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

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Der Rosenkavalier: Welsh National Opera in Cardiff

Olivia Fuchs' new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. The production debuted in Magdeburg last year and now Welsh National Opera is presenting the production as part of its Summer season, the company's first Der Rosenkavalier since 1990 (when the cast included Rita Cullis as the Marschallin and Amanda Roocroft making her role debut as Sophie).

Don Giovanni takes to the waves at Investec Opera Holland Park

There’s no reason why Oliver Platt’s imaginative ‘concept’ for this new production of Don Giovanni at Investec Opera Holland Park shouldn’t work very well. Designer Neil Irish has reconstructed a deck of RMS Queen Mary - the Cunard-White Star Line’s flag-ship cruiser during the 1930s, that golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising. Spanning the entire width of the OHP stage, the deck is lined with port-holed cabin doors - perfect hideaways for one of the Don’s hasty romantic dalliances.

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

A scene from Der fliegende Holländer [Photo courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper]
19 Jun 2009

No Redemption for Munich’s Dutchman

Although there was considerable theatrical imagination on display, redemption was in critically short supply in Peter Konwitschny's production of The Flying Dutchman at Munich’s estimable Bavarian State Opera.

Richard Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer

Daland: Matti Salminen; Senta: Anja Kampe; Erik: Endrik Wottrich; Mary: Julia Oesch; Der Steuermann: Kevin Conners; Der Holländer: Bryn Terfel. Musikalische Leitung: Cornelius Meister. Inszenierung: Peter Konwitschny. Produktionsdramaturgie: Werner Hintze. Bühne und Kostüme: Johannes Leiacker. Chöre: Andrés Máspero. Licht: Michael Bauer.

Above: A scene from Der fliegende Holländer

All photos courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper

 

It all began very promisingly indeed with a realistic period setting, gorgeously painted, and with luxurious Old Dutch Masters costumes, both designs courtesy of Johannes Leiacker. I was not completely taken with the invention of the mute character “An Angel” (Christina Polzin) who somewhat tailed the leading man as a premonition of Senta, I guess, but never mind. Because, in a stunning directorial stroke, Konwitschny set the second act ladies in a gleaming white contemporary fitness center spinning class! No fooling, this really worked. Mary was the attendant who circulated and dispensed water bottles and towels.

Dutchman_Munich03.gifErik entered in a white bathrobe and slippers (apparently having taken a sauna) and it is hard to explain the rather carnal element that that visual introduced into a scene that we usually simply suffer through. And when the Dutchman arrived, completely anachronistic in his period Flemish drag, wow! Did it ever hammer home the time warp he was trapped in, and the irrational inevitability of Senta’s obsession. This was truly powerful theatre, heightened by the fine lighting design with its isolated areas by Michael Bauer.

And then…Peter lost his way. The final act took place in a harbor-side warehouse with Fest tables/benches, the Dutchman crew visibly partied stage left, and lots of metal drums filled with flammable materials crowded the stage. The face-off between the locals and the spooks, shorn of its element of surprise, looked like a lame “Dance at the Gym” confrontation from West Side Story. And in a critical artistic mis-step, after Senta’s last outburst she torched one of the storage drums, and a huge explosion blew everyone away. Everyone.

And…The…Music…Stopped.

Somewhere in the far distance, perhaps on a boom box in the ladies dressing room, we faintly heard the final bars playing as the cast was revealed standing down lit and ghostly behind a scrim. Dead as door nails. Or Dutchmen. In a box, house left, a pained spectator yelled “For God’s sake, play the rest of the music!” No one shushed him. He was articulating our collective grief.

It is inconceivable that the producers allowed Wagner’s opera to be shorn of its soaring redemption at the expense of an ineffective and inappropriate theatrical effect. Nor can I conceive that a Bernstein, or Karajan, or Maazel, or Barenboim would have allowed this musical cut to happen.

Dutchman_Munich01.gif

Apparently, young (talented) conductor Cornelius Meister did not have such leverage. Maestro Meister is the youngest General Music Director in Germany (Heidelberg) and his star is justifiably rising. Much of his leadership was richly incisive, with well-judged tempi and fine consideration of his singers. But it has to be said that the tricky ensemble woodwind attacci were a might ragged, and the brass were too many times perfunctory. The string section however, had a fantastic night characterized by warm and accurate tutti playing.

Even a willful re-writing of the story by a bad boy stage director, however, could not steal the focus from the brilliance of Bryn Terfel’s assumption of the title role. Surely this is one of the most glorious vocal instruments currently to be heard in the lyric theatre. From his first intense sotto voce utterance, Mr. Terfel served notice that his Dutchman was more resigned than tortured, more refined than bombastic, more rounded and musical by miles than most park-and-bark Wagnerian practitioners.

That rolling, richly burnished tone poured out with ease and power, and his acting was subtle and noble. His great duet with Senta was as tender and persuasive as I have yet experienced, and his stamina and sound technique found him sounding as fresh at opera’s end as at the start. Richly colored, finely detailed, superbly shaped phrases characterized Terfel’s tremendous musicianship, and they were wedded to an easy, engaging stage presence. If we are ever searching for members of A New Golden Age (and aren’t we always?), we can start with Bryn Terfel.

Dutchman_Munich02.gif

He was not alone in his success. Anje Kampe served up a radiant and vocally generous Senta, building on her already fine reputation as a Sieglinde of choice. While ample in volume, and secure in all ranges and volumes, the voice is just a bit drier than, say, Hildegard Behrens, a great Senta of the recent past. Still, her restrained vibrato made Ms. Kampe’s impersonation more youthful than womanly, and that certainly was a rewarding take. Her acting was passionately committed.

Nikolai Schukoff was a very fine Erik, with plenty of thrust to his substantial, essentially lyric tenor, and a handsome and youthful stage presence. There were plenty of sparks between him and our doomed heroine. I first saw Matti Salminen’s seasoned Daland in Savonlinna some years ago and his definitive performance has only deepened over time, with very little perceptible loss in vocal allure or power. Julia Oesch contributed a handsome, securely sung Mary. Kevin Conners seems to be a local favorite, but I found his stentorian Steersman a bit longer on power than finesse. The hard-working chorus performed well under the direction of Andrés Máspero.

Can this Dutchman yet be saved? Restoring the finale Wagner wrote would be a good start. Seriously, a musically and dramatically honest re-look of Act Three could transform this otherwise inventive and rewarding production into a memorable one.

James Sohre

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):