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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

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):