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 Commentary

Glyndebourne announces new Artistic Director

Stephen Langridge has been appointed Artistic Director of Glyndebourne. Stephen is currently Director for Opera and Drama at Gothenburg Opera, Sweden, a role he has occupied for five years. He will take up his new role at Glyndebourne in spring 2019.

Beyond Gilbert and Sullivan: Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes and the Apotheosis of English Romantic Opera

Mention ‘nineteenth-century English opera’ to most people, and they will immediately think ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. If they really know their Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ll probably remember that Sullivan always wanted to compose more serious operas, but that Gilbert resisted this, believing they should ‘stick to their last’: light, comic, tuneful satire.

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

The Moderate Soprano : Q&A with Nancy Carroll and Roger Allam

Nancy Carroll and Roger Allam play Audrey Mildmay and John Christie in David Hare’s play The Moderate Soprano which is currently at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London.

Soprano Nadine Sierra Wins the 2018 Beverly Sills Artist Award

Soprano Nadine Sierra has been named the winner of the 13 th annual Beverly Sills Artist Award for young singers at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Grand Tour: A European Journey in Song

The seventeenth Oxford Lieder Festival (12-27 October 2018) will celebrate a rich tapestry of music, words and performance in European song and will showcase the pinnacles of the repertoire while exploring wider cultural influences.

An Interview with Soprano Lisette Oropesa

Lisette Oropesa sings Eurydice in Los Angeles Opera’s French version of Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice that can currently be seen at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Opera in Amsterdam in 2018-2019

The operatic tradition is not as old in the Netherlands as in other European countries, yet opera is a vital part of the Dutch classical landscape. Both Dutch National Opera & Ballet and the Concertgebouw are in Amsterdam, so the capital gets the lion’s share of the opera on offer.

Lyric Opera of Chicago to Premiere Fellow Travelers—A Preview

On 17 March 2018 Lyric Opera of Chicago will premiere the 2016 opera Fellow Travelers by Gregory Spears (with a libretto by Greg Pierce, based on the novel by Thomas Mallon. Mallon’s 2007 novel offered fresh perspectives on the paranoiac investigations of McCarthy-era Washington, DC, through the lens of a gay relationship.

A newly discovered song by Alma Mahler

It is well known that in addition to the fourteen songs by Alma Mahler published in her lifetime, several dozen more - perhaps as many as one hundred - were written and have been lost or destroyed.

Glyndebourne Opera Cup 2018: semi-finalists announced

The semi-finalists for the first Glyndebourne Opera Cup have been announced. Following a worldwide search that attracted nearly 200 entries, and preliminary rounds in Berlin, London and Philadelphia, 23 singers aged 21-28 have been chosen to compete in the semi-final at Glyndebourne on 22 March.

ENO announces Studio Live casts and three new Harewood Artists

English National Opera (ENO) has announced the casts for Acis and Galatea and Paul Bunyan, 2018’s two ENO Studio Live productions. ENO Studio Live forms part of ENO Outside which takes ENO’s work to arts-engaged audiences that may not have considered opera before, presenting the immense power of opera in more intimate studio and theatre environments.

Handel in London: 2018 London Handel Festival

The 2018 London Handel Festival explores Handel’s relationship with the city. Running from 17 March to 16 April 2018, the Festival offers four weeks of concerts, talks, walks & film screenings explore masterpieces by Handel, from semi-staged operas to grand oratorio and lunchtime recitals.

Dartington International Summer School & Festival: 70th anniversary programme

Internationally-renowned Dartington Summer School & Festival has released the course programme for its 70th Anniversary Summer School and Festival, curated by the pianist Joanna MacGregor, that will run from 28th July to 25th of August 2018.

The Schumanns at home: Temple Song 2018

Following their marriage, on 12th September 1840, Robert and Clara Schumann made their home in a first-floor apartment on the piano nobile of a classical-style residence now known as the Schumann House, on Inselstraße, just a short walk from the centre of Leipzig.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Michael Volle [Photo by Anne Kirchbach]
24 May 2009

Michael Volle’s intriguing Dr Schön, in the Royal Opera House’s new Lulu.

There’s a buzz about the new Lulu at the Royal Opera House, spreading by word of mouth from those who’ve heard it being prepared. Berg’s opera hasn’t been heard at Covent Garden for 30 years, though there was an acclaimed production at Glyndebourne in 1996 with Christine Schäfer as Lulu.

Michael Volle’s intriguing Dr Schön, in the Royal Opera House’s new Lulu.

Above: Michael Volle [Photo by Anne Kirchbach]

 

Michael Volle is singing Dr Schön in the new production. The role is critical, for Dr Schön has known Lulu most of her life. He rescued her from the streets and is a kind of father figure with whom she is obsessed. Yet, once she has him, he’s destroyed. “This music is difficult the first time you hear it”, says Volle, “but after these rehearsals, I’ve discovered its beauty”. Volle is extremely experienced, but this is the first time he’s created the role. “I knew it would be interesting to do it with Christof Loy”, he adds. He’s worked with Loy before. In 2008, he sang Pentheus in Hans Werner Henze’s monumental Die Bassariden, directed by Loy, in Munich.

“It was marvellous”, he adds. “I knew he would not do anything conventional but that he would try and get into the characters and find the key to their personality”. Loy’s does this by working closely with the singers from the start. “We talk a lot about the role. He tells you his thoughts about the background and what he imagines the character is like and then you have to find a away to express it. He is one of those directors who knows and loves the music so well that he can make it easy for a singer to find his way into a character. He doesn’t try anything artificial you can’t understand. It’s more like putting flesh and bones on the score”.

Dr Schön is a mighty business magnate. He seems so solid and secure, yet inside there’s something vulnerable. He ends up humiliated by Lulu, who kills him. “All over the world, there are men who have power in society like this. But they aren’t fulfilled if they don’t have something in their private lives that keeps them strong. Dr Schön doesn’t have that, so he’s vulnerable”. Ironically, he might have escaped Lulu if he hadn’t spared her from being arrested for stealing from him when she was a child. It was he who arranged for her to marry the wealthy Dr Goll, and he who made the Painter rich by buying his paintings.

“There are productions where there are a lot of sexual things on stage”, says Volle, implying that Dr Schön’s motives are simply erotic, for men (and women) lust after Lulu. But in this production, it’s more complex. “Only one kiss”, says Vollle, and a few bits of touching. There’s no need to show nudity and violence. It’s shocking how much violence there is in it anyway”. Suicide, murder, implied paedophilia, and Lulu seducing Alwa on the very sofa his father bled to death upon, all easy subjects to play up to scandalize an audience. Yet Loy’s approach is not sensational for sensation’s sake. “What I like about Loy’s work is that he does not do Yellow Press”.

“It’s very tragic. Terrible things have happened to Lulu in the past, and it’s affected her so she can’t trust anyone, or be content”, says Volle, explaining the psychology behind this production. “She must always destroy the happiness of others ”. Lulu wrecks Dr Schön’s engagement but she’s unhappy when she marries him herself. “She loses interest because she doesn’t have to fight for attention anymore. In this production that tragedy is made very clear. There are lines which show Lulu does have feelings for Dr Schön, but she’s damaged, and hurts others because she’s been hurt so much herself”.

Volle is also happy with the Royal Opera House production because it’s being developed so closely with the conductor, Antonio Pappano. “He is a gift”, says Volle, “He was there at the first rehearsal, and he knows the piece inside and out. He gives so much input and ideas about the music”. With Berg, details count. “The more you hear in it, the more you discover”, says Volle. This is significant, as Volle knows Berg’s idiom well, having sung the title role in Wozzeck.

“Tony says Lulu is closely connected to Vienna. There are so many dances, waltzes, gavottes, which might not be obvious at first, but you can hear wonderful things in it, even in the piano rehearsals”. With full orchestra, it should be impressive, given Pappano’s affinity with the opera.

This Lulu will be performed in the three act version, completed by Friedrich Cerha in 1979. The deceased Dr Schön returns as Jack the Ripper and kills Lulu when she, in her turn has been humiliated and reduced to prostitution. It creates symmetry in the drama, but it’s frustrating to sing after a break of 2½ hours after Dr Schön’s death. “When I get going, I want to keep singing”, says Volle. “It’s a bit like Amfortas in Parsifal”, which Volle sang with Haitink conducting, when he was at Zurich Opera, “but the character is very different”.

This new production is interesting because it has insights on how Lulu came to be who she was, and on the way people react to her. Dr Schön can’t stand up to her because he doesn’t have an anchor in his own past. Michael Volle’s background is rooted in solid values. His father was a pastor, his family was large and close. They were poor but that wasn’t necessarily a disadvantage. When people make a lot of money easily, the temptation is to live unwisely, but from his childhood, Volle learned the true meaning of the motto “less is more”.

So much opera is about creating convincing roles with depth of character, so having good basic values helps professionally, too. “I feel that the more I have with me inside, the more I can give. There is more to singing than just technique. It’s nice to do technically difficult singing, but for me, there has to be more expression, more depth”.

Volle grew up singing Bach, Schütz and Handel. “I must have Bach in my life”, he says, “I love every Passion, and cantatas, oratorios, even chamber music with no singing involved. It’s my lifeblood, I need it”. It is not about religion as an institution, but an expression of a more fundamental spirituality. “Bach is not a composer like any others”, says Volle. “Like Mozart, he creates something wonderful you can’t describe, like clean, open skies, like Paradise. “Everyone has different tastes, of course, but for me there is more in the last wonderful moments of Le Nozze di Figaro, or a few passages from Bach, than in whole works of other kinds. I will go on singing Bach to the end of my singing days, it’s so healthy”.

“You must engage with Lulu, you cannot only sit and lean back” , he says of the new production at the Royal Opera House. The cast is particularly strong. Lulu is Agneta Eichenholz, who has worked with Christof Loy before : word has it that she’s very good. This Lulu is psychologically intense, and sometimes, as Volle puts it “if you get too close to a part there are inner strings which get put into motion”. Volle has sung a lot of material like Wagner, and demanding roles like Don Giovanni and Graf Tamare in Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten (in the superb production from Salzburg), but given his background, he’s mature enough to create a good Dr Schön without having to “be” him. “There’s definitely not, I hope any Jack the Ripper in me”!

Anne Ozorio

Lulu runs at the Royal Opera House, London from June 4th to 20th 2009. The cast includes Agneta Eichenholz as Lulu, Michael Volle as Dr Schön/Jack the Ripper, Jennifer Larmore as Countesss Geschwitz, Klaus Florian Vogt as Alwa, Gwynne Howell as Schigolch, Philip Langridge as The Prince/Manservant/Marquis, Peter Rose as Animal Trainer/Rodrigo, Heather Shipp as Dresser/Gymnast/Groom, Frances McCafferty as Mother and Will Hartmann as Painter/Negro. Christof Loy directs, and Antonio Pappano conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra.

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):