Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Semiramide at the Rossini Opera Festival

The pleasures (immense) and pain of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide (Venice, 1823). Uncut.

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Ashley Holland (Uin-Scî; standing) und Peter Sidhom (Cim-Fen; sitting), in background Marcus Hosch (Moderator) as well as Chor, Kinderchor and Statisterie der Oper Frankfurt [Photo by Wolfgang Runkel courtesy of Oper Frankfurt]
18 Dec 2009

Frankfurt’s ‘Medium’ Rarities

Encountering Frankfurt Opera’s staging of Leoni’s L’Oracolo and Puccini’s Le Villi, I was reminded of that old saw about the German weather.

Franco Leoni: L’Oracolo; Giacomo Puccini: Le Villi

L’Oracolo — Cim-Fen, Inhaber einer Opiumhöhle: Peter Sidhom / Bastiaan Everink; Uin-Sci, ein gelehrter Arzt: Ashley Holland; Hu-Tsin, ein reicher Kaufmann: Franz Mayer; San-Lui, Uin-Scis Sohn; Carlo Ventre: Ah-Joe, Nichte Hu-Tsins; Annalisa Raspagliosi / Barbara Zechmeister; Hua-Qui, Kindermädchen: Katharina Magiera.

Le Villi — Guglielmo Wulf: Peter Sidhom / Bastiaan Everink; Anna, seine Tochter: Annalisa Raspagliosi / Barbara Zechmeister; Roberto: Carlo Ventrez; Moderatoren: Ingrid El Sigai and Marcus Hosch. Chor und Kinderchor der Oper Frankfurt. Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester.

Above: Ashley Holland (Uin-Scî; standing) und Peter Sidhom (Cim-Fen; sitting), in background Marcus Hosch (Moderator) as well as Chor, Kinderchor and Statisterie der Oper Frankfurt

All photos by Wolfgang Runkel courtesy of Oper Frankfurt

 

Don’t like it? Wait five minutes and it will change.

There is a good deal to admire in this double bill, not least of which is the rare opportunity to enjoy two seldom-performed pieces mounted by such a reputable company. However, too often during the evening, I found myself becoming engaged by a tender moment, or beginning to relish a powerful musical development…only to be interrupted by a crass directorial “improvement.”

There are really two separate productions going on here (See: “wait five minutes,” above). One is the relatively straight-forward and conventional telling of the musical drama in rather traditional and genuinely pleasing theatrical staging. Then there is a concurrent, wholly invented television studio experience that is part reality show. Part game show, part National Enquirer, and all colossally ineffective.

Not that I disapprove of the concept outright. Frankfurt Opera itself used this device to brilliant effect with its televangelical Rape of Lucretia two seasons past. What I object to is that director Sandra Leupold took a cheap, easy way out of having to deal with the (admittedly naïve) pleasures to be mined from the two operas at hand.

Hmmmm, how to make these curiosities palatable to today’s audiences? Hmmmm…I know, let’s tart them up with game show “Moderators”! The glitzily-attired actors Ingrid El Sigai and Marcus Hosch do what they can with these irrelevant creatures, but seemed quite self-conscious (maybe pre-occupied with the pay check they would at least be getting…)

The three blue-sequin-gowned Vanna White’s seemed to have wandered in from another show, waiting in vain for a vowel to be bought or a letter to be turned. But worst of all was the inconsiderate and considerable obstruction by the “cameramen” and “stage managers” who would interpose themselves between the soloists and the audience. No fooling I spent one touching soprano aria relegated to looking at a burly extra’s butt as he “televised” her performance to a giant on-stage screen…that…again, no kidding…had a sound delay! Looked like a badly dubbed movie on German TV.

Where the hell to look then? The viola section? The surtitles? The exit????

Heike Scheele’s set and costume design was at its worst in the utilitarian television studio which comprised the encompassing space for the shows. However, within the confines of the raised circle on which the actual operas were performed, there was much that was pleasantly colorful, representational, and traditional.

I especially found Mr. Scheele’s Chinese costumes for the Leoni to be character-specific and beautifully rendered; the rustic Puccini clothing was also quite delightful, although perhaps the tutu’d chorus nod to Giselle was just too over the top. I also appreciated the clever and appropriate scenic insets that he devised for both pieces,and the competent lighting from Joachim Klein. The show-within-the show, that is to say the actual operas, was often very agreeable.

The credit for that has to begin with the fine idiomatic playing elicited from the pit by conductor Stefan Solyom. He never once flagged in presenting these two (let’s be honest) weaker compositions with commitment and authority. He seemed to wring every bit of musical excellence he could from his orchestra, and kept the evening buoyant and forward-moving. He also ably partnered his hard-working singers. Matthias Koehler’s chorus, and Michael Clark’s children’s chorus were likewise also very well-prepared, but suffered the fate of being clumsily and busily deployed in this mess of a concept.

oracolo_HQ_18.pngMarcus Hosch (Moderator), Peter Sidhom (Cim-Fen), Ingrid El Sigai (Moderatorin), Katharina Magiera (Hua-Quî), Tobias Jantsch (Hu-Cî) and Chor, Kinderchor and Statisterie der Oper Frankfurt in background

While L’oracolo may have its confusing pseudo-Asian dramaturgy, any minor musical longeurs were glossed over with committed performances. As Cim-Fen (opium den owner) Peter Sidhorn may not have offered the most suave singing, but compensated with great presence, the same that could be said of his interpretation of Guglielmo (Le Villi). Ashley Holland’s mellifluous voice was arguably the finest performance in Chinatown, as the learned doctor Uin-Sci. Franz Mayer put his soft-grained, affecting instrument to good use as the rich tradesman Hu-Tsin and Katharina Magiera made the most of her brief moment as Hua-Qui revealing a gorgeous, creamy mezzo.

One of the reasons for this mounting had to be to showcase local favorites, Annalisa Raspagliosi and Carlo Ventre, both of whom were cast in both operas.

Ms. Raspagliosi has already had a big career with big credentials, not least of which was a happy association with the legendary Pavarotti. Here she is undertaking Ah-Joe and more notably Anna in Le Villi. The latter suits her gifts more than the former. At this point in her development, she reminds me of the great Renata Scotto for Anna also commands an unerring sense of projecting the text, effortlessly embodies the character at hand, and seems incapable of a musical false move.

villi_HQ_06.pngAnnalisa Raspagliosi (Anna) and Carlo Ventre (Roberto)

That said, like Renata of yore, she also is beginning to sound a bit like a supremely gifted lyric soprano who has ventured a bit too far into heavier territory (Tosca, anyone?). Her high notes still float, but not without some discernible effort. Her sense of line still commands, but not without a bit of gear-shifting here and there. And the vibrato has gotten a bit more, shall we say, generous? Still, she offers an assured assumption of these two heroines, is lovely as lovely can be, and her Frankfurt public adore her. And why shouldn’t they? In an era of pretenders to the throne, her singing is still a connection with Old World Glories.

Before the Puccini, tenor Carlo Ventre was announced as indisposed, something I had suspected during the Leoni where his vocalizing as San-Lui seemed a bit cautious with meslimas a bit labored. Once our indulgence was requested so he could continue as the second opera’s Roberto (and who the hell else knows the role?), Mr. Ventre actually sang with more assurance, and even with real abandon. He is a fine singer with a burnished tone, and if a few phrases were husbanded carefully and a few notes grew rough-edged, he not only gave a pleasurable account of his two assignments, but also saved the night!

Like with the German weather then, while I had a great time discovering these two operas in staged versions for the first time, and while I enjoyed so many of the components, I found myself waiting, nay wishing for a change for sunnier horizons. Were the staging to be re-imagined losing the television concept entirely, I can predict the remaining elements would make a far superior evening at the opera.

James Sohre

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):