23 Jun 2010
Leipzig Opera to stage Gluck Ring
Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday is just around the corner in 2013 — and the composer was, after all, born in Leipzig.
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.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
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 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.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday is just around the corner in 2013 — and the composer was, after all, born in Leipzig.
It was thus hardly a surprise when Leipzig Opera approached its chief resident director Peter Konwitschny and suggested that he consider staging the Ring to celebrate the anniversary. Konwitschny, son of the late music director of Leipzig’s esteemed Gewandhaus Orchestra and among the most erudite and experienced of today’s German directors, pointed out that the Big Birthday will prompt a rush of Ring stagings throughout Germany and suggested that Leipzig consider rather new productions of four operas by Christoph Willibald Gluck, the man who late in the 18th century rescued opera from the excesses of the Baroque spectacle that it had become. Wisely, the Leipzig Opera knew a good idea when they heard one and told Konwitschny to go to work.
The director launched the project earlier this season with a new production of Alceste — or Alkestis, as it is known in Germany, which was seen at the last performance of the current season in Leipzig’s 50-year-old, 1260-seat opera house on June 18. Stagings of Gluck’s two Iphigenia operas — in Aulis and Tauris — and of Armida will follow. Konwitschny defines the common ground that will give coherence to the cycle as studies of four unusually strong women viewed from a perspective that reaches from the beginning of time to the present day. All four are dramas, he says, in which the conflict between love and power is of central importance. Konwitschny points out that the later masters of music theater — Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss — were all Gluck fans. Indeed, Wagner conducted Gluck and wrote about his work in his own essay Opera and Drama.
Konwitschny is a long established master of Regieoper, the practice widely spread in Germany — and now in other countries as well — of giving a director a totally free hand with a work, even if the original story is hardly recognizable in the resulting staging. What sets Konwitschny apart from other directors, however, is his regard for the composer and the story that he once told. He is there to respect — and serve — history. Yet nothing would have prepared a foreigner uninitiated in Regieoper for what Konwitschny has done with Alceste.
In his own new and original score for the opera he concludes the 1767 Vienna version with the satyr play that Gluck wrote for the Paris production of the opera nine years later. Konwitschny plays the first two acts “straight” — indeed in the majesty of their extended choruses there are markings of the sublime that one once dared expect from great art. Greek soprano Chiara Angella — a fitting choice for the heroine — sings her demonic address to the gods of the underworld with true dramatic pathos against the leaden skies projected on the rear wall of the simply-set stage. Then — with no hint of the change to come — the curtain opens Act Three in Her-Cool-TV, a television studio, in which a curly blond-wigged body builder Hercules is the host.
The chorus discards its togas in favor of jeans, colored shirts and baseball caps and sits in bleachers on either side of the stage. The studio crew feeds them their lines on posters and tells them when to laugh. The mayhem that ensues stresses the degree to which TV has corrupted modern life — and been corrupted by it. Alceste and Admetos — Belgian countertenor Yves Saelens — progressively lose ground as they argue about which of them has the greater right to die first. Finally, Apollo — dressed in the business suit of a successful politician — brings things to a happy end from the elevated loge where East-German leaders once sat at the Leipzig Opera. As the curtain falls, the reunited couple is wrapped in Saran Wrap.
Soula Parassidis as Alceste [Photo by Andreas Birkigt courtesy of Oper Leipzig]
But, one must ask, where does this leave the audience, which has had an experience of riotous entertainment that few would think available in an opera house? Does one think of the dreadful turmoil Alceste has been through, when even the husband for whom she wishes to sacrifice herself questions her motives? Has Konwitschny given his audience too much of a good thing?
Despite the popularity that Baroque opera has come to enjoy, one would hardly expect a company anywhere to perform two tellings of the Alceste story on successive June evenings. That, however, is what Leipzig Opera did in offering Handel’s Admeto on June 17. (In 1745 Gluck and Handel actually met in London, where they staged a concert together. When director Tobias Kratzer took his first look at Admeto he was overwhelmed by its proximity in spirit to soap opera, which became his model for this staging.
Set in a palace that is already a museum while still serving as a royal residence, Kratzer makes the work a spoof on Europe’s surviving blue-bloods. As Alceste, for example, mezzo Soula Parassidis could be either Grace Kelly or Princess Di. Sleuthing Orindo, superbly played by Kathrin Göring, is an obvious take-off on Miss Marple. The progress that opera made in the years between Admeto and Alceste roughly equals the distance between the Model T Ford and space flights. Katzer understood, however, how to make the Handel superb entertainment. He diverted attention from the static quality of Handel’s da capo arias. He added a stately five-man ensemble that roamed the lobby before curtain time and then participated in on-stage action as players of the melodica, the blow organ introduced by Hohner in the 1960s. In one case, the quintet even accompanied an aria.
Scene from Die Lybische Talestris [Photo by Gert Mothes courtesy of Oper Leipzig
Yet it was the quality of the cast and the exemplary playing of the pit ensemble that made this Admeto memorable. (The Gewandhaus Orchestra plays for Leipzig Opera.) Alceste, the most complex character in the drama, was sung by mezzo Soula Parassidis, a coloratura of impressive agility, who touchingly followed the figure through changing modes of loss, sorrow, fury and the desire for revenge. Hagen Matzeit — Admeto — is a male alto who sings with incredible ease, as does male countertenor Norman Reinhardt, who was engaging as the king’s brother Trasimede. And petite Elena Tokar made Antigona sympathetic — despite her confusion of feelings. The cast sang the German translation by Bettina Bartz and Werner Hintze as easily as if it had been the original Italian libretto. Both operas added special flavor to the Leipzig Bach Festival that dominated the one-time home of Bach when these performances were on stage. Major curiosity of the BachFest season was the performance of Johann David Heinchen’s Die Lybische Talestris, possibly the first opera performed in Leipzig over 300 years ago. Sigrid T’Hooft, who reconstructed the score from material in Berlin’s Singakademie directed students of Leipzig’s Hochschule für Musik und Theater in the production staged in the tiny Bad Lauchstädt theater, once directed by Goethe. Alas, the five-hour — and somewhat slipshod — performance on the bare-board seats of the tiny Bad Lauchstädt proved more Baroque than most had bargained for. The theater was largely empty when — long after midnight — the curtain fell. (Allegedly, Heinrich — 1683-1729 — was well acquainted with Bach.) One rarely hears of anyone who has gone to Leipzig for opera. It is clearly time that one does! Wes Blomster
Yet it was the quality of the cast and the exemplary playing of the pit ensemble that made this Admeto memorable. (The Gewandhaus Orchestra plays for Leipzig Opera.) Alceste, the most complex character in the drama, was sung by mezzo Soula Parassidis, a coloratura of impressive agility, who touchingly followed the figure through changing modes of loss, sorrow, fury and the desire for revenge. Hagen Matzeit — Admeto — is a male alto who sings with incredible ease, as does male countertenor Norman Reinhardt, who was engaging as the king’s brother Trasimede. And petite Elena Tokar made Antigona sympathetic — despite her confusion of feelings. The cast sang the German translation by Bettina Bartz and Werner Hintze as easily as if it had been the original Italian libretto. Both operas added special flavor to the Leipzig Bach Festival that dominated the one-time home of Bach when these performances were on stage.
Major curiosity of the BachFest season was the performance of Johann David Heinchen’s Die Lybische Talestris, possibly the first opera performed in Leipzig over 300 years ago. Sigrid T’Hooft, who reconstructed the score from material in Berlin’s Singakademie directed students of Leipzig’s Hochschule für Musik und Theater in the production staged in the tiny Bad Lauchstädt theater, once directed by Goethe.
Alas, the five-hour — and somewhat slipshod — performance on the bare-board seats of the tiny Bad Lauchstädt proved more Baroque than most had bargained for. The theater was largely empty when — long after midnight — the curtain fell. (Allegedly, Heinrich — 1683-1729 — was well acquainted with Bach.)
One rarely hears of anyone who has gone to Leipzig for opera. It is clearly time that one does!