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

Violeta Urmana [Photo by Christine Schneider]
06 Aug 2010

Prom 21 — Berlioz and Wagner

Period instruments and nineteenth-century grand opera are seldom found on the same stage — or even the same sentence — but as adventurous practitioners increasingly experiment in the repertoire of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, it’s a sight and sound that will inevitably become more familiar.

Prom 21: Hector Berlioz: Romeo and Juliet — love scene; Richard

Isolde: Violeta Urmana; Tristan: Ben Heppner; King Mark: Franz-Josef Selig; Brangäne: Sarah Connolly; Melot: Timothy Robinson; Kurwenal: Henk Neven. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Conductor: Simon Rattle.BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London. Prom 21 Sunday 1st August, 2010.

Above: Violeta Urmana [Photo by Christine Schneider]

 

And, that’s no bad thing. This concert, the first of Sir Simon Rattle’s three Prom appearances this season, offered the opportunity to hear two great romantic scores performed on contemporary instruments and if the results of the lower pitch and the full, mellow tone of the OAE were not always wholly successful in the dramatic contexts, they were certainly thought-provoking and at times illuminating.

While the decision to present classic dramas of love and death by two cultural giants, Shakespeare and Wagner, seemed a natural and sensible one, it led to a slightly unbalanced programme, with the erotic love scene of Berlioz’s dramatic symphony, Romeo and Juliet, forming a first half lasting only 18 minutes — even in this rather slow reading by Rattle. Berlioz’s vast structure and forces — nine double basses towered over the centre of the platform — were shaped and guided with finesse by Rattle, who was ever alert to the composer’s startling harmonic effects. However, despite the use of copies of nineteenth-century woodwind instruments (for example, the oboes played on models of German instruments c.1865, with an easy, soft lower register; the bassoons employed French instruments c.1840 for the Berlioz, switching to German post-1870 for the Wagner, the latter possessing a darker, less reedy tone which blends well with the horns and clarinets), the sharp individuality of particular instrumental lines was somewhat softened, woodwind colours blending sweetly with the whole but not always delivering their full dramatic impact.

A similar problem was apparent after the interval, in Act 2 of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, where the harmonious whole was achieved at the expense of orchestral incisiveness. Wagner aimed for a unity of instrumental and vocal lines, with the symphonic leitmotivic texture carrying the burden of the emotional and dramatic narrative, in dialogue with declamatory and naturalistic vocal melodies; but here the wash of orchestral sound served primarily as a secure, relaxed back-drop to the singers, who were therefore pushed to the foreground. Adding the fact that this was a concert performance, with no scenery and little dramatic interaction between the soloists, this was hardly the Gesamkunstwerk of Wagner’s ideal.

That said, the concordant orchestral cushion elicited by Rattle did evoke a sense of ‘distance’, and an appropriately ethereal atmosphere, for Tristan’s and Isolde’s desire can never be fulfilled in this world and release from yearning will only be achieved through transcendence. Moreover, particular instrumental effects were not neglected, and the rich palette of the period orchestra was revealed: the off-stage horns signalling the departure of the hunting party were strident and clamorous, while eerie sul ponticello playing by the strings conveyed both the delicacy of the moment and the anxious vulnerability of the lovers. Low woodwind colours intimated the shift from the daylight world to the realms of night, from the mundane to the oblivion of the sub-conscious.

With two renowned Wagnerian specialists in the cast, expectations were high, and it was no surprise that the quality of the singing invested this performance with vigour and compelling drama. Violeta Urmana, as Isolde, had no difficulty filling the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall, her powerful, impassioned soprano always secure and focused, her tone thrillingly ecstatic. Sadly, Ben Heppner’s Tristan was less assured and rather inconsistent. While there is no doubting his innate appreciation of this musical language, there were more than a few wobbles, as he struggled to project. Yet, the exquisite sound for which he is renowned can still genuinely reveal Tristan’s exaltation. Franz-Josef Selig negotiated King Mark’s long monologue with confidence and clarity, conveying both the authority and stature of the betrayed King and the pain caused by Tristan’s disloyalty. Sarah Connolly communicated Brangäne’s distress thoughtfully, with controlled phrasing and delivery. Timothy Robinson (Melot) and Henk Neven (Kurvenal) completed the accomplished cast.

Overall this was a thoughtful and refined performance. But while these two passionate romantic encounters certainly touched the heart they did not, perhaps, quite reach to the soul.

Claire Seymour

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):