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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

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):