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 Performances

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Paul Groves (Hoffmann) and Erin Wall (Giulietta) [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera]
22 Jul 2010

Hoffmann Takes A Hit In Santa Fe

Despite its length and pretentions to being serious opera, Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, dating from the 1880s, remains a leaky vessel adrift on a sea of self-fulfilling prophesies of doom.

Jacques Offenbach: Tales of Hoffmann

Stella / Olympia: Erin Wall; Antonia / Giulietta: Erin Wall; Nicklausse: Kate Lindsey; Voice of Antonia's Mother: Jill Grove; Hoffmann: Paul Groves; Spalanzani: Mark Schowalter; Lindorf / Coppelius: Wayne Tigges; Dr. Miracle / Dapertutto: Wayne Tigges; Andres / Cochenille: David Cangelosi; Frantz / Pittichinaccio: David Cangelosi; Crespel / Luther: Harold Wilson. Conductor: Stephen Lord. Director: Christopher Alden. Scenic Designer: Allen Moyer. Costume Designer: Constance Hoffman. Lighting Designer: Pat Collins.

Above: Paul Groves as Hoffmann and Erin Wall as Giulietta

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

 

While gifted with some lovely melodic writing and opportunities for grand operatic singing, the story of a depressed alcoholic poet (“he never drinks water,” one line has it), and his tales of futile amorous adventure often seem over-stuffed with dialogue and redundant action. This opera is expensive and difficult to produce, and in the end bears only a negative message.

Just what Hoffmann’s message is has long been a subject of discussion. My view is that once the pretty surface of melody and musical charm is peeled back, below lies only vegetable cellulose, or nothing much. Some will argue that romantic fantasy is at the core of the piece; others find 19th century existential angst; Richard Wagner condemned it for a lack of “moral” value. I would tend to express it more in terms of the bad psychology of a neurotically disturbed man who through the confusions of alcohol and dissipation dooms his own romantic ambitions. However any of that may be, it is best to take Hoffmann as an exercise in visual pleasure and melodic delight — if there are singers and producers to make it happen, and a producer and music director to give it a light and stylish touch.

_MG_4874.gifErin Wall as Antonia

In Santa Fe Opera’s heavy-handed production, the show turned out to be badly cast and suffocatingly over-produced. None of the singers was adequate to the task at hand; the voices were minor or flawed. The leading tenor, Paul Groves, the key figure in the opera, who looked and played well, seemed to have no upper register and was often short on volume. Professional that he is, Groves soldiered through, but he was far from the real thing, in this most lyrical of big French tenor parts.

Canadian soprano Erin Wall assumed the neigh-impossible task of singing the three major soprano roles the opera requires, the coloratura doll of Act I, Olympia, the lyric soprano of Act II, Antonia and the soprano or mezzo part of the Venetian courtesan, Giulietta, in Act III. She did not have the light agility or highest tones required by Olympia, as Santa Fe’s management must surely have known, and thus it seems a decision was made to turn her Olympia into Gilbert & Sullivan camp — if she did not have the clean runs or pin-point high notes, well mark it up to technical difficulties in her manufacturer Spalanzani’s design. All in good fun? Ho hum. In later acts Wall fared better, and demonstrated a solid top, through high-C, as Antonia though not much tonal allure or play of color; her voice seemed to thicken under pressure, which was much of the time. As an actress Wall was never more than bland.

_MG_4336.gifKate Lindsey as Nicklausse, Wayne Tigges as Councilor Lindorf and Students

The only other singer I will address now is the bass-baritone Wayne Tigges, a last minute replacement for an ailing colleague in the all-consuming and vocally demanding roles of Offenbach’s four villains, who are in every scene, with much to sing, and comprise the engine that drives the thrust of “evil” though the show — that is quite aside from demon rum. Tigges proved a boy sent to do a man’s job, and while earnest and hard-working he did not have the magnetic personality or force or maturity of voice to claim the part. He needs coaching in menace with John Malcovich.

With an inadequate tenor and bass, and soprano who was short on stage charisma and vocal interest, Offenbach’s score was not well-served. I have to say, and am sorry to do so, that Stephen Lord, music director of Opera Theatre of St. Louis, was a cut-and-dried conductor in the pit. While his orchestra played well enough, far too often Maestro Lord’s direction lacked vitality, dragged where it should have sparkled, left dead moments and, in general, lacked shape, flow and accent. Disappointing.

Now we come to Santa Fe’s stage producer, one of the most famous bad-boys of opera, Christopher Alden — who fully lived up to his reputation. I am going to keep this short — who needs a list of horrors? Alden’s direction was everywhere fussy and mannered, secondary characters moved in slow motion, slithered across the stage floor, pranced about their heads in picture frames, joined hands in a merry trio of dancing — and so on, endlessly. In the final moments of Act II, gilded high-style Second Empire opera boxes emerged from stage right holding an audience eager to applaud the diva Antonia, who had expired moments before. Ah so! We were watching a play within a play (who knew?) — and the Second Act, which Offenbach had already provided with an unnecessary anti-climax following Antonia’s death, offered yet another development as Antonia arose from the dead and took her bows. Now, let’s see, where did that plot go?

_MG_5563.gifPaul Groves as Hoffmann, Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse, Wayne Tigges as Captain Dapertutto, Erin Wall as Giulietta, David Cangelosi as Pitichinaccio and Darik Knutsen as Peter Schlémil (standing)

Costumes? Elegant, lavish with Victorian flounces, bustles and ruffles everywhere. Set? Not bad, actually: it all transpired in Luther’s Tavern, a high handsome room with five massive beams across the ceiling, a dark wood dado around the room and white plastered walls that showed off various plaques and hangings. Platforms with minimal trappings for scenes following the Tavern’s opening one (the Kleinsach scene), were brought in and out; they proved effective, and in the Venetian scene featured a massive painting in the style of Turner depicting the grand canal. It worked!

Maybe we will write more about all this later in the season; these things have a way of ripening, and several of the secondary players deserve attention for some were excellent. For now SFO’s Tales of Hoffmann is a game hardly worth the candle.

© 2010 James A. Van Sant/Santa Fe

Click here for a contrary opinion.

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):