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

Prom 60: Bach and Bruckner

Bruckner, Bruckner, wherever one goes; From Salzburg to London, he is with us, he is with us indeed, and will be next week too. (I shall even be given the Third Symphony another try, on my birthday: the things I do for Daniel Barenboim…) Still, at least it seems to mean that fewer unnecessary Mahler-as-showpiece performances are being foisted upon us. Moreover, in this case, it was good, indeed great Bruckner, rather than one of the interminable number of ‘versions’ of interminable earlier works.

Prom 57: Semyon Bychkov conducts the BBCSO

Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony (written 2015-16) here received its United Kingdom premiere, its first performance having been given by the Vienna Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov in June this year. A commission from the Austrian National Bank for its bicentenary, it is nevertheless not a celebratory work, instead commemorating those refugees who have met their deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘expressing grief over those who have died and outrage at the misanthropy at home in Austria and elsewhere’.

40 minutes with Barbara Hannigan...in rehearsal

One of the initiatives for the community at the Lucerne Festival is the ‘40 min’ series. A free concert given before the evening’s main event that ranges from chamber music to orchestral rehearsals.

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Clive Bayley as Duke Bluebeard and Michaela Martens as Judith [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of English National Opera]
10 Nov 2009

Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at ENO

This grueling production of Bartok’s operatic masterpiece, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, clearly did not set out to retain any of the ambiguity and mystery of the fairytale which inspired it.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Bluebeard: Clive Bayley; Judith: Michaela Martens. Director: Daniel Kramer. Conductor: Edward Gardner. English National Opera, Coliseum, London. Friday 6th November 2009.

Double bill with Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring. Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre. Choreographer: Michael Keegan-Dolan.

Above: Clive Bayley as Duke Bluebeard and Michaela Martens as Judith [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of English National Opera]

 

Perhaps it’s a question of the difference between terror and horror? Should you aim to make your audience feel the evil, to imagine the chilling frisson of fear or pain; or should you force evermore gory excesses straight down their throats until they’re practically choking with nausea? Director Daniel Kramer clearly believed that unless shock followed blow followed repulsion, we might miss the point of this production … which was, presumably, to show that we live in gothic times, to paraphrase Angela Carter, whose own fabulous take on the myth, the short story ‘The Bloody Chamber’, is enriched by an ironic subversion entirely absent here.

What lies behind Bluebeard’s seven closed doors is a mystery, albeit one cloaked in disquieting rumour and dread. But the only moment of mystery and wonder in this production occurred in the opening filme noire ‘preface’: a single street lamp cast a mournful tinge of illumination on a solitary door, an invitation to venture into the unknown, into one’s own psychological darkness. (But, why omit Bartok’s prologue?) Clever use of a revolve whirled a passionate, eager Judith and her unpredictable new husband to the subterranean depths of his black, brooding mansion. Once there, all was revealed: this was a reconstruction of the ‘Amstetten House of Horror’, Josef Fritzl’s ghastly ‘playground’, a place of claustrophobic confinement, sexual cruelty, incestuous rape. And, if we were still in any doubt, the appearance of the family von Trapp, perfectly graded by height and representing Bluebeard’s ‘dominions’, sealed our understanding. It would be unfair to suggest that Kramer believes sexual perversion and pedophilia are peculiarly Austrian problems — Fred West and Jack the Ripper also insinuated their way into the picture — but you get the idea …

‘Bluebeard’, like so many ‘moral tales’, reveals the fatal effects of female curiosity. Here, Judith, performed by American mezzo soprano Michaela Martens, certainly began in Eve-like fashion, clutching passionately at the cold, forbidding Bluebeard. Martens was reliable and convincing, both musically and dramatically, and sang with a directness most fitting for Bartok’s folk-inspired style. Sadly, her articulation of the text was less particular. By contrast, every word of Clive Bayley’s expertly shaped and powerfully projected phrases rang true and clear. This was a wonderful performance; at times Chaplinesque in his self-delusions, elsewhere hinting at a rueful acceptance of his pathological isolation (which revealed the singer’s, if not the director’s, appreciation of the central aspect of the role), Bayley was transformed from unwilling husband to exultant dictator, as the doors which Judith insists on opening divulge the extent of his tyranny and power.

There was, however, little visual magic as the hidden recesses of this twilight world were disclosed; indeed, the whole revelation threatened to grind to a halt, when a stuttering sliding panel shuddered and jolted, requiring a helping hand from Bayley in order to expose a garden of graves. Blood dripped from the walls, Bluebeard raced gleefully about on an appropriately phallic miniature cannon, but it was left to the musical fabric to evoke an aura of ghastly awe and wonder as the ‘glories’ of Bluebeard’s sunken treasuries and torture chambers are laid before us. This was a scintillating reading by Edward Gardner of Bartok’s violent, graphic score — it told us all we needed to know about the psychological landscape before us. Expertly paced, the climaxes were judged to perfection; the blazing nobility of the off-stage brass conjured the dazzling majesty of Bluebeard’s territorial claims, even as the ‘Julie Andrews line-up’ punctured the effect. One could shut one’s eyes and appreciate all the nuances of human behaviour captured by Bartok, from cruelty to joy, from love to loneliness, a palette which was reduced by Kramer to sadism and sensationalism.

Despite these strong vocal and orchestral performances, the accumulation of visual excess eventually became tiresome; no wonder there was a stunned silence after the final tableau — Bluebeard, thrusting a gleaming phallic sword between the splayed legs of three prostrate prostitutes. Bluebeard’s crimes should gnaw at our own fears — that’s the point of Perrault’s seventeenth-century tale, to warn us of the consequences of indulging our darkest urges. But most people don’t imprison their children in sunless dungeons, or maim and murder for sexual gratification, and rather than a sense of unease and restlessness, this production simply left a nasty taste.

Claire Seymour

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):