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

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

Discovering Gounod’s Cinq Mars: Another Rarity Success for Oper Leipzig

Oper Leipzig usually receives less international attention than its Dresden, Munich or Berlin counterparts; however, with its fabulous Gewandhaus Orchestra, and its penchant for opera rarities (and a new Ring Cycle), this quality hotspot will be attracting more and more opera lovers. Leipzig’s new production of Gounod’s Cinq Mars continues this high quality tradition.

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

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):