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

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

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):