Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Wolfgang Schöne (Dr. Schön) and Marlis Petersen (title role) in Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production of Lulu, directed by Paul Curran for the 2008-09 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago
25 Nov 2008

Lulu-Palooza in the Windy City

Marlis Petersen, the much lauded "Lulu-du-jour," brought her well-traveled portrayal of Berg's complex heroine to Chicago Lyric Opera and she alone was almost worth the price of admission.

Alban Berg: Lulu

Lulu: Marlis Petersen; Dr. Schön/Jack The Ripper: Wolfgang Schöne; Countess Geschwitz: Jill Grove; Alwa: William Burden; Schigolch: Thomas Hammons; Painter/Black Man: Scott Ramsay; Animal Trainer/Athlete: Jan Buchwald; Prince/Marquis/Manservant: Rodell Rosel; Wardrobe Mistress/Schoolboy/Groom: Buffy Baggott. Lyric Opera of Chicago. Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis. Director: Paul Curran. Designer: Kevin Knight.

Above: Wolfgang Schöne (Dr. Schön) and Marlis Petersen (title role) in Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production of Lulu, directed by Paul Curran for the 2008-09 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

For Ms. Petersen has everything the role requires: gleaming lyric tone, unstrained high notes, first rate musicianship, a thorough understanding of the structure of the doomed girl’s dramatic arc, star presence, a waif-like figure, and truly great gams. So why was I not more emotionally engaged with her very definitive achievement?

Well, for all her consummate professionalism, she seemed to be just on the fringes of the character’s soul. The great director/teacher Charles Nelson Reilly once critiqued an actress thus: “My dear, you are wonderful, but you’re not acting — you’re giving a ‘performance.’” And that in part is what I felt about Ms. Petersen. Wonderful ‘performance,’ yes, but where was the internalized gnawing motivation that informs this creature? In her defense, and to risk musical heresy, I feel that in large part the omission is composer Berg’s.

The text asks us to believe this woman is irresistible, a charismatic being that inspires unhealthy sexual obsession in all who cross her path. I was not yet convinced this night that the intent of the tale is borne out by its musicalization. The heroine’s churning prosaic declamation, the oft-angular leaps, the quirky melismas that sound like “Lucia” on a bender, the pitches in extremis where only dogs can hear — all these make me admire the technique and the intellect to be sure, but do not engage my emotions. Or my libido.

Perhaps a uniquely gifted stage creature like Natalie Dessay could truly inhabit this role and make the dramatic work. Until then, Ms. Petersen’s very real achievement will likely nevertheless give much pleasure to many fans of this troubling piece. Not that hers was the evening’s only success.

The talented and versatile William Burden was simply the best Alwa of my experience. Is there anything at which this accomplished tenor does not excel? Here he sang with his customary easy precision, and spun out some achingly beautiful phrases. His duet with the heroine was arguably the highpoint of the evening. Dramatically committed, pristine tone and technique, handsome presence, Mr. Burden delivered on all counts.

The much anticipated Lyric debut by Wolfgang Schoene, a notable Dr. Shoen, was impressively musical and secure of characterization. His rather straight vocal production certainly filled the large house, although I found it a little on the dry side. Still, nothing about the part escapes him and he was often thrilling and ultimately (as Jack) chilling. Thomas Hammons’s booming, orotund Schigolch was more to my vocal taste and he made the most of his stage time. The rich, ringing contralto-ish Countess Geschwitz from Jill Grove was also top drawer, and she had good fun with parts of the role, running around in the bustle of Act II like Estelle Parsons chasing the getaway car in Bonnie and Clyde.

Lulu_LOC_09.pngMarlis Petersen (title role) and Wolfgang Schöne (Dr. Schön) in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Lulu, directed by Paul Curran for the 2008-09 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago

The many featured roles were well taken by Lyric’s outstanding young artists, with Scott Ramsay’s Painter deserving special mention for his gleaming delivery. Only Jan Buchwald seemed not quite in the same league as this stellar group of soloists, with a fairly woolly and diffuse Animal Tamer. While he sang much more clearly as the Athlete, Mr. Buchwald suggested more an East Bloc WWF act than the usual trim track star.

Stage director Paul Curran managed his skilled cast with excellent results, combining meaningful groupings and well motivated blocking with often inspired stage business. He also successfully mined all the humor in the piece which greatly heightened the catastrophic outcome. Kevin Knight’s effective set design pulled off the trick of using a white-box-as-unit-environment without parodying the dreadful cliche’s of 1980’s German opera design. This handsomely detailed space was changeably adorned with well chosen dressing, and subsequently opened up at the back to reveal a beautiful multi-leveled staircase. Mr. Knight also provided the characterful costumes.

If anything, I felt the white set was perhaps too clean, too bright, too open for the dark undercurrents of the story. But I grouse. The overall look of the design was a fine artistic achievement, especially paired with the spot-on (as it were) projections and film work contributed by John Boesche, and as meaningfully lit by David Jacques. First rate all.

In the pit, Sir Andrew Davis drew exceptional playing from this fine band, and made as cogent a case as I think possible for Berg’s opus. The occasional volume imbalances between orchestra and stage are seemingly unavoidable, given the thick brass voicings at some key junctures. The highly affecting, personalized solo instrumental work was equaled by superlative ensemble playing.

I cannot imagine a better case being made for this complex, challenging piece of musical theater. Still, after four different (good) productions to date, and many earnest “listens,” I frankly still don’t respond to the score. My limitation, I know. That I am not alone was evidenced by a trickle of audience leaving at the first intermission, augmented by a stream of departees after Act II.

At the end of the day, then, I have to say I found myself totally loving most everyone and everything about Lyric Opera’s admirable Lulu except…it.

James Sohre

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):