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

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.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Anne Schwanewilms as Chrysothemis and Susan Bullock as Elektra [Photo by Clive Barda]
13 Nov 2008

A powerful, poignant Elektra at the Royal Opera House, London

“This won’t be a total Schlacht of sound” said the director, Charles Edwards, of this production. Instead, it’s a strikingly intelligent interpretation, focusing on the deeper aspects of the drama.

Richard Strauss : Elektra

Susan Bullock (Elektra), Anne Schwanewilms (Chrysothemis), Jane Henschel (Klytemnestra), Johan Reuter (Orestes), Frank van Aken (Aegisth), Frances McCafferty, Monika-Evelin Liiv, Kathleen Wilkinson, Elizabeth Woollett, Eri Nakamura (Maids) Charles Edwards, (Director, Design and Lighting), Mark Elder (Conductor), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, London.

Above: Anne Schwanewilms as Chrysothemis and Susan Bullock as Elektra [Photo by Clive Barda]

 

Despite his extensive experience, this is Mark Elder’s first Elektra. He was adamant that the characterization should reflect the music. Elektra’s part is surprisingly tender at times. Twisted by fate, she’s become wild, but beneath the madness still lurks the real woman Elektra might have been. This makes her tragedy all the more poignant. The real drama here doesn’t lie in decibels. Orchestrally, this was superb. Elder understands the inner dynamic of the music, grasping the fine detail sometimes lost in the vast sweep. Harsh, dry percussion punctuates the beating of the maids. They, too, are victims of the brutal regime. The fifth maid, who protests, is destroyed, as Elektra will be. The playing was so well judged that this would have made a superb recording, even without the visuals.

Yet what visuals ! A monstrous Bauhaus monolith is set at an awkward angle against a Greek temple. These architectural fault lines remind us that Elektra is powerful political commentary. Klytemnestra murdered Agamemnon to seize his kingdom, but she can’t enjoy power, her nightmares pursue her. Elektra is duty bound to avenge her father, but she’s irrevocably warped by it, and cannot live past retribution. As for Orestes, who will now be king ? Neither Strauss nor von Hofmannsthal make this explicit in the opera, but they knew, and their audiences knew, Orestes continues to be punished by the Gods. This production was conceived at the start of the Iraq war although it references that turning point in European history, just before the collapse of the Austrian, German and Russian empires. If anything, recent events like the failure of the banking system, reinforce the point that power is an illusion, easily destroyed. Nothing’s stable : Aegisth whirls round, dying, in a revolving door.

In this palace, family values are dysfunctional. There are disturbing sexual undercurrents in all relationships. Perceptively, however this production doesn’t play up the kinkiness, but places it firmly in the context of the power crazed society around the palace. Everyone is trapped in this brutal situation. Hence the production accentuates the importance of the maids and subsidiary characters, expanding them as silent roles.

Susan Bullock as Elektra is outstanding. Because this interpretation makes her sympathetic, Bullock can develop the more subtle aspects of Elektra’s personality. She’s no screaming mad harpie. There are many traces of the woman she might have become. She mocks the maids for having children, yet understands why Chrysothemis wants babies. The dynamic between Elektra and Chrysothemis (beautifully realized by Anne Schwanewilms), is lucidly defined. “Ich kann nicht sitzen und ins Dunkel starren wie du “, cries Chrysothemis. It helps explain why, at her moment of triumph, Elektra deflates. She has nothing to sustain her but vengeance and must die when she achieves it. Her final dance is slow, barely perceptible, as if she’s sinking into the very ground, carrying the “burden of happiness” which no longer has meaning.

Elektra_ROH_002.pngA scene from Elektra [Photo by Clive Barda]

Orestes is the finest part I’ve seen Johan Reuter play so far, and it suits him well. So much more can be made of Klytemnestra and Aegisth than Jane Henschel and Frank van Aken presented, but in theatrical terms this was no real loss, as it didn’t pull focus away from the sisters and Orestes, and the wider drama around them. Rarely does lighting merit a mention, but this time it was exceptionally effective. Agamemnon features prominently as a silent role, his “ghost” projected onto the walls of his palace. When Elektra sings to Orestes of “Der milchige des Monds”, a faint, but persistent light shines on the corrugated panoply above her. It’s a tiny detail, easily missed, but that moment of beauty throws the tragedy into high relief. This Elektra becomes more profoundly moving, the more it unfolds.

Anne Ozorio

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):