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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Katherine Rohrer as Lady Macbeth [Photo by Dan Swerdlow]
30 Mar 2009

Bloch’s Macbeth by UC Opera, London

Mention Macbeth — The Opera and most think of Verdi. Ernest Bloch took on the subject more than half a century later, in Paris in 1910, when Verdi’s version was almost as obscure as Bloch’s is today.

Ernest Bloch: Macbeth

Macbeth: George von Bergen; Lady Macbeth: Katherine Rohrer; Duncan: Ryland Davies; Banquo: Richard Rowe; Macduff: Carl Gombrich; Lady Macduff: Louise Kemeny; Son of Macduff: Laura Murphy; 1st Witch: Mimi Kroll; 2nd Witch: Jessica Blackstone; 3rd Witch: Ella Jackson; Lennox: Woon Kim; Porter: Ed Davison; Murderer: Rory Mulchrone; Servant: Simon Hall; Apparition: Alicia Bennett. University College Opera. Directed by: John Ramster, Conducted by: Charles Peebles.

Above: Katherine Rohrer as Lady Macbeth

All photos by Dan Swerdlow

 

Originally the opera was composed to a French libretto by Edmond Fleg, but Bloch revisited the piece forty years later and adapted it to an English libretto, much of it Shakespeare’s own text. The French version of Bloch’s opera had its UK concert premiere in 1975 at the Royal Festival Hall, but it has never been performed here in the English version, nor in a fully staged production. Not, that is, until UC Opera — that champion of neglected masterpieces and justly forgotten flops alike — took it upon themselves to rectify the omission from the repertoire.

Macbeth.gifGeorge von Bergen as Macbeth

This is an opera which concentrates on private moments, monologues and dialogues; the sleepwalking scene is a private nightmare, without the usual pair of onlookers. Far more of the play’s soliloquys survive than in the libretto Piave wrote for Verdi; even the Drunken Porter makes an appearance, with the opera’s one straightforward strophic song; a contrast in word-setting which reflects Shakespeare’s own switch from blank verse to prose.

The score is primarily reminiscent of Debussy in its often rather nebulous drift through the text, but has shades of Salome and Götterdämmerung as well. The student orchestra (UCL has no music department) was problematic: in a woodwind-dominated score, the wind and brass playing was at best weak and at worst excruciating. In his one-monologue cameo as Duncan, the distinguished veteran tenor Ryland Davies sang with a expertly-crafted lyrical arch to his phrasing which showed up the accompanying instrumentalists as being flat as a pancake beneath. The string playing was better, the basses making a particularly strong atmospheric impression with the darkly throbbing pizzicato in the scene immediately after Duncan’s murder. Charles Peebles, conducting, shaped the orchestration and choral singing as best he could; the final rhythmically-driven chorus in which all are united against Macbeth comes as a refreshing climax.

Bloch changes the order of the later scenes (Shakespeare’s Acts 4 and 5) giving an alternative slant to the plot: it’s not until after the (apparently motiveless) slaughter of Macduff’s family that Macbeth seeks the witches a second time, and they reveal to him only the parade of kings and the Birnam Wood prophecy. The other two prophecies are cut, so Macbeth’s only reason to fear Macduff is that he will be seeking to avenge his wife and children. It takes the tautness out of the structure: this is a play in which bad things definitely come in threes.

Scene_Act3.gifScene from Act 3

And indeed, director John Ramster makes good use of the Witches (student soloists Mimi Kroll, Jessica Blackstone and Ella Jackson). They hover over the battle-slain like malign Valkyries, and travel as tree-spirits with the avenging army to see the final part of their prophecy played out. It’s a very strong staging all round, with space and lighting always used effectively; Bridget Kimak’s set is presided over by a blood-red moon, which moves into a total eclipse at the denouement — a strong visual evocation of the coming together of all the fateful prophecies which have governed Macbeth’s bloody reign.

The (hired) major principals were also strong — considerably stronger, in fact, than most of UC Opera’s casting in recent years. George von Bergen was especially good in the title role, dominating his every scene with a strong stage presence and full, finely-nuanced baritone. The young American mezzo Katherine Rohrer (Glyndebourne on Tour’s recent Carmen) has a lightish, agile voice with an excellent top; her Lady Macbeth was elegant and fiery, the progress of her self-destruction visible in her face. Richard Rowe sang Banquo in an even, well-produced tenor (his murder takes place offstage). The bass-baritone Carl Gombrich (National Opera Studio trained, now on the administrative staff at UCL) was a soft-grained Macduff, needing a little more heft and edge when urging the household to awake and hear the news of Duncan’s murder. Of the student soloists, tenor Hal Brindley’s Malcolm was the stand-out performance.

Ruth Elleson © 2009

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):