Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Cosima Wagner — The Lady of Bayreuth
21 Jul 2010

Cosima Wagner — The Lady of Bayreuth

Originally published in German as Herrin des Hügels, das Leben der Cosima Wagner (Siedler, 2007), this new book by Oliver Hilmes is an engaging portrait of one of the most important women in music during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Cosima Wagner — The Lady of Bayreuth

By Oliver Hilmes; Translated by Stewart Spencer. Yale University Press, 2010.

ISBN: 9780300152159

$26.40  Click to buy

Famous as the wife of the pianist-conductor Hans von Bülow, who ran off to marry the composer Richard Wagner, Cosima was the daughter of Franz Liszt and eventually the matriarch who forged her last husband’s legacy at Bayreuth. Hilmes begins his study of Cosima in the present at the annual Bayreuth Festival, which continues to attract audiences. In explaining his interest in Cosima, Hilmes identifies his sources (pp. 349-50), which are in this case voluminous and extend beyond the woman’s diaries, which have already been published in German and English translation. This is an account of an exceptional woman, who transformed conventional widowhood into a living monument to her husband’s memory and also shaped music performance internationally through her development of the Festival at Bayreuth.

Hilmes divides his work into chapters that cover Cosima’s life logically, started with her early life as the illegitimate daughter of Liszt and the French author Marie d’Agoult. He follows with an account of Cosima’s relationship with Liszt’s one-time student Hans von Bülow, which ultimately resulted in what Hilmes calls a marriage of convenience. Here Hilmes is good to show the misunderstandings that have emerged over the years, and to allow some of the documents to speak for themselves, which emerges neatly in his coverage of an episode in which Bülow encountered Cosima with Wagner on the street (pp. 58-59), a scene which has a different character depending on whom one reads. Hilmes’ approach opens the door to a fresh account of Cosima’s affair with Wagner, her divorce from Bülow, and her eventual marriage with Wagner. This portion of the book is of interest for the subtext that emerges in the section headings. Since Bülow conducted the premiere of Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, the presence of that title as a subhead (p. 77) offers a useful point of reference. Likewise, other references to literature and other topics emerges as with “Human, All Too Human” (p. 112) and others. Despite the subtle references, Hilmes is nowhere arch or judgmental. He discusses the sense of guilt Cosmia felt in the way she treated Bülow sensitively. Elsewhere Hilmes shows how active a role Cosima played in Wagner’s life, and this anticipates the role she would take in shaping Bayreuth as an institution later in her own life.

The account of Cosima’s life with Wagner is lively and engaging. The freshness with which Hilmes approaches the episode invites an investigation of the sources and also a rereading of those famous diaries of Cosima in light of the perspectives that are found here. Wagner’s death is depicted with proper reverence, yet shown to be the turning point in what emerges as a kind of musical cult (p. 158), as Cosima identifies herself almost entirely with Wagner and also their home — she even uses Wahnfried as an eponym in correspondence with her daughter Daniela. This is a fascinating aspect of Cosima’s life, and it merits attention in Hilmes treatment of it. In turn, it sets the stage for the international attention that reaches Bayreuth and the role that the Festival takes in shaping German culture. The question of antisemitism emerges in this book, and its treatment is appropriately open; elsewhere Hitler’s relationship with Wagner’s music comes into play, as does the ways in which Cosima shaped the future of Bayreuth as she approached her later years. Hilmes discusses Siegfried Wagner sufficiently and also treats some of the family relationships with a deft hand. As found in other books, the Wagners are a subject that merit separate treatment, and Hilmes offers a nice balance in discussing the family matters, while always retaining the focus on Cosima as his subject.

Part of the attraction of this biography is the lively style the Stewart Spencer brings to the translation. It reads well, and flows with a natural, authorial sense of the language. Spencer seems as engaged in the subject as the author, and that is due to his own work on Wagner and his music. For these and other reasons, this biography has much to recommend for those interested in Cosima and her hand in shaping one of the important institutions in German music in the last century.

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):