06 Oct 2008
Macbeth at Bavarian State Opera
If Munich’s new Macbeth production does anything, it stirs emotions and draws heated response.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
If Munich’s new Macbeth production does anything, it stirs emotions and draws heated response.
As long as Zeljko Lucic and Nadja Michael take the lead roles as Mr. and Mrs. Mayhem, that response should be divided more or less equally between delight and disgust.
Delight at the athletic, seductive Lady Macbeth who, in Michael’s ravishing (almost cloyingly so) interpretation, becomes Salome’s English sister with a penchant for conspiracy as an (a)rousing activity. From limber acrobatics in the lowered chandelier to her particularly detailed rhythmic articulation to her dramatic, wildly vibrating yet piercing voice (neither incapacitated by a cold, as Intendant Klaus Bachler had announced, nor quite as ugly in tone as Verdi had intended) she was a Lady Macbeth to die — or rather — to murder for.
Disgust at the band of extras and chorus members that director Martin Kušej sends downstage to micturate all over the place at the opening of the third act, and for no less than an astounding three minutes. (Though maybe the audience was merely jeering because choreographed urination is such a clichéd element in European Verdi direction.) When 13 topless playboy bunnies with pink wigs (undoubtedly the wind spirits) appeared shortly thereafter, a smart aleck yelled “bravi”, creating an unusual amount of merriment during a performance of as dark an opera as Macbeth.
At about this point, the show was at the verge of being hijacked by the audience; laughter, lusty boos from every tier, and blatant chatter created a casual, irreverent atmosphere rarely encountered in modern opera houses. Slightly rowdy, perhaps, but quite enjoyable in its way.
Enjoyable like Zelijko Lucic, the Serbian baritone who sang Verdi, instead of pushing it, his voice ringing effortlessly through the round of the Staatsoper, more impressive even than the very fine Banco of Roberto Scandiuzzi whose severed head would became the play-toy of Lady Macbeth.
And enjoyable like the homogenously playing Bavarian State Orchestra under Nicola Luisotti who got a salvo of boos, but deserved the many more bravos for his nervous, restless reading that had all the accents in the right places and made great music of what Verdi supplied him with.
Kušej (whose Salzburg La Clemenza di Tito is my measure of direction excellence) and his stage designer Martin Zehetgruber created many fine views: the vast field of skulls over which the protagonists climb the entire time and the walls of plastic sheets (á la Guy Ritchie’s Snatch) all make good, unsubtle points.
Nadja Michael in a scene from Macbeth
But too many ideas seem unfiltered and crass, as if Kušej’s team had had no time to filter out the unnecessary ones, or distinguish between the obvious and the obscure. The handful of blond children (modeled after Village of the Damned) that variously represent the witches, fate, and murdered innocents. The obsession with Banco’s severed head. The constant dressing and undressing of the chorus (nakedness, medieval costumes, grimy underwear). It all veered between gratuitous, pointless, and too dense. It made for a production worthy of praise and mockery alike — a curious (in the best and worst sense of the word) opening for the new Bachler regime at Germany’s most important opera house.
Jens F. Laurson
Zeljko Lucic in a scene from Macbeth