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Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.
One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle
Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement”
for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and
anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the
emotions and reason of the audience.
Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal,
Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its
focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy
and with a clever twist,
Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner
productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and
Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it
comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.
Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
08 Mar 2009
Tristan und Isolde in Chicago
By the close of the first act of Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in its current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience has been given a strong impression of the multi-faceted characters bound up in the musical drama unfolding on stage.
As the principals in this production
Deborah Voigt and Clifton Forbis give, at once, convincing and moving
performances, their interpretations each pitting an inner struggle of boundless
love against the conventions of the medieval court and its surroundings. Ms.
Voigt succeeds admirably in creating a vocal and dramatic transformation from
the offended, captive bride to the eager lover in a forbidden relationship.
Petra Lang’s Brangäne is vocally resplendent, while her dramatic approach
suggests a unified personality throughout the work. The Kurwenal of Jason
Stearns gains in intensity as the character moves from serving to caring for
his injured lord. The impression given by Stephan Milling as King Marke,
appearing on stage just moments before the final chords of Act I, establishes a
commanding presence whose authority will be enforced in the following scenes of
During the prelude to the opera a soft light shines upon a blue scrim
bearing the names of the lovers. This attention to the beauty of the ill-fated
tragic love is matched by dissonances subtley woven into the lush orchestral
playing under the direction of Sir Andrew Davis. As the scrim rises on the
opening scene aboard Marke’s ship anticipation is immediately evident in
the interaction of characters expecting to approach Cornwall by the end of the
day. Isolde is awakened from her sleep by the song of a young sailor , which
she interprets as mocking her with the words “irische Maid.” Ms.
Voigt uses this opening as a touchstone to launch into her expressive
irritation, during which her voice carries a restrained yet evident harshness
because of her current position as a bride en route to Marke. Brangäne is sent
several times to summon Tristan for a verbal reckoning with her lady, yet he
refuses to leave his position at the helm. Here the gestures and dignified
control used by Mr. Forbis underline the formality that Tristan chooses to
emphasize in service to King Marke.
As the character both moving between and hoping to establish communication
among the principals Brangäne’s tone is, at this point in the scene,
especially variable. Ms. Lang modulates her voice here effectively in order to
indicate these significant shifts. She relays, at once, the demands of Isolde
to Curwenal and to Tristan as well as her frustrations because the men refuse a
direct interview with Marke’s future queen. It is noteworthy that
tensions growing during the course of the act are justly framed by the
combination of sets and costumes originally designed in 1987 by David Hockney
for the Los Angeles Opera. The stylization of the stage sets contrasts with the
quasi-medieval realism of the costumes, in effect lending a mythical yet
believable tone to the drama. At this point, the nuanced vocal performance by
Ms. Lang illustrates especially the effect of this synthesis in Hockney’s
scenic and costume designs. Whereas Lang’s monochromatic facial
expression matches the costume fitting into a pictorial frame, her Brangäne
demonstrates a vast spectrum of vocal expression, from her pleading with
Tristan “Höre wohl: deine Dienste will die Frau,” [“Listen
well: the lady desires your attentions”] to the impassioned high notes of
“Weh, ach wehe! dies zu dulden!”[“O, woe! To have to endure
this!”], as she delivers her answer to Isolde. In her memorable
characterization Lang affirms the position of Brangäne not only as companion
but also as a voice of encouragement and advice.
In response to the fruitless efforts for an interview as rebuffed by
Tristan, Isolde elaborates now to Brangäne the background of her frustration.
As one of the dramatic highlights of Act I, Ms. Voigt unleashes a searing
account of her earlier humiliation (“Schmach,” as repeatedly
intoned) by Tristan. Although he had killed her betrothed Morolt in a duel,
Tristan’s wounds forced him to return to Ireland to be healed by the
skills of the princess. When she recognized the patient whom she was tending,
Isolde relates how she could not bring herself to wield Tristan’s sword
and kill him in vengeance. In Voigt’s interpretation, the bitter
resignation of recalling her “Schmach” increases during the
monologue and reaches a crescendo as she declares with great emotion “Nun
dien ich dem Vasallen!” [“Now I remain in service to the
vasall!”]. Voigt’s curses leveled soon after in this scene are an
especially powerful evocation of Isolde’s anger and her emotional
excitedness while traveling under Tristan’s protection to Cornwall. At
Brangäne’s suggestion that a love potion, provided by Isolde’s
mother, be used to foster an emotional relationship between Marke and his
bride, Isolde’s response shows her attempt to settle the past. Her words,
are marked to be sung “düster,” with ominous notes, as she clearly
chooses the flask with poison — which she proposes to share with Tristan
— rather than a filtre for love. Voigt projects a noticeable tone of
foreboding, as she intones the words “Den Schrein dort bring mir
her!” [“That chest you must bring to me!”]. Soon afterward
Tristan answers the repeated request that he approach Isolde: their heated
exchange culminates in Tristan’s offer that she slay him with that very
sword which she refused to use once before. At Isolde’s suggestion that
they share a draught of reconciliation, Brangäne prepares the potion.
Voigt’s gestures of impatience to her companion propel the dialogue with
Tristan to a climactic assent of “Sühne”
[“reconciliation”]. During this scene Mr. Forbis invests the
persona of Tristan with a controlled sense of dignity while allowing for as
broad a range of respect as possible in countering Isolde’s demands. Both
characters display a credible transformation after they drink from the potion
of love substituted by Brangäne. As Voigt and Forbis at first avoid each
other’s glance, then reach hesitatingly to clutch the partner’s
hand, their voices soften to express the love that will henceforth affect their
worldly existence. Their incorrigible embraces can be separated now, and in the
following act, only by the approach of King Marke.
It is in the second act that the full implications of the lovers’
transformation is explored. The emotional peak of this love is placed as the
middle of three scenes, in which the dramatic and emotional action is neatly
distributed among a varying constellation of participants. In the first of
these scenes Isolde and Brangäne await Tristan in a tree-lined garden; Isolde
dismisses the warnings of Brangäne that Melot, an alleged friend of Tristan,
will betray the secret love to King Marke. Here Isolde emphasizes the power of
love personified as she yearns for the cover of night. Voigt’s commands
to ignore any danger and to extinguish the torch, while ordering Brangäne to a
position of watch, elicit thrilling dramatic notes which effectively pierce the
summer night’s air. In the middle scene, soon after Isolde hurls the
illuminating torch to the ground, Tristan enters and the lovers are enveloped
in repeated physical as well as vocal embraces. Voigt and Forbis share and echo
phrases, while modulating the poetic lines, so that their extended love duet
enhances their emotional unity from the standpoint of both their words and the
lyrical projection of their feelings. During this duet Ms. Lang’s
extended warnings of “Habet Acht” show exquisite control of
phrasing as her voice is heard above the orchestra. Yet these warnings, and
those of Kurwenal, remain unheeded as King Marke enters together with Melot at
the start of the third scene. Marke’s disbelief now shifts to a
recitation of Tristan’s betrayal, as he finds his queen and his
friendship for Tristan thus compromised. Stephen Milling’s Marke is a
wonder of vocal delivery. His expressive bass emits a depth of feeling which
causes all those accused to look away in shame. The dignity of meaning
projected by Milling into the monologue of Marke is emphasized by his diction
and the arching structure given to individual lines. Yet the love of Tristan
and Isolde transcends the censure of the court, and Isolde agrees to follow
Tristan into exile. Only an attack by Melot, and his wounding of Tristan at the
close of the act, prevent the ecstatic love from continuing its uninterrupted
In the final act sadness and longing pervade the two major parts. In the
first of these Tristan, sickened by his wounds, reflects on the course of
events, on his shattered loyalties to Marke, and his unending desire to be
reunited with Isolde. Mr. Forbis invests his Tristan with a credible pathos,
giving vent to the character’s delirium while retaining the hope that
Isolde will yet appear to share his exile. When the ship from Cornwall does
arrive, and Isolde is allowed to embrace him in love, Tristan dies within
moments. Marke’s presence, the King having journeyed separately with his
entourage, can do nothing to remedy the inevitable path of emotions.
Isolde’s final “Liebestod,” sung by Voigt as one transfigured
through love and prepared for a union only in death, brings full circle the
love so movingly sustained from its earlier narrative start and its
foreshadowing in the overture.