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

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

W. A. Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
26 Jan 2009

Die Zauberflöte from Opernhaus Zürich

A traditional production of Mozart and Schikaneder's singspiel Die Zauberflöte can go for charm, fantasy, and enjoyable camp. It can also turn trite and cloying.

W. A. Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

Matti Salminen, Christoph Strehl, Julia Kleiter, Elena Mosuc, Ruben Drole,·Eva Liebau. Chor und Orchester der Oper Zürich. Nikolaus Harnoncourt (cond.). Directed by Martin Kušej.

Deutsche Grammophon 073 4367 [2DVDs]

$34.99  Click to buy

A strong non-traditional production should stay true to the spirit of the work, essentially a Mason-influenced entertainment, while refreshing the audience with new perspectives. Unfortunately, Martin Kušej’s 2007 staging for Zürich, with sets by Rolf Glittenberg, represents the worst excesses of so-called “regietheater” (director’s theater). The modern-dress updating and sterile sets (like the lobby of some corporate headquarters) begin to suggest fairly early in the recording that Kušej not only disrespects the work but wants the audience to dislike it as well. Only one character/performer manages to escape the cold and clinical approach of the director to connect to the audience, the irrepressible Papageno, in a star-making turn by Ruben Drole.

Of course, Kušej has pockets-full of ideas to throw around. Tamino and Pamina are a married couple, standing stock still before a white screen during the overture, and then suddenly snatched away and carried off separately as they are about to kiss. Not until the end of the opera does Kušej manage to return to this concept, with a filmed sequence of the couple in a Mercedes, possibly driving off to a honeymoon, when they realize they are submerged in water and have to fight to escape. A statement about the confinement of conventional marriage? Perhaps. But to be welcomed after their rescue by Sarastro, hardly the model for connubial bliss, makes no sense.

In between come various twists on a traditional production. Instead of one goofy looking giant snake chasing Tamino, both he and the chorus writhe on the ground, wrestling with a mass of slimy black reptiles. The gray-paneled walls slide back and forth, creating new spaces that always look the same as the previous one, with more door-slamming than in a bedroom farce. At one point the Queen of the Night enters from inside a refrigerator and leaves the same way. Papageno himself makes his first appearance inside an oversize birdcage. See? Get it? Why, you’re almost as clever as Kušej.

A decent cast gives themselves over to the director’s concept, but what that means for almost all of them is a repression of personality and individual style, which makes for dull singing. Christoph Strehl has sung many a Tamino in recent years. Heard here, his dry voice matches all too well the aridity of the concept. Julia Kleiter’s Pamina doesn’t seem to interest Kušej at all, and her scenes are flatly staged. For Monostatos, Kušej decided to go with the original libretto’s dictates of blackface, surely to make his own point about the work’s proclaimed spirituality. Rudolf Schasching is suitably grotesque in the role. The great Matti Salminen as Sarastro sends Monostatos into exile with a knee to the groin. Sarastro can be, possibly should be, a troubling character, hypocritically condemning “hypocrisy,” but the director’s underlining is not helpful. Elena Mosuc hits all the notes as the Queen of the Night, but she is never especially scary or intimidating. More imposing is the physique of the Speaker, Gabriel Bermúdez, whom Kušej presents shirtless, at a basin washing his underarms. For some reason your reviewer suspects Kušej spent a lot of time at rehearsal here, along with an extended scene of Tamino and Papageno in their underwear.

So lively and energetic is the Papageno of Ruben Drole that he seems to have popped in from another production. Perhaps all of Kušej’s sympathies go to the lower-classes - in one fairly interesting twist, it is a crowd of tired, filthy laborers who appear instead of wild animals in response to the flute. But Drole just seems to be an immensely appealing performer, with a charming manner and a most handsome voice. He is well-matched by the buxom Papagena of Eva Liebau.

In the pit Nikolaus Harnoncourt leads the Zürich Opera forces with his trademark enthusiasms for rhythmic angularity and string playing that decidedly stays away from smoothness or conventional tonal beauty. The result veers from fresh and invigorating to scratchy and irritating.

Deutsche Grammophon includes a 45-minute “Behind the Scenes” bonus feature, which pushes the set to two discs. This feature serves as evidence that Europe has also given itself over to TV hosts of creepy jocularity filmed by manic hand-held camera operators.

In the end, this may well be the Zauberflöte DVD for those who don’t really want a Zauberflöte DVD. Talk about precision marketing.

Chris Mullins

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):