Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

Tosca in San Francisco

Yet another Tosca is hardly exciting news, if news at all. The current five performances have come just two years after SFO alternated divas Angela Gheorghiu and Patricia Racette in the title role.

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):