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

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

Ilker Arcayürek at Wigmore Hall

The first thing that struck me in this Wigmore Hall recital was the palpable sincerity of Ilker Arcayürek’s artistry. Sincerity is not everything, of course; what we think of as such may even be carefully constructed artifice, although not, I think, here.

Lisette Oropesa sings at Tucson Desert Song Festival

On January 30, 2018, Arizona Opera and the Tucson Desert Song Festival presented a recital by lyric soprano Lisette Oropesa in the University of Arizona’s Holsclaw Hall. Looking like a high fashion model in her silver trimmed midnight-blue gown, the singer and pianist Michael Borowitz began their program with Pablo Luna’s Zarzuela aria, “De España Vengo.” (“I come from Spain”).

Schubert songs, part-songs and fragments: three young singers at the Wigmore Hall

Youth met experience for this penultimate instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s Schubert: The Complete Songs series, and the results were harmonious and happy. British soprano Harriet Burns, German tenor Ferdinand Keller and American baritone Harrison Hintzsche were supportively partnered by lieder ‘old-hand’, Graham Johnson, and we heard some well-known and less familiar songs in this warmly appreciated early-afternoon recital.

Brent Opera: Nabucco

Brent Opera’s Nabucco was a triumph in that it worked as a piece of music theatre against some odds, and was a good evening out.

LPO: Das Rheingold

It is, of course, quite an achievement in itself for a symphony orchestra to perform Das Rheingold or indeed any of the Ring dramas. It does not happen very often, not nearly so often as it should; for given Wagner’s crucial musico-historical position, this is music that should stand at the very centre of their repertoires – just as Beethoven should at the centre of opera orchestras’.

William Tell in Palermo

This was the infamous production that was booed to extinction at Covent Garden. Palermo’s Teatro Massimo now owns the production.

The Bandits in Rome

AKA I masnadieri, rare early Verdi, though not as rare as Alzira. In 1847 London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre  commissioned the newly famous Verdi to write this opera for the London debut of Swedish soprano Jenny Lind.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Act III from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Ferdinand Leeke)
19 Jul 2010

Meistersinger at the Proms

The BBC Proms brought the Welsh National Opera’s hit Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg to the Royal Albert Hall and to the world, via international broadcast.

Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Walther von Stolzing: Raymond Very; Eva: Amanda Roocroft; Magdalene: Anna Burford; David: Andrew Tortise; Hans Sachs: Bryn Terfel; Sixtus Beckmesser: Christopher Purves; Veit Pogner: Brindley Sherratt; Fritz Kothner: Simon Thorpe; Kunz Vogelgesang: Geraint Dodd; Konrad Nachtigall: David Stout; Ulrich Eisslinger: Andrew Rees; Herman Ortel: Owen Webb; Balthasar Zorn: Rhys Meirion; Augustin Moser: Stephen Rooke; Hans Folz: Arwel Huw Morgan; Hans Schwarz: Paul Hodges; Nightwatchman: David Soar. Conductor: Lothar Koenigs. Prom 2, BBC Proms 2010. Royal Albert Hall, London. 17th July 2010.

Above: Act III from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Ferdinand Leeke)

 

Bryn Terfel sings his first Hans Sachs this season. Anything Terfel appears in will elicit ecstatic praise because he’s a national hero. He’s iconic, but you don’t have to be Welsh or British to adore him. His sheer presence made Prom 2 unmissable, even for those new to Wagner. A good introduction to the composer and his music.

Terfel was, of course, magnificent. Hans Sachs is an ideal vehicle for his talents. Terfel’s forceful timbre suits the “public” Hans Sachs, revered Meistersinger and shaper of public opinion. The Meistersingers represent civic pride and power: Wagnerian singing is often cursed by “park and bark”. Fortunately Terfel realizes that there’s a lot more to Sachs than public persona. Sachs is a poet after all, and a shoemaker — solitary professions, unlike being a Town Clerk. Notice how Wagner keeps Sachs in relative reserve until Act One, Scene Three.

Terfel’s finest moments thus came in moments where Sachs is on his own, in his workshop, relating to others one to one. “Was duftet doch der Flieder” let Terfel sing quietly. Declamation isn’t Sachs’s style. Terfel’s “Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!” could have had more world-weary pathos, and more delicacy on words like “Der Flieder”. The Elder tree after all, is critical to the whole opera, for it means new growth, just as Walther von Stoltzing brings new ideas to the Meistersingers. Johannesnacht is Hans Sachs’s name-day, to men of his time a potent symbol. But perhaps I quibble, because the Proms reaches mass audiences. Better that Terfel inspires audiences to listen more and discover Wagner in their own time.

Terfel looks the part, physically overwhelming Christopher Purves’s Beckmesser. Terfel’s a big man, but he’s nimble on his feet when he has to be, dancing a merry jig around Purves. What a good idea to incorporate this detail from the full staging into concert performance! It’s invigorating. Sachs may be old, but he’s on the ball. That’s why he sees Walther’s potential.

This Beckmesser, though, easily stands muster against Terfel’s Sachs. Christopher Purves has a real gift for character singing. He moves about in quick, tense gestures, which amplify the acid-brightness of his singing. Beckmesser isn’t an outsider, he’s a Meistersinger and civic leader, an “insider” if there ever was one, obsessed with rules and status and keeping newcomers out. Purves’s Beckmesser is a fool, but too cheerful to be evil. His “songs” are done as amusing parody rather than grotesque. The harpist who really plays the tune of the lute make it sound quite beautiful in a quirky way.

There’s also a lot more to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg than the nationalistic overtones shamelessly hijacked by the Third Reich. So much for their “respect” for Wagner. “Die heil’gen Deutsche Kunst” meant something completely different to Hans Sachs, living as he did during the Reformation, when Germany was being torn apart in the struggle between Lutheran (German) and Catholic (Foreign) values. That’s why Sachs was interested in German identity.

Wagner was doing a Luther, too, trying to develop a new kind of music theatre, based on German tradition, as opposed to French and Italian opera. Germany didn’t exist as nation-state until 1871 — several years after Meistersinger was written. It was a concept with many positive aspects, supported by many for its modernizing potential. This makes the rise of the Third Reich even more troubling, for it is a paradigm of society.

Prom 2 Meistersinger reflected Sachs’s concept of Germania, not Hitler’s. In the WNO production, images of German cultural heroes through the ages are projected onto the stage, reminding us that “holy German art” goes back a thousand years and has produced men like Bach and Goethe. And Art is holy because of what it is, ultimately greater than nations.

Walther von Stoltzing is the real outsider in Nuremberg, having learned singing from nature, from birds in the woods (though he read Vogelweide, showing that he, too, knows tradition).. He’s an aristocrat but significantly declassé, a wanderer like Wagner himself. Because Germany was fragmented until very recently, Germany was full of wanderers, especially after the Thirty Years and Napoleonic wars. Wanderers recur throughout the Romantic genre. Stolzing symbolizes the new.

Raymond Very’s Walther is good, though not transcendentally luminous. The Prize Song is ravishingly beautiful, but Wagner shows how it develops through experience. Walther’s first effort isn’t great, but he meets Eva,. His art is created through love. When Very sings the words “Eva im Paradies”, his voice expands warmly, expressively.

Amanda Roocroft’s voice has mellowed and rounded out well. Even if she isn’t an ingénue, her Eva is very well realized. This must be one of the crowning moments in her career, immeasurably better than when I last heard her sing Eva nearly ten years ago. She was spirited, her voice agile and bright. Die Pognerin is too big a role for a babe, which makes casting tricky. Roocroft convinces through her voice. Arguably, Eva doesn’t have to be a teen. Magdelena (Anna Burford) is older than David, but she appreciates Walther before he does.

The real discovery in this production is Andrew Tortise’s David. He’s wonderful. Tortise’s huge Act One Scene one arias are a tour de force, but Tortise sustains the inner logic through the different stages, pacing himself carefully. On top of this, he acts well, too, a fresher, more impudent Walther in the making. It’s an intelligent characterization, because under the comic surface of the role, David is a powerful figure. Wagner doesn’t write so much for the role for nothing. Like Walther, David is part of the future. Tortise has impressed me several times before in minor parts. Now, with this superb David, Tortise is the future, too.

Brindley Sherratt’s Pogner is authoritative as befits someone of his experience and stage personality. Pogner is a more troubling figure than most productions express, because Sherratt makes him sound so firm. Why is he giving his daughter away, against her will, ostensibly for the sake of art? Can people be traded for abstract ideas? Therein lies one of the dark secrets in this opera.

If art must be controlled through guilds and conformist rules, is it art? Are rules a means of suppression, or bulwarks against dissolution. Implicitly, in the background lurks the idea of a world in constant transition, where standing still means falling back. Perhaps this is why Meistersinger attracts the Far Right, though there’s a lot in it to appeal to the Far Left as well. This set of Meistersingers sang pleasantly, but only Sherratt’s Pogner hinted at more unpleasant levels.

Also very impressive was David Soar’s Nightwatchman — definitely a singer to listen out for.

The Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Orchestra, conducted by Lothar Koenigs, supported the performance solidly. Any performance at the Proms generates its own excitement, which creates an aura of wonder that’s hard to resist. I had a good time, though on purely musical terms this Prom wasn’t a match for other great Meistersingers, though it will be fondly remembered by English-speaking audiences. Nonetheless, the Proms aren’t about perfection. They’re there to get people stimulated, so they have a good time and go on to hear more. Beckmesser values don’t apply.

The Proms are the “Biggest music Festival in the World”, now in its 116th season. BBC Proms 2010 can be heard live, and internationally broadcast live, online and on demand. Please follow this link for more information.

Anne Ozorio

Click here to listen to audio clips of this performance.

Click here for Jim Sohre’s review of this production performed at Cardiff.

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):