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

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

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):