Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



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):