06 Oct 2008
Macbeth at Bavarian State Opera
If Munich’s new Macbeth production does anything, it stirs emotions and draws heated response.
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.
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