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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

(Left to right) Beau Gibson (Froh), Vitalij Kowaljow (Wotan), Wayne Tigges (Donner), Michelle De Young (Frika), (rear) Ellie Dehn (Freia) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus]
15 Mar 2009

LA “Ring” up and running

LOS ANGELES: On February 21 the capacity audience in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was overwhelmed by the staging of Das Rheingold that launched the Los Angeles Opera’s new production of Der Ring des Nibelungen. So was Wagner.

Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold

Wotan, Vitalij Kowaljow; Loge, Arnold Bezuyen; Alberich, Gordon Hawkins; Mime, Graham Clark; Fricka, Michelle Deyoung; Erda, Jill Grove; Fasolt, Morris Robinson; Fafner, Eric Halfvarson; Freia, Ellie Dehn; Donner, Wayne Tigges; Froh, Beau Gibson; Woglinde, Stacey Tappan; Wellgunde, Lauren McNeese; Flosshilde, Beth Clayton. Los Angeles Opera. James Conlon, conducting.

Above: (Left to right) Beau Gibson (Froh), Vitalij Kowaljow (Wotan), Wayne Tigges (Donner), Michelle De Young (Frika), (rear) Ellie Dehn (Freia)

All photos by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of Los Angeles Opera

 

Be that as it may, this first installment of the four-opera Ring slated for completion by the LAO in 2010, was an auspicious event, for not only is it the first production of the work in the 22-year history of the company, but the first “indigenous” Los Angeles Ring as well. Only stagings “imported” by the Met on tour and from San Francisco had been seen in the city previously. Thus excitement was high in the city, and it was heart warming to witness the acclaim brought to Rheingold.

The Ring, of course, has been “in” in America for several decades, so the LAO is merely falling in line. During the current year it will be seen in part in Washington and San Francisco and complete in Seattle. And the Met is about to retire its current production to make way for a new staging to begin next season. Nonetheless Rheingold remains a complex work made even more so by Achim Freyer, the director and designer of the entire LAO Ring.

It’s easy — if a bit tongue in cheek — to attribute the appeal of the Ring to the contemporary relevance of its plot: this god-guy Wotan builds a house that he cannot pay for and the whole world goes to Hell in a handbasket — or in the old-fashioned cartoonesque airplane, in which Freyer sends Wagner’s gods off to Walhalla at the end of Rheingold.

On the heels of so much on-stage color the rainbow bridge called for by Wagner, who wrote his own libretto, would have been at best a pale apparition. As the opera world moved away from the swords and shields traditional in Ring stagings obedient to Wagner, “concept” productions became de rigueur. Stagings that took cues from Marx and Freud were the center of controversy — especially in Germany, where French filmmaker Patrice Chéreau set new standards of adventure with the 1976 post-industrial Ring that marked the centennial of the work in Wagner’s own Bayreuth mecca.

In this country environmental Rings have decried Wotan’s destruction of the world oak to obtain wood for his spear. The troublesome military industrial complex even in Wagner! Thus the Ring is now open game, and the LAO promised “adventure” with its long-awaited staging.

Although Freyer may have given the company more than its audience bargained for in Rheingold, the enthusiastic opening-night reception has heightened the anticipation already awaiting completion of the cycle. But what has Feyer done to earn this reception? He has — as he sees it — offered not merely an interpretation of Rheingold. He has rather created a companion piece to the work — or even an anti-opera — designed both to realize Wagner’s own intentions and to place his audience at a critical distance from the Ring. To understand this, it helps to know a bit about the roots to which Feyer makes brief reference in a program-book essay.

rheingold_244.pngArnold Bezuyen (Loge)

At 74, the director is old enough to have cut his theatrical teeth in the Berlin Ensemble that was the laboratory of Bert Brecht, arguably the dramatic genius of the 20th century. Freyer makes reference to Brecht’s “alienation theory” that encourages the spectator “to decide creatively which truths are contained in the exemplary strange figures and worlds [of Wagner] for himself.” Although Brecht lived for some time just down the road from the Chandler in Santa Monica, that was long ago, and a modicum of information about his alienation theory is called for.

Brecht spoke of traditional theater as “culinary” — you enjoyed the show — and forgot about it. His “epic” theater — the term stresses the narrative drive of the concept — was didactic and open ended. Conclusions were left to the audience. “That’s not a good ending,” Brecht writes at the end of The Good Woman. There has to be a better one — there just has to be!” His audience left the theater with homework in hand.

So is that what enthralled the Los Angeles audience on February 21. Hardly — or, at best, only in part. Freyer — about that there is no doubt — is talented man with an impressive grasp of the theater, and an audience could not but be impressed by a scrim that ran red with blood following Fafner‘s murder of brother giant Fasolt.

It was a thrill a minute through the 2.45 intermission less minutes of Rheingold. The audience was kept busy watching, but did they have time for the requisite thinking? Moreover, there are many fine touches in this Rheingold, such as the huge eyeball that glows downstage, recalling that Wotan sacrificed an eye to win Fricka.

Central to Freyer’s entire staging is a raked disc that one might see as an act of homage to Wieland Wagner’s first post-war Bayreuth Ring, the production that liberated the work by cleansing it of the traditional trappings that had made Wagner the court composer of National Socialism.

But while Wieland brought to his grandfather’s works the “noble simplicity and calm grandeur” that Winckelmann in the 18th century saw as the essence of classicism, Freyer weighs Wagner down under a hopeless tons of clutter. The singers are for the most part encased in larger-than-life replicas of themselves, from which they occasional step forth. At one point Wotan sings from the belly of the enlarged figure as if he were a Tellatubby.

Freyer keeps his audience guessing, but does the quest for answers only obscure whatever message he is attempting to convey? Clearly, however, this is a Ring in progress, and much will happen to it before it is completed. It is a welcome Ring that will make its mark. But for the moment one can only say: “Stay tuned!”

Whatever one thinks of Freyer’s staging, there is little room for argument about the excellence of the cast that the LAO has assembled for the Ring. In his role debut young Ukrainian Vitalij Kowaljow is clearly a Wotan of tomorrow, and Michelle DeYoung, the world’s reigning Brangäne, was a wonderfully feminine Fricka, happily without the markings of the shrew that many expect from Wotan’s often-betrayed wife.

Gordon Hawkins was everything selfish and distasteful that Alberich must be while acquitting himself admirably as a vocalist. Singing, however, from within a huge mask — as did Graham Clark as his brother Mime — he left listeners missing the facial expression so important a part of singing.

Jill Grove delivered Era’s words of warning with motherly concern, and Holland’s Arnold Bezuyen, every inch a flaming god of fire, won the hearts of the audience with his portrayal of four-handed Loge as a trickster god.

Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeese and Beth Clayton were unusually attractive Rhinemaidens as they sang from billowing expanses of the blue cloth that was their river home.

As brother giants Fasold and Fafner Morris Robinson and veteran Eric Halfvarson sang magnificently, although clumsily equipped with mirrors to exaggerate the size of their faces.

Beau Gibson and Wayne Tigges as brother gods Froh and Donner and Ellie Dehn as their bartered bride sister Freia completed the large and admirable cast.

LAO music director James Conlon, who mastered Wagner during his years in Cologne and Paris, drew superb playing from the LAO orchestra, concealed somewhat in Bayreuth style by a fabric cover over the pit.


The Los Angeles Opera Ring des Nibelungen continues with Die Walküre set to open on April 4. Siegfried and Die Götterdämmerung follow during the 2009-2010 season. The entire city will join in celebrating the completion of the project with three complete cycles on stage in June 2010.

With a total budget of $32 million, the production is a project of monumental dimensions in these troubled times. Washington National Opera recently announced that due to a lack of funds it will complete its current staging with a concert performance of Götterdämmerung.

Placido Domingo, who sings Siegmund in Los Angeles, is general director of both companies.

For information and tickets on the LAO Ring, call 213-972-8001 or visit www.laopera.com.

Wes Blomster

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):