Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

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):