Recently in Reviews
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
11 Oct 2009
Los Angeles “Ring” continues to amaze
It’s three down and one to go in the first-ever staging of Richard
Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen at Los Angeles Opera. Following the
premiere of Siegfried, the third installment of this epic work of
music theater, it’s clear that director/designer Achim Freyer is a
The audience that packed 3,600-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the
September 26 afternoon event, was even more wildly enthusiastic about
Feyer’s work than it had been at the end of Rheingold and
Walküre that launched this $32-million project last season. (True,
there were “boos,” but they were almost totally inaudible against
the bravos heaped upon Freyer and his production team.) Yet one must ask
whether Freyer’s Wagner is as great as it seems. Has the director, whose
theory of theater was shaped in his native East Germany in Bert Brecht’s
Berlin Ensemble, really found a — if not the — key to
Wagner’s genius or has he rather created a spectacle that awes his
audience into breathless admiration?
Although Freyer is clearly a winner, the bigger question is how well Wagner
fares under his hand. Every director — even in this age of overheated
Regieoper — claims to do what the composer wanted done to
realize his intentions. Let’s start with Freyer’s most obvious
triumph: he leaves one with the desire to see the segments of this
Ring again — an opportunity that will be available when LA Opera
stages three complete cycles of the tetralolgy in 2010. Freyer brings an
immense amount to Wagner; he makes every moment an overlay of meanings
involving symbols impossible to absorb and interpret in a single exposure. Yet
his approach to Siegfried, compared to his two earlier installments of
the cycle, is relatively minimalist. The stage is uncluttered, and largely
absent are the mammoth doubles of the major characters. The staging relies
heavily on effects achieved through sophisticated lighting.
Siegfried, although rich in event with the forging of the sword,
the slaying of Dragon Fafner and the launching of the love story that will
dominate Götterdämmerung, is by far the most difficult of the
Ring operas to stage. Wagner, viewing the four-part work as a
symphony, suggested that this third chapter is a scherzo, and that has prompted
some directors to introduce all sorts of funny-bone nonsense into the staging.
Freyer — happily — goes in another direction. Nothung, the sword,
is forged vocally without the trappings of the Village Blacksmith, and
Siegfried runs Fafner through with only a blue-lighted tube. Indeed, the dragon
that dwarfs the stage in many productions is an understated Disneyesque dwarf
in top hat.
Scene from Siegfried [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]
One is relieved at the removal of such hackneyed attempts at
“realism.” Freyer keeps a tight lid on the scherzo idea. Humor in
Wagner? One recalls the waggish observations that Pfitzner’s monumental
Palestrina is Parsifal without the jokes.” The one line
in Siegfried that gets a laugh in this age of surtitles is the
hero’s observation as he removes Brünnhilde’s armor:
“That’s not a man!” Wagner hardly expected to split sides
Young Siegfried is — like young Parsifal — a pure fool with
everything to learn and only four hours to do so. It’s a heavy trip, and
Freyer offers all the help he can in hints and images to get the hero to his
goal. It’s the goal — Siegfried’s awakening of Brünnhilde and
the great duet that follows - that is most problematic in this staging.
Brünnhilde, despite heavily incestuous intimations on the part of Father Wotan,
is still a virgin. In terms of sexual enlightenment, however, she is light
years ahead of Siegfried who has spent his early years tumbling about the woods
with only bears as companions. In the duet a huge distance is yet to be covered
in only half an hour of music. It’s here that Freyer offers so much help
that Wagner’s music suffers.
The wealth of imagery, lighting effects and those “invisible”
imports from Kabuki drama that move slowly about the stage are a study in
excess. Text is all important here, and as the curtain fell one wished for a
concert performance of the duet to underscore this fact. Freyer’s
decision to hide Brünnhilde in a haystack — plus a towering Afro and
billowing gown — offered little help. Indeed, although Freyer is out to
illuminate text and explain the story, he often detracts from the musical
excellence of this production. That excellence is largely the work of music
director James Conlon who knows this score note by note and has built an
orchestral second to none to do his bidding. His cast, furthermore, is without
weak links. True, John Treleaven and Linda Watson, his Siegfried and
Brünnhilde, are best viewed as adequate singers, who work with intelligent
sensitivity to realize Freyer’s intentions.
Superb, on the other hand, is Graham Clark’s portrayal of
Siegfried’s guardian dwarf Mime, a role to which he has claimed almost
sole ownership for two decades. As Wotan disguised as the Wanderer Ukrainian
Vitalij Kowaljow makes his mark as the most promising young singer to tackle
this role in recent seasons. Jill Grove’s Erda is definitive.
What is most strange about this Siegfried is that it is without
emotional impact — and perhaps Freyer wants it that way. His teacher
Brecht, after all, was out to put feelings on ice and make people think in his
didactic theater. The viewer is all too absorbed by Freyer’s approach; he
keeps one thinking — or guessing at least. He is demanding, and
it’s impressing that the audience responds as positively as it does. Yet
an occasional goose bump would provide welcome relief.
A final observation: Freyer grew up secured from the decadence of Hollywood
by the Anti-Fascist Protective Wall (the official East German designation for
that structure). Yet in Los Angeles one is always aware that Hollywood is right
next door, and there is much in Freyer’s Ring — the
streaming of colored patterns, the choreography of lighted tubes — that
brings that proximity to mind. On the other hand, had Wagner had this
technology at his fingertips, he — like Bach at a Bechstein — would
have gone bonkers. He would have abandoned his insistence upon
“real” trees and rocks and lost himself in the imagination in which
Achim Freyer indulges himself perhaps a bit too freely.
Götterdämmerung, which completes the Los Angeles Ring, plays from, 3 to 25 April, 2010. Three cycles of the Ring will be on stage between May 29 and June 26, 2010.