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

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.

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Kurt Weill
17 Jun 2009

Bostridge trades fey for Kray

Bostridge traded his fey haircut for slicked back Kray brothers look, complete with wrap round dark glasses in this Dreigroschenoper at the Barbican, London.

Kurt Weill/Bertholt Brecht : Die Dreigroschenoper

Ian Bostridge (Macheath), Angelika Kirschlager (Jenny), Dorothea Röschmann (Polly), HK Griber (Peachum and conductor), Florian Boesch (Tiger Brown), Hanna Schwarz (Mrs Peachum), Cora Burggraf (Lucy Brown), Klangforum Wien

 

The Kray Brothers were notorious gangsters in 1950’s London, who mixed crime with “gentlemanly” smoothness, so the image fits well with Brecht’s adaptation ogf the 18th century English original. MacHeath, or Mackie Messer, is an inscrutable sleazeball who always manages to slip away from tight situations. He oozes, like slime, his lines replicated in saxophone and slide trombone. So Bostridge’s lounge lizard characterization was very apt, understated but with an edge of febrile menace.

Driegroschenoper (Threeprenny Opera) was first performed as part of the agit prop cabaret world of Brecht and Weill’s Berlin. The 1931 recording and subsequent film (rather too naturalistic) has defined its performance history. It made Lotte Lenya the iconic Weill personality. Dozens of singers have colonised the image since then, as if Lenya’s rough voice was a licence for bad singing. Certainly Brecht and Weill used actors rather than singers in those early years, because they were poor and their politics meant they wanted to reach audiences in clubs, not opera houses. It’s a “Beggar’s Opera” after all.

But therein lies the contradiction that makes the piece so interesting. It masquerades as cabaret theatre, but it’s actually quite sophisticated musically. Just as Brecht turns the 18th century John Gay play on its head, Brecht turns musical genres upside down. The rousing Finale is a Bach Chorale in disguise.

This performance was conducted by HK Gruber who also sang Peachum, “the poorest man in the world” who is also The King of the Beggars (another contradiction. Gruber can do sardonic irony better than anyone else, so his approach to 3dO is in a whole other league from the usual straightforward “entertainment” mode. Beneath the cute tunes, Brecht’s message is savage : all the world’s a stage and a mad one at that. So Gruber ropes in Klangforum Wien as his “orchestra”. They are one of the best contemporary music ensembles around and can do “difficult” anytime. Here they are playing banjos, guitars, saxophones and rinky tink piano. And the chorus, who’re used to singing such complex things they need to use tuning forks, get to do “backing vocals”. It’s nice to see them all in different colourful costumes)

Proof of this musically astute approach are the soloists. Luxury casting this : Angelika Kirschlager sings a brilliantly saucy Jenny, slinking like a snake, a perfect partner to Bostridge’s louche MacHeath. Dorothea Röschmann’s usual sweetness is here laced with poison - she can act as well as sing. In this performance Polly sings Seeraüber Jenny, not Jenny herself. This works well, because it adds another level of musical cross-dressing.

More good performances from Florian Boesch as Tiger Brown the corrupt cop and Cora Burggraf as his daughter, Hanna Schwarz as Mrs Peachum, a coloratura foil to Gruber’s burlesque Peachum. His lines are half speech, half ham, so having a proper singer as his wife is a telling contrast. There’s plenty of proof as to the value of proper voices in Weill.

Lotte Lenya was the Tracey Emin of her time, and a sledgehammer persona was probably needed to bring Weill success on Broadway. If the public persona of Brecht and Weill was a caricature, their real message could be packaged in a less overtly political way. In the former East Germany, socialism wasn’t scary, so there was nothing to prove or defend. Thus the DDR Weill performance tradition diverged from the Lenya model. Weill and Eisler were performed by “real” singers like Gisela May and, of all people, Peter Schreier, consummate Mozartean, Bachophile and Liedermeister.

These are the recordings to seek out : you can actually hear the words, enunciated with the same precision as there is in the writing. Because Lenya dominated the western market, we’re been persuaded that hers is the only way to do Brecht, and we’re rewarded by pop stars and amateurs who are fun, but not necessarily best placed to reveal the real Weill.

More proof of the value of agile voices came in the rapid fire ensembles, crackling with staccato. The Kanonen Song was especially impressive, where Bostridge and Boesch bounced off each other with military precision. Perfect timing and panache are of the essence here to reveal the clarity of Weill’s writing, too often obscured by less sharply focussed performances.

Anne Ozorio

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):