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 Reviews

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
31 Dec 2010

Aida at Bregenz Festival 2009

Some years ago a witty soul coined the term “jumping the shark” to identify the point at which any long-running television program had exploited all its innate story/character development possibilities and had to resort to ridiculous plot contrivances and spectacle to keep the episodes — and paychecks — coming.

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida

Aida: Tatiana Serjan; Radames: Rubens Pelizzari; Amneris: Iano Tamar; Il Re: Kevin Short; Amonasro: Iain Paterson. Wiener Symphoniker. Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Directed by Graham Vick. Set and Costume Design: Paul Brown.

Unitel Classics 702404 [Blu-Ray DVD]

$33.99  Click to buy

For the curious, “jumping the shark” referenced an episode of Happy Days, a program that for years stayed within the confines of a small American town in the 1950s; in said episode, the characters ended up in Hollywood and one entered a contest to — yes, indeed — water-ski over an enclosure containing a shark.

If one thinks of the Bregenz Festival as a long-running hit show — and in the opera world, this lake-side venue for elaborate outdoor productions can fairly be called such — then with the 2009 Graham Vick Aida, the festival has indeed “jumped the shark.” The booklet essay (by Kenneth Chalmers) to the DVD set quotes many a laudatory blurb from various European reviews at the time of the show’s premiere. So maybe the experience on DVD can’t capture what the show is like live. As caught by cameras, Vick’s Aida is a frenetic mess — whether the action takes place in ankle-deep water, aloft in crane-elevated cages, boats, or fragmentary statuary, or on an endless flight of stairs. The success of the festival undoubtedly offers directors an ample budget, and the very nature of the lakeside venue demands big effects. But when an opera gets as hopelessly lost as Aida does here in all the pyrotechnics and staging conceits piled on the stage — and despite the authentic opportunities for spectacle in the libretto, at its heart this is a fairly intimate story of thwarted love — the “shark” has been “jumped.”

With the amazing work of set and costume designer Paul Brown, Vick presents a world with no set sense of time or place, mixing ancient and modern elements. Costumes are primarily contemporary, through with some elusive sense of logic; the priests, for example, wear papal miters. At the rear of the stage two huge blue feet, spangled with stars, have a vaguely period Egyptian look, as do other fragments apparently broken off the original monument, but the whole is clearly modeled on the Statue of Liberty. It’s a very Euro-friendly concept — America as subtext for militaristic oppression. Thus Amneris, who often wears a dress with stars spangled on it, appears at first with two leashes, at the ends of which are two prisoners with hoods over their heads. Why Amneris has been assigned Abu Ghirab prisoner-walking duty doesn’t have to be contemplated — just go with the anti-American flow. Aida is truly a slave here — not a higher-ranking attendant to the princess, as she is usually depicted. Wearing a dull jacket over a orange-red shift, she is washing the stairs with others slaves when first seen. Radames sings his opening confrontation with Amneris from yards away, and many of the key scenes have a similar distance between protagonists and antagonists, weakening the force of their interactions. In act three, when Aida is confronted by her father, he appears from the water before the stage, like the Creature from the Red Sea Lagoon. It’s all like the famous description of the staging of Meyerbeer’s operas — effects without causes.

The color scheme Vick and Brown work with may blind those sensitive to one end of the spectrum — from hot pinks to emergency beacon orange and onto purple and turquoise. The dancers spend a lot of time kicking up spray on a platform covered in about a foot of water. For act two, Amneris’s attendants manhandle some amazingly buff (and mostly Caucasian) Ethiopian prisoners in tighty-whiteys. Some viewers may be ready to escape into the tomb with Radames and Aida at the end, except there is no tomb — the condemned lovers sail off into the distance through the air, in a crane-hauled boat.

For sheer spectacle, this may well be the Aida to beat — and yes, it includes a huge elephant at one point (not a live one, but still — the cranes can’t be trusted with everything). However, for those actually interested in Aida as an opera, this set can’t be recommended. Besides the score being, as the booklet essay describes it, “trimmed,” the singers get no real chance to develop interesting characters or make their own vocal qualities known. The latter is true because they are all miked. The voices of the leads appear to be lighter than those one would normally hear in a conventional opera house, and the sound mix keeps the voices within a narrow range. As Amneris Iano Tamar looks smashing, but her lower range is too weak even for the microphones. To some extent the same is true of Iain Paterson as Amonasro, although he has enough power in the body of his voice to make a decent impression. The two leads have pleasant voices but neither Rubens Pelizzari as Radames or Tatiana Serjan as Aida give any indication of having the vocal goods to tackle these roles in a production without microphones and a sound mixer standing by. Conductor Carlo Rizzi and his orchestra are surely “miked” as well, and they whip up a fine wall of sound in the ensembles and triumphal parade.

The Blu-Ray version does make for an amazing picture on any high-end television. For viewers open to a version of this opera that places 21st century stage and camera technique over the essence of the work itself, this is not a set to be missed.

For others — consider the shark successfully jumped.

Chris Mullins

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):