — the dances recall Prokofiev’s whirling, astringent ballet scores, Andrei’s death is one of the subtlest bits of scene-painting of the twentieth century, and there are wonderful new details to discover with each hearing.

Andrei Konchalovsky’s production neglects nothing the opera calls for, from gypsies at a louche café to madmen wandering through the cinders of Moscow to ten — make that twenty — or is it forty? — ladies (and lords) a-dancing. The tale of putting the whole production together with all its constituent parts running smoothly would probably furnish a Tolstoy with enough material for another 800-page novel. The vocal requirements called for double casting to be sure of getting through the run without undue disaster — I heard the Met debuts of two exceptional singing actors, Vasili Ladyuk as Andrei and Irina Mataeva as Natasha. Ladyuk lacks the easy power Hvorostovsky brought to the role last time around, but seemed all the more human, both falling in love and fading away. Mataeva does not radiate ecstasy in the opening scene as Netrebko did (it’s fun, though, today when she is a fixture of the operatic scene, to remember just how much Netrebko did that, and what a thrill she was) — but Mataeva spins a lovely lyric soprano and portrayed to perfection the adorable, uncertain girl thrilled with her first ball, with Andrei’s attentions and, later, with Anatol’s more sensuous ones, suicidal at her betrayal, then redeeming at Andrei’s deathbed. Kim Begley’s Pierre gathers authority across the evening, as the character does — we know these experiences have changed Pierre because his voice expresses that, and because we feel we have shared them. Samuel Ramey’s wobble still appears to thrill the crowd, but I think a Kutuzov who did not sound eighty years old could be just as effective. The fifty (is it?) smaller roles all fit, each significant in its place — there is less than usual of the bad Met habit of turning to face the audience rather than the person to whom one is “speaking.”

Gergiev and the battalions supporting him in every department reveal War and Peace as one of the great achievements of opera, in the twentieth or any other century. You can’t love opera and not want to thrill to it, and be grateful to Gergiev and the Met for bringing it to you.

John Yohalem

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):