Recently in Reviews
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
16 Nov 2008
Wozzeck stands ankle deep in water on the flooded stage of the Bavarian State Opera, above him hovers a huge, movable box – the dingy apartment he shares with Marie and their adolescent bastard – and he is surrounded by a freak-show worthy of a George Groszian nightmare and worse.
Michael Volle portrays Georg Buechner’s and Alban Berg’s
character with unparalleled intensity, such a beautiful baritonal sound even
in the most harrowing moments, and such ease beneath the tortured surface,
that it is almost too good. He did everything as one could hope for in a
Wozzeck on stage, but he never elicited much pity and never seemed quite as
helpless-hapless as Wozzeck probably should. In a way, his great musical and
dramatic strengths came at the expense of the character.
Something similar could be said about Andreas Kriegenburg’s
direction – or more specifically the phenomenal lighting of Stefan
Bolliger and how it works with the continuously fascinating set of Harald B.
Thor and Andrea Schraad costumes: It is so absorbing, so good and stimulating
to look at, it might distract from the psychological development of the
characters. On Monday night, it also distracted from some so-so singing
(Jürgen Müller underpowered and underwhelming as Drum Major and Clive Bayley
with an average night as the Doctor) and in doing so, it unleashed the drama
unto the audience in a visceral way that even Wozzeck-lovers might not have
Because with this would-be quibbles taken care of, the fact remains that
this was a stunning premiere, a spectacular performance, and indeed a
striking success for the Munich Opera’s second new production under the
new general director Klaus Bachler. Kriegenburg, a theater director, had done
only two operas before (which I have not seen), but here he hit a nerve in
just the right way. Instead of exerting a willful personality, ideology, or
aching modernization on Wozzeck, he gives us an internalized picture (set
roughly in the time of the play’s premiere) where the world as Wozzeck
sees it is how the audience sees it. Except for Marie and his son, the
characters are distortions of their personalities, one more disturbing than
the next. The crowds are hordes of unemployed, shadows in the world of
Wozzeck’s steadily slipping sense of reality. When the
apartment-within-the-stage begins to very subtly shift left and right, the
visualization of this losing grasp on reality becomes so perceptible,
it’s as if you could touch it. I felt like I needed a splash of cold
water or a slap in the face myself.
Amid this Michaela Schuster’s Marie altered between pleasurable
cantabile and appropriate crudeness, Wolfgang Schmidt earned merits with his
cleanly sung, morbidly obese captain, and Munich’s tenor-for-everything
Kevin Conners delivered a fine, sonorous Andres. Wozzeck was also a good
night – to the hesitant surprise of the Munich critics – for
music director Kent Nagano.
Speculations about his contract not being renewed are only slowly
residing, discussions about a rift between the music- and general director
are still indulged in with tabloid-like diligence by the feuilletons. But
this performance was one for a mark in his supporter's good books.
Nagano’s strengths emerge best in modern works where clarity is part of
the musical success.
The orchestra, apparently well rehearsed, gave the music
an elastic, clear treatment; the score sounded taut and diaphanous. Only very
occasionally was the orchestra too loud; more often it was very sensitive.
When Nagano waded onto stage, barefoot and his trousers rolled up, he
received as warm a reception as I’ve heard him get in Munich. Only
Kriegenburg and his team got more – wholly absent of boos, too, perhaps
a novelty for a premiere of a modern production in Munich.
If any Wozzeck production can convince the hesitating masses to listen to
this difficult 20th century masterpiece, it would have to be this one.
Jens F. Laurson