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

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Janáček, The Makropulos Case, Bavarian State Opera

Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

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):