22 Dec 2008
Berg’s Lulu at Lyric Opera of Chicago
In its new production this fall season of Alban Berg’s Lulu, Lyric Opera of Chicago has achieved a near ideal synthesis of music and drama.
“Hi! I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
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.
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.
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.
In its new production this fall season of Alban Berg’s Lulu, Lyric Opera of Chicago has achieved a near ideal synthesis of music and drama.
The psychological complexities linked to the depiction not only of the title character but also of her numerous admirers and associates could pose a daunting task to any company undertaking a new production of Berg’s final operatic work. Lyric Opera has met these challenges with respect both to Berg’s score and to his intentions for staging the opera as dramatic event. Under the musical direction of Sir Andrew Davis the complex score moves from passages of suspense and dramatic intensity to segments of lyrical beauty, the transitions forming a seamless bridge to both action and introspection. The new production commissioned by Lyric Opera is staged by Paul Curran who had scored a noteworthy triumph here with his production of Die Frau ohne Schatten in the previous season. In Curran’s vision for Lulu, the stage highlights traditional interior settings while using innovative lighting and projections in order to suggest developments in the portrayal of individual characters.
The figure of Lulu, as hinted in the prologue by the animal trainer and his menagerie, will represent female aspects of temptation, here taking on the simulation of a snake. A transition from the representative or symbolic tone of the prologue to a detailed realism of the first act demonstrates the creative approach of this production in combining the abstract and the concrete. Lulu, as sung by Marlis Petersen, is depicted in the opening scene of Act I surrounded by male figures who will play increasingly significant roles in her various transformations. Here Lulu sits for her portrait while listening to the self-motivated discussions initiated by Dr. Schön, a leading journalist, and by his son Alwa, who composes for musical theater.
In this first scene the primary male roles are not only introduced but also given skillful characterization by the singers in this production. As Dr. Schön the bass-baritone Wolfgang Schöne communicates the two-fold personality of a callous businessman whose determined authority nevertheless suffers from glints of weakness. Schöne has performed this role in other significant productions of Lulu, such familiarity surely elucidating the depth of his interpretation and his ability to interact on varying levels with individual characters. The role of Alwa is invested here by William Burden with a revelatory performance: as one of the characters — along with Lulu — who survives from the opening until nearly the end of the work, Alwa must remain vocally incisive and dramatically convincing in a variety of situations. Burden’s committed performance meets fully the taxing vocal demands of the tenor role. At the same time, while depicting the yearning musical writer who eventually succumbs to Lulu’s attractions, Burden’s dramatic skills add further to a memorable characterization. But it is the painter working on Lulu’s portrait who achieves amorous success with the title character in this initial scene. In the first of several roles that he covers in this production Scott Ramsay as the painter presses Lulu in a physically ardent, if vocally understated, plea for her affections. Shortly after she concedes to these advances, Lulu’s husband enters. As soon as the Medizinalrat comes upon this scene of marital disloyalty, he collapses dead of heart failure. Lulu’s reaction to the shock and sudden death of her husband is a gauge of the complexity of emotions that will continue to infuse Marlis Petersen’s portrayal throughout the production. A mix of curiosity and consternation indicates a character that is far from one-dimensional. The figure of Lulu — inhabited and communicated so effectively by Ms. Petersen — revels in adventure, suggesting at once a naïve lack of guile yet also a measure of complicity in the deeds and decisions to which she draws her suitors.
Marlis 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 musical and visual interlude between the first and following scenes establishes a technique which Curran uses to great effect in subsequent dramatic transitions throughout the production. During Berg’s orchestral interlude projections of images onto a screen suggest, by their change of shape or color, the progression of emotional, physical, or intellectual change in both individual characters and the constellation of the same. At the start of the second scene Lulu, who has inherited a respectable sum as widow, is now married to the painter. Countless sketches examples of her portrait adorn the walls. The figure of Schigolch — a character never fully identified from Lulu’s past — is introduced near the start of the scene when he knocks at the door of Lulu’s home and is presented with money by the heroine. In much the same way as the character Alwa, Schigolch will resurface periodically until near the close of the opera. In both solo and ensemble work bass-baritone Thomas Hammons as Schigolch proved to be an effective foil to Lulu’s carefree attitude. In their interactions a mutual enhancement could readily be perceived. Indeed Ms. Petersen’s impassioned singing of the repetition on “blind” in this scene with Schigolch underlined her dramatic involvement with exquisite controlled agility in the upper register of her voice. By the close of the scene Dr. Schön has revealed to the painter his ongoing liaison with Lulu, in this production a psychologically riveting exchange, the realization of which drives the artist to take his own life in a separate, enclosed room. The final scene of Act I reveals Lulu as a theatrical dancer thanks to the patronage of her former suitor Dr. Schön. Lullu’s effect on Schön and his impending marriage to another illustrates how Berg intends the lead character not only as a display of herself but also as a means to bare the true character of others. Ms. Petersen is especially effective here in showing Lulu’s vulnerability as well as her strength, both of which cause reactions among those surrounding her. Dr. Schön—- while referring to Lulu’s indestructibility — is now indeed persuaded to compose a written renunciation of his engagement.
The second act highlights Lulu’s marriage to Dr. Schön, his death by her hand, Lulu’s incarceration and time also spent in a medical ward, and finally her liberation and physical union with Alwa, the son of her dead husband. Throughout this act Lulu’s devoted female companion, the Countess Geschwitz, demonstrates her willingness to compromise and even to sacrifice her own well-being in order to save Lulu. As the Countess, mezzo-soprano Jill Grove sings with an appropriate and convincing dramatic urgency, lending her character’s personality aspects already encountered in the roles of Dr. Schön and Alwa. The interlude between scenes one and two takes place after Lulu has shot her husband and before the plans to release her from prison are realized. Berg’s musical interlude serves as the accompaniment to a black-and-white film of the arrest, trial, and subsequent confinement of Lulu. This extension of the projected images used between other scenes is a dramatic masterstroke, in which the actual singers are filmed and displayed in the cinematic style of the period.
In Act III of the opera the two scenes take place in Paris and London respectively. Lulu’s successful escape has led to reunion with the Countess Geschwitz and Alwa, although the search for Lulu as criminal has not abated. In their Parisian home Lulu and Alwa are surrounded by characters of questionable reputation and less than stable profiles in matters of finance. Lulu’s narrow escape from this atmosphere, as their investments collapse, brings her to London and the true realm of the underworld. She spends her time as a prostitute, living together with Schigolch, Alwa, and the Countess Geschwitz — before dying at the hands of Jack the Ripper, her final client. The last words belong here to the Countess Geschwitz, who has fallen as the second victim to Jack, before he leaves the London flat. With extraordinary pathos Ms. Grove intones, in her dying words, an unwavering feeling of the Countess’s devotion and love for the cherished Lulu.