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.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
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!