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

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

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):