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

Titus Lightens Up in Saint Louis

Mozart’s opera seria, La Clemenza di Tito, performed in English at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis did something I did not think possible.

Il turco in Italia: Garsington Opera

Martin Duncan's production of Rossini's Il turco in Italia debuted in 2011, only the second production to be performed in Garsington Opera's then new home at Wormsley. Revived for the first time on 25 June 2017, David Parry was again conducting with Quirijn de Lang as Selim, Geoffrey Dolton as Don Geronio and Mark Stone as Prosdocimo returning to their roles, plus Sarah Tynan as Fiorilla, Katie Bray as Zaide, Luciano Botelho as Narciso and Jack Swanson as Albazar. Designs were by Francis O'Connor, with lighting by Mark Jonathan and movement by Nick Winston.

Glyndebourne's wartime Ariadne auf Naxos

It’s country-house opera season, and Glyndebourne have decided it’s time for a return of Katharina Thoma’s country-house-set Ariadne auf Naxos, first seen in 2013. Thoma locates Strauss’s opera-about-opera in a 1940s manor house which has been sequestered as a military hospital, neatly alluding to Glyndebourne’s own history when it transformed itself into a centre for evacuees from east London and the Christie children’s nursery became a sick bay.

On Trial in Saint Louis

That Opera Theatre of Saint Louis fearlessly embraces the cutting edge is once again evidenced by their compelling American premiere of The Trial.

A Traditional Rigoletto in Las Vegas

On June 9, 2017, Opera Las Vegas presented a traditional production of Verdi’s Rigoletto conducted by Music Director Gregory Buchalter with a cast headed by veteran baritone Michael Chioldi. A most convincing Rigoletto, Chioldi was a man in psychological pain from the begining of the opera. His fear and his vulnerability to the whims of the nobility were evident in every meaty, well-colored phrase he sang.

Thumbprint, An Amazing Woman Leaves an Indelible Mark

Thumbprint is the story of the young, innocent and illiterate Mukhtar Mai who was assaulted by a group of powerful men. Following the attack, Mukhtar, having supposedly been disgraced, was expected to commit suicide. Instead, she amazed everyone who knew her by going to the police and calling for the arrest of her attackers.

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

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):