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

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

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):