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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Peter Eötvös [Photo by Jean-Francois Leclercq]
28 Mar 2010

Angels in America, Eötvös at the Barbican for the BBC

Angels in America, Peter Eötvös’s opera based on the Tony Kushner plays, received its London premiere. This was very high profile. David Robertson conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a performance that will be broadcast internationally, online on www.bbc.co.uk/radio3.

Peter Eötvös: Angels in America

David Adam Moore: Prior Walter; Scott Scully: Louis Ironson/Angel Oceania; Julia Migenes: Harper Pitt/Ethel Rosenberg/Angel Antarctica; Omar Ebrahim: Joseph Pitt/Ghost2/Angel Europa; Janice Hall: Hannah Pitt/Rabbi Chemelwitz/Henry/Angel Asiatica; Kelly Anderson: Roy Cohn/Ghost1/Angel Australia; Brian Asawa: Belize/Mr Lies/Woman/Angel Africanii; Ava Pine: The Angel/Voice; Ann de Renais, Patrick Ardagh-Walter and Wendy Nieper: Vocal trio. David Gately: Director. David Robertson: conductor. BBC Symphony Orchestra. Barbican Hall; London. 26th March 2010.

Above: Peter Eötvös [Photo by Jean-Francois Leclercq]

 

Angels in America depicts the first phase of the AIDS pandemic, in the very early 1980’s. Back then, the disease wasn’t even identified. Healthy young men were dying gruesome deaths from “Karposi’s sarcoma”, a cancer of the very old. Then apparently straight people succumbed, even bullying homophobes. It’s hard to appreciate how bad those times were, if you didn’t live through them. Yet AIDS was a turning point in society, because it exposed hypocrisy and prejudice.

Thirty years on, much has changed. In the west, people don’t die of AIDS as long as they can afford healthcare and medication. Now it’s entrenched in the Third World, particularly in Africa. We cannot be complacent.

Eötvös compresses Kushner’s seven hour saga into 2 1/2 hours.In the first part, vignettes of people experiencing death in their own way. Prior Walter (David Adam Moore) is a gay man dumped by his frightened lover. (Scott Scully). Roy Cohn (Kelly Anderson), the bully who thinks he can’t be touched, and Joe Pitt (Omar Ebrahim), the hapless married Mormon, who has to face the contradiction in his life. This concentrates dramatic focus on human relationships, and is very moving. Kushner doubled the parts, so the drama could extend beyond the immediate victims making it relevant for all society.

All roles, except the main protagonist Prior Walter, are doubled in the opera, too, Anderson and Ebrahim sing Ghosts of Plagues past, but Brian Asawa stands out. He sings no major role but a variety of subsidiaries, yet brings such assertiveness to them that they register well. His bright countertenor, these days mellowing lower in the range, extends Kushner’s ambiguity into the music.

Julia Migenes was impressive, too, as Harper Pitt, (male name, female role), Joe’s drug-ravaged wife who intuits his true nature and makes him confront his identity. She’s also Ethel Rosenberg, Roy’s nemesis and Angel Antartica. These are pivotal roles, which Migenes carries off with conviction. Janice Hall is less well served by the opera, her roles bordering on shallow stereotype.

Eötvös’s music illustrates the text nicely. Marimbas and electronics to create weird, surreal sounds, percussion to mark tension, lovely cello and violin melodies to enhance moments of individual reverie. As an extension of the play, the music is usefully mood-enhancing, so in that sense it works. He works following the text as it unfolds, which perhaps accounts for the episodic, reactive nature of the music. This works well in the first part, where the opera is spurred on by the dramatic momentum of Kushner’s vision.

In the second part, Kushner’s venturing into much more abstract territory, depicting Heaven and life after death. In the opera, the narrative isn’t coherent. Life (and the afterlife) isn’t necessarily coherent, so in a sense this unintelligibility is valid. But because music is abstract, this would have been an opportunity for Eötvös to write something distinctive. Opera is much more than film music. It’s more than illustrating text. It can reinforce the narrative with another dimension of original commentary, for opera is as much a composer’s response to a play than just the play itself.

I enjoyed this concert staging (directed by David Gately) because it showed how the simple resources of a concert staging can have a huge impact, done as thoughtfully as this. The lighting effects were superb, evoking huge vistas in the imagination. I “saw” the stars in the heavens and the lights of a night time city.

Ultimately, Angels in America works on stage because the subject is so powerful. It packs such an emotional punch that it would be hard not to be moved by the human drama in the first part. A lot of choices had to be made when Eötvös and his librettist reduced Kushner’s seven hour saga. That’s all the more reason why decisions had to be taken for maximum dramatic and musical effect. As an opera, Angels in America might have served the subject better had it been less dependent on replicating the play, and taken a more original vision.

Anne Ozorio

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):