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

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Aureliano in Palmira in Pesaro

Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Martin Gantner (Count Tamare), Anja Kampe (Carlotta) in The Stigmatized [Photo by Robert Millard courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera]
26 Apr 2010

Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten

Chaos and disorder rule at Los Angeles Opera of late, and not just in the fervid imagination of director Achim Freyer, the artistic force behind the controversial staging of Richard Wagner’s four-evening glorification of chaos and disorder.

Richard Wagner: Götterdämmerung; Franz Schreker: The Stigmatized

Los Angeles Opera. Click here for production and cast information.

Above: Martin Gantner (Count Tamare), Anja Kampe (Carlotta) in The Stigmatized [Photo by Robert Millard courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera]

 

The program for Götterdämmerung omitted a credit for the role of Alberich (sung ably by Richard Paul Fink), requiring the inclusion of a slip of paper to amend the error. A larger inserted sheet advertised the upcoming three cycles of the Freyer production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, but the calendar of dates cited no month — time means little in the mythical world of Wagner’s masterpiece, one might propose.

Freyer is not an artist averse to rough edges, so these managerial slips would probably just amuse him. After all, as Brünnhilde sent the ravens off to Valhalla to tell Wotan of the end of his world, on Freyer’s set the raven cut-outs, located at either end of the stage lip, rose up to reveal two prompters, chest-high, backs to the audience but scores before them. Not long before that, a computer malfunction left the projected backdrop strewn with line after line of computer gibberish, but since one line of that was a time clock running down, perhaps it was part of Freyer’s design all along.

If Freyer’s climax disappointed (which it did), it wasn’t because of these intentional or inadvertent glitches, but because his invention did not match the boldness and incision seen in the earlier parts of this long, long show (and most of his other stagings of the Ring operas). Gibichungs on wires tumbling through the air behind a scrim of flames came off as more Cirque du Soleil than riotous or avant-garde. To the vociferous critics of Freyer’s work, it must be said that the mythic ponderousness seen in most stagings of Wagner’s work — a quality that those critics would insist is embedded in the libretto — holds little interest for Freyer. His vision is centered on identity, the no-man’s-land distance between what each character thinks of him or herself and what events reveal the truth to be. Thus, Freyer created the painted cardboard facades that characters carried before them, right from Das Rheingold until the end of Götterdämmerung. At that end, Linda Watson’s Brünnhilde couldn’t take the subterfuge anymore, and knocked not only her own flat representation to the ground, but those of the other characters then on stage. She had truly learned contempt for the ring, and the limitless avarice and ambition it inspired.

Surely Freyer’s sense of humor traumatized those most offended by his staging, especially the portrayal of Siegfried, a muscle-bound doofus who, nonetheless, came off as the only genuine, likable figure in the world. John Treleavan continued to make some of the more unpleasant sounds a tenor can make and still manage to create an appealing characterization that excused most, if not all, the barking and yelping. Most of the first two acts Watson seemed to holding back on the best part of her voice, its sheer formidable size, as if keeping a reserve for her monumental closing scene. In the event, her full power did not reveal itself even then, another factor that made the last 15 minutes of this five-hour extravaganza the least impressive section.

LA_gott_334.gifFront: John Treleaven (Siegfried), Back: Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Ronnita Miller (Flosshilde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera]

Eric Halfvarson triumphed as Hagen, his gruff, imposing bass as frightening as his portrayal. Freyer’s work here (with costumes designed by himself and his daughter Amanda) is emblematic of the Freyer approach. Hagen wore a bright yellow jacket, and around Halfvarson’s waist were two limp, yellow-clad dwarf legs, while the singer’s lower half was a pair of black trousers with white chalk streaks (matching some of other design elements). When Hagen stood behind his facade, he could drape the legs over the front, making him look truly troll-ish. At other times, though, Freyer had no hesitance about having the singer stride the stage, the dwarf-legs dangling feebly at his waist. This sort of staging element drove some attendees crazy, as Freyer quite obviously had no interest in naturalistic representation. For those accepting of this theatrical compromise, nothing distracted from the complete portrayal of Hagen as detailed in Wagner’s libretto — ugly, scheming, manipulative, and ultimately doomed.

Alan Held as Gunther and Jennifer Wilson as Gutrune both sang impressively from behind their blank, infantile Gibichung masks — masks that were able to make Siegfried’s deception when he kidnapped Brünnhilde plausibly staged, for once. Michelle DeYoung joined Jill Grove and Melissa Citro as the three Norns, and Ms. DeYoung also made for a fine Waltraute.

The pit reconfiguration did dampen the sound a bit too much as James Conlon continued to lead the Los Angeles Opera orchestra with finesse and power. The horns in particular had a great, great day on Sunday. There were a small number of departures from the audience after the first act, but most stayed, and then lingered to stand through the final ovations, which rose to a peak of volume when Conlon appeared. The conductor is truly becoming the heart and soul of Los Angeles Opera, which may save it come the day that Placido Domingo no longer leads — ostensibly — the company.

Not to say that Conlon is perfect. He managed to find the funding for his Recovered Voices series, which undoubtedly has brought some exposure to some interesting work — that of composers whose careers were crushed by the Nazis. However, opera being the expensive enterprise that it is, your reviewer can’t help but wonder if compromised stagings of these rare (for a reason, too often) operas really fits the managerial profile of a company that operates out of the Dorothy Chandler, a 3000+ seat hall. The last performance of Shreker’s Die Gezeichneten on a Thursday night saw a house with decent attendance but far from a sell-out. Conlon’s devotion to this music is evident in the power and beauty of the orchestra’s performance. Schreker’s score, however, sounded like a never-ending striving for sensual effects, with no solid lyrical themes as a foundation. The harmonic language tended to the sort of overripe modalities of the score to a Cecil B. De Mille Biblical extravaganza. Schreker’s libretto is even more hopeless, an incomprehensible mish-mash of perversion and political intrigue, mostly told through interminable dialogues with next to no action actually seen on stage.

Director Ian Judge had to work around the revolving platform built for Freyer’s production, and Judge found clever ways to exploit his limited resources, including some tasteful projection effects (designed by Wendall K. Harrington). An interesting cast tried their best, with Robert Brubaker outstanding as Alviana Salvago, the hump-backed dwarf who searches hopelessly for love while finding ample opportunities for sexual degradation. Anja Kampe sounded great as Carlotta Nardi, Salvago’s obsession. A huge cast of other able singers strode on and off but your reviewer could not make sense of their motivations and stopped caring by the end of the second act. Even an orgy in an island grotto couldn’t make him linger.

At least partly due to the cost of the Freyer Ring, next season there will only be six main stage opera productions, and the Recovered Voices series will take a hiatus. Perhaps future ventures in the series should be staged in some alternative, more intimate home, where those who share Conlon’s passion for this niche can settle in comfortably for their dose of early 20th century Viennese perversity and pretentiousness.

Chris Mullins

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):