Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.



Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
07 Jun 2010

Tchaikowsky Trilogy in Lyon

In Europe only a few theater stage directors are operatically more famous than Peter Stein (pronounced Pay-tear), to mention Sir Peter Hall, Patrice Chereau and Giorgio Strehler as examples.

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin; Mazeppa; Pique Dame

Eugene Onegin — Onegin: Alexy Markov; Tatiana: Olga Mykytenko; Lenski: Edgaras Montvidas; Olga: Elena Maximova; Prince Gremin: Michail Schelomianski; Larina Marianna: Tarasova; Filipievna: Margarita Nekrasova; Mr. Triquet: Jeff Martin; Zaretski: Alexey Tikhormirov; A captain: Paolo Stupenengo; A peasant: Fabrice Constans. Conductor: Kirill Petrenko. Mise en scène: Peter Stein. Scenery: Ferdinand Wögerbauer. Costumes: Anna Maria Neinreich. Lights: Duane Schuler. Choreography: Lynne Hockney.

Mazeppa — Mazeppa: Nikolaï Putilin; Kotchoubeï: Anatoli Kotscherga; Liioubov: Marianna Tarasova; Maria: Olga Guryakova; Andreï: Misha Didyk; Orlik: Alexy Tikhomirov; Iskra: Edgaras Montvidas; A Drunk Cosaque: Jeff Martin. Chorus and Orchestra Opéra de Lyon. Conductor: Kirill Petrenko. Mise en scène: Peter Stein. Scenery: Ferdinand Wögerbauer. Costumes: Anna Maria Heinreidch. Lighting: Duane Schuler.

Pique Dame — Hermann: Misha Didyk; Tomski: Nikolai Putilin; Eletski: Alexey Markov; Tchekalinsky: Jeff Martin; Sourine: Alexey Tikhomirov; La Comtesse: Marianna Tarasova; Lisa: Olga Guryakova; Pauline: Elena Maximova; Governess: Margarita Nekrasova; Tchaplitsky: Didier Roussel; Naroumov: Paolo Stupenengo; Master of Ceremonies Brian Bruce; Macha: Lou. Orchestra, Chorus and Children's Chorus of the Opéra de Lyon. Conductor: Kirill Petrenko. Mise en scène: Peter Stein. Scenery: Ferdinand Wögerbauer. Costumes: Anna Maria Heinreich. Lumières: Duane Schuler.


These directors made their primary operatic contributions in the previous century. Mr. Stein too made forays into opera back then (notably a hugely successful Otello at Welsh National Opera in 1986 and a notoriously unsuccessful Das Rheingold at the Paris Opera also in the ’80’s), but his major explorations of the genre have occurred in this first decade of the new century, and at the Opéra National de Lyon.

Not to forego mentioning Boris Godunov coming this fall at the Met.

Besides Pelleas et Melisande, Falstaff and Lulu in Lyon Mr. Stein has staged the three primary Tchaikowsky operas in the intimate Opéra Nouvel [named after its architect Jean Nouvel] — Mazeppa in 2006, Eugene Onegin in 2007 and Pique Dame in 2008. Just now these thrilling operas have had cyclic performances as a trilogy, certainly the crown of the France wide, year long celebration of Russian art.

Peter Stein is a consummately musical director. In the most pristine moments of his stagings (at the premieres, less so in these revivals) the staging detail is so precise that even the smallest motion of a hand resonates musically, the spacial relationships between two (or more) singers are so precisely defined that musical tensions are held at their maximum. Movement is abstracted and directional, like musical line.

Mr. Stein ignores the presence of an audience, creating a fourth wall in his performing space, thus allowing a singer to move down stage center and face this wall, privately voicing his or her emotions with no consciousness that this wall is transparent. Peter Stein’s stage world is complete in itself. In its most pristine form you, the audience witness a dramatic privacy, immediate in its emotional import and highly distilled in its expression. At once cold and hot. Riveting.

Designer Ferdinand Wôgerbauer, longtime Peter Stein scenic collaborator, created the physical stages for the trilogy, spaces that at first seem like comic book frames in their austerity, but realized so that the singer is the primary shape on the stage, and therefore the single expressive element. The space delineates a location and its boundaries but does not compete with a singer’s presence or his words or movements by describing a surrounding. Though when, rarely, there is furniture or an implement it is very real, because the singer is real.

Costume collaborator Anne Marie Heinreich contributes to the impression of comic book vignette by her use of bold primary color, in shapes that are large, and always specifically evocative of period. Of Peter Stein’s collaborators only American lighting designer Duane Schuler does not come from theater, his provenance is big-time opera. Lighting is crucial in the Peter Stein opera language because the singer or singers are all there is — though they are small they must be big, resonating in light. Mr. Schuler has mastered the technic of projecting Mr. Stein’s tiny visual frames onto the operatic scale.

Peter Stein’s musical collaborator for the trilogy is conductor Kirill Petrenko. Russian born, Viennese trained Mo. Petrenko is a consummately theatrical musician, magnifying the smallest instrumental details into revelations of emotional color, his orchestra becoming a raw nerve ending in direct contact with Peter Stein’s tense visual frames. Mo. Petrenko supplies the driven tempos that crucially underpin the careful progression of these frames. The inspired Petrenko/Stein connection illuminates the supercharged Tchaikowsky genius, respectively heating it up and cooling it down. [N.B. Petrenko will not conduct the Met Boris (entrusted to Gergiev), contenting himself, surely, with a Bayreuth Ring in 2013. Ironically Stein was offered a Bayreuth Ring in 1976, but the Wagners refused to uncover the pit, so it went to Chereau].

Comic book is an imperfect metaphor since the Tchaikowsky operas do not tell simple stories. In fact they do not tell stories at all since Tchaikowsky assumes that we, as all good Russians already know these famous Pushkin stories. Tchaikowsky drops us into the crucial scenes of these stories, just when something horrible is about to happen — he calls them lyric scenes rather than operas.

Taken in sequence the first of the trilogy is Onegin, a domestic comedy that goes bad. Mazeppa follows, an epic tale that clothes wrenching familial concerns, and finally Pique Dame is a horror opera, pure Guignol. Each has one or more suicides (Maria in Tchaikowsky’s original Mazeppa version kills herself), a gambler who loses, a bloody fight between two men, and a woman who loses love and life (Tatiana succumbs to the bourgeoisie, a synonym of death in many circles then [and now]).

With its two sets of lovers Eugene Onegin (1879) is like Puccini’s La Boheme (1898), but Puccini’s lovers are so busy dealing with immediate crises that there is little psychology and no philosophy. The miracle of Tchaikowsky is that within heightened emotional immediacy we still participate intellectually — we struggle to understand why. The why can be psychological, political or philosophical, or all three. In a Peter Stein production we feel and we understand these sometimes indefinable depths to a shattering degree.

Just now in Lyon (May 14) the focus was on Lenski, Lithuanian tenor Edgaras Montvidas, whose youth, immediacy of voice and tall physical stature commanded our attention, and gave us the vibrancy of young life and love. Onegin, Russian baritone Alexey Markov, was but the motor of the scenes, driving Lenski to his death and Tatiana to her unenviable bourgeois fate (surely soon to join Desperate Housewives). Onegin was little more than a symptom of Russian social malaise, who had finally just a glimpse of an overpowering primal emotion before he too was crushed by the dullness of bourgeois life. Not that we cared as Tchaikowsky had given him little to sing.

Tatiana’s letter scene resonated with very real adolescent energy bouncing between obsession and determination, splendidly realized by Ukrainian soprano Olga Mykytenko to brilliant musical detail from Mo. Petrenko’s pit. Gremin’s ball was a brisk Polonaise made leaden by the blank stares of its dancers through Peter Stein’s fourth wall. Tatiana, now the Prince’s wife, had become matronly, her youthful dreams lost to the weight of social responsibility. She wreaked her revenge with little regret. The curtain fell as the tall, handsome, dull, vocally lackluster Prince Gremin, Russian bass Michail Schelomianski, towered over Onegin, mocking his futile gesture.

If Eugene Onegin is the thirty-nine year old Tchaikowsky at his most inspired, Mazeppa found the forty-four year old composer frustrated by a problematic libretto of his own making. Peter Stein took it all at face value, knowing that epic is episodic and that Puskin’s epic had been left in the dust anyway, so he did his best. This 2006 production then traveled to the Edinburgh Festival where only the most prestigious production are hosted.

Mazeppa is the Ukrainian general who betrayed Peter the Great, but it didn’t matter because the Russians whipped the Swedes at the battle of Poltava, so Mazeppa, a Swedish ally, lost his gamble to liberate the Ukraine from Russian rule. Tchaikowsky took care of all this in a symphonic interlude, and Peter Stein dismissed it by projecting a huge battle painting (with a heavy gold frame) in commemoration of this momentous bit of history.

Tchaikowsky’s muse was a hopeless one, here the eighteen year-old daughter of a rich Ukrainian is smitten by an older man, General Mazeppa, who unlike the much younger Onegin, requites her love, smitten himself. The rich Ukrainian and his wife are most unhappy to lose their beautiful daughter to this treacherous old man.

There were some great scenes (May 13). The rich Ukrainian had a pow wow with his friends where they decided to take a gamble — if they betrayed Mazeppa’s intentions to Peter, maybe Peter would dispose of Mazeppa, thereby liberating his daughter. Her childhood lover, Andrei, is the ardent messenger of this intelligence to Peter (Russian tenor Misha Didyk is always ardent to the hilt). The mother, seated among the women, was artfully picked out by beautiful light to deliver her plea (though the mother, Russian mezzo Marianna Tarasova, soon lost her voice so she did not present herself at the curtain calls).

Vintage Peter Stein (after Onegin and Pique Dame we are now experts) was the confrontation between the daughter Maria, beautifully sung by Russian soprano Olga Guryakova (who moved her large voice quite effectively in pianissimo singing) and Mazeppa, sung by Siberian baritone Nikolai Putilin, physically a cross between Robert E. Lee and Napoleon. This balcony scene had no movement, save small motions of hands in the tense distances between its protagonists, with eloquent and elegant music soaring from Mo. Petrenko’s pit.

Well, Mazeppa arrested the rich Ukrainian and the messenger (we assumed) and then had no choice but to behead them, but not before the disheveled prisoners sang a prayer. For some reason this scene evoked a chorus of boos from the audience. As it turned out it was not the messenger (Misha Didyk) who was beheaded though in the distressed costume it could have been, but a minor character (Iskra) sung by Edgaras Montvidas, resurrected the very next night as our superb Lenski (only of course to die again).

Death scenes must always be snowy in Russia. Maria’s childhood lover, Andrei (the ardent Mr. Didyk) confused us (we thought he was dead) by appearing on a snowy hillside where Mazeppa soon passed fleeing Poltava (the real Poltava battle was fought in scorching heat). Mazeppa thwarts Andrei’s pathetic attempt at revenge, and Andrei dies in the now mad Maria’s arms though she has not the foggiest idea who he is. Likewise Lenski — once shot dead he very dramatically and very slowly slid down a very steep snow covered slope, and Liza in Pique Dame threw herself into the Neva with snow flying everywhere, though it took awhile.

The big scene was the lament of Kotchoubei (the rich Ukrainian) tortured in his prison cell. Sung by Ukrainian bass Anatoli Kotscherga (the only surviving member of the original cast) in a stage frame greatly contracted into a narrow vertical slit — a brilliant scenic resolution. Mr. Kotchoubei is basically a character singer whose huge, bear-like physical presence and inelegant vocal delivery evoke a comic presence. This casting will have been Peter Stein’s, and perhaps it was Mr. Stein’s way of calling attention to the theatrical precariousness of Mazeppa. Mr. Stein can be very subtle, so just maybe.

Or maybe it was too much Tchaikowsky in one sitting, or too much Peter Stein. Finally it was all wonderful, especially the high level, dedicated singing actors, the vision and technique of a master director, and above all else, a dynamite conductor.

For Peter Stein’s Pique Dame, please see my review of a performance in 2008, now archived on my website

Michael Milenski

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):