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

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

26 May 2009

An Elegant Pique Dame in Turin

“Pique Dame” (“Pivokaja Dama” or “The Queen of Spades”) is one of Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky most difficult, and most expensive, operas to produce.

P. Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame

Hermann: Maksim Aksënov; Liza: Svetla Vassileva; The Countess: Anja Silja; Eleckij: Dalibor Janis; Polina: Julia Gerteva; Tomkij: Vladimir Vaneev. Musical director: Gianandrea Noseda. Stage director, set and lighting: Denis Krief. Chorus Master: Roberto Gabbiani.

 

The work’s forces include 14 soloists, a chorus of some 100 men and women, a children chorus of 24 and a “theatre-within-the-theatre” pastoral pantomime with the arrival of Empress Katherine the Great and her retinue. Its three acts entail seven different scenes: from St. Petersburg’s gardens in the spring to the great hall of a palace, to private apartments, to the banks of the Neva, to officers’ quarters, and finally, to the casino. Turin had had only one fully staged series of seven performances (but in Italian and with substantial cuts) way back in 1963. There had been concert versions (in Russian) in the RAI Auditorium (the most recent in 1990). The Teatro Regio is a well-managed institution; it has scheduled a glittering new production for the current season with the intent to rent it to other Theaters; its normal partners are Lyon’ s and Los Angeles’ opera houses. A star of the Russian opera theaters, Dmitri Cherniakov, entrusted the stage direction and stage set. Another star (Misha Didyk) was contracted for the taxing role of the protagonist, Herman. Finances compelled cuts of the expected lavish production.

Meanwhile, both Cherniakov and Didyk disappeared or, rather, vanished away. The Regio Musical’s strong-willed director, Gianandrea Noseda, conducted. Denis Krief was called upon to provide a “low cost, but elegant” production that would set a standard for low budget productions that could nevertheless be leased to other theaters. The Teatro Regio gave Krief three days to develop a new concept for this “Pique Dame” staging.

The resulting production consisted of a single set with the stage floor as a huge gambling table where, with a few simple props, the gardens, the palaces, the apartments, the barracks, the casinos take shape. In “Pique Dame”, Tchaikovsky delved into his own personal problems (foremost his sexual orientation) that three years later led him to commit suicide (the most widely accepted version of his death). He used the 18th Century setting as a device that allowed the examination of himself and of contemporary Russian aristocratic and bourgeois society (similar to Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier”). In this context, the setting was moved forward to the end of the 19th Century.

562_[0175]_DPant.gif

Black and white is de rigueur — a spectral ghost society now in decay. Within this context, the Countess is not a handicapped old woman, but an aging, yet still attractive, “grande dame”. Hermann is not in love with Liza — she is a mere tool to enter the Countess’ bedroom and steal the secret of the winning three card combination — but is struggling with his own obsessions. Prince Eleckij, on the other hand, is a real man suffering from Liza’s betrayal. The others (Polina, Count Tomskij, Celakinskij, Surin, Narunov) represent Russia in decay. The gambling casino resembles a cemetery.

The Regio audience saluted the staging (and the rest of the performance) with standing ovations. Some reviewers appreciated the musical part but regretted the lack of cardboard 18th Century palaces and wigs.

562_[0282b]_DPant.gif

The young and attractive Russian tenor, Maksim Aksënov, rescued what threatened to become a doomed production. A superb actor, Aksënov has a crystal- clear timbre. He easily reaches high “Cs” and caresses tender “legatos”. He has a great career in front of him; but he has work to do on the central tonalities and on the “mezza-voce”.

There were two vocal and acting giants with him. Svetla Vassileva is more at ease with Tchaikovsky than with the Verdi repertoire in which she is normally cast in Italian opera houses. Anja Silja, with a career of more than 55 years, remains impressive.

Gianandrea Noseda has a dry way of conducting this score- different from Gergeev’s dramatic nearly violent approach, from Tchakarov’s morbid treatment and from Jurosvkij’s emphasis on anticipations of the 20th Century. The orchestra responds well, especially the strings and the woods. The double chorus has some difficulties with Russian pronunciation.

Altogether, this production deserves to be seen elsewhere in Europe and, perhaps, in the USA.

Giuseppe Pennisi

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):