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

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

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):