Recently in Performances
Puccini Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera. What is Manon Lescaut really about? The Abbé Prévost's 1731 narrative was a moral discourse. Unlike many modern novels, it wasn't a potboiler but a philosphical tract in which the protagonists face moral dilemmas
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
03 Oct 2008
Die tote Stadt at San Francisco Opera
Korngold’s third opera Die tote Stadt premiered in 1920 in Cologne, the composer a mere 23 years old. Back then, opera remained a living art form, with the likes of Strauss and Puccini keeping the public excited about new works.
Korngold’s third opera Die tote Stadt premiered in 1920 in
Cologne, the composer a mere 23 years old. Back then, opera remained a living
art form, with the likes of Strauss and Puccini keeping the public excited
about new works. The Met, not wanting to miss out on any of the excitement,
immediately grabbed this odd piece for its American premiere only a year
later. Korngold’s next opera Das Wunder der Heliane premiered
in Hamburg in 1927 but its generic musicality and moralistic satire failed to
ignite enthusiasm on either side of the Atlantic. Never mind though, it was
time to write movie music.
After its initial Met performances, Die tote Stadt had to wait
more than fifty years to again seduce American audiences with the heavy
nostalgia that permeates Korngold’s score. This time it was a brave
excursion into rare but revered repertory by America’s only adventurous
company of the time, the New York City Opera, where the 1975 Frank Corsaro
staging remained in its repertory until 2006. San Franciscans had to wait
even longer for Korngold’s enigmatic work.
Die tote Stadt is a masterpiece, at least in the hands of a stage
director able to superimpose the real and the imaginary, of an indulgent
conductor able to sustain its unending waltzes and revivals of a single tune,
of a tenor able to sing loud and long and high, and of a soprano able to do
the same as well as impersonate a cabaret dancer. All this the San Francisco
Opera brought over to us from the Salzburg Festival where it originated in
2004, with a brief stop in Vienna to pick up soprano Emily Magee.
Die tote Stadt is a tour de force for everyone involved.
The formidable role of Paul, the bereaved husband of the dead Marie, belongs
these days to Torsten Kerl, who continues on to London with this superb Willy
Decker production. Frank, Paul’s friend and finally rival for the
attentions of the dancer Marietta, is the third of the opera’s
formidable roles, particularly as it is tied to the Pierrot song and antics
of Fritz who taunts Paul in Marietta’s cruel commedia
dell’arte improvisation on death and resurrection. The staging of
this complicated scene (as well with the entire opera) was entrusted to and
effectively realized by Meisje Hummel, an assistant for the Salzburg
Emily Magee (Marietta)
There is no doubt that the piece casts its spell from the first note. The
San Francisco audience gave its immediate and full attention to
Korngold’s rich sound, conductor Donald Runnicles lovingly pulling
forth its thick and weighty sonorities from San Francisco Opera orchestra.
The big tune from the opera, “Marietta’s Lied” comes fairly
early but it is really a duet for Paul and Marietta (though it is far better
known as a stand alone concert aria for soprano), and this tune comes back
many, many times, finally as Paul’s wrenching farewell to his dead
The message of Die tote Stadt is simple – there is no
resurrection. It is a plain statement, unadorned with philosophic and
religious implications, forcefully presented with the full resources of the
post Romantic orchestra with expanded percussion. The Willy Decker production
assumes equal proportion in a conception that sometimes juxtaposes and other
times superimposes Paul’s present upon Paul’s past, resulting in
a confusion of life with dream that brings a whirling corporealness to what
is cold and dead. These are the brilliant designs of Wolfgang Gussmann whose
black boxes and shadowy abysses inhabited by Decker’s real people and
by their shadows. The production means are both enormous and delicately
Paul and troupe
Donald Runncles resonated mightily with Korngold’s over-the-top
sonorities. Torsten Kerl is justifiably famous for the role of Paul. Emily
Magee brought impeccable musical taste and character dimensionality as the
nemesis of the dead wife. San Francisco Opera’s particular
contributions to its performances of the Decker production were adequate. The
Frank of Lucas Meachem fulfilled the formidable needs of this role, though it
lacked the weight as antagonist to counter balance the musical and dramatic
personalities of the production’s protagonists. The Brigitta of
Katharine Tier was similarly out of balance. The well-performed
commedia scene added enormously to the many pleasures of this