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.
“Hi! I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
On any list of great but seldom-performed operas, Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz must rank high.
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.