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

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

Cosi fan tutte in Salzburg

This Cosi fan tutte concludes the Salzburg Festival's current Mozart / DaPonte cycle staged by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival's head of artistic planning.

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):