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

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

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):