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

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

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):