Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs : Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

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):