Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Gordon Hawkins (Alberich) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of Los Angeles Opera]<
15 Mar 2009

Wagner’s Das Rheingold at Los Angeles Opera

There is some slim irony to an opera company pursuing the complicated business of staging Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in the current economy — it entails the very sort of dubious compromises that get Wotan and crew into such hot water (if one assumes the cataclysmic fire at the end of Götterdämmerung heated the Rhine).

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: Gordon Hawkins (Alberich) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of Los Angeles Opera]

 

Placido Domingo’s east coast company, Washington National Opera, has postponed the Ring cycle it had already begun. On the west coast, Domingo’s Los Angeles Opera forges ahead, although next season will see the shortest season of subscription productions ever for the company — just 6. Three full rounds of the Ring cycle will end that season.

Seen on Sunday, March 8th, the Das Rheingold designed and directed by Achim Freyer reinforces the boldness of the company’s venture. Freyer’s style is much more about design and “performance art” than conventional narrative, which even a non-traditional staging such as Cherau’s at Bayreuth keeps as a foundation. When Freyer brought his staging of Bach’s Mass in b minor to the Dorothy Chandler some years ago, the audience strongly disapproved of the stylized pantomime of mummy-like figures, played out behind a scrim. However, a couple of seasons later Freyer came back to present Berlioz’s La Damnation du Faust, in a colorful, energized production that could fairly be called a hit.

The best sections of Freyer’s Rheingold shared some of the positive characteristics of that Berlioz, but there were worrying passages that recalled the distancing, overly clever worst of the Bach affair. Freyer seems most inspired by the outsiders to Valhalla. Loge is the only character who doesn’t either wear a mask or spend most of the performance hiding behind a fabrication of some sort. In fact, throughout most of the performance Wotan appears suspended in a box-like representation of his royal self seated on a throne, with only Vitalij Kowaljow’s face visible (and occasionally his hands). Alberich and Mime wear oversized face masks, which appear much more substantial than they are revealed to be when the singers doffed them at curtain. The design manages to brilliantly capture the troll-like nature of the Nibelungen and still allow the singers to project as if unencumbered. Freyer cleverly suggests the height disadvantage of these characters with an effect of huge platform shoes. The giants Fasolt and Fafner, on the other hand, appear both in the form of the singers, who sometimes raise huge magnifying glasses to their faces, and as oversized doubles — but only doubles of their construction helmets and their huge hands, when they reach out for Freia. Doubles fascinate Freyer; even the Rhine maidens have mirror-image doubles, waving their arms like synchronized swimmers, perhaps as water reflections would.

On Sunday the opening scene never quite pulled together, as Freyer doesn’t permit Alberich to interact with the Rhinemaidens who are, after all, trapped upstage in a huge billowing cloth. When we meet the future Valhallans, they are spread around the circumference of a center platform, and they hardly move from those initial positions. Freyer’s design here strongly suggests he sees Wotan and family as stiff, flat characters, who imagine themselves masters of their destiny but who are actually acted upon. The result was dry and uninvolving, prompting some worries about the later installments of the Ring, which focus on these characters and Wotan’s offspring.

However, it is not unusual for Das Rheingold to be dominated by its Loge, and such is the case here. Arnold Bezuyen actually got to move, in fact, to hop and gambol and even, with the help of some more doubling (and tripling), glide across the stage. Bezuyen has a great voice for Loge, lean yet muscular, and from the time he hit the stage the production came to life. Then Freyer’s magic started to work, as the lower half of the circular platform rose to reveal Alberich’s mines, and Graham Clark appeared as Mime. Such is Clark’s irrepressible stage presence that even behind a huge mask he created a character within seconds. For once, the cartoonish stage effects as Alberich turns himself into a snake and then a frog conveyed a sense of the ring’s power, and the imaginative stroke of having the magical helmet be a golden top hat really paid off when a tiny version appeared on Alberich transformed as a toad.

Freyer’s lighting effects (designed with Brian Gale) did allow for a suggestion of a rainbow bridge, but Valhalla never appeared as more than a sort of floating castle turret. The Rhine reappeared as a blood-red stream at the end, a probable foreshadowing of the carnage to come.

The Rhinemaidens were sung with liquid (forgive me) purity by Stacy Tappan, Lauren McNeese and Beth Clayton. Gordon Hawkins seemed a bit stifled by the staging of the first scene, but he was very impressive once he’d acquired the Rhinegold. Judgment will have to be reserved on the Wotan of Vitalij Kowaljow — the voice is sonorous enough, but it would take a singer of rare charisma to create a character when he spends most of the opera as a face sticking out of a hole in a cardboard facade. Michelle de Young interacts with her consort from across the stage, her movement restricted to a few waves of her oversized arms. Jill Grove’s Erda also sported an extra set — or two — of lengthy limbs. If the staging restricted the creation of characters, it seemed to concentrate both Grove and de Young’s vocal energy, and they both sounded great. Morris Robinson and Eric Halfvarson, as Fasolt and Fafner respectively, almost matched Bezuyen’s Loge for strong singing matched with memorable characterization. In their brief moments, Beau Gibson’s Froh, Wayne Tiggs’s Donner and Ellie Dehn’s Freia all made impressive contributions.

Los Angeles Opera covered the pit for this performance, and of course without the appearance of James Conlon at the dimming of the lights, many in the audience had to be shushed into silence as the low rumble of the first chord seeped out. The sound was surprisingly warm and detailed under the circumstances. Conlon supported the singers, while allowing the orchestra to ramp it up for the descent to the realm of the Nibelungen and the approach to Valhalla. At curtain most of the cast ran on and off stage fairly quickly, but Conlon took a diva-like bow, bathing in the adulation of the besotted LAO audience. Wonderfully, a camera then panned over the LAO orchestra, projected onto the scrim. That’s an innovation worth adopting on a routine basis.

Freyer’s artistry is dynamic and thought-provoking. However, much of the Ring is good old-fashioned story-telling. To what extent Freyer’s style and Wagner’s creation actually work together will perhaps be revealed in the upcoming Das Walküre.

Chris Mullins

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):