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

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

Glyndebourne Opera Cup 2018: semi-finalists announced

The semi-finalists for the first Glyndebourne Opera Cup have been announced. Following a worldwide search that attracted nearly 200 entries, and preliminary rounds in Berlin, London and Philadelphia, 23 singers aged 21-28 have been chosen to compete in the semi-final at Glyndebourne on 22 March.

ENO announces Studio Live casts and three new Harewood Artists

English National Opera (ENO) has announced the casts for Acis and Galatea and Paul Bunyan, 2018’s two ENO Studio Live productions. ENO Studio Live forms part of ENO Outside which takes ENO’s work to arts-engaged audiences that may not have considered opera before, presenting the immense power of opera in more intimate studio and theatre environments.

Handel in London: 2018 London Handel Festival

The 2018 London Handel Festival explores Handel’s relationship with the city. Running from 17 March to 16 April 2018, the Festival offers four weeks of concerts, talks, walks & film screenings explore masterpieces by Handel, from semi-staged operas to grand oratorio and lunchtime recitals.

Dartington International Summer School & Festival: 70th anniversary programme

Internationally-renowned Dartington Summer School & Festival has released the course programme for its 70th Anniversary Summer School and Festival, curated by the pianist Joanna MacGregor, that will run from 28th July to 25th of August 2018.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

Ilker Arcayürek at Wigmore Hall

The first thing that struck me in this Wigmore Hall recital was the palpable sincerity of Ilker Arcayürek’s artistry. Sincerity is not everything, of course; what we think of as such may even be carefully constructed artifice, although not, I think, here.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Une ville morte (1890) by Fernand Khnopff
08 Mar 2009

Korngold Thrills in Venice

It is not often that the team of stage director, set and costume designer get the biggest, most boisterously rowdy roar of approval at opera's end.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Die tote Stadt

Paul: Stefan Vinke; Marietta / Marie: Solveig Kringelborn; Frank / Fritz: Stephan Genz; Brigitta: Christa Mayer; Juliette: Eleonore Marguerre; Lucienne: Julia Oesch; Gaston: Gino Potente; Victorin: Shi Yijie; Albert; Mathias Schulz. Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice. Eliahu Inbal, conductor. Pier Luigi Pizzi, director.

 

But then, La Fenice’s extraordinary Die Tote Stadt was helmed on all three counts by the venerable triple threat Pier Luigi Pizzi in another of his masterful displays of how to perfectly showcase and (gasp) serve the work at hand. At this point in his long and illustrious career, Signor Pizzi is deservedly a veritable national treasure.

His atmospheric setting consisted largely of two angled black platforms mid-stage, headed by a door on each side, dipping from the wings, and coming to rest one on top of the other center stage, serving as the wherewithal for the entrances and exits in the “realistic” scenes.

This rather shallow space was dressed with two black-draped tables, sporting vases stuffed profusions of white flowers. Stacks of plump, over-sized black pillows were strewn on the floor, perfect for lounging. The stage right table also bore the all-important silver box-cum-reliquary containing the dead wife’s braid of hair. A full-length black and white oil painting of the deceased Marie was propped on the stage right wall, flanked by large candlesticks, and complemented with a corresponding full length mirror stage left.

This whole elegant “prison” of Paul’s own creation, is framed by a mirrored proscenium, and backed by black drapes, but no ordinary backdrop was this. For the cloth was able to trim into fourths (making three vertical openings) and/or fly into the loft, revealing all or part of a fantasy land of water and set pieces that were perfectly calculated to suggest the various locales in our hero’s troubled mind.

This upstage nether world was slightly skewed by a giant tilted overhead mirror which reflected the pool of water and all that was in it from a disorienting perspective. The tourist postcard town of Bruges never looked like this! After Marietta’s first appearance in which she teased and left, the drapes then revealed her upstage as the dead Marie, clad in white, and subsequently outlined by a spectral white frame that tilted up at us out of the water, creating a living double for the oil painting. Chilling.

After Marie glided off, she soon came back in a taunting mood, clad in a devastatingly dazzling red gown, replete with long train and diaphanous capes that she trailed in the water as she twirled and flung red roses willy nilly, roses from an identical bouquet that had figured so prominently in Marietta’s first scene.

Souvenir_Bruges_Khnopff.pngL’entrée du Béguinage by Fernand Khnopff (1904).

Act Two’s carnival featured a canal boat, a silvery denuded cypress tree, two rotating buildings, Bruges’ bell tower, and, well…truly gorgeous designer costumes, another of Pizzi’s masterful accomplishments. To name one, there was a knockout nudie black lace number that evoked the same peak-a-boo naughtiness that adorned Anita Morris in Nine. Marietta was resplendent in yet another star-worthy, drop dead sequined red dress.

The most creative costume design effect was arguably the white clad funeral procession, which began respectfully enough slogging through the water, and ended with a profane parody of a religious ceremony, with the celebrants revealed to be naked under their chasubles. Their frenzied religious-sexual fervor as they kicked and hurled water about, costumes akimbo, in a demented tarantella was powerful imagery indeed. (Vincenzo Raponi contributed the excellent lighting design, and Marco Berriel the free-wheeling choreography.)

Nor did Pizzi falter in his directorial accomplishment with a gifted cast of singers pulled from the front ranks of the world’s roster. Stefan Vinke, in the punishing role of Paul, experienced a bit of spreading at times, but he is also in command of stentorian high notes that are as thrilling as you are likely to hear today. Man, he slams them home!

True, he sometimes did not recover quickly from the effort, the voice getting brittle in mezzo forte mid-range passages, and there were a few rough releases. However, he gets all the notes and more in this killer part, and even manages some wonderful messa di voce effects. I do worry that he muscled up for the big outpourings — I have never seen anyone open his mouth that wide — no, never — provoking concern for just how relaxed his jaw might be. But Herr Vinke delivered the musical goods, and he is also a committed actor with an appealing “bear” look. He is singing Siegfried later in the season here, and it should hold no terrors for him.

Solveig Kringleborn as Marie/Marietta confirmed my wonderful previous impressions of her artistry with an assured impersonation that was beautiful, blond, sexy, fearless, and vibrantly sung. Mariettas Lied, the opera’s best known tune, was voiced with silvery tone and lovely limpid phrasing. Her full-throated, arching phrases also gave much pleasure and if her vibrato got a bit (but just a bit) generous in pressed lower passages, it was more womanly than off-putting.

The roles of Frank-Fritz were well-served by the very musical baritone Stephan Genz, even though the voice occasionally got a little croony and hooty as is the wont of some German baritones. It must be said his Pierrot’s Song (the other famous melody) was pleasantly taken. All of the featured ensemble solos were uniformly secure. Special mention must go to mezzo Christa Mayer, whose Brigitta was a piece of luxury casting that showcased a rich, full-bodied instrument that would be a pleasure to encounter as, say, the Nurse in “Die Frau Ohne Schatten.”

The orchestra regaled us with professional playing of the highest order, easily the best effort from the pit I have yet experienced at La Fenice. Under Maestro Eliahu Inbal, they embraced every demand of Korngold’s sprawling score, capable at will of being tender, passionate, delicate, agitated, percussive, melodic, and most important, sensitively supportive of the singers.

Still, for all the radiant musical accomplishments, it was Pier Luigi’s day. His sure hand was evident in so many ways: beautiful use of the levels to define character relationships, excellent variety of blocking using the entire space in a psychologically meaningful way, and the ability and willingness to simply serve the creators’ intentions. When Marietta taunted Paul with Marie’s braid and he strangled her with it, it was not only highly effective drama, it was also just as called for in the script.

The final image found Paul walking slowly out of his “prison” and into the fantasy world upstage, literally walking into a sea of possibilities. He had shed his demons at last.

This was stunning lyric theatre. Mr. Pizzi, we should be cheering you still.

James Sohre

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):