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 Reviews

La Bohème, Manitoba

Manitoba Opera’s first production in nine years of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème still stirs the heart and inspires tears with its tragic tale of bohemian artists living — and loving — in 1840s Paris.

Arizona Opera Presents Don Pasquale in Tucson

On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Tucson. Chuck Hudson’s production of this opera combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history.

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

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):