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

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

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):