Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.

La Vestale, La Monnaie, Bruxelles

In the first half of the 19th century, Spontini’s La Vestale was a hit. Empress Josephine sponsored its premiere, Parisians heard it hundreds of times, Berlioz raved about it and Wagner conducted it.

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

An intelligent updating and outstanding performance of the title role lead to a shattering climax in Puccini's Japanese opera



Valery Gergiev [Photo by Steve J. Sherman]
17 Mar 2010

Les Troyens at Carnegie Hall

Les Troyens is the noblest grand opera ever composed by a Frenchman, one of those desert-island works of which it is impossible to tire because its depths can never be completely sounded.

Hector Berlioz: Les Troyens

Cassandra: Ekaterina Gubanova; Didon: Ekaterina Semenchuk; Anna: Zlata Bulycheva; Enée: Sergei Semishkur; Iopas: Daniil Shtoda; Hylas: Dmitry Voropaev; Chorèbe: Alexei Markov; Narbal: Yuri Vorobiev. Chorus and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, led by Valery Gergiev. At Carnegie Hall, Part 1 on March 9, Part 2 on March 10.

Above: Valery Gergiev [Photo by Steve J. Sherman]


Every hearing brings new beauties to attention, each representation attains new miracles — and every staging (at least, of the several I have seen) has lacked something essential, done something inane that ought to have been serious or something ponderous that ought to have been gossamer.

Berlioz, a traditionalist revolutionary, left none of the tools he made use of as they stood but developed the traditions on offer. From Gluck (and Lully and Cherubini) he took a style of declamatory singing that makes up in hieratic dignity for what it sometimes lacks in the sheer sensuousness of the contrasting Italian manner — though nothing in opera surpasses the quintet-septet-love duet sequence in Act IV of Les Troyens for sheer throbbing passion.

The forms in Les Troyens are traditional: soliloquy aria, aria with chorus, duet, concertato, ballet interlude, orchestral entr’acte, war chorus — but Berlioz employs none of them casually. Each verse of a strophic melody differs from each other, no line of a melody is repeated without altering an instrumental color, brightening the effect, speeding up or slowing down to suit the dramatic pulse of the scene. No matter how familiar the score, it is still full of undiscovered wonders. This is meat only for the most intent of conductors and the most committed singers.

All this being so, and staged performances being rare (in New York, we see it once a decade), a concert performance is no poor compromise, especially if the performers are worthy of the ambitions of a Berlioz. The chorus and orchestra of St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, trained on the over-the-top grandeur of Russian epic opera, are clearly primed for Les Troyens, and the dynamic Valery Gergiev is a proven hand with this most idiosyncratic of composers. The only dubious side of the enterprise is the French accent of the Russian soloists — and those who are used to, say, Anna Netrebko’s Antonia or Manon will hardly find anything to object to even here. (Madame Netrebko was in the audience at Carnegie Hall, cheering on her old pals.)

With no sets to distract the eye and no choreographers to embarrass us during the ballets — not to mention no director’s follies to interrupt the orchestral interludes — Maestro Gergiev seems to have felt it wiser to do the piece in two parts, La Prise de Troie and Les Troyens à Carthage, as it often used to be staged. This stratagem kept the orchestra and the tenor fresh for the second evening. (Berlioz lovers in New York, to be sure, might have preferred to have it all on Tuesday and repeat it all on Wednesday, and we would have attended both evenings.)

210007-D_122-R.gifAlexei Markov (Chorèbe) and Ekaterina Gubanova (Cassandra)

First of all: a word about the orchestra, which played five hours of music without a single brass misfire or a mis-cue of the backstage band on its several entrances, a lush, various, delirious, precise reading, heartily theatrical as a theater orchestra should be. The chorus were solid as well. Gergiev, who leads without a podium, waggles his fingers as much as his stick, and dances in place, and clearly everyone knows what each wiggle implies. I sat in the orchestra on both nights, and did wish for an opportunity to hear the whole score again (immediately!) from the higher reaches of the hall, where the sound in more orchestrally intricate works like this one can attain a still more magical imprint.

Ekaterina Gubanova, who has been miscast at the Met (Giulietta? c’mawn!), sang Cassandra with great distinction and dignity and a well-managed rise to the top in a role often given to sopranos. Her thunder was rather stolen on the second night, when Ekaterina Semenchuk, the delicious Olga of last year’s Met Onegin, gave a passionate, tremendously involved account of Didon. She never stood still when “acting,” but emoted fervently, and her eyes grew warm with passion, sick with despair, while her voice, once it was warmed up, filled the house with urgent appeal — in very decent French, moreover. When she was not singing, she was clearly following every word and emotion of the score. There are other ways to perform this wonderful role — New Yorkers have been spoiled by Christa Ludwig, Shirley Verrett, Tatiana Troyanos peerless in passion, Jessye Norman’s hauteur, and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s lieder-singer attention to the detail of each phrase — but Semenchuk’s turn matched them in memorability. In the smaller female roles, I especially liked the glowing low notes of Zlata Bulycheva’s Anna.

Not even Valery Gergiev can conjure first rate tenors out of the thin air of Muscovy, where — perhaps due to early Russian Orthodox church music training (although that didn’t hold back Nicolai Gedda) — low voices tend to be the top grade ones: Russia has always been more famous for basses and mezzos than for tenors and sopranos. Sergei Semishkur declaimed expressively and got over the high passes without coming to grief, but his voice is hardly Heppner pretty or Vickers intense, and as for his French diction — well, it was clear that this is no longer the second language of St. Petersburg, as it was in Tolstoy’s day. Daniil Shtoda, an effective lyric tenor, sang Iopas’s aria with the proper courtly elegance, but Dmitry Voropaev, though possessing a good basic sound, phoned in Hylas’s music with a bad accent and none of that air’s delicate homesick sadness.

Alexei Markov’s Chorèbe was sung with ardent dignity and grace, Yuri Vorobiev sang a fine Narbal, and Alexander Nikitin and Timur Abdikeyev, who covered most of the small, lower roles agreeably, were especially charming in the comical duet for two Trojan sentries.

These were two long, long opera concerts that one wished would never end.

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):