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.
“Hi! I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
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