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.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
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.