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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Die Rheinnixen [New Sussex Opera]
15 Nov 2009

Die Rheinnixen by New Sussex Opera

London has long been spoiled in the operatic rarity department, thanks to companies like Opera Rara, Chelsea Opera Group and University College Opera populating various areas of the Venn diagram that is obscure repertoire.

Jacques Offenbach: Die Rheinnixen

Armgard: Kate Valentine; Hedwig: Anne-Marie Owens; Franz: David Curry; Conrad: Quentin Hayes; Gottfried: Daniel Grice; The Fairy: Birgit Rohowska. New Sussex Opera. Nicholas Jenkins, music director/ conductor.

 

Even so, there remain gaps that even these pioneers fail to reach — at which point, enter New Sussex Opera, in the first of what I hope will be a regular series of visits to the capital.

It is not widely known that Offenbach ever ventured into German grand opera, though a recording of Die Rheinnixen finally became available in 2005 thanks to the Orchestre de Montpelier (the disc was reviewed on this site). Though Rhine Fairies are most familiar in operatic terms because of Wagner, an audience at Offenbach’s opera would be forgiven for not realising there was any common ground. Offenbach’s Rhine Fairies are a hybrid of a number of different myths, from the Lorelei of popular legend to the jilted maiden-spirits of Giselle.

The English rendition of the libretto has its clumsy moments, and although some (such as switching between ‘thee’ and ‘you’ for the sake of a rhyme) can be put down to the translator, tenor Neil Jenkins, the majority of the unintentional humour is pretty inevitable. Cynics might say that singing in a foreign language covers a multitude of sins — and this is one of those operas where performance in translation serves to remove the only layer of disguise from the sheer ludicrousness of the plot. We have an amnesiac hero (thanks to a war-wound) who is shocked into recovering his senses on the spot, long-lost family relationships being revealed at every turn, and supernatural forces which overshadow the lives of the central characters. At the centre of it all is a saintly heroine so fragile that singing too strenuously almost kills her — an archetype which Offenbach took one step further in Hoffmann (and another metaphor for the dangerous power of female sexuality). That’s not the only thing which almost happens — a devastating Wagnerian ending is narrowly averted when, as the principal characters prepare to evade enemy capture by blowing up a strategically-placed ammunition dump with themselves in it, the Rhine Fairies lure the baddies over a precipice to their death and the goodies all breathe a sigh of relief and live happily ever after. The opera predates Götterdämmerung by more than a decade, but it’s difficult not to make the comparison.

A more than decent cast was assembled for the occasion: as the heroine, Armgard, Kate Valentine struck the balance of youth and maturity with a capable and sweet-edged lyric soprano and a firm and centred stage presence. As Franz, David Curry, made an ardent lover, though was occasionally a little pallid and strained in the top register, with a tendency to oversing. The more memorable performances were in the older roles, with Anne-Marie Owens supplying a dramatic centre in the pivotal role of Hedwig, Armgard’s mother whose past youthful exploits with the now enemy, Conrad von Wenckheim, bring about almost all of the plot’s developments. Quentin Hayes was a strong and masculine Conrad, and Daniel Grice was sympathetic in the role of Gottfried (here, in translation, Godfrey) — the true friend who never quite manages to get the girl.

The chorus sang idiomatically, and the smaller roles were taken more than ably by members of the amateur company. Conductor Nicholas Jenkins drew a clean and poised performance from the orchestra, and the score has plenty to recommend it. Offenbach inventively evokes a Germanic sound-world — Franz’s ethereal entrance-aria almost seems to prefigure the way Mahler used some of the Des Knaben Wunderhorn tunes in his early symphonies. The imagination in the rest of the score should not be underestimated, and would no doubt be easier to appreciate if Hoffmann had not remained so firmly in the repertoire while Die Rheinnixen was as good as lost for over a century. The composer reused so much of Rheinnixen in his later work that listening to it can be quite disorientating. It takes an open mind to think of the ‘Barcarolle’, and its introduction, were originally intended to depict not the hypnotic stasis of Venetian canals but the waters of a river which — thanks again to Wagner — most opera-lovers have come to associate with primeval E flat chords. The Rhine-Fairies themselves have the most obvious leitmotiv of the piece, a rising and falling chromatic triplet figure, first introduced in Armgard’s Act 1 aria.

New Sussex Opera has expressed a hope that some of its future productions — which, if an audience questionnaire included in the programme is anything to go by, might include Wagner’s Die Feen, Chabrier’s L’etoile and Gounod’s Mireille — might bring the company back to London. On this evidence, let’s hope so.

Ruth Elleson © 2009

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):