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

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Linda Watson (Brunnhilde), John Treleaven (Siegfried) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]
25 Oct 2009

Achim Freyer's production of Wagner's Siegfried at Los Angeles Opera

Saturday October 17th found the Los Angeles Dodgers out of town for the weekend, but traffic still clogged the freeways leading to their stadium.

Richard Wagner: Siegfried

Graham Clark: Mime; John Treleaven: Siegfried; Vitalij Kowaljow: Wanderer; Oleg Bryjak: Alberich; Eric Halfvarson: Fafner; Stacey Tappan: Woodbird; Jill Grove: Erda; Linda Watson: Brünnhilde. Los Angeles Opera. James Conlon, conductor. Achim Freyer, director/designer.

Above: Linda Watson (Brunnhilde), John Treleaven (Siegfried) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]

 

After all, those same freeways lead to the Music Center and its Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, home of Los Angeles Opera. Those commuters who made it to the house for the 5:30 curtain had their vehicular efforts rewarded. In the last of five regular season performances of Wagner’s Siegfried, Achim Freyer’s performance art aesthetic and conductor James Conlon’s mastery of the music and his orchestra combined for a riveting, charged evening of operatic theatre.

Freyer’s approach to Siegfried built on motifs and designs already established in the Das Rheingold and Die Walküre seen last season. A circular platform serves as the foundation for eerily costumed figures who play out the action of Wagner’s narrative in a limbo of archetypes (and their doubles). Outlandish limbs swivel like tentacles; giant heads top the dwarf figures; a furry jacket, embedded with keys and the size of a woolly mammoth, stands for Wotan’s enlarged ego. Wotan himself appears most often almost immobile in a stiff, dirty white-and-gray-barred outfit, as if jailed by his own ambition and hypocrisy. But when Wotan as Wanderer meets his match in Siegfried in act three, a shrunken double (perhaps a child?) straggles despondently across the stage, clutching the broken remnants of his “light-sabre” staff.

And Siegfried himself is literally the muscle-bound clown that many observers consider Wagner’s hero to be. With an outrageous blond wig of tight curls like so many pigtails and a blue muscle shirt chest above the furry pants apparently made from the bear referenced at his entrance, this is a Siegfried who may be laughable at times but who is always resolute in his focus. He wants to know who he is and where he came from, so that he can discern where he is going.

Freyer’s set seems inspired from a line near the end of the opera about “the race being almost run” (paraphrasing, obviously). So white lines divide the set into track lanes, and the singers often position themselves on starter blocks. This interpretation doesn’t really open up the opera to any new insights, but it does bring a degree of coherence to the action. What really matters is that Freyer’s imagination keeps the stage picture continually alive, a quality especially appreciated in an opera that takes a very long time to tell not really all that much story. A couple of moments disappoint, however. The crucial confrontation when Siegfried uses Nothung to shatter the Wanderer’s staff is awkwardly handled, with Wotan simply turning to a figure clad in a black leotard (one of several omnipresent staging facilitators) to exchange his long white light sabre for a clutch of fragmented light sabers. The dragon is played more for comic effect, with a Godzilla puppet that only reached to Siegfried’s knees. It’s funny, and considering Siegfried’s oblivious response to this supposedly mortal threat, that works. But when it comes time for the fatal blow, Siegfried turns to face the back half of the revolving disc, which has risen up with a small opening through which smoke billows. Siegfried casts his Nothung/light sabre through there, and the giant Fafner stumbles through, mortally wounded. It’s as if Freyer had two ideas for the dragon, both of which he liked so much he couldn’t choose one or the other. Well, better too many ideas than too few.

Where Freyer really succeeds is in making the connections between all the themes and characters. An impressive example in this Siegfried came at the end, when the huge Wotan coat stood in for the rock on which Brünnhilde slumbers (and perhaps her armor as well). Just as Siegfried the hero will break her free from her father’s domination, he pushed aside the jacket to release her. Their long duet became as much as hymn to freedom as an erotic celebration, producing the happiest moment in the cycle.

John Treleavan and Linda Watson have sung Wagner before for Los Angeles Opera, but neither was impressive in a recent season’s Tristan und Isolde. They both needed more beauty to their tones for the long passages of heroic lyricism of those doomed lovers. As Siegfried, Treleavan’s penetrating timbre, like that of a beefed-up character tenor, seemed fearless and inexhaustible (although he did eventually struggle with a final high note near the end of the duet). Watson doesn’t wield her substantial instrument with much subtlety, but she can make exciting sounds, and appearing only at the climax of the opera means a certain stridency in her delivery doesn’t wear out her welcome. Her upcoming Götterdämmrung appearance may be a different matter.

Vitalij Kowaljow continues to impress as Wotan. His costuming makes it all but impossible to evaluate him as an actor, but the voice has a most impressive combination of authority and attractiveness. His Wotan will be missed in the last of the cycle. Graham Clark has always been an athletic stage presence, and his hunched, big-bottomed Mime scrambled and sprawled across the stage. No one expects a Mime to sound pretty, and Clark probably couldn’t if he wanted to, but this is a characterization to treasure - repellent, and yet creepily sympathetic. Stacy Tappan’s Forest Bird sang from inside Wotan’s coat, with little claw hands grasping a branch. Her sweet-toned soprano has surprising resonance. Erich Halfvarson returned briefly as Fafner, sounding better when not over-amplified (as he was in his first off-stage lines). Oleg Bryjak will be back in Götterdämmerung as Alberich, and his solid performance Saturday night makes that a very good thing. Jill Grove’s Erda rose up from below stage in an inflating, globe-shaped dress, and Grove’s voice seemed as expansive as her dress. This scene can drag in a tepid production, but Freyer’s stagecraft and Grove’s artistry made it surprisingly exciting.

Hidden away in a closed pit, the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed like heroes and heroines for James Conlon, who conducted like a giant. He let the musicians loose for the instrumental passages, producing a rush of sound that would probably shake the rafters if the pit were open. Of course the singers were always supported, and Conlon’s theatrical sense of pacing contributed a great deal to the success of Freyer’s staging. This is world-class work, and more than makes understandable the LAO’s audience besotted infatuation with their music director.

The first two productions of Freyer’s cycle had many inspired moments, but neither evening quite pulled together as this Siegfried did. Anyone not sure about the complete cycles, to run in early summer next year, should be reassured - Freyer’s eccentric but potent vision is powerful theater, and should only get stronger in effect as all the performers get accustomed to his approach. Before that, in April, comes the first look at Freyer’s Götterdämmerung. Those few who left the Siegfried after the end of act one Saturday night - probably at the absence of an anvil - should return their tickets so that opera goers who love both Wagner’s masterpiece and an innovative, committed performance can grab onto them.

Chris Mullins

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):