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

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital

Audiences will have the chance to feel part of a new opera inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s poems with an innovative 360-degree simulated experience of Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital from midday, Wednesday 8th November.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Deborah Voigt and Clifton Forbis sing the title roles in <em>Tristan und Isolde</em> [Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago]
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.

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Isolde: Deborah Voigt; Tristan: Clifton Forbis; Brangäne: Petra Lang; Kurwenal: Jason Stearns (Jan. 27-Feb. 8), Greer Grimsley (Feb. 12-28); Marke: Stephen Milling. Lyric Opera of Chicago. Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis. Director: José María Condemi.

Above: Deborah Voigt and Clifton Forbis sing the title roles in Tristan und Isolde [Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago]

 

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 the opera.

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 path.

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.

Salvatore Calomino

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):