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

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Franz Schubert: Fierrabras
11 Nov 2009

Schubert: Fierrabras

The worlds of lieder and opera seem to share the same galaxy, while being countless light years apart.

Franz Schubert: Fierrabras

Franz Welser-Möst, Zurich Opera House Orchestra, Chor des Opernhauses Zürich

EMI Classics 5099950096992 [DVD]

$22.49  Click to buy

There is no greater name in lieder composition than that of Franz Schubert, and he desperately wanted to make a name for himself as a composer of opera as well. However, his operatic efforts met only with indifference or outright failure in his lifetime - as so much of his great body of work did. After his death, much of his chamber, symphonic, and lieder works achieved masterpiece status, whereas his theatrical works remain obscure.

In late 2005 the Zurich Opera House chose Claus Guth to stage Schubert’s setting of a libretto by Josef Kupelwieser, Fierrabras. Not only did Schubert never see this opera staged, but Richard Lawrence attests, in his abbreviated but informative booklet note, that the work remained unstaged until 1988. Lawrence attempts a brief synopsis of the plot, but neither the discs themselves nor the booklet have any kind of detailed synopsis, and truthfully, watching this very long opera, particularly in Guth’s abstract, uni-set staging, does little to communicate the narrative. Suffice it to say, we are in, as Lawrence writes, “a medieval never-never land,” and heroes suffer, their lovers suffer, the chorus suffers, until a joyful conclusion does what it can to erase the memory of all that suffering.

A libretto as hopeless as this gives a creative director a lot of room for innovative staging. Guth builds his production around a Schubert lookalike, both observing and sometimes interacting with the principals, with the drama played out in a parlor setting. Presumably that is Schubert’s piano for composition dangling from the ceiling. Dress is contemporaneous with Schubert’s era. Guth and set/costume designer Christian Schmidt manage to keep the stage picture varied and active, but in foregoing any sense of naturalistic action, the relationships and plot points get lost. The result is an elaborate concert presentation. At 171 minutes spread over two discs, it’s a long show, and some viewers may feel impatience with the static narrative and Guth’s stylization. The attenuated curtain calls suggest as much even for the live audience. As with his score to Alfonso und Estrella, Schubert’s melodic gift doesn’t reach the heights of his greatest pieces in Fierrabras, but the music is consistently appealing and often quite imaginative. Franz Welser-Möst emphasizes the drama of the score, perhaps trying to supply more excitement than the libretto manages to deliver. A little more variety of texture could be desired, but the Zurich Opera House forces play the score with expert authority.

Fans of rising tenor Jonas Kaufmann should not get too excited to see his name in the title role, as the character of Fierrabras disappears for much of the action, especially in the latter half of the opera. Nonetheless, his handsome presence and warm delivery give evidence of his appeal. Twyla Robinson and Juliane Banse both have to bewail their fates at extended length, with Robinson managing to do so with a more interesting voice of considerable size. Michael Volle as the Roland of legend and Christoph Strehl partner their ladies well. Lászlo Polgár strides the stage as the King, sometimes clambering onto an oversize chair as his throne. His voice provides sufficient regal command.

EMI Classics bare-bones packaging omits any track listing or information beyond the Lawrence essay and the usual “back cover” credits. Anyone who has gone begging for a DVD of Fierrabras, however, can’t be a chooser. This well-sung set, with take-it-or-leave-it direction, will have to do.

Chris Mullins

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):