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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Martin Gantner (The Hoopoe) [Photo by Robert Millard courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera]
26 Apr 2009

Walter Braunfels’s Die Vögel at Los Angeles Opera

The Recovered Voices series at Los Angeles Opera, in its second season, springs from James Conlon’s fascination and love for the operas of composers whose lives and/or careers came to an end under the Nazi regime.

Walter Braunfels: Die Vögel

Click here for cast and other production information.

Above: Martin Gantner (The Hoopoe) [Photo by Robert Millard courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera]

 

Thanks to the support of Marilyn Ziering and the Ziering Family Foundation, Los Angeles Opera can bring to the stage operas otherwise unlikely to receive a production at a major house, although at one time most of the operas featured so far or planned for the series had that distinction. In fact, Walter Braunfels’s Die Vögel (The Birds) apparently enjoyed a fair amount of success before WWII threw a shadow over both the opera and its composer. Seen on Saturday, April 18th, that initial success and subsequent obscurity both became understandable.

An allegory adapted from Aristophanes’s play of the same title, Die Vögel begins with Good Hope (Brandon Johanovich) and Loyal Friend (James Johnson) on a search for Hoopoe, leader of the birds. The humans want to join the birds, finding their own species increasingly repugnant (an important aspect undramatized by the libretto). The birds, initially suspect, eventually accept the men, who then motivate the birds to establish a “bird civilization” in the clouds, to rival that of man’s below. This somehow upsets Zeus, as Prometheus warns the birds, to no avail. Zeus strikes the bird civilization with thunderbolts, and the men, realizing their complicity in the disaster, leave. Good Hope exits with a broken heart, however, as he had fallen in love with the Nightingale. There’s too little of Aristophanes’s stinging wit or satire, and most of the opera comes across as a feeble Magic Flute-wannabe, with Good Hope as an ersatz Tamino.

The first act, the shorter of the two, starts with some quite lovely music, including a vocalise for the Nightingale. However, the narrative’s lack of conflict or conventional development means that Braunfel’s score always seems to be excited or passionate about events that don’t warrant the emotional outpouring. The second act picks up the pace somewhat, and the last 30 minutes or so of the opera soars with the birds, as the humans wish to do. The intervention of Prometheus makes no sense, and probably isn’t intended to, but Brian Mulligan sang his set piece with dark gusto. After Zeus’s dramatic attack on the bird city, the birds gather on stage for a gorgeous ensemble, and as the men leave, the Nightingale, a high-lying role for coloratura, reappears, to sing as Good Hope takes his sad leave.

Conlon directed a fine cast, with Désirée Ranactore managing the challenging music of the Nightingale skillfully enough to make understandable Good Hope’s obsession with her. Martin Gantner as Hoopoe and James Johnson as Loyal Friend sang their thinly characterized parts well, but the star of the men was last year’s Richard Tucker winner, tenor Brandon Johanovich. His is a big, masculine sound, with an easy top at this young stage of his career. The opera world will probably be looking to have him sing some of the bigger tenor assignments. He already has a Turiddu and Cavaradossi or two under his belt. Hopefully he won’t be tempted to even larger roles, as his talent, if carefully nourished, should produce a long and rewarding career.

Darko Tresnjak, of the San Diego Old Globe Theater, directed this silliness probably as well as just about anyone could. Scenery designer David P. Gordon’s set oddly combined palm trees and a series of six or seven luminous cloud shapes, set up in three rows. The transformation to the bird city probably would have made more sense if it had been more than some tiny Greek temples affixed to stilts. Linda Cho’s costumes designs also seemed to go for a sort of silky Ancient Greek tunic look, except for the fairly contemporary look of the humans. As not a lot of sense was being made on stage, nonsense designs couldn’t hurt.

Braunfels’s score certainly received all the attention and love from James Conlon any conductor could lavish upon it. Despite the fine singing and superior orchestral performance, this run of Die Vögel hasn’t revealed a lost masterpiece. The afternoon had some delights, however, so opera lovers a bit jaded with the usual repertory have to be thankful for the exposure to a work of such rarity. Next season, the Recovered Voices series continues with Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten.

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):