Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Marlis Petersen as Lulu [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
05 Jun 2010

Lulu, New York

Alban Berg died in 1935, but his music was generations ahead of his time – as one could not help but conclude during the recent revival of Lulu at the Met whenever the vibraphone played “doorbell” music, reminding us of the intrusion of cell phones into theaters.

Alban Berg: Lulu

Lulu: Marlis Petersen; Countess Geschwitz: Anne Sofie von Otter; Alwa: Gary Lehman; Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper: James Morris; The Painter: Michael Schade; The Acrobat: Bradley Garvin; Schigolch: Gwynne Howell; Wardrobe Mistress/Schoolboy/Page: Ginger Costa-Jackson; The Prince/The Manservant/The Marquis: Graham Clark. Metropolitan Opera, conducted by Fabio Luisi. Performance of May 12.

Above: Marlis Petersen as Lulu

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

 

This came home painfully five minutes before the performance ended, at the tense moment when the humiliated Lulu entreats her latest client, a black-bag-toting Englishman named Jack, into her bedroom. Somebody’s watch began to beep and kept on beeping. Happily, the music at this point is pretty loud, depicting what Jack is doing to Lulu just off stage, and Fabio Luisi let it out and drowned the beeping.

Nothing given at the Met this not-very-triumphant year (with the possible exceptions of The Nose, From the House of the Dead and Ariadne auf Naxos) has been of the across-the-board excellence, brilliantly sung, flawlessly acted, sublimely played, appropriately staged, of this Lulu. This fact brings to mind questions: Why does Lulu – seldom a crowd-pleaser (though the house was packed for the performance I attended, all enthusiastic) – merit this level of care from the Met while such more traditional fare as Aida or Turandot or Der Fliegende Holländer or Tosca are allowed to sink or swim, survive on lingering reputation, the staging haphazard, the singing mediocre? Is it because Lulu, being notoriously difficult, gets extra attention? Is it because the Met cannot find anyone capable of singing Aida or Radames or Turandot, but can easily come up with Lulu and Dr. Schön? It’s difficult to believe a Lulu of the caliber of Marlis Petersen is to be found on every street corner of the opera world, and if she has been located and lured to the Met, why has there been hardly a decent Aida in decades? The production is there, and Great Isis knows the audience is there, eager to hear it.

Otter_Lulu.gifAnne Sofie von Otter as Countess Geschwitz

Well, enough about Aida: this was a Lulu to remember. John Dexter’s handsome thirty-year-old Jugendstil production, with its Austro-Hungarian curlicues, its air of Klimt-Schiele decadence, is still handsome enough to satisfy. The direction was largely appropriate, though characters occasionally sing of going out of doors when in fact they are climbing the staircase to an upper floor. Lulu behaved as if on a different wavelength from that of the men – and women – obsessed with her, and that is as it should be: she is their idol, their destroyer, their plaything, their posession. No one ever sees her as human, including Lulu herself, and when she does show signs of humanity, it’s far too late.

In a cast giving exceptional performances across the board, even in such minuscule roles as the pimp who tries to blackmail Lulu into entering a brothel in Cairo in Act III – Graham Clark, sinister and funny, as he was also as Lulu’s butler in Act II – and the pageboy who obligingly changes clothes with Lulu, allowing her to escape the pimp – Ginger Costa-Jackson, who manages the trick of looking and moving like a boy uncomfortably in drag – the star of the evening, besides Marlis Petersen’s Lulu, was Fabio Luisi, recently announced as the Met’s visiting music director, who once again demonstrated that his control, his musicianship, his dramatic flair rank every him every way as worthy as James Levine. This was a taut, elegant, alive performance. There was time to notice such witty details as the concertato in the final scene of Act I – when the various men in Lulu’s life savage each other vocally in an atonal parody of a bel canto sextet, while Lulu, the only treble voice on stage, seems to pay no attention to them.

Petersen, the vocal star of the Met’s Hamlet this spring, wherein she sang the most old-fashioned of suicidal mad scenes in a luscious, gratifying manner, might almost be another singer when she sings Lulu. Mind you, the part could hardly be farther from bel canto Ophélie – it is all Sprechstimme, high-flying taunting, snarling, giggling, dreaming phrases pointed here and there on the scale, all of them produced with dramatic intent. Lulu, the child of nature, is no sensualist like Carmen or Musetta: she likes the physicality of sex. She does not develop a soul, a self, until she becomes desperate in Act III, having lost her money, her husbands, her position, almost her freedom. The transformation in Peteren’s vocal delivery in this act was matched by her movements; her entire figure seemed that of another woman, yearning no longer for sex but for death – the equal and opposite urge, as Freud might have suggested to Berg, his contemporary.

LULU_Act_I_0654.gifA scene from Act I with James Courtney as the Theater Manager, James Morris as Dr. Schön, Marlis Petersen in the title role, Gary Lehman as Alwa, Graham Clark as the Prince, and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Wardrobe Mistress

James Morris seemed on the ropes when he sang Claudius in Hamlet, his voice dry and tending towards wobble. As Dr. Schön, Lulu’s most possessive possessor, he sang with authority and irony. Each syllable was acted, and each sung note had a degree of menace and self-loathing. A very classy act. Anne-Sofie von Otter, whom I have found dull in more conventional parts, sang a most affecting Countess Geschwitz. Gary Lehman was stocky but sympathetic as Alwa Schön. Bradley Garvin brought particular menace not only to his movements but to each phrase of his vigorous baritone as the Acrobat. It was a cast without a flaw, a Lulu to remember forever, the new standard.

John Yohalem

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):