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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Franz Schreker (1912)
02 Aug 2010

Der Ferne Klang, Bard College

Franz Schreker, born in 1878, was a youth in the age in which psychoanalysis first bloomed. In music, far from coincidentally, it was the post-Wagnerian era when western tonality had been liberated from traditional rules but was uncertain which new path to take.

Franz Schreker: Der Ferne Klang (The Distant Sound)

Grete/Greta/Tini: Yamina Maamar; Fritz: Mathias Schulz; An Old Woman/Madam/Waitress: Susan Marie Pierson; Dr. Vigelius: Marc Embree; Count/Rudolf: Corey McKern; Dubious Character: Jud Perry; Hack Actor: Peter Van Derick. Production by Thaddeus Strassberger. Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein. Performance of July 30.

Above: Franz Schreker (1912)

 

Schreker’s operas, most of them set to his own libretti, explore these psychological and musical trends with a more embittered, less sentimental style of dramaturgy than that of many other post-Wagnerians yet a more easily accessible idiom than the atonalists chose. The characters of Der Ferne Klang (The Distant Sound) do not find redemption, salvation or—at the last—even each other. They succumb to delusions and distractions, they connect only to be alienated anew. Love is a missed chance, art a deception.

Der Ferne Klang recalls the grander Italian operas of its day (premiere, 1912) in setting its awkward love story on a stage teaming with minor characters. But where other composers let the crowds fall away and bring the love story, happy or sad, to the fore, in Der Ferne Klang the distractions grow ever louder and more insistent and the love story cannot free itself from them. Franz, the ambitious composer, abandons his truelove, Grete, to seek the “distant sound” that inspires his art. By the time he encounters her again—joyously—in Act II, she has become the main attraction in a classy Venetian brothel. His memories win her back, but then he rejects her on when he understands her present situation. In Act III, Franz’s opera fails on its first night—in part because a strange woman has screamed in the balcony. It is Grete, of course, now a streetwalker, the one person deeply moved by Franz’s music. Franz repents his follies in an ecstatic duet with her that climaxes in his collapse. Only then does the real Grete enter to discover his body.

The blighting of all hope—love and art—God, of course, no longer enters the question—is the message of many Schreker operas. The musical texture is thick, polyphonic, late romantic with its own style of melodic flourish, occasionally savoring of Strauss or Mahler at their most neurotic. The orchestral forces required are large and their music complicated, the messages difficult to interpret as every motif hides behind conflicted souls and a pervasive unreality. Perhaps Schreker’s hopelessness, his scorn of dreamy ideals, had more than a little real connection with the era he lived in. When the Nazis came to power they resented his contempt for illusory ideals and resurrected his paternal Jewish ancestry—Schreker, a lifelong Catholic, had forgotten all about it—to expel his works from the stage, himself from his academic position. Broken, he died in 1936—sparing himself, perhaps , a more ghastly fate down the line.

Leon Botstein, champion of so many forgotten late romantic opera composers (Zemlinsky, Janacek, Dukas, Smyth, d’Indy …), has done a real service to American opera-lovers in giving us our first Der Ferne Klang, in concert in New York three years ago, and our first staged one at Bard College this summer. Much that was mysterious about the story in the concert performance became clear in the thrilling staging at Bard—in a theater it is far easier to grasp that what seemed disjointed and haphazard is intentional, the composer’s technique for telling the story he wants to tell and not the simpler fable we may anticipate.

In the cast at Bard, interesting singers were not always able to manage Schreker’s soaring lines over the hefty orchestra, deployed not only in the pit but in various strategic pockets of the stage. On the opening night performance, Yamina Maamar, who sings Kundry, Salome and Aida in Germany, took a while to warm to her tasks as Grete’s three avatars—her voice often failed to cut clearly through the orchestra. Only in her concluding ecstatic duet with Fritz did she seem a major voice with a voluptuous dramatic soprano tone color. Her acting was affecting throughout the performance.

Matthias Schulz struck lyrical notes in the higher reaches of Fritz’s music as if the top of his range was the distant sound he was after all along, but was less successful in his middle voice. He ably played a fish-out-of-water, an idealist in a society full of people with practical concerns. Veteran character baritone Marc Embree sang a persuasively ruminative Dr. Vigelius; Susan Marie Pierson an alluring/threatening Madam (partly behind the scrim of a silent movie); and the rest of an enthusiastic cast were at once alarming or funny doubling many roles. As with Les Huguenots last summer, Botstein seems to have little trouble casting operas that require a great many effective young singers.

Thaddeus Strassberger, whose staging of Les Huguenots last summer was inventive if not entirely convincing, contributed tremendously to audience excitement. His use of projections, filming shadows half-seen over half-curtains, mirrors, subtle lighting effects and (by the by) Aaron Blicks’s lighting and Mattie Ulrich’s splendid costumes held the attention of listeners who might have been bewildered by the multilayered score and the intricate story. An able young ensemble of chorus and dancers made the most of the fantasies recalling Weimar (and pre-Weimar) decadence.

Der Ferne Klang (and its sister opera, Schreker’s Der Gezeichneten) seems destined for a considerably wider showing in this country where, based on the response of the Bard audience, it demonstrates tremendous appeal to the same audiences who enjoy the operas of Strauss and Alban Berg. Botstein has done a great service in bringing it twice to our attention. Though there was a certain lack of coordination at the opening of Act II, Botstein’s forces (including a small band of balalaika players to accompany the cabaret in Act II) remained in good order all night and played many of the subtler touches audible in the opera’s quiet moments with particular grace.

John Yohalem

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):