Recently in Reviews
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
Once Berkeley Opera, renamed West Edge Opera, this enterprising company offers the Bay Area’s only serious alternative to corporate opera, to wit Bonjour M. Gauguin.
In the first of pianist Julius Drake’s three-part series,
‘Perspectives’, our gaze was directed at Gustav Mahler’s eclectic musical
responses to human experiences: from the trauma and distress of anguished love
to the sweet contentment of true friendship, from the agonised introspection of
the artist to the diverse dramas of human interaction.
The Los Angeles opera company marketed its spring production of Rossini's La Cenerentola as Cinderella though there is no opera by that name. The libretto of La Cenerentola is not the Cinderella story we know.
The Paris Opéra has not staged a full Ring Cycle since 1957, but its current season will conclude with a correction of this grand operatic gap.
15 Feb 2009
Kurt Weill’s Der Kuhhandel at Volks Oper Wien
The Kurt Weill-composed operetta Arms and the Cow premiered in 1935 under the title A Kingdom for a Cow, according to Erwin Berger’s booklet essay for this DVD of a 2007 VolksOper Vien staging of David Pountney’s production.
Berger, in a “traduction” by Uwe Lukas Jäger, doesn’t go on to explain the change in title, nor does he comment on the most alluring bit of music in Weill’s score: a strong foretaste of the melodic material that would become the standard “September Song,” which Weill would compose after his move to the USA to start his career as a Broadway composer. Try track 22, “Juans Lied.”
A failure in its initial run, Arms and the Cow may have been a bit too pointed in its satire for an operetta - even relevant, of all things, in that frequently frivolous genre. Set in a very Teutonic-inspired version of Latin America, the story revolves around corrupt leaders and the arms salesman who profit off them, with poor Juan and his intended bride caught up in the machinations when Juan’s cow, his one claim to property and success, is taken by the government as a tax penalty. Read that line as many times as possible and then just shrug it off. Everything ends happily, at any rate.
How much of the operetta seen here resembles the original production can’t be easily judged. A brief note in small font on the back cover of the DVD case credits the libretto to Robert Vambery “in a revised text by Reinhard Palm.” That would explain the references to Botox and the axis of evil. Pountney doesn’t lay on the politics too heavily, thankfully, letting the cartoonish characterizations and frequently incomprehensible plot developments bubble along, comically enough. The most amusing character is the arms salesman Mr. Jones, in a performance by Michael Kraus primarily delivered in German, with the odd English exclamation and expletive. Kraus somehow manages to convey an “Ugly American” attitude even barking and growling in German. Carlo Hartmann spends most of the staging in a suspended divan, portraying the lazy and ethically dubious President Mendez. Most every operetta has at least one role for a comic actor to sink his/her teeth into and tear it into gruesome shreds (think Frosch in Fledermaus). Here Wolfgang Gratschmair provides the dental workout, chewing the scenery as Ximenez, an aide to the president. The young lovers, as is also often the case, are a fairly dull pair, and neither Dietmar Kerschbaum as Juan nor Ursula Pfitzner as his love Juanita have impressive voices, both being uncomfortably edgy in the top range.
Weill’s score has too little of his inimitable voice, but the music is still the best part of the show, from the mock national anthem that serves as the curtain raiser, through the romantic laments and comic patter numbers, to the toe-tapping ensemble finale. Christoph Eberle and the Volksoper forces serve it up with energy and style.
The packaging leaves much to be desired, with the cast listing and other credits only found on the back of the jewel case. Some sloppy editing results in misspellings in the subtitles. In fact, the menu screen offers the option to “select titel” (sic).
At about two hours and twenty minutes, Arms and the Cow is overlong, and while always at least mildly entertaining, only Weill completists or indiscriminate lovers of operetta may want to spend that much time fretting about Juan’s kuh.