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

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

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):