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

Shortlist Announced for 2017 Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition

Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.

Over 180 perform in action-packed new work: Silver Birch

Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Jonas Kaufmann : Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.

Garsington Opera For All

Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

Mahler Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

The Royal Opera House announces its 2017/18 season

Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments: “I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 3
14 May 2009

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 3

Recorded live in concert on 19 August 2007, this performance of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony by Claudio Abbado is part of the conductor's cycle involving the Lucerne Festival.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 3

Anna Larsson, mezzo soprano, Tőlz Boys Choir, Women of the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, conductor.

Medici Arts 2056338 [DVD]

$21.49  Click to buy

Like the DVD of Mahler’s Second Symphony, which was already released, this one of the Third conveys the energy of the live performance. From the start, various details become evident, as with the presence onstage from the start of the soloist Anna Larsson and also the choruses in the balcony above the stage. Likewise, the cameras catch in the opening minutes of the first movement the prominently raised bells of the French horns, as indicated in the score with the marking “Schalltrichter auf” (“bells up”). Beyond the adherence to such markings, the playing is energetic from the start, with vigorous bowing in the strings, to create the full and incisive sound characteristic of this performance. At the same time, the quieter effects are clearly present, and it is useful to have the camera focus, for example, on the timpani passage, which is to be played softly. The softer sound is no mistake, and the film confirms the sound with the visual image. Elsewhere, it is possible to see the ways in which Abbado achieves his fine result, as with the cloth coverin the bells of the trumpets and trombones certain passages of the Finale, a variation on the way in which some conductors sometimes have the brass play into the music stands.

Yet it is details like these that set apart Abbado’s performance in this recording from other performances of this Symphony. His sense of the form of the expansive first movement brings the various thematic ideas together convincingly. At the point in the score just before the reprise that signals the concluding section, Abbado achieves a the notated dynamic level without sacrificing precision or control. Rather, the softer volume allows the ensemble to articulate the musical ideas with welcome precision as Abbado brings the movement to an exciting and resonant conclusion.

Similar details emerge in the second movement, which follows relatively quickly after the first movement. While Mahler marked the score to have a break of at least five minutes between those two movements, absolute precision with the timing is not necessary, as evident here. It is useful for the orchestra to regroup, as it were, before proceeding with the second movement and thus to convey to shift of mood in this orchestral idyll. Some of the figuration evident here evokes connections with the accompaniment of the song “Das himmlische Leben,” which Mahler used as the Finale of the Fourth Symphony and was, at one time, considered for inclusion in the third. Elsewhere the string writing suggests the reflective tone Mahler had achieved in the second movement of the Second Symphony. Here, though, the ensemble brings about the precision which allows the shifting colors of the movement to be heard cleanly.

At the center of the Third Symphony are three movements which have vocal connections: the third movement is a Scherzo in which Mahler makes use of his Wunderhorn setting “Ablősung im Sommer”; the setting for alto of a text from Nietsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra; and the Wunderhorn poem “Es sungen drei Engel” for alto and chorus. Abbado makes the lyrical element apparent without belaboring, and this is nicely balanced in the third movement. In that piece the closeups of the woodwinds reveal the engagement of the players as they work together in tight ensemble. The result is a distinctive execution of the accompaniment which allows the cantabile line to emerge with ease. In fact, the intensity Abbado has given to the third movement is remarkable for the way it brings out thematic ideas that are often found in analysis, but not often made so audible. In bringing out the vocal elements, Abbado allows the motives in the accompaniment to be heard distinctly. At the same time some of the figures anticipate ideas that Mahler will pursue in the subsequent movements of this work, as with the motives in the timpani, which will be heard in augmentation in the Finale. Throughout this movement, the Abbado carefully follows the dynamics, so that the climax is precisely where the composer wanted it, and this leads directly to the conclusion of this remarkable Scherzo.

With the fourth movement, Anna Larsons is heard for the first time in this work, and her interpretation of Nietzsche’s “O Mensch, gib acht” is impressive for the singer’s engagement with the text. The accompaniment may seem louder than sometimes occurs in the concert hall, and this might be the result of the recording techniques. Even so, the balance between the vocal part and the instrumental accompaniment is effective, with the closing measures of the movement appropriately reserved. The relatively quiet ending stands in contrast to the ringin opening of the choral movement which follows. Here, again, the sound is relatively close and perhaps louder than one usually hears in a live performance. Nevertheless the solid recording techniques allow the choral sound to blend nicely with the orchestra beneath it. While the solo part for Larsons is relatively short, it shows the mezzo soprano in fine style as she sings the part of the repentant Saint Peter in this Wunderhorn setting.

In bringing the work to its conclusion, Abbado contributes a well-thought pacing to the slow movement with which the Third Symphony ends. While never belaboring the slow tempos, Abbado is also keen to allow for some flexibility, as with the motive in the horns near the beginning of the movement, which requires the agitato approach he has given it. The pauses which Abbado brings to the movement are entirely appropriate to the musical structure and also the resonant sonorities he achieves in the performance. This and other nuances in tempo are essential the movement, and Abbado is particularly effective in this regard. Within the larger structure of the slow movement, the individual sections that comprise have shape and, as individual units, contribute to the whole. At the core of the movement is the warm, rich string sound, which is quite apparent in this recording. The intensity of the playing, along with Abbado’s fine direction results in an outstanding performance of this movement.

This film of the Third Symphony shows the hall in a brighter light than evident on some other videos from Abbado’s Lucerne cycle, and this allows for some fine shots of the orchestra, along with Abbado himself. The conductor’s presence can be visually more convincing with the audience around him, rather than as a silhouette with an almost black background. At some points the lighting makes it possible to read the music on the instrumentalists’ stands, an element that contributes to the overall sense of the live performance. It is, however, unfortunate, that the blue exit signs in the hallways are sometimes prominent. This is a minor point, but in a video this compelling, such a detail emerges along with the other, positive ones.

The accompanying booklet is lists the movements, timings, principals, and some production details, without the extensive notes that sometimes occur. Werner Pfister’s short essay “Selige Zuversicht” (“Blissful Trust,” as translated here), is useful in giving some perspectives on the aims of the Lucerne Festival and Abbado’s aims with this specific performance. Pfister’s comment that “Abbado’s Mahler is precisely calculated and at the same time intuitively felt” bears explication, though. Some of the connotations of “kalkuliert” in English suggest the pejorative, and it is clear that the precision Abbado achieves serves his purpose in bringing to his audience a thorough and reliable reading of the score. No matter what the program notes state about it, listeners have the opportunity to hear for themselves how well Abbado performs Mahler’s Third Symphony.

Several DVD performances of Mahler’s Third Symphony exist, but this one by Abbado stands out as particularly effective for its impeccable interpretation and execution. A challenging work because of its length and the range of music within it, the Third sometimes reaches audiences with some elements wanting, and that is not the case in this recent release. One of the foremost conductors of his generation, Abbado demonstrates yet again his masterful approach to Mahler’s demanding scores in this festival peformance of the Third Symphony. The rhythmic applause and extended ovation at the end are certainly an appropriate response to the efforts of Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

James L. Zychowicz

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):