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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
06 Sep 2009
Christof Loy speaks about the new Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, London.
“Opera has so much to give” says Christof Loy, whose new production of Tristan und Isoldeopens at the Royal Opera House on 29th September. This opera is so familiar that everyone assumes they know it. But Loy’s approach involves going straight back to the score, and to the inherent drama in the music. “I don’t like superficial distractions".
This unflinching focus on the music can be shocking. Loy’s recent production of Lulu allowed the maze-like intricacies of Berg’s music to shine while also capturing the disturbing spirit. As Schilgolch says, when he steps on the polished marble in Lulu’s mansion, “Someone could get hurt around here”. What will Loy make of *Tristan und Isolde? *
Perhaps his secret is that he goes back to the soul of the drama. Understanding the roles and how they interact is part of the process. When we met, Loy was still in the early stages of rehearsal, working from the piano, with the singers and conductor, Antonio Pappano. “It is wonderful to be doing this with Nina Stemme, who has sung Isolde so many times. She’s so close to Isolde’s rich personality” Loy and Stemme have enjoyed a good relationship for many years, so working together is a pleasure.
“She understands so much”,he adds, “She knows what I mean when I talk about this opera as chamber-like. There are moments when the music explodes, boiling over with intense emotion. We all have habits and assumptions we don’t even notice we are carrying, but when you study the score carefully, there’s so much stillness, so much delicacy. There are habits we all have without even realizing it, so Sometimes I feel like a policeman, holding things back, saying Attention ! Stop and listen to the quieter parts in the music and hear them carefully. Don’t get too intense too early ! But Nina knows what I mean when I talk about the dangers of rushing in with the wrong kind of heroics, and together we discover more things about the parts”. Loy mentions the recording of Kirsten Flagstad, singing Isolde at Covent Garden in the 1930’s. “She is so fresh, so lyrical, she sings with so much tenderness”.
“There is a tradition of hearing Tristan und Isolde as some kind of Teutonic Romeo and Juliet, and simply portraying them as an unhappy couple in love, thwarted by the world around them. But in the music there is so much more”. The story in this opera starts long before the curtain rises. That’s why the First Act involves so much discussion of Isolde’s past and her motives for wanting revenge. Similarly, Marke’s long monologue fills in background. The action, as such, is in the characters. Thus it’s astute that Loy’s approach has come through understanding what motivates the characters and why they think and act the way they do. “They are like family to me now”, he laughs.
“These are fragile people”, he adds. “And fragile people often hide behind an emotional wall to hide their deepest feelings”. Tristan in particular is a much more complex person than his surface heroism might indicate. “He is an extremely damaged person, carrying so much guilt. His father died after begetting him, his mother died giving him birth, and he breaks his uncle’s heart. ‘Zu welchem Los erkoren, ich damals wohl geboren?’”
“So Tristan feels unworthy, but like so many macho men, he builds up an action hero image which has nothing to do with what he feels inside. He cannot express himself, he hides behind an emotional coat of armour”. To the world he may be “der Helden ohne Gleiche” but Isolde, ever sharp, sees him cowering, “in Scham und Scheue”.
Yet when Marke wants to reward him by making him his heir, it’s Tristan who demands that Marke marry a woman who may give him children. It’s not what Marke wants, but Tristan forces him. Tristan rejects the life Marke offers him, already self destructive. When he sees Isolde, he offers her his own sword, that she may kill him.
“Tristan probably has never had anyone to confide in. But Isolde has no problems at all expressing herself, even though Brängäne can’t keep up. She’s so direct.” ” All that night and day imagery, it’s as though Isolde no longer wants to hide.” So it starts Tristan him opening up, though it’s only when he knows he’s finally about to die that he makes full confession. So it’s so tragic that then he only has Kurnewal around, who doesn’t understand.”
Studying the score, Loy was struck by what it revealed about how relationships grow. “They are so used to being alone that it is quite a shock to them that they’re in love, and that they are loved in return. Throughout the opera there are references to things that aren’t necessarily what they first seem. “So Tristan asks Isolde if she will follow him, he talks about the bed on which he was born and on which his mother died, “das Wunderreich der Nacht”. But she assumes he means he’s going back to his estates, “dein Erbe mir zu ziegen”. “Wagner is extremely clear on many details,” says Loy, “but on some things he’s more subtle.” So I asked Loy about certain aspects of the libretto that I’ve wondered about in the past, like what actually goes on in the Liebestod. He smiled enigmatically, and said “Read the libretto”. In the Liebestod, Isolde is completely convinced that Tristan is alive and breathing, surprised that others can’t see him smile or hear the “melody” that arises from his body. What is the nature of that transfiguring “höchste Lust “?
Christof Loy was awarded the “Musikpreis der Stadt Duisburg” in 2001, for his London staging of Ariadne auf Naxos he was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award, and in 2003 and 2004 he was named Director of the Year by the critics of the periodical Opernwelt. In 2008, he was awarded with the “Faust”-Theaterpreis. In the near future his opera engagements will take him to the Theater an der Wien (Prinz von Homburg), Stockholm (Ballo in maschera), Amsterdam (Les Vêpres siciliennes), as well as to Geneva (Donna del Lago and Lustige Witwe) and Aix-en-Provence (Alceste). Recent works include: Lucrezia Borgia (Munich), Theodora (Salzburg Festspiele) and Lulu (Royal Opera House).
“Tristan und Isolde” opens at the Royal Opera House, London on 29th September and runs until 18th October. Nina Stemme sings Isolde, Ben Heppner Tristan, John Tomlinson King Marke, Michael Volle Kurnewal, Sophie Koch Brangäne. Please see http://www.roh.org.uk/whatson/production.aspx?pid=9989