Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Richard Wagner
19 Jul 2009

Götterdämmerung at Aix-en-Provence — A Human Symphony

This year’s program at the Aix-en-Provence Festival includes Götterdämmerung, the much-anticipated final installment of the Ring co-sponsored by Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and the Osterfestspiele Salzburg.

Richard Wagner: Götterdämmerung

Siegfried: Ben Heppner; Gunther: Gerd Grochowski; Hagen: Mikhail Petrenko; Alberich: Dale Duising; Brünnhilde: Katarina Dalayman; Gutrune : Emma Vetter; Waltraute: Anne Sophie von Hotter; First Norn: Maria Radner; Second Norn: Lilli Paasikivi; Third Norn: Miranda Keys; Woglinde: Sara Fox; Wellgunde: Eva Vogel; Maria Radner: Annette Jahns

Photos by Elisabeth Carecchio courtesy of Festival d'Aix en Provence

 

Its minimalist design by Stéphane Braunschweig (stage direction and sets), Thibault Vancraenenbroeck (costumes) and Marion Hewlett (lighting) notwithstanding, this production delivers a compelling musical drama that focuses on the human condition.

This production of the Ring is an important step forward in the interpretation of Wagner’s musical drama. Absent are the clichés of characters dressed as Nazis (or as Eastern German soldiers in the recent Knöll production in Venice). Absent is the bewildering “balance” between science fiction and poetry as in the recent La Fura production in Florence or the absurdly ridiculous staging in Lisbon that employed a circus ring. Absent, too, are cardboard reproductions of medieval German forests, rivers and royal palaces as imagined by late 19th century intellectuals.

Rather, we finally have a psychological reading of the Ring that emphasizes the interpersonal relationships of the dramatis personae. The staging is minimalist. The sets consist of three walls, a window and a staircase, along with a few abstract. The props are three chairs, a leather armchair and two beds. Lighting and acting (what a quality of acting!) do the rest, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats for nearly 6 hours.

A key element of Götterdämmerung, as with the Ring as a whole, is the sequence of leitmotifs associated with a character, a place, an event, an object and so on. The Prologue begins with the sequence expressing primal nature and the Rhine (No. 2), Erda (No. 42) and then the Annunciation of Death (No. 83B). A new leitmotif (No. 154) is introduced as the Norns appear weaving the ropes of destiny, discussing past events, the doom of the gods, the curse of the Niebelung’s Ring, questioning the nature of a distant gleam of light (is it fire or is it dawn?).* The Norns then disappear and dawn breaks. With the radiant tonality of daybreak, Brünhilde and Siegfried emerge after a joyous night of love-making. We could not be more directly assured that we are no longer in a world of gods, giants, dwarves, dragons and demigods. We are in a universe of men and women where mist and the darkness are contrasted against light and the radiance. Light and radiance win. Thus, after nearly 6 hours, the turmoil of the downfall of the gods segues to the leitmotif of redemption by love — the old order is shattered, a glorious new world is revealed.

Earlier productions stressed that the men and women in Götterdämmerung stand alone with their problems (intrigues of power and wealth) and their passions. Valhalla (with its gods and goddesses) is at a distance. In this production, Wotan appears silently at the very end as the Wanderer to witness the demise of “his” world — the old order. The human psychological content of the Ring, and especially of Götterdämmerung, is central to this production as conceived by Bruanschweig, Vancraenenbroeck and Hewlett.

06-28Go1245.gif

Another key to a successful production of the Ring is the orchestra. Wagner thought of the Ring not as a cycle of operas (a rather normal practice in 19th century Germany) but as a festival drama (where each and every word had to be understood) with a symphony orchestra concealed in a pit under the stage (not to be seen by the audience). Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philarmoniker transform Götterdämmerung into a symphony of humanity searching for a better world — independent of the intrigues of the gods, of the kings, of the dwarves, of the demigods and the like. A similar symphonic treatment had been attempted in the mid-1970s by the Washington National Opera in a production of Die Walküre (with Roberta Knie at the height of her splendour). But the staging was the traditional primeval Germany wrought in cardboard. And, with due respect to Antal Dorati, the Washington National Symphony never possessed the high standard of quality as that of the Berliner Philarmoniker. Sir Simon Rattle and his orchestra have greater skills than most other orchestras in finding the right musical colours, the gentle nuances, the always vivid imagination, especially the ability to slide from a chamber music Wagner (e.g. Solti, Böhm) to a highly dramatic , black, tragic Wagner (e.g. Boulez, Sinopoli, von Karajan, Fürtwangler). This is a Ring, and a Götterdämmerung, that demands many listenings to appreciate the symphonic rigor and impact produced by Rattle and company. A detail: there are six harps, as required by Wagner, which are placed just at the centre of the orchestra under the stage. “Normal” productions make do with two harps, often in a side box.

06-28Go1286.gif

This Götterdämmerung benefitted from great acting and singing. At the age of 55, Ben Heppner is a naïve Siegfried. The role is taxing, but his voice maintained a magnificently crystal clear timbre and exhibited superb phrasing, a moving legato and the ability to reach high C and F. Next to him, Katarina Dalayma as Brünhilde displayed full vocal and dramatic power. Her performance was particularly impressive in the holocaust of the final scene. An ever young and attractive Anne Sophie von Otter appeared as Waltraute, the desperate Walkürie tortured by the looming end of the world. The vocally and dramatically promising Emma Vetter was a whorish Gutrune. As Hagen, an impressive Mikhail Petrenko presented a character that was devilish, astute, even more evil than his father Alberich (Dale Duesing). The Norns and the Rhinemaidens (Maria Radner, Lilli Paasiviki, Miranda Keys, Anna Siminska, Eva Vogel) were all top-notch.

In short, if you missed this Götterdämmerung in Provence, it is worth traveling to Salzburg for performances to be held there next Easter. Moreover, a recording of this production is in process. Look for it in your music store.

Giuseppe Pennisi


*[Editor’s Note: The description and numbering of leitmotifs are based on Ernest Newman, The Wagner Operas 591-594 (Princeton Univ. Press 1949). The numbering of the leitmotifs, however, varies from source to source. Compare Ernst von Wolzogen, Guide through the music of “The Ring of the Nibelung” by Richard Wagner (Feodor Reinboth N.D.). It should be noted, however, that Barry Millington cautions against labeling leitmotifs because the context in which they appear rarely admits a consistently unequivocal meaning. Stewart Spencer & Barry Millington, Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung — A Companion 14-24 (Thames & Hudson 1993).]

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):