09 Jun 2010
Valencia Ring: Siegfried.
Siegfried is a challenging opera to stage effectively, and the presentation by La Fura dels Baus in Zubin Mehta’s new Ring cycle merits attention on various counts.
Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.
Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments: “I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
Siegfried is a challenging opera to stage effectively, and the presentation by La Fura dels Baus in Zubin Mehta’s new Ring cycle merits attention on various counts.
For one, the musical performance is solid, with a cast that involves some of the finest Wagner singers currently performing the repertoire. Recorded live in June 2008 and June 2009 at the Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia”, Valencia, this recording makes available the innovative staging by La Fura dels Baus, Carlus Padrissa, stage director, in its stunning conception of the work. The machinery depicted during the prelude to the opera gives a sense of the details involved with the production, which are accentuated by the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds that accompany Mime’s opening lines. The science-fiction connotations of the opening scene fits well into the libretto, with the forge becoming a kind of factory that serves as a foil for the more nature-oriented personality of the young hero Siegfried. As Siegfried, Canadian tenor Lance Ryan makes his character vivid from the start, as he collides with the machinations of Mime. Here, Mehta’s tempos and subtlety shifting of dynamics contributes to the sense of the text, so that it is not only heard clearly, but conveys the tone of the libretto. Ryan’s tone is vibrant and continually fresh; he seems tireless in this role, which seems to suit his voice well. At the same time, his presence on stage involves movement appropriate to the text, especially in the more extended passages that serve to convey the details of his upbringing to the point where the opera begins. Ryan gives his character some welcome depth; raised innocent of his heritage, he knows the questions to ask as he draws information from Mime. His pacing of the forging of the broken sword Nothung brings further details into the sonic portrayal of the hero, which matches well the strong images on stage as the scene culminates.
As far as the production the projections reinforce the text, with the cartoon-like birds suggesting the character of Disney’s classic presentations of European fairy tales. With the floor-to-ceiling screens, the images are appropriately large, as should occur in a production like this. Equally effective is the projection of Sieglinde, which emerges discretely when Mime talks about Siegfried’s birth. This image brings the visual world of the production of Die Walküre into the opera without intruding on it unnecessarily - it offers a visual Leitmotif. The tiled views of Sieglinde presented later also work well and fit into the text. These scenes intersect nicely with the three-dimensional objects in this production, as occurs with the reference to Nibelheim and the reprise of images from Das Rheingold.
Yet it is the singing that makes this Siegfried memorable, not only the Ryan’s portrayal of the title character, but also through Gerhard Siegel’s thoughtful characterization of Mime. Siegel is certainly comfortable with this role and interacts with Ryan well. As the Wanderer, Juha Uusitalo brings his conception of Wotan into this opera. As much as his physical presence stands out in this staging, Uusitalo’s vocal characterization anchors his part in this production. The riddle scene is nicely staged, but more than that, performed with appropriate nuance to make it fit into the dramatic structure of the work.
As Alberich, Franz-Joseph Kapellmann is impressive at the beginning of the second act, not only in his solo passages, but also in his interaction with Uusitalo as the Wanderer. The recognition of the fateful consequences of his action is apparent in Kapellmann’s acting, an element that must come off with the conviction found here. Black Alberich, as the Wandered calls him, is not the same as the character was at the end of Das Rheingold, and here Wotan has also become transformed. Uusitalo is similarly changed, and Uusitalo demonstrates in reaction to Alberich’s resolve to rule the world. This, in turn, sets the stage for Siegfried’s entrance, an element cued in Wagner’s music and reinforced subtly by the images projected on the background of the stage.
Here the image of Fafner’s cave is a wonderful mixture of stagecraft and projected imagines. The use of blood-read hues with the steel-grays and black tones quite vivid, and the motion conveyed by the projections gives depth to the scene. Mime’s description of the dragon neither increases nor diminishes the embodiment of the creature, but appropriately helps to point up the character of Siegfried. In the scenes that follow the dragon finds shape gradually, with Stephen Milling giving it excellent voice as he offers a well-paced reading of Fafner’s role. Here the actual costume allotted Milling blends into larger scene, but his voice dominates with the fine support of the orchestra led by Mehta.
In a similar way the Waldvogel is larger than life, a Cirque-du-Soleil presence on the stage, with Marina Zyatkova supported nicely by her fantastic wings. The sometimes disembodied voice fits well into the depiction offered here, and Zyatkova sounds all the part of the supra-human creature who guides Siegfried through the conflicts he must face as the drama of the second act takes shape. Yet when Alberich is slain, the confirmation by Zyatkova offers a shift in tone, which stands in opposition to the more sinister opening of the act. This musical transformation in the second act has been reinforced by the staging, such that the elements involved with presenting the opera come together in a very Wagnerian sense. At the same time, the fanciful shapes and colors with which the second act ends also bring the colorful music to life.
Like the other recordings in this Ring cycle, the crisp images match the buoyant sound, and a telling point for the latter is the opening of the second act, where the “dragon” motif must sound subtly. The resulting sound in this recording is appropriate soft and always apparent. In fact it is nicely played here, and the presentation benefits from crosscuts between the orchestra and the stage as the first scene of the second act takes shape. In a similar way, the third act has its own challenges, and the sound at the beginning of that part of the drama benefits from the Blu-Ray technology. Without the strong sonic component, the images would not be as compelling. Here, too the snowy crags and mount shapes that frame the Wanderer are stunning. The scene alone shows how filmed images and live action combine effectively to culminate in the interaction between Wotan and Erda. In waking Erda, Wotan seems to descend to find her, and Uusitalo’s intensity is laudable. Catherine Wyn-Rogers gives Erda through her clear diction and well-phrased lines. While not as dark a voice as found with some Erdas cast in other Ring cycles, Wyn-Rogers is effective for the timbre she gives the character.
As appropriate, this production of Siegfried culminates in the final scenes in which the hero overcomes challenges to find Brünnhilde and then awakens her from magic sleep to similarly enchanted attraction. The dialogue between Siegfried and the Wanderer relies on traditional stagecraft, with supernumeraries suggesting the physical hindrances, and the simple movements of those extras allow the two principals to stand out in the scene, enhanced by closeups. Lance Ryan shows the confidence appropriate to Siegfried, and he uses hjis fresh, resilient voice well to suggest his fearlessness that culminates in his breaking Wotan’s spear. Ryan’s delivery of the lines after Wotan’s departure verge on shrill, the orchestral interlude that follows afford him time to rest before the extended scene with Brünnhilde.
In this scene, the close-ups suggest film more than filmed opera, while showing the full effective of the interactive staging between projects and live action. The filmed magic fire reaches over Siegfried to suggest the hero’s accomplishment, while the lighted torches of the men surrounding Brünnhilde dispel gradually to allow Siegfried to awaken his eventual partner. At the same time the close camera allows the Nibelung’s ring to stand out on Siegfried’s neck. That same intimate viewpoint reveals a joyfully awakening Brünnhilde, whom Jennifer Wilson depicts with exuberant voice and gestures. As Brünnhilde sheds the accoutrements of the valkyrie, Wilson sets the stage for the passage “Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich” giving a sense of the humanity her character now carries into the drama. The performance is full of vocal details that make it compelling, along with visual cues that are not always possible to view in a conventional staging. The final part of the scene is triumphant for the nuances that Wilson introduces in a dynamic performance that culminates in the duet with Ryan as Siegfried, as the motifs associated with Brünnhilde’s existence as a valkyrie transform into expressions of human passion.
This production of Siegfried builds on the previous two operas in this cycle, and delivers a convincing presentation of the opera. Zubin Mehta offers a fine reading of the score, with the technical details and musical expression fitting to the work. More than that, the response of the audience at end shows how the performance in this production was indeed moving. The extended bows are a nice touch, which reinforces the aspect of live performance in this recording. At the end the entire orchestra is on stage for a well-deserved ovation. Those interested in the details of the production can consult the bonus, short documentary on this production, which contains some extended comments by Zubin Mehta that add to the overall effect.
James L. Zychowicz