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

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

Dulwich Opera’s Carmen

Dulwich Opera Company’s Carmen was a convincingly successful show.  This was mainly due to succinct musical direction and rigorous dramatic direction.  It also meant that the proximity of the action was a fascinating treat, and by the artists being young, and easy on the eye.

Franz Schreker: Die Gezeichneten

There is a host of fine operas out there languishing more or less unperformed (in some cases, quite unperformed). A few of them might even qualify as ‘great’. (Feel free to remove inverted commas, should that be your thing.) Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, whatever its proponents might claim, is certainly not one of those: not even close.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of Welsh National Opera]
11 Jul 2010

Terfel’s Towering Hans Sachs Debuts at WNO

We have Welsh National Opera to thank not only for providing the occasion for an auspicious role debut, but also for showcasing their world star in a wholly brilliant new production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

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. Director: Richard Jones. Set Design: Paul Steinberg. Costume Design: Buki Shiff. Lighting Design: Mimi Jordan Sherin. Chorus Master: Stephen Harris.

Above: Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of Welsh National Opera

 

Were I to be able to fiddle with the nominees to the New Seven Wonders of the World, Bryn Terfel’s overwhelming performance as Hans Sachs would easily crowd out such also-ran’s as Iguassu Falls or the Great Barrier Reef, though every bit as much a force of nature. Simply put, I cannot imagine anyone in the opera’s history has ever sung this tour-de-force part better. I know Bryn has quite wrecked me for anyone else in this role. Ever. It is not hard to say why.

He is possessed of one of the greatest bass-baritone voices on the operatic roster today, characterized by the familiar easy production, amazing resonance, incredible beauty, richness of tone, subtlety of delivery, immaculate diction, reserves of power, and awesome stamina. Even at five and a half hours into the evening, he arrived at the final pontificating proclamation sounding so fresh it seemed like he could do it all over again. Mr. Terfel is also an unaffected, winning actor, one moment prankish and charming, the next effectively communicating the cobbler’s deeply internalized human concerns and disappointments. The great “Wahn” monologue was heart-breaking in its intensity, immaculate in its vocalization. Uniquely gifted and undaunted by the challenges, Terfel relished every moment in one of the lyric theatre’s most demanding assignments.

As towering as his achievement was, I can happily report that WNO miraculously peopled this Meistersinger with a cast of equals. Christopher Purves was an ideal Beckmesser, imbuing the character with good doses of pomposity to be sure, but balancing that with a truly diversified emotional palette that went well beyond the boorish posturing oft-seen in lesser hands. Mr. Purves is also possessed of a gleaming, responsive baritone capable of pinging declarations as well as smoothly phrased lyrical passages. And he is an accomplished comic actor, never-overplaying but willing to do anything. Having been beat up the night before, and wearing shoes that pinch, his Act III entrance into Sachs shop was a marvel of sustained physical humor. I will not soon forget him stepping up into the room oh-so-carefully and then somehow getting caught in a goofy spin and a sudden pratfall as he closed the door. (A bit that was repeated later to equal guffaws when he mounted the grandstand to sing his contest entry). And. . .and. . .alone in the cobbler studio, he checked out the bruise he sustained on his hip, at the same time he “unawares” fully bared his butt to the audience. Laugh out loud funny. Purves is the best Beckmesser of my experience, surpassing even the beloved Hermann Prey.

Lovely Amanda Roocroft achieved the difficult feat of looking and acting like a very believable young girl, while capably singing with enough of an experienced jugend-dramatisch thrust to her well-schooled soprano to make for a highly enjoyable and plausible Eva. She was utterly ingratiating and sympathetic, not only in her growing feeling for Walther but in her obvious love for Hans Sachs. Anna Burford sported a dark-hued mezzo that delivered wonderful results as Magdalene, complementing while contrasting Ms. Roocroft’s brighter production. Andrew Tortise gave us a perky, boyish, pleasingly annoying David, and I especially liked the moments when his sweet-toned tenor settled down for some shining mezzo forte singing. Mr. Tortise nailed the part to be sure, but I thought the tone took on a harder edge than necessary when pushed at the top. Perhaps a bit less histrionic abandon would keep the bloom in the upper register. Raymond Very also presented a very good case for Walther von Stolzing. He cuts a fine figure on stage as the impassioned youth, and displays a commendable understanding of the young man’s dramatic journey. While his instrument may lack the dark warmth of Kauffmann or the lyric spin of Heppner, Very nonetheless scored all the major moments and commanded his somewhat steely resources very credibly.

WNO-Meistersinger---Hans-Sa.gifBryn Terfel as Hans Sachs and Amanda Roocroft as Eva

All of the Masters were securely presented, with accomplished singing and assured acting from a diverse roster of performers so fine they deserve to be knows more widely (see cast list below). Brindley Sherratt must be singled out for his tremendous achievement as Veit Pogner. Mr. Sherratt has a bass-baritone of enjoyable timbre and considerable power, which he deploys with great security as well as sensitivity. His prowess in the role suggests that he, too, may have a fine Sachs within him. I was also mightily impressed by the gorgeously intoned phrases from David Soar’s Nightwatchman.

Conductor Lothar Koenigs worked musical wonders with the mass of accomplished musicians in the pit, leading with sweep and abandon. Ocassionally, a wee too much ‘abandon:’ Ms. Roocroft was somewhat challenged on “O Sachs! Mein Freund”. But such moments were momentary compared to the glories of the orchestral detail that Koenigs revealed, especially the fleet footed comic touches of the dancing winds. Maestro Koenigs managed a real partnership with the voices and struck a good balance while still reveling in Wagner’s scoring. As one might expect in Wales, the choral singing under Stephen Harris was of the highest rank, surpassing even the much-lauded Bayreuth standard.

With this spot-on, straight-to-the-heart-of-the-matter realization of Die Meistersinger, Richard Jones has helmed an absolute theatrical triumph. Past experiences with Jones left me thinking he we was a gifted if challenging director, often in your face, sometimes maddeningly provocative as he diddles around the edges of a piece trying (often successfully) to illuminate the dramatic truth. I usually admired the ‘parts’ if not the ‘sum.’ Here he is in total focused control of not only the best Meistersinger I have ever seen, but one of the best opera productions I have ever seen.

There is a quiet quirkiness going on to be sure with the evocative and highly functional set designs by Paul Steinberg. The tone is perfectly set by the vibrant show curtain, featuring a collage of likenesses (mostly head shots) that fill the proscenium with of a vast array of brilliant German (or German-speaking) artists from the country’s history: Bach, Goethe, von Karajan, Marlene, Mozart, Ruth Berghaus, Brecht, Schwarzkopf. . .and on and on. This opens to a clean, lean church with a hunter green, paneled back wall, the congregation facing off right seated on stylized green benches perpendicular to the audience. This space proved amazingly adaptable to the various clever ideas the production team devised.

Apprentices soon hung the back wall with portraits of the Masters by inserting them in ridges in the back paneling. A red clothes Schrank was rolled on for each Master, painted outside with graphics/figures that illustrated the ‘song criteria’ what David was enumerating. These same delightful cartoonish graphics were reproduced in rows on the scoring ‘Tafel.’ As they were positioned in a welcoming semi-circle, they revealed the contents of the mini-closets: lavish period Masters robes designed by the supremely talented costumer Buki Shiff whose well-judged creations went from strength to strength.

WNO-Meistersinger---Walther.gifRaymond Very as Walther, Brindley Sherratt as Pogner, Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs and WNO Cast

Within this milieu, Jones created some masterful blocking of both scenery and actors, witness the initial exchange between Walther and Eva, delightfully broken up with Magdalene’s perfectly timed interruptions as she deftly made her way around the stage looking for the ‘lost’ broach/scarf/book like a well-tuned mine-sweeper. The invention of one of the Masters as a doddering old man, always just a few beats behind the action was, well, Master-fully repeated just enough to be increasingly funny over the evening. Just when you had forgotten about him, he would be revealed, once more having been left in the dust and having to catch up like Arte Johnson’s geezer on Laugh-In.

The plain look of the exterior of Sach’s humble cobbler shop which filled stage center was well contrasted by Pogner’s well-to-do half-timbered house sitting down right flanked by an impressive tree. A cheeky contemporary touch was added with the colorful stylized projections that created flowered roofs, and the matching flower backdrop -- a retro nod to the 60’s. Thanks to Mimi Jordan Sherin for so many effective lighting effects, always shifting to reflect the correct mood, or to focus our attention right where it should be.

I think that Richard Jones succeeded so magnificently where others fail in that he never lost sight of the fact that this is a comedy. When Walther sings of being intimidated by the Masters, lo and behold three extras cross in full Masters drag, their heads covered with cubes bearing the cartoon ‘criteria’ and wagging a stick of chalk. A moment of inspired madness worthy of Bill Irwin. In a spontaneous moment, Sachs suddenly breaks into a daffy Schuhplatten dance, and why not? He’s having a good time. The nightwear for the big choral finish and street fight was all funky white fun, and the mob not only assaults Beckmesser, they strip him to his shorts leaving him to cover his genitalia with his lute (placed rather suggestively).

The stage-filling interior of Sachs shop/house is meticulously dressed as well as any set I have ever seen. No piece of furnishing, no prop, no element of this environment was left to chance. This was loving attention to detail. The curtain rose in silence on Act III with the streaming sunlight awakening Sachs from the sofa/bed where we get the impression he has fallen asleep and just never moved to the bedroom. Later a revelatory piece of business has him picking up three emptied beer bottles from the floor by the sofa and puts them on a side shelf. And, we get it. What volumes that spoke.
In that simple gesture is revealed another insight into our hero than we ever had before. Thank you, Mr. Jones. Thank you, Mr. Terfel.

When Sachs, at his desk, takes ‘dictation’ of the Prize Song, he rises and clothespins five separate sheets on a clothesline stretching above the sofa.
He collects them back, of course and allows Beckmesser to take them, but later when he christens the tune “Morning Dream Song”, that too gets posted on the line and as the five soloists sat variously and regarded the paper, and Ms. Sherin’s lighting picked out the singers and the song, and they launched into arguably the most glorious pages of the score, well, time was indeed suspended. A luminous quintet in every way.

The festive last act was perhaps the most predictable, although no less enjoyable. There was clever business with a self-important local noble woman serving as a sort of county fair judge, who apportioned blue ribbons for shoes, embroidered panels, and pretzels as the appropriate guilds sang and made their presence known. The large green grandstand upstage was colorfully festooned with flowers and the like, and it provided a straight forward playing space. But the team had one more trick up its sleeve.

Just as Sachs began his last (to some, controversial) monologue, one by one the chorus stood and held up a placard with one of the likenesses from the show curtain. Here Brahms. There Ludwig II. Now Handel. And another. And another. Until finally, the cast had recreated the show curtain, a sea of placards held chest level, with each singer pointing to their placard on the final chord as if to say: ‘German culture, how cool is that?’

Overwhelming. Brilliant. Towering. I think Wagner himself would have loved it. And if he didn’t. . .to hell with him!

James Sohre

Click here to download trailer (iPod).

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):