Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Songs of Night and Travel, Wigmore Hall

The coming of ‘Night’ brings darkness, shadows and mystery; sleep, dreams and nightmares; fancies, fantasies and passions.

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, now at the Royal Opera House, is no more about history than Jesus Christ Superstar is about theology.

Yevgeny Onegin in Warsaw

Mariusz Treliński’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece is visually fascinating but psychologically confusing

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

The regal trumpets and sackbuts sound their bold herald and, followed by admiring eyes, the powers of state and church begin their dignified procession along a sloping walkway to assume their lofty positions upon the central dais.

Idomeneo in Montpellier

Vestiges of a momentous era . . .

L’elisir d’amore in Marseille

There were hints that L’elisir is one of the great bel canto masterpieces.

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

Aron Stiehl’s production of this rare early Wagner opera cheerfully brings commedia dell’arte to La Cage aux Folles.

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

Stage director Pierre Audi is not one to be strictly representational in his story telling.

Fidelio, Manitoba Opera

For the first time in its 42-year history, Manitoba Opera presented Beethoven’s mighty ode to freedom, Fidelio, with an extraordinary production that resonated as loudly as tolling bells of freedom.

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs: Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Flavio Oliver as Montezuma [Photo courtesy of Festival Internacional Cervantino]
01 Nov 2010

Cervantino stages rare Graun opera — The Mexican national opera?

Clearly, there isn’t one. Yet, Carl Heinrich Graun’s 1755 rarely-performed Montezuma is of special importance in a country celebrating 200 years of Independence from Spanish rule and 100 years since the Revolution that ultimately toppled dictator Porfirio Díaz.

Carl Heinrich Graun: Montezuma

Flavio Oliver: Montezuma; Lourdes Ambriz: his wife; Rogelio Marín: Tezeucco; Lucia Salas: an Aztec general; Adrián-George Popescu: Cortés; Christophe Carré: Narvés, a Spanish captain. Gabriel Garrido: conductor. Claudio Valdés Kuri: director. Herman Sorgeloos: scenic designer. Jimena Fernández: costume designer. Carsten Sander: lighting. Elyma Ensemble. International Cervantino Festival. Teatro Juárez, Guanajuato. October 14, 2010.

Above: Flavio Oliver as Montezuma

All photos courtesy of Festival Internacional Cervantino

 

Montezuma was thus an obvious choice as the operatic centerpiece of the 2010 International Cervantino Festival, staged in Guanajuato, a major station on the march to Mexican freedom that began in 1810.

Although he was his contemporary, Graun was no Handel, and thus Montezuma, even when performed with the dedication obvious in the production seen in the historic Teatro Juárez on October 14, is more conversation piece than masterwork. The libretto by Graun’s employer, Prussia’s music-loving, flute-playing Frederick the Great, was performed in Guanajuato in Italian translation.

CCC_1295.gifChristophe Carré countertenor as Panfilo de Narvaes

The somewhat simplistic plot reflects Frederick’s desire to be seen as an apostle of the Enlightenment — despite his own absolute power. Montezuma is an embodiment of the monarch’s philosophical leaning vis-à-vis the Noble Savage. (Recall that this is also the age of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with Voltaire being in residence at Frederick’s court.)

Mexico’s opera Wunderkind Claudio Valdés Kuri brought all the excesses of Regietheater to the minimalist staging, trying too hard to make more of Montezuma than is really there. Intent of fitting the work into the theme of the season, Kuri employed all the techniques of Brechtian alienation to combine in the production a picture of Mexico’s inhuman suffering with a vision of hope for the future. Thus in the title role countertenor Flavio Oliver frequently swapped Aztec loin cloth with T-shirt, and in Act III Kuri changed the entire 26-member Elyma Ensemble, an able but undistinguished early-music group, into “civvies” and moved them onto the stage. This act concluded not with Graun’s original score, but with a dramatic scene by Mexican Baroque composer Manuel de Sumaya. As Montezuma died, half the stage was wrapped in a modern Mexican flag. The substituted finale seemed to suggest an eventual and successful synthesis of cultures. Yet one wondered— to cite only one from many examples— whether Cortés on-stage rape of heroic Montezuma did not detract from the figurative rape of ancient Mexico that is the true subject of the Graun’s opera.

Oliver, by far the finest voice— and actor— in the cast, was a virile Montezuma in the minimalist staging, designed by Herman Sorgeloos. As conqueror Cortés Adrian’s George Popescu, an equally able countertenor, was the embodiment of the Absolute Evil that brought about the end of Aztec civilization.

CCC_1311.gif

As Montezuma’s mate, soprano Lourdes Ambriz grew in stature as she suffered ever-greater abuse throughout the performance. She made her lament in Act III a memorable moment in an otherwise often tedious evening of opera. Without distorting the figure, Kuri took advantage of Ambriz’ talent to bring a hint of feminist thought to the production. Gratefully, Kuri trimmed his staging to three hours from the original four. It was also to Kuri’s credit that he corrected Frederick’s idealist picture of Montezuma with an opening scene that showed that his hands too were soiled with the blood of innocent victims.

A co-commission Germany’s Theater der Welt and the Edinburgh Festival (it was staged by both earlier this year), the Cervantino, Madrid’s Teatro, where it recently played. It is yet to be seen in Mexico City.

Wes Blomster

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):