Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

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):