Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Sandra Bullock as Elektra and Deborah Voigt as Chrysothemis [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
18 Dec 2009

Elektra at the Met

The roles Richard Strauss composed for his “chorus” of Five Serving Maids in Elektra — all that remains in the opera of the commentator chorus in Sophocles’ tragedy — are short but arduous.

Richard Strauss: Elektra

Elektra: Susan Bullock; Chrysothemis: Deborah Voigt; Klytemnestra: Felicity Palmer; Orest: Evgeny Nikitin; Aegisth: Wolfgang Schmidt; A Young Servant: John Easterlin; Tutor: Oren Gradus; Five Serving Maids: Kathryn Day, Heidi Melton, Maria Zifchak, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jennifer Check. Conducted by Fabio Luisi. Metropolitan Opera, performance of December 15.

Above: Sandra Bullock as Elektra and Deborah Voigt as Chrysothemis

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

Full-scale power over a huge orchestra is demanded of them, and the parts are often given, like Valkyries or Rhinemaidens, to budding dramatic sopranos. That being understood and the brevity of the parts being acknowledged, still, it is not a good sign when three or four of the maids have louder, more focused, more credibly heroic voices than either Elektra or Chrysothemis. But such was the case at the Met on December 15.

The Elektra was Susan Bullock, who was unable to bring the requisite force to this endurance contest of a part. We must be grateful to any soprano who can simply get through it, but any pressure seemed to push her vibrato wide open, and the whole performance was thin and squally, never vocally overwhelming and uninformed by any vision of Elektra’s personality. Her acting, too, was graceless, which may suit the bedraggled nature of a princess in the mire, but Bullock spent most of the evening staring at the conductor or waving an axe about the stage, and she made little of the dancing, a tricky bit for any Elektra.

Deborah Voigt, in distressing vocal estate, sang Chrysothemis, and never have the two sisters seemed so well-matched, so related: neither of them could bring full force to her music, and they bickered like kittens when the matter under discussion is how they are to murder their mother. Not until the triumphant final scene did Voigt give forth a few of the radiant notes that were once a feature of her Strauss singing. Perhaps it’s just as well the Met shelved the originally scheduled revival of Die Frau ohne Schatten, once a Voigt signature.

ELEKTRA_Palmer_1905.pngFelicity Palmer as Klytemnestra

The appearance of Felicity Palmer as Klytemnestra came as a great relief. Palmer cannot manage hurricane force either, but she had something more: a highly focused conception of the character. Her voice seemed dull, drably colored, as if by the bad dreams and lack of sleep she sings about, and then color crept in as Elektra goaded her with false hopes and conundrums. Gaunt and frail but vigorously flailing her staff, she made a striking figure, terrifying for the example of her fate.

Evgeny Nikitin’s bass-baritone possesses the size and dignity for Orest, but his singing was grainy rather than ominous on this occasion. Wolfgang Schmidt sang an unusually sturdy Aegisth — the role is usually a caricature — and John Easterlin was impressive in the small role of the arrogant servant sent to fetch him.

The tilted Otto Schenk production grows on one with time — its unnerving angles intentionally set the teeth on edge as we meet this most famously dysfunctional of families. I liked David Kneuss’s direction, but I’d like it better if the singers sang to each other now and then, if Elektra didn’t wave her axe like a cheerleader, and if the Overseer did not crack her whip only to have the Serving Maids pay no attention. Surely they would shut up when the whip cracked, if indeed the Overseer were the fearsome creature intended? In which case, the whip cracks should be timed for those few moments in their scene when the maids are about to shut up.

The hero of the night was Fabio Luisi in the pit, a masterful Strauss conductor who spared us nothing of the brutality of this devastating score but at the same time was always careful never to contest the air with his singers, holding the turbulence down so that vocal lines were clear. Underpowered some of them might be, drowned out never. Such courtesy and skill have not always been featured by conductors of Elektra.

John Yohalem

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):