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

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Richard Wagner: Siegfried
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.

Richard Wagner: Siegfried

Siegfried: Lance Ryan, Mime: Gerhard Siegel, Der Wanderer: Juha Uusitalo, Alberich: Franz-Josef Kapellmann, Fafner: Stephen Milling, Erda: Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Brünnhilde: Jennifer Wilson, Waldvogel: Marina Zyatkova, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Zubin Mehta, conductor.

Unitel Classica 701004 [Blu-Ray]

$35.99  Click to buy

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

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):