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

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.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Lynton Black as Drago
23 Mar 2010

Genoveva — Schumann at UCL Opera, London

Genoveva and Lohengrin both premiered in the summer of 1850. Wagner disparaged Schumann, as he disparaged Mendelssohn (Schumann’s hero). Wagner’s opinions were influential. Genoveva has been eclipsed, saddled with a reputation for being hard to stage.

Robert Schumann: Genoveva op 81

Bibi Heal: Genoveva, Adam Green: Siegfried, Richard Rowe: Golo, Magdalen Ashman: Margaretha, Lynton Black: Drago, Ed Davison: Bishop Hilulfus, Simon Hall: Balthasar, Dan Hawkins: Caspar, Nick Goodman: Conrad. Chorus and Orchestra of University College. Charles Peebles: conductor. Emma Rivlin: Director,Christopher Giles: set designer, Ryszard Andrezejewski: costumes, Dan Swerdlow: lighting, Nichoilas Hall: fight director, Dena Lague: choreographer. University College Opera, Bloomsbury Theatre, UCL . London 22nd March 2010

Above: Lynton Black as Drago

 

Yet Schumann could write dramatic music as the much-loved Overture demonstrates, and the music in the Overture infuses the opera. His songs prove how well he could write for voice. His range as composer was wider than Wagner’s, and he was formidably well-read. What might Schumann have achieved had he continued writing after the age of 45?

UCL Opera is an unusually adventurous company. Since 1951 it has staged no less than 19 world or British premieres, and last year staged Ernest Bloch’s Macbeth . Next year, they’re planning Weber’s Die drei Pintos (completed by Mahler). Because UCL Opera does repertoire where there’s little entrenched performance tradition, its approach can be fresh and imaginative.

The original folk tale on which Genoveva is based dates back to the Middle Ages. Indeed it’s the basis of stories like Snow White, for in legend, Genoveva lived in the forest, protected by animals and by her virtue. Significantly, though, Schumann rejected the medieval concept, choosing instead to base his opera on Friedrich Hebbel’s more psychological drama, published only four years previously. Schumann wanted a “modern” take on the story. As Hebbel said “Any drama will come alive only to the extent that it expresses the spirit of the age which brings it forth”.

Schumnann’s Genoveva focuses on fundamentals — good versus evil, integrity versus deceit, the individual against the mob. Such concepts apply just as much today as they did in Schumann’s time. Its basis is the dynamic between Golo and Genoveva, who isn’t as passive as the legend would have. This gives the opera inherent drama and energy, which a really good performance can bring out.

Schumann’s orchestration is colourful. Genoveva and Seigfried have just married, but he’s going off to war. Glorious trumpet fanfares, woodwind and drums depict the excitement of battle. Alone, and isolated, Genoveva’s music is tender, heightening her confrontations with Golo and the baying mob. Later, when Drago’s ghost appears, Schumann’s dark, gloomy textures would have evoked, to his audience, the Wolf Glen scene in Weber’s Der Freischütz.

There’s plenty of incident in this narrative - a rape, mob violence, murder and of course the ghost and the witch. The sharpness of the German original is muted in English. Although the translation is by David Pountney, it’s clumsy and doesn’t adapt well to the musical line. However, it’s unrealistic to expect a largely student cast to sing idiomatically in a foreign language, and audiences might justifiably complain if they don’t know the libretto.

Perhaps, too, the drama might have been much more pointed if the set wasn’t quite so self-consciously medieval. Although the story is supposed to happen at the time of Charlemagne, Schumann (and Hebbel) quite explicitly understood the setting as allegory for universal concepts. Yet again, though, it’s asking too much of a production like this to be too ambitious. Audiences who don’t know the opera need to be guided into it gently.

What was good about the direction (Emma Rivlin) was that it didn’t gloss over the violence. The rape scene is graphic. Drago is beaten to death by the mob, whipped into frenzy by Golo’s accusations. Later Balthasar and Caspar (Simon Hall and Dan Hawkins) take yobbish delight in humiliating Genoveva. The fight scenes were well choreographed.

Unlike most student companies, UCL Opera employs professionals in key roles. In Genoveva, this makes a difference as Schumann writes the parts using the full range of each voice type. The duets and trios are so well written that the voices are clearly differentiated. Bibi Heal and Richard Rowe as Genoveva and Golo, acquitted themselves well.

Adam Green’s Seigfried was unusually impressive. He’s a natural actor, who brings depth and credibility to the part. Green’s Seigfried is sexy and charismatic. You can understand why Genoveva will suffer so much for his sake. It’s more than conventional loyalty. Also impressive was Lynton Black as Drago, the servant who is murdered as a scapegoat. When he reappears as a ghost he frightens Golo’s fellow plotter Margarethe (Magdalen Ashman) so much that she tells Siegfried the truth.

Perhaps the Bloomsbury Theatre is on the small side for an opera like this, with fairly large chorus and orchestra, at times overwhelming the voices. Yet again, that’s not really a fault. It is much more important that performers are enthusiastic and energetic, and enter into the spirit of the music. Genoveva is raw drama, after all, and a few ragged edges are a small price to pay when performances are as committed as this. That, ultimately, is the point of UCL Opera, to raise new generations to learn and care about operas that are off the beaten track.

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):