Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?

Armida in Pesaro

Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Scene from Das Rheingold [Photo by Matthias Creutziger courtesy of Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden]
22 Mar 2010

Regieoper with a twist in Dresden Ring

Yes, the complete Ring des Nibelungen currently on stage at Dresden’s Semper Opera qualifies as Regieoper, but it’s Regieoper with a twist.

Der Ring des Nibelungen

Semperoper, Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden

Above: Scene from Das Rheingold [Photo by Matthias Creutziger courtesy of Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden]

 

Director Willy Decker has made the Ring very much his own, but there is not a hint of the tendentiousness that attempts to bring relevance to the cycle elsewhere. Sets and costumes by Wolfgang Gussmann and Frauke Schernau are timelessly contemporary and simple throughout, and on-stage rows of sometimes undulating seats that surround the action make this a play within a play.

Characters not involved at the moment sit and share their view with the audience. Wotan, so obviously central to Decker’s interpretation, evesdrops on Hunding’s hut throughout Act One of Walküre and he is there to catch Siegfried when in falls in Götterdämmerung. But more important is that Brünnhilde does not throw herself upon Siegfried’s funeral pyre that ends the cycle, but rather returns the accursed ring directly to the Rhinemaidens and joins the three in what is Decker’s most astonishing departure from Wagner’s stage directions. Siegfried might well die a Liebestod, but Brünnhilde lives, offering hope — scant as it might be — that the many injustices of the Ring have now been undone. It would be selling Decker short to call his a “feminist” Ring, but it is his unique concern for Wagner’s women that sets him happily apart from other directors currently on stage.

For each of the Dresden Ring operas Decker has written a brief essay of such profound insight that the four should be published — and translated — as a guide to the massive work. In the first of the four he speaks of the polarization that has accounted for the tensions between man and woman since their beginning. “The purity of woman and the guilt of the male,” he writes, “ is the basic motiv of the Ring — as it is in all of Wagner’s work.” And viewing the Ring — quite correctly — as a profound mythic work of art, Decker sees Siegmund and Sieglinde as a new Adam and Eve at the threshold of a New Age.

The problem is, of course, that the apple has already been eaten in Alberich’s theft of the Rheingold. This Decker identifies as “the original sin” of Wagner’s narrative. From this perspective the most crucial scene in the Ring is the exchange between Wotan and Brünnhilde in Act Two of Walküre. Here Wotan, an Expressionist reborn, is at work in his studio to create the New Man, so passionately dreamed of in German literature from the years of World War One. He caresses his models and points with pride to the architecture in which they will live. But he knows, of course, that it is too late, and Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow sang the second “das Ende” with a pathos of suffering more wrenching than Hans Hotter’s legendary Sprechstimme delivery. (More about Kowaljow later.)

In his notes Decker locates the pessimism that dominates the completed Ring in Wagner’s encounter with the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer that came midway in the years that he spent on the cycle. Decker follows this interpretation with impressive consistency, making of Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung the most wronged woman ever experienced in Wagner.Others are too involved in getting Siegfried on his way to heroic deeds — does anyone ever ask what heroic deeds? — to confront the dreadful abuse that he inflicts on his newly-wedded wife. But Decker is out to set things right: as the Immolation ends Wagner’s men are dead; the women survive. (It’s a fine touch that Gutrune kills Hagen before the curtain falls.)

The glory of the outstanding Dresden cast was bass Vitalij Kowaljow, the young Ukrainian who is also the Wotan of Achim Freyer’s controversial Ring now nearing competition at Los Angeles Opera. Freed of Freyer’s excessive trappings Kowaljow, a basso cantate once a fireman in his homeland, leaves little doubt that he is the first great Wotan of the post-Hotter Wagnerian world. His magnificently resonant voice, which he employs with total ease, is rich in colors and shadings and capable of every nuance.

Dresden’s 2010 Brünnhilde was Evelyn Herlitzius, currently Germany’s most reliable singer in this role. (On its most recent American tour Simon Rattle had Herlitzius in tow to sing Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung with the orchestra.) As Sieglinde German-born and Indiana-trained Melanie Diener is clearly a Wagnerian with a future, while Christian Elsner, her Siegmund, already enjoys that status. Doris Soffel, who first appeared in the role at Bayreuth in 1983, was a Fricka comfortably beyond caricature. And in Siegfried Norway’s Terje Stensvold was an appropriately matured Wotan/Wanderer.

In supporting roles Christa Mayer was both a moving Erda and a Waltraute of genuine sisterly concern. Hans-Peter König wss a singularly sinister Hagen, while Matthias Henneberg was a many dimensioned Alberich. Markus Butter (Gunther) and Sabine Brohm (Gutrune) were a near-comic parody of the incest that earlier gave birth to Siegfried. It was a particular delight to hear Wolfgang Schmidt, a major Heldentenor of an earlier decade, as an unmannered Mime.

This production, launched at the Semper Opera in 2001, clearly identifies the company as a major Wagnerian stage. Decker’s Ring is the polar absolute anthesis of Freyer’s Los Angeles staging. Those who see both will profit from comparisons. While elsewhere the Ring is seen largely as a festival production, in Dresden it is standard repertory that brings together singers familiar with each other in a variety of roles. In addition there is the luxury of one of the world’s most beautiful theaters with a mere 1300 seats. Forget about Bayreuth with its trials of succession; the Dresden Ring is currently in a class by itself.

Wes Blomster

See related story: Changing conductors bring color to Dresden Ring

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):