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

Don Giovanni, Bavarian State Opera

All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Deborah Voigt
20 Jan 2008

Deborah Voigt in Concert with the San Francisco Symphony

With her performance of the “Four Last Songs,” ably partnered by Michael Tilson Thomas and his San Francisco Symphony, Deborah Voigt emphatically confirmed her place as one of the glories of the current roster of Strauss interpreters.

Above: Deborah Voigt (Columbia Artists Management | 21C Media Group)

 

We are perhaps familiar with a more usual “Liederabend” approach as furthered by other celebrated sopranos -- you know, the often mewing, cooing, hushed treatment of every fragile syllable as-if-they-might-break-if-sung-too-operatically? Such studied wispiness was little in evidence in Ms. Voigt’s renditions on January 10th. No wilting violet she, Diva Debbie just flat out really sang ‘em all instead of over-“interpreting” them. And oh, how she sang! With steady tone of great presence in all registers and at all gradations of volume; with generous, soaring, high-flying phrases; with delicate nuance and telling detail; all of which was characterized by excellent diction and complete stylistic understanding.

Up against her seasoned Straussian standard then, the SFO was highly competent if not quite equally successful in essaying this richly detailed score. Oft times on past occasions I have wished this fine group of musicians would coalesce into a single-minded band of thrilling music-makers, and often as not I have found them a bit wanting in artistic vision and ensemble, no more so than now as they confronted these lush, complex orchestral songs. If history is a teacher, my past SFO experiences had perhaps taught me that Maestro Thomas (or “MTT” as he is marketed locally) seems to draw inspiration from superb soloists more than he appears to impart it routinely to his players. That was certainly true of such past luminaries as Lang Lang and Helene Grimaud, with whom he became a true collaborator, and with whom the orchestra excelled. Here, MTT inexplicably seemed content to allow the orchestra to be a somewhat aloof accompanist.

That said, there were some very fine orchestral moments to be sure, not least of which was a peerless violin solo in “Beim Schlafengehen,” matched by an equally superb horn solo in “Im Abendrot.” (Indeed, the horns were remarkably wonderful throughout the evening.) Having heard the Vienna Philharmonic take on this score, the bar was set very high for me, since those guys absolutely inhabit this music as a seamless ensemble. That SFO would not be so seamlessly involved was foretold by the concert opener, Knussen’s Third Symphony. It was dispatched with cool skill, but little overt joy or passion, the very talented individual musicians shining if somewhat independent. The Strauss merely continued that semi-detached, sit-back-and-play-the-notes pattern.

And then something happened. Barber’s seldom heard “Andromache’s Farewell” knocked us right between the eyes with a well-judged and committed dramatic reading from our soprano, matched thrill for thrill by expansive, virtuosic orchestral playing elicited by MTT’s fiery conducting. (What, did this guy knock back a couple of Red Bull’s at intermission?)

The wonderful, under-valued soprano Martina Arroyo premiered the piece in 1963 to open the new Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. How enjoyable to already encounter the vibrant palette of orchestral sounds and effects (especially the exciting brass fanfares) that the composer would further refine and put to good use a bit later in his “Antony and Cleopatra” which opened the new Metropolitan Opera House.

“Andromache’s” dynamic score certainly deserves to be heard more often. That is, if a dramatic soprano of Ms. Voigt’s bountiful gifts can be found. It is an interesting and varied scena with well-calculated dramatic tension; featuring a pleasing balance of signature Barber melodiousness and parlando passages; and with some sure-fire, slam-bang, full-Geschrei money notes that stir the soul and tickle the eardrums. And man, does our Diva ever have those money notes! Million Dollar Baby, baby! It was a singular treat to hear such a wholly realized, successful undertaking of this rarity.

After the prolonged ovation died down for the Barber, MTT then jumped right into a Puckish reading of Beethoven’s Fourth with equally pleasing results. Though it may not have the grandeur or gravitas of the “bookend” Third and Fifth Symphonies, it was delightful nonetheless, especially in this playful, inspired interpretation. My persistence in returning to Davies Hall for yet another concert after those several disappointing near-misses was amply rewarded this night, for now SFO was indeed not just “playing” but truly “inhabiting” the music with abandon.

MTT was in his element, inspiring and charismatic, enjoying himself (and Beethoven) so much that at a couple of points I was thinking he may just break into some spontaneous Schuhplatten. The orchestra responded in kind with flawless ensemble playing and sparkling, intricate solo work. (As Ed Sullivan might say: “How about a hand for that bassoon player? C’mon!”) The last stinging chord brought a rain of rousing cheers down on the assemblage, probably not a usual response for the Fourth, which says a lot for the dazzling magic that MTT and the SFO imbued on a piece of such gentler gifts.

After this exciting second half, representing the very best I have ever heard from this bunch and rivaling any other orchestra in the world, I wanted to shout “Dude, drink the Red Bull before Act One next time!” And for all I know, MTT did. . .

James Sohre

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):