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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Giuseppe Filianoti as Hoffmann [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
28 Oct 2010

Kafka at the Opera: Bartlett Sher’s Production of Hoffmann at the Met

We all come to the opera for different things. To escape, to elevate, to laugh, to cry, or perhaps because someone else bought the tickets.

Jacques Offenbach: Tales of Hoffmann

Hoffmann: Giuseppe Filianoti; The Muse of Poety/Nickausse: Kate Lindsey; The Four Villains: Ildar Abrazakov; Olympia: Elena Mosuc; Antonia/Stella: Hibla Gerzmava; Giulietta: Enkelejda Shkosa; The Four Servants: Joel Sorenson; Luther/Crespel: Dean Peterson; Hermann/Schlemil: Jeff Mattsey; Nathanael/Spalanzani: David Cangelosi; Antonia's Mother: Wendy White. Conductor: Patrick Fournillier; Director: Bartlett Sher.

Above: Giuseppe Filianoti as Hoffmann

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

 

But, considering the number of people involved — hundreds of artists and craftsmen onstage and off as well as thousands in the audience at each performance — it is impossible for a production in a large house to fulfill all of the expectations that rise up inside of us the Metropolitan Opera’s signature chandeliers. What is the mark of a good production, especially in a large house? On the one hand, opera involves the energies and resources of many people and, therefore, the hope is that this investment of talent and money will pay off over the course of many seasons despite both rotating casts and changing tastes. However, the thrill of any live performance is its singularity. Part of the allure and, indeed, the satisfaction of seeing an opera (even now in the era of the simulcast) is the ability to stand witness and say “I was there when...” Good directors recognize the challenge of building a show that can stand the test of time but also showcase the particular talents at any given performance.

HOFFMANN_Christy_as_Olympia.gifAnna Christy as Olympia

In the instance of the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann (seen here on October 12, 2010), directed by Bartlett Sher, the premiere performances in the winter of 2009 were disappointing compared to Sher’s invigorated Il Barbiere di Siviglia (also for the Met) and his stunning Lincoln Center production of South Pacific. With a few exceptions, the cast seemed to be square pegs in Sher’s Kafka-shaped holes. Typically compelling performers seemed unmoored among the shows many disparate cultural allusions. Joseph Calleja, who stepped into the title role on relatively short notice, and Anna Netrebko (as both Stella and Antonia) seemed most at sea. Without a surer sense of the opera’s protagonist and the framing device of his love for the diva Stella, the opera quickly descended towards pastiche.

HOFFMANN_Gerzmava.gifHibla Gerzmava as Antonia

A second viewing this season, however, showed Sher’s adaptation in a much more flattering light. Moments that previously fell flat sparkled and, while the Kafka parallel still seems arbitrary at times, the interpretive choices gave a challenging work some new pizzazz. Given the constants of the production, it is reasonable to conclude that the new energy in his Hoffmann came from the evening’s individual performances. In the title role, Giuseppe Filianoti was both sympathetic and impish, showing heartache through humor in the tradition of Charlie Chaplin. During the tavern scene at Luther’s, the tenor carried himself with the energy of a man itching for a fight — even if happens to be with his best friend. The role is vocally demanding as well as a dramatic challenge and Filianoti sang with definite style, if not always ease, throughout the entire evening. He and Hibla Gerzmava made thrilling sounds together and were as appealing visually as they were aurally. Gerzmava lacked some of the character definition desired for Stella, but definitely rose to the occasion as Antonia. Thanks in large part to her gracious singing and acting, Act II could have been performed as a satisfying dramatic event on its own.

As in the premiere performances, Kate Lindsey epitomized mystique in the dual role of the Muse and Nicklausse. She sings and moves with an energy appropriate for a large house while maintaining a sense of realism in her acting that feels intimate. Occasionally overpowered by the orchestra, Lindsey is a singer with great dramatic and musical finesse. As an actress, the role suits her perfectly and, with the exception of a few vocal distractions, it is easy to slip into believing she is the Muse.

HOFFMANN_Filianoti_and_Lind.gifGiuseppe Filianoti in the title role and Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse

Both Elena Mosuc and Enkelejda Shkosa, who sang Olympia and Giulietta, are Met debutantes this season. Of the two, Shkosa made the stronger first impression. As the luscious but avaricious courtesan, she exhibited a wealth of vocal riches as well as a real sense of comedy. Her voice has substance as well as style and her aria was rich and creamy enough to pass as the evening’s dessert. In contrast, Mosuc’s turn as Olympia fell flat. As hard as it must be to play an amusing and engaging automaton, both Kathleen Kim and Rachele Gilmore proved in their performances of this production last year that it can indeed be done.

Ildar Abdrazakov relished the wickedness of the four villains and his performance included several impressive evil laughs. Joel Sorenson performed all four servants with aplomb but his Frantz was particularly notable for being both musically satisfying and genuinely funny.

HOFFMANN_Abdrazakov_and_Shk.gifIldar Abdrazakov as Dapertutto and Enkelejda Shkosa as Giuletta

Of the evening’s debuts, perhaps the most significant was that of conductor Patrick Fournillier. With only a few exceptions, his tempi moved briskly enough to keep the action going without becoming frenetic. The chorus was well-prepared musically by Donald Palumbo, but they were disappointingly generic for a large group dressed up as circus freaks and students, especially when compared to the remarkably specific performances Sher evinced from his actors in South Pacific.

The sets by Michael Yeargan effectively represented a sort of theatre of the mind. Costumes by Catherine Zuber included a few especially titillating supernumeraries and dancers, but also included an awkward ensemble for Antonia’s mother (more than capably sung by Wendy White). Duane Schuler’s lighting did much to evoke mood and smooth over transitions, but it would have been interesting to see both the lighting and minimal projections used to further the reference to Federico Fellini that Sher mentions in his director’s notes. In fact, with his idiosyncratic, fantastic style and his penchant for both autobiographic material and female muses, the Italian director seems a more direct parallel to the character Hoffmann than does the enigmatic outsider Franz Kafka. Even with the newly energized performances, this production of Hoffmann may grow old quickly, especially for those with the ability to see beauty as Kafka described it.

Alison Moritz

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):