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 Performances

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Petra Lang as Ortrud [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera]
29 Apr 2009

Lohengrin at The Royal Opera, London

I first saw this production in Manchester in 1981: I loved it then and love it now, despite the present hero’s un-Heldentenor qualities when compared to the glorious Peter Hoffman of yore.

Richard Wagner: Lohengrin

Herald: Boaz Daniel; Heinrich I: Kwangchul Youn; Friedrich von Telramund: Gerd Grochowski; Ortrud: Petra Lang; Elsa von Brabant: Edith Haller; Lohengrin: Johan Botha; Four nobles of Brabant: Haoyin Xue, Ji-Min Park, Kostas Smoriginas, Vuyani Mlinde; Four pages: Anne Osborne, Deborah Peake Jones, Amanda Floyd, Kate McCarney; Gottfried: Ishwar Maharaj. Conducted by Semyon Bychkov. The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London, performance of April 27, 2009.

Above: Petra Lang as Ortrud

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

There were a lot of first-night nerves around, unsurprisingly given that King Heinrich, Telramund, Elsa and the Herald were all house debutants, but they all showed great star quality to match that of the more experienced Ortrud and Lohengrin. Semyon Bychkov elicited some of the most polished and exquisite playing from the ROH orchestra that I have heard in a long time; overall this was a wonderful evening, a shining example of what the Royal Opera House is all about.

The shimmering strings of the overture, so delicately shaped and daringly leisured in tempo, were somewhat compromised for many in the audience by the noisy actions of some latecomers, but the conductor sailed on as if surrounded by total silence. An aside, but what can be done about the appalling manners of some of the (supposedly) ‘great and good?’ It wasn’t just the noise—just to add insult to injury, as Lohengrin launched into ‘In fernen Land’ a man leaned over his wife to ask their friend, not exactly sotto voce, ‘So, where shall we eat after the show, then?’ Presumably these were amongst those like the bejewelled crinkly lady whom I heard complain loudly that she ‘got offered so many free tickets here that I just can’t fit it all in.’

The production is now 32 years old, yet it still looks fresh and logical for the work, with those prostrate nuns and gilt-encrusted icons reminiscent not so much of tenth century Brabant but ‘Old Mother Russia,’ and the muted colour tones of white and grey subtly contrasted with the splashes of red and gold. Some might consider the presentation of the swan as a projected motif underwhelming, but to me it was just right, with the Knight’s entrance via the trapdoor still producing a frisson—and let’s face it, this solution avoids any possibility of having to enquire ‘Wann fährt der nächste Schwann?’

More than any other of Wagner’s operas, ‘Lohengrin’ is all about the singing, and here this production excels. Johan Botha does not possess the ideally heroic stage presence for the title part, nor would he be accurately described as a Heldentenor, yet his singing is always expressive, finely phrased and sensitively shaped. Lohengrin is a rarity amongst Wagner’s major tenor roles in that his music is far more often marked to be sung mezzo-forte rather than forte, and Botha offers a hero more in the lyrical mould of a Slezak than a belter, and his characterization is all the better for it. ‘Mein Lieber Schwann’ was achingly poignant, reminding me of Rosvaenge’s recording of it, and ‘In fernen Land’ was as affecting as it should be, the gentle pressure on ‘Taube’ and the heroic strength of ‘Sein Ritter ich’ parts of a seamlessly dramatic whole.

LOHENGRIN-090424_0379.gifJohan Botha as Lohengrin and Edith Haller as Elsa

His Elsa was the beautiful South-Tyrol soprano Edith Haller, in a house debut performance which revealed a sweet, bell-like purity of tone, with the capacity to melt one’s heart in phrases like ‘Es gibt ein Glück, das ohne Reu’—‘Einsam in trüben Tagen’ was also a model of clarity and touching sweetness. At present, however, her voice is ‘merely’ lovely and crystalline, lacking in some colour and variety, and she found the last act a challenge in parts. Nevertheless, a notable debut from a soprano whom we will look forward to hearing in many other rôles.

Petra Lang’s Ortrud is a known quantity, yet she never ceases to surprise with the vehemence and commitment of her acting and the commanding quality of her singing. You half expect her to utter remarks like ‘Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts. Unsex me here!’ as she launches into one of her tirades, and I can’t recall having experienced quite so marked a shiver down the spine by anyone else’s singing of the phrase ‘der Rache süsse Wonne’ or quite so definite a frisson during her ‘Entweitert Götter.’ Her husband was the fascinating baritone Gerd Grochowski, who looks a bit too noble for the weak Telramund, but whose singing, firmly in the Fischer-Dieskau mould, was supple and expressive. Indeed, there were times when one felt more sympathy for him than one probably should.

LOHENGRIN-090424_0421.gifScene from Lohengrin

Two more house debutants gave impressive performances of the rôles of Heinrich I and the Herald. This was the first time I’ve heard the Korean bass Kwangchul Youn, whose sound may lack a little in volume but whose expressiveness and dignity were a joy—he may have missed a little of the king’s grandeur here and there, but he more than made up for it with the Prayer, with genuinely noble heft at ‘weil unsere Weisheit Einfalt ist.’ I look forward to hearing his Commendatore and Méphistophélès. Boaz Daniel’s Herald was another noble assumption, his proclamations of ‘Nun höret Mich’ true clarion calls.

The Chorus sounded a little underpowered at the beginning, but rose to great heights at ‘Wie fasst uns selig süsses Grauen!’ and ‘Wir steh’n zu dir.’ They were matched by orchestral playing of real majesty, the strings and trumpets especially covering themselves in glory. It’s now three years since Semyon Bychkov conducted here, and I hope it won’t be that long again before we experience his blend of absolute control and sympathetic support for singers.

A great evening—and mercifully delivered uncut, with further performances on May 3rd (matinee), 5th, 8th, 11th, 14th and 16th. It is an almost full house for each night, but there are a sprinkling of seats to be had as well as Day tickets—if you haven’t booked yet, you are strongly advised to do so now, to experience a ‘Lohengrin’ which comes as near to expressing what Wagner called ‘one of man’s earliest poetic ideals’ as I can imagine.

Melanie Eskenazi

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):