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

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

Barber of Seville [Hollywood Style] in Los Angeles

On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.

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):