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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Linda Watson (Brunnhilde), John Treleaven (Siegfried) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]
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 hands-down winner.

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]

 

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.

LAOpera_Siegfried02.jpgScene 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 with that!

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.

Wes Blomster

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.

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):