Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Scene from Turandot [Photo by Deutsche Oper Berlin]
23 Oct 2008

Turandot without the trimmings

In recent years it’s the headgear of the ice-hearted princess that is often the major source of awe and excitement in productions of Puccini’s incomplete final opera.

G. Puccini: Turandot

Turandot (Lise Lindstrom), Altoum (Peter Maus), Calaf (Mario Zhang), Liù (Inna Los), Timur (Paata Burchuladze), Ping (Nathan Myers), Pang (Jörg Schörner), Pong (Paul Kaufmann), Ein Mandarin (Hyung-Wook Lee), Prinz von Persien (Ho-Sung Kang), Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin. Musikalische Leitung: Attilio Tomasello. Inszenierung: Lorenzo Fioroni. Bühne: Paul Zoller.

Above: Scene from Turandot

All photos courtesy of Deutsche Oper Berlin

 

Thus the Turandot staging new at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper this season is an eye-opener of quite another kind: Turandot make her entrance dressed in black from head to toe and with face veiled. She mourns the injustice of earlier generations that continues to dominate life in the undefined present, in which Lorenzo Fioroni has set the production.

With a minimalist single set by Paul Zoller Fiorini makes Turandot, performed with Franco Alfari’s long-traditional conclusion, a play-within-a-play, and it’s the people who — as in German Expressionist drama of a century ago — are the downtrodden mass hero of the story as he tells it. Aged Emperor Altoumi and his partners in power look down on the stage from a director’s box high on the rear wall. The people, clad in Goodwill-type glad rags, sit as spectators in rows of folding chairs facing the audience.

The bloodletting of repeated beheadings is the opium with which Altoumi manipulates them and keeps them in line. They cry out for yet another head to role, unconscious of the cruelty and senseless abuse of power involved.

Turandot and Calaf engage in their riddle game seated eye-to-eye at a small table downstage. For Fioroni it’s a TV quiz game. Interesting, but does it make sense? It does — even if traditional Puccini fans no doubt miss at first the Orientalizing excesses of familiar stagings.

What is new — and the real eye-opener of Fioroni’s production is the double patricide that concludes it: Turandot and Calaf each cut down the father responsible for the generations of horror inflicted on their people.

Yes, yes, yes. Calaf’s father Timur was deposed somewhere along the line, presumably — it is always implied — due to great injustice. Here one feels that alcoholic Timur lost out rather because the other guy had more toys. When the chips are down and the play is over, Timur sit down at the side of the stage — back to audience — and takes out a bottle from his camel-hair coat.

Many who see Turandot are troubled — to be sure — by the torture and suicide of Liù, the only truly good person in the opera, for it is only she who knows what caritas, a truly selfless love, is. So is Fioroni, who suggests that with Liù Puccini composed himself into a corner and — unable to find a way out — left the opera unfinished. For him her sad fate hangs literally over the opera: her lifeless body is suspended above the stage in the hour of resolution.

Turandot_04.png

“These are people caught up in boundless hysteria,” Fioroni writes in the exemplary program book of the Deutsche Oper. “None of them is in a position to see the situation with a clear eye.” How otherwise can Calaf witness Liù’s pain and still ruthlessly pursue an obsession that guarantees the continuation of the status quo? At the risk of sounding sit-com, can her meaningless death nourish happy love forever after? To keep the audience thinking with him, Fioroni eschews a Broadway finale and has the chorus sing its final “big number” off stage.

Undisputed star of the October 18 cast was Mario Zhang who stepped in for an ailing Carlo Ventre as Calaf. The Canadian tenor sang the role at Dresden’s Semper Oper early in the year and was immediately engaged by other European companies. His rich and robust voice, employed with ease even at the most demanding moments, suggests that he could be the tenor the world waits for.

Lise Lindstrom, who laid the foundation of her career with regional companies of her native America, is a near-ideal Turandot. Tall and lean, she is happily free of the mannerisms that can bring this role close to parody — and, of course, Fioroni’s approach leaves no room for brightly painted feline fingernails. While Lindstrom’s somewhat metallic voice underscores Turandot’s initial frigidity, greater warmth would have been welcome later. Yet she sings with power and enviable accuracy in all ranges.

Turandot_02.png

Without capitalizing on the sympathy that an audience always feels for Liù, Balkan soprano Inna Los is an especially strong presence in this cast. (Yet one cannot stop wishing that Fioroni had been able to make his point without her corpse on stage for such an extended period.)

Paata Burchuladze, the Timur of the evening and still a major bass on the international opera scene a decade ago, has clearly reached retirement age, while Peter Maus, Altoumi in the cast and veteran of many years with the Deutsche Oper, remains an impressive tenor.

Ping, Pang and Pong, well-oiled cogs in the wheels of power as Fioroni sees them, were satisfactorily sung by Nathan Meyers, Jörg Schörner and Paul Kaufmann.

While Zoller’s designs intelligently supported Fioroni’s concept, his video projections were more movie- than opera-house and detracted from the strong story line of the staging.

Attilio Tomassello conducted an ensemble that now ranks high among Berlin’s many large symphonic ensembles. The chorus was superbly rehearsed by William Spaulding.

Turandot_03.png

“An end with horror,” says Thomas Mann following the murder of the dictatorial manipulator in “Mario and the Magician,” his psychological short-story study of Italy in the early days of Mussolini. “Yes, but a liberating end nonetheless,” he concludes. In this sense Fioroni liberates Turandot and Calaf and the people whom they will now lead from darkness into light.

This is a Turandot obviously to be taken seriously.

Wes Blomster

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):