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

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

Baroque at the Edge: London Festival of Baroque Music, 12-20 May 2017

On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.

OPERA RARA AUCTION: online auction for opera lovers worldwide

On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
15 Jun 2009

La Scala at the Movies: Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde

From the La Scala series of filmed productions come two excellent DVDs, one an incisive and contemporary staging by Patrice Chereau of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, and the other a rip-roaring, old-fashioned (in the best sense) performance of Donizetti's flawed but entertaining Maria Stuarda.

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Matti Salminen, Will Hartmann, Gerd Grochowski, Ian Storey, Waltraud Meier, Michelle DeYoung. Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra, Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus. Daniel Barenboim, conducting.

Virgin Classics 51931599 [3DVDs]

$50.99  Click to buy

In Maria Stuarda most of the best music and arguably all of the drama takes place in the first half of Giuseppe Bardari’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s play. After Maria loses her cool and defiantly slanders Queen Elizabeth, act two becomes a somber dirge as Maria’s inevitable execution grows closer. To make the evening worthwhile, that first half has to be delivered by committed, top-notch artists unafraid of bold emoting (OK, overacting). And that’s what we get here from the mature but still exciting Mariella Devia as Maria and the brilliant, courageous work of Anna Caterina Antonacci as Elizabeth.

Maria_Stuarda_AH.gifPier Luigi Pizzi’s concept follows the “modern set/traditional costumes” route of contemporary opera production. It’s an effective gambit, avoiding the delays inherent in the scene changes of most traditional productions, and yet giving the audience something familiar and appealing to look at. The fairly clever set up begins with Elizabeth’s first scene resembling a prison, suggesting the confined emotions of the bitter Queen, as the opera portrays her. But when the scene shifts to Maria Stuarda, who actually is imprisoned, we find her outside, in a lovely grove. Once Elizabeth appears on the scene, the grove descends from view and the grim backdrop of cage walls reappears. This gets the maximum impact out of the minimum of stage design.

The focus here remains on the performers, and they deliver. Made-up to make her attractive self as unattractive as possible, Anna Caterina Antonacci uses the steely edge to her voice effectively, and her tightly wound fury at Maria Stuarda’s refusal to acknowledge Elizabeth’s power and authority helps to strengthen Mariella Devia’s portrayal, which isn’t as imaginative as acting. Devia takes a while to warm up, and even late in the evening her pitch strikes your reviewer’s ears as just a bit off too often. Nonetheless, she has total command of the music’s idiom, and her technical displays are enthralling, certainly capturing the love of a besotted La Scala audience. It’s not the singer’s fault that in act two Donizetti’s score asks her a few too many times to rise to a climatic high note, to less and less effect, even though Devia delivers some good ones.

The males in this opera are satellites in the orbit of these two women, but Simone Alberghini makes his Talbot a somber but warm presence by means of his dark, steady instrument. Francesco Meli takes on the tenor role, which is dramatically inert but features some challenging music. Though not a matinee idol, Meli looks presentable enough to make a romantic interest on both women’s part understandable. His voice, while not particularly distinctive, manages the score’s challenges with admirable facility. Conductor Antonino Fogliani, a new name to your reviewer, makes a very positive impression, managing the fluid tempos and dynamic shifts that keep the score fresh.

Carlo Tagliabue’s TV direction is acceptable except for the act one finale, where frenetic editing lessens rather increases the excitement. ArtHaus Music appends a model bonus feature in the familiar form of the backstage documentary. At only 12 minutes, it captures a real sense of that frantic environment, while still including some thoughtful comments from the artists. Unfortunately, the translator of the booklet essay into English, High Keith, must have been rushed. What else could explain the fractured syntax in places? But Keith deserves no blame for the bland pronouncements on the historical figures. The last paragraph on the opera’s performing history would have been sufficient.

The booklet for Virgin Classics release of Tristan und Isolde, recorded at La Scala in December 2007, has no track listing and only minimal credits. Other than presenting some high-quality photographs - not exactly essential when accompanying DVDs - the booklet exists to share Patrice Cherau’s notes, which are alternately - sometimes even simultaneously - fascinating, dopey, insightful and banal. The various section headings give some clue as to their content: “The death drive,” “Two different people,” “Sexual desire,” “The corridor to death.” Chereau might have been better off just letting his work speak for itself, for his direction of this production, along with the magnificent conducting of the La Scala orchestra by Daniel Barenboim - make this an essential viewing experience.

Isolde and Brangäne are caught in a very masculine world, a bare platform before a stony facade that somehow manages to be both a sea vessel and the two castle locations of the latter acts. In acts one and three, the leads are never really alone. Sailors work behind the singers in act one, and in act three, the mortally wounded Tristan has a small group of his men around him, waiting for him to regain consciousness. The grim set (by Richard Peduzzi) risks the tedium of visual monotony, but Chereau’s ability to keep the stage picture fluid and energized obviates the risk. Moidele Bickel’s costumes feature almost no color, either, except for a bold red robe for Isolde in act two. Somehow, the production still deserves to be called “vivid,” for such is the heart-pounding inspiration of the performances.

Two of the stars have made their roles key parts of their repertoire. Waltraud Meier recorded her Isolde with Barenboim some years ago. She will never be the ideal Isolde vocally for many listeners, as her top narrows to a copper wire intensity, and she is often less concerned with accuracy of pitch than evocation of mood. But as a total performance, Meier’s Isolde on this night recorded here encompasses more of the role than most any other singer has captured: the rage, the mysticism, the sensuality. Towering over most of the cast (only Ian Storey’s Tristan comes close in height), Matti Salminen’s King Marke makes his late appearances in each act imposing and even threatening, both physically and vocally. This is a sad man, but with an edge of physical violence, as he manhandles those, like Melot, who have brought him face to face with a reality he did not want to see.

Supposedly Barenboim personally selected Ian Storey for this, the singer’s first go at Tristan. He certainly looks more like a Tristan than most other singers, with a handsome, silver-haired head and a tall, strong physique. Vocally he seems right at the edge of his resources almost all night, but he makes it through, and the totality of her performance is quite affecting. Made up to look older and plainer than she is, Michelle DeYoung’s Brangäne helps Meier’s Isolde to look younger and even more beautiful than she is. Their voices, however, bear a bit too much of a resemblance to each other, including a proclivity on DeYoung’s part for wiry, intonation-challenged top notes. Gerd Grochowski’s Kurwenal is a slender, wild-eyed mascot to Storey’s Isolde, with an obsessive love for his master. The voice is far from handsome but matches this characterization well.

Patrizia Carmine’s TV direction opts occasionally for some cheesy dissolve effects. Each of the acts gets its own disc, with curtain calls included, which are, understandably, quite lengthy at the end of the evening. Your reviewer appreciates the inclusion; others might wish to see a two disc-set with a lower price. The Maria Stuarda has little competition on DVD. There are many strong versions of Tristan und Isolde available, including an earlier Barenboim-led effort filmed at Bayreuth which is excellent. Anyone seriously interested in opera performance today should still want to view both of these titles.

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):