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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

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):