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

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017 - Winner Announced

Bampton Classical Opera is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Young Singers’ Competition is mezzo-soprano Emma Stannard and the runner-up is tenor Wagner Moreira. The winner of the accompanists’ prize, a new category this year, is Keval Shah.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Eric Halfvarson as Hagen, Alan Held (on stage, at front) as Gunther [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]
21 Jun 2010

Der Ring des Nibelungen in Los Angeles

$32,000,000, and it would have been a bargain at $50,000,000. Los Angeles Opera went for broke, and it paid off with a Ring that has raised the worldwide Ring bar to a dizzying height.

Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen

Wotan: Vitalij Kowaljow; Loge: Arnold Bezuyen; Alberich: Richard Paul Fink; Mime: Graham Clark; Fricka (Rheingold): Michelle DeYoung; Erda: Jill Grove; Fasolt: Morris Robinson; Fafner: Eric Halfvarson; Freia: Ellie Dehn; Donner: Wayne Tigges; Froh: Beau Gibson; Woglinde: Stacey Tappan; Wellgunde: Lauren McNeese; Flosshilde: Ronnita Nicole Miller; Siegmund: Plácido Domingo; Sieglinde: Michelle DeYoung; Brunnhilde: Linda Watson; Fricka (Walküre): Ekaterina Semenchuk; Hunding: Eric Halfvarson; Gerhilde: Ellie Dehn; Helmwige: Susan Foster; Ortlinde: Melissa Citro; Waltraute: Erica Brookhyser; Rossweisse: Margaret Thompson; Siegrune: Buffy Baggott; Grimgerde: Jane Dutton; Schwertleite: Ronnita Nicole Miller; Siegfried: John Treleaven; Erda: Jill Grove; Woodbird: Stacey Tappan; Gunther: Alan Held; Hagen: Eric Halfvarson; Waltraute: Michelle DeYoung; 1st Norn: Jill Grove; 2nd Norn: Michelle DeYoung; 3rd Norn: Melissa Citro; Gutrune: Jennifer Wilson. Conductor: James Conlon. Director and Designer: Achim Freyer. Costume Designer: Achim Freyer and Amanda Freyer. Lighting Designer: Brian Gale and Achim Freyer.

Above: Eric Halfvarson as Hagen, Alan Held (on stage, at front) as Gunther

All photos by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of L.A. Opera

 

It was everything smart money can buy. L.A. superseded the sometimes sleazy flash of its film and television industry with brilliant flash, reminding us that this huge center of intellectual property is driven by artistic creation. There was no compromise. The nine day duration made it possible to retain the same Wotan, Brünnhilde and Siegfried et al. and to keep them in good voice, and it gave pilgrims to the L.A. Ring ample time to explore this magnificent city of art, architecture, gardens and music.

This Ring was indeed flashy, starting in the pit. Conductor James Conlon did not explore or even approach the cosmic sonorities of Wagner’s score choosing to propel text and musical line to their maximum tension, nearly unbearable in Wotan’s farewell to Brünnhilde (arms outstretched they passed without touching). He choose the brightest voices to enflame the Valkyries ride (though actually they just stood there), he unveiled the love of Siegfried and Brünnhilde with such urgency (though they stood on opposite sides of the stage) that it became vocally extremely dangerous — and breathtakingly exciting.

But the immolation was delivered by a Brünnhilde (facing the audience standing on a center stage podium) who was wise and resigned rather than ecstatic, and finally Mo. Conlon’s cataclysm was measured rather than unleashed. At the end Wagner’s resolution was not a hopeful return to a primal world but the sad, unlamented demise of tormented creatures. Operatic indeed, and heartbreaking too.

Though Mo. Conlon was perhaps limited by the L.A. Opera orchestra itself, his path was shared if not proscribed by line and color, by masks, puppets and symbols.

German artist Achim Freyer got the gigantic commission to create this staging of Richard Wagner’s treatise, a fancy that incorporates the nineteenth century bourgeois social conscience with opera’s age old tensions — love, jealousy and dirty politics. Just as much about all this old operatic stuff Wagner’s treatise is about art — the building of Valhalla and the forging of the ring. So Mr. Freyer made his own art the focal point of his Ring.

Achim Freyer’s art is visual and for Freyer music is equally visual. Music must flow therefore Freyer’s art too must flow. The static frames that are formed on the stage by Freyer’s masks and puppets are overlaid with constant movement. Sometimes by horizontal or vertical lines that traverse the stage’s fourth wall (the proscenium opening), sometimes by a gigantic stage floor disk that revolves, other times by huge cloths pulled across the stage. With Brünnhilde deprived of her divinity black human forms began to slowly traverse the stage in perpetual pacing. Freyer’s catalogue of flow was inexhaustible.

As the music of Germany’s great river flows from the Ring’s inception to beyond its end, Wagner’s music flows too for the Ring’s twenty or so hours (intermissions included) and so flows Freyer’s visual world for these eternal hours, an accomplishment as superhuman as Wotan’s building of Valhalla.

The architecture of the Ring world transformed the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s stage. A theater wide scrim was suspended halfway out over the orchestra pit, thereby incorporating much of the orchestra within the volume of the stage. The huge revolving disk was cantilevered far over the pit, platforms suspended on either side of the protruding disk held threatening batteries of lighting instruments. A huge, rather severe rake (sloping platform) covered the stage itself non plussing Siegfried tenor John Treleaven who tripped only a couple of times (second cycle), having warned the world through the L.A. Times that Mr. Freyer’s Ring was a dangerous place.

Rheingold-(Richard-Paul-Fin.gifRheingold — Richard Paul Fink as Alberich

The Freyer Ring is a dangerous and exciting space, it’s weapons (the sword and the staff) were tubes of light, its repose was long lines of light, its disorder these long lines broken into a myriad of small lines. The ultimate destruction of the space was effected by the racks of lights hidden in the flys (the space above the stage housing scenery and equipment) suddenly descending with blinding white light, Wotan’s ravens flying out to reveal two onstage conductors (prompters), the upstage scrim disappearing to reveal the bare stage back wall against which all creation flew every which way in black silhouette.

The world of art was destroyed at the same moment our own world was revealed as that same imaginary world. It could be depressing but instead it was thrilling art.

A Valhalla of theatrical art Freyer’s Ring had its Nibelheim as well. A small army (twelve) of silent slaves, Freyer’s Nibelungen, effected the huge puppets who doubled the Ring’s pantheon of characters in defining moments, trudged endlessly across the stage in black body stockings, donned elaborate Nibelungen attire, were rigged to fly above the stage, and the list goes one. It was endless, mindless, thankless labor.

Freyer’s singers, a veritable Who’s Who among opera singers, were but symbols in a gigantic visual world well beyond an opera stage, their faces were masked or painted, their bodies clothed in huge costume caricatures, Brünnhilde magnificent in a huge black wig that would shame Louis XIV. This camouflage left these artists naked as singers, and a vocally more brilliant cast cannot be imagined, down to the last Valkyrie.

Siegfried-(Graham-Clark-as-.gifSiegfried — Graham Clark as Mime, Vitalij Kowajow as Wanderer

Los Angeles itself seems a Valhalla. Traversing this heroic city on its endless Wilshire Boulevard, from the Music Center downtown through Koreatown, then MacArthur Park through Hancock Park stopping at Ace Gallery in Miracle Mile to see the paintings created by Achim Freyer while he was preparing the Ring (priced from $25,000 to $100,000) — canvases that are huge moments of soundless music. Offered too are the prototypes of Wotan’s ravens ($7500 each), and a huge Wotan puppet, the only work in the exhibition that includes sound — piano doodling on Ring themes ($50,000).

Continuing through Beverly Hills and Westwood finally Santa Monica appears and the Ruth Bachofner Gallery at Bergamot Station where L.A. Opera photographer Monika Ritterhaus exhibits her photographs of the Ring production. These stunning mementos of this great theater art were printed (by “art ink jet” onto silver rag) and shimmer in vibrant color (priced from $2500 to $5000). They may be previewed at www.RuthBachofnerGallery.com.

For in depth reviews of the individual operas please consult Opera Today (search title and city) and music critic Mark Swed at LATimes.com.

Michael Milenski

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):