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

In Parenthesis, Welsh National Opera in London

‘A century after the Somme, who still stands with Britain?’ So read a headline in yesterday’s Evening Standard on the eve of the centenary of the first day of that battle which, 141 days later, would grind to a halt with 1,200,000 British, French, German and Allied soldiers dead or injured.

Die Walküre, Opera North

A day is now a very long time indeed in politics; would that it were otherwise. It certainly is in the Ring, as we move forward a generation to Die Walküre.

Early Gluck arias at the Wigmore Hall

If composers had to be categorised as either conservatives or radicals, Christoph Willibald Gluck would undoubtedly be in the revolutionary camp, lauded for banishing display, artifice and incoherence from opera and restoring simplicity and dramatic naturalness in his ‘reform’ operas.

Das Rheingold, Opera North

Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

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):