Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freischütz
14 May 2009

Weber’s Der Freischütz at Zurich Opera House

On any list of great but seldom-performed operas, Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz must rank high.

Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freischütz

Ottokar: Chenye Davidson; Kuno: Werner Gröschel; Agathe: Inga Nielsen; Ännchen: Malin Hartelius; Kaspar: Matti Salminen; Max: Peter Seiffert; A Hermit: László Polgár; Kilian: Volker Vogel; Samiel: Raphael Clamer. Zurich Opera House Chorus. Zurich Opera House Orchestra. NIkolaus Harnoncourt, conductor. Ruth Berghaus, director. Hartmut Meyer, set design. Marie-Louise Strandt, costumes.

Arthaus Musik 107011 [2DVDs]

$34.49  Click to buy

Its combination of lush early Romanticism and German folk tale, both grim and gay, doesn’t seem to register outside of its native country. The score mostly lives on in frequent playings by classical radio stations of the magnificent overture. But there is much, much more great music in this score, and any production that manages to draw an audience into the eerie world of the opera deserves respect.

This 1999 staging by Ruth Berghaus has appeared on DVD before, and Arthaus Musik is to be thanked for this re-release. A traditional staging might work, but it would have to be done with remarkable taste. The vaguely Faust-like story centers on a failure of a hunter, Max, who wants to win the hand of Agathe. Kaspar owes his soul to a devil figure, Samiel, but Kaspar hopes to manage his escape by tricking Max into taking his place. To ensnare Max, Kaspar produces magic bullets that can help Max earn Agathe’s respect as a hunter. At the climax, Kaspar thinks he has manipulated Max into shooting Agathe, but instead, he ends up taking the last magic bullet himself.

Berghaus employs some of the familiar tropes of regie-theater, including men in overcoats and fedoras and a stark set of golden-hued floor and walls. The set shifts into various conformations, with a pit appearing at one point, as well as shifting ramps and an opening high up on one wall for Agathe to appear in before the final shot. The audience takes awhile to settle into Barghaus’s vision, and when Max’s first shot with a magic bullet produces a veritable avalanche of black feathers, chuckles are heard. Soon the off-kilter set and stylized movement cohere into a vision of a foreign yet familiar world, one that suits both the folk nature of the tale and the supernatural elements.

An excellent cast gives itself over to Berghaus’s vision. Matti Salminen dominates as Kaspar, his weighty yet never ponderous bass managing to be both avuncular and ominous as necessary. The leads in a tale such as this tend to be anonymous creatures, but both both Peter Seiffert as Max and Inga Nielsen as Agathe find interesting angles, under the direction of Berghaus. Seiffert’s anxious Max appears as an outsider to the mainstream of village life from the start, an early version of the “misunderstood bad boy” James Dean supposedly invented. Although the libretto doesn’t provide much interaction between the two romantic leads — they don’t even appear together until the middle of act two — Nielsen and Seiffert both suggest the torment of their thwarted romance. Although she is done no favors by the close-ups, Nielsen sings youthfully, except for a tendency for extended high notes to lose tone. Malin Hartelius, as Agathe’s friend Ännchen, however, steals her scenes with the heroine, employing a rich, warm mezzo.

The appearance of the Mephistopheles character, Samiel, produces a suitable chill, and the entire Wolf’s Crag scene manages to be, if not exactly scary, disturbingly weird. Berghuas still respects the intimate moments of the opera, such as Agathe’s second act aria, by letting the focus remain on the singer and not introducing distracting stage business.

The excellent sound captures some audience noise, but nothing too detrimental. Nikolaus Harnoncourt has a reputation for idiosyncratic tempos, but his reading here is well-paced and colorful.

To all but those utterly resistant to non-traditional stagings, this Der Freischütz can be considered a DVD classic. Pick it up if you missed it on its first go-round.

Chris Mullins

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):