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

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork bring about a meeting of the baroque and the modern

‘Music for a while/Shall all your cares beguile’. Standing in shadow, encircled by the five players of the viol consort Fretwork, as the summer storm raged outside Milton Court Concert Hall countertenor Iestyn Davies offered mesmeric reassurance to the capacity audience during this intriguing meeting of the baroque and the modern.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Paul Hindemith (1923) [Photo: Wikipedia]
14 Dec 2010

Paris: ‘Maler’ or ‘Malheur’?

No one could accuse the Paris Opera of pinching pennies (or Euro cents) in their lavishly expansive (and expensive) staging of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler.

Paul Hindemith: Mathis der Maler

Albrecht von Brandenburg: Scott MacAllister; Mathis: Matthias Goerne; Lorenz von Pommersfelden: Thorsten Gruen; Wolfgang Capito: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke; Riedinger: Gregory Reinhart; Hans Schwalb: Michael Weinius; Ursula: Melanie Diener; Regina: Martina Welschenbach; Countess of Helfenstein: Nadine Weissman; Truchsess von Waldburg: Antoine Garcin; Sylvester von Schaumberg: Eric Huchet. Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach. Director: Oliver Py. Set and Costumes: Pierre-André Weitz. Lighting: Bertrand Kelly. Chorus Master: Patrick Marie Aubert.

Above: Paul Hindemith (1923) [Photo: Wikipedia]

 

Unfortunately, sometimes more can be less, and the personal plight of the characters too often seemed secondary to the hulking, tracking set design created by Pierre-André Weitz. Not that it wasn’t well constructed and functional. It was. Mostly. But the massive three-story facade with staircases and platforms and ornate gleaming gold frou-frou dwarfed everything and everyone every time it appeared. It was meant to dazzle, and it did sparkle and gleam, but mostly it distracted as it rolled, sunk, rotated and did everything but stand on its head and whistle Dixie.

Having updated the period to just after the time of its composition (read: WW2), there were some coherent images that paralleled Matthias Grűnewald’s struggle for artistic expression in the repressive climate of his day with the challenges Hindemith faced as the Nazis gained control of the country. But there were many other ideas that just didn’t quite mesh with the tale of the beleaguered painter of the colorful Isenheim Alterpiece. And there were some downright oddities in scenic decisions.

Why did a functional, chest-high platform bearing a living quasi-tableau of the altarpiece have holes in its floor so that characters could stand up on the (lower) main stage floor, chest-high in the spaces? In fact, what on earth was director Oliver Py thinking when he had the cast bending over and crawling underneath said platform to get from behind it to the stage apron to sing? What was that about? St. Cunegonde’s cure for backaches? Too often the performers seemed to be singing to us, or about each other, rather than to each other.

The siege/attack/rebellion segments were physicalized by manually rolling on Panzers and tromping in storm troopers, and placing it all in bombed out mansions and government buildings, and lacing it heavily with swastikas. All well and good enough I suppose, but the dreariness of war-torn Germany made the occasionally ponderous writing even more turgid, and the resonance that the creative team had aspired to didn’t quite occur. Weitz fared better with his characterful 40’s costumes, although there was the odd 15th century garb hither and thither that garbled the physical impression.

In an apparent attempt to goose up the visuals, lighting designer Bertrand Kelly seemed to pull out all the stops with a riot of gobo effects, hazers, film loops, rotating prisms, Vari-Lites, you name it. It was not unlike a stage lighting trade show. In addition to some lively and evocative illumination, however, Mr. Kelly also turned blinding white lights on the audience on more than one occasion, causing patrons to physically turn their heads away, wince and squint, hold a hand up to shield their eyes, and generally react with considerable discomfort. Hmmmmm. Were the focus to be more sensibly adjusted, this would make the light plot emphatically the most satisfying design element, for it was otherwise well-considered.

The title role calls for heroic utterance and Herculean stamina. Matthias Goerne had quite enough of the latter if not the former. I greatly enjoy Mr. Goerne in recital, and was entertained by his Papageno in Salzburg. But precious nuance, and engaging charm are not what Mr. Hindemith is asking for. Our leading man is more often than not called upon to pour out pulsing, solid phrases over a multi- and thickly-layered orchestration. Our baritone was found slightly wanting on the lower conversational passages and the upper forte extremes of the part. The rich middle voice was deployed very conscientiously, although it has to be said that Goerne’s grainy tone did not always slice through the accompaniment with ease, if at all. The top was pressed when volume was needed and turned somewhat straight and dry. Happily, the final great monologue played to all of his considerable interpretive gifts, and he managed to limn a moving finale, limpid and introspective without being self-pitying. Matthias is undeniably a major artist but the role is simply a size too large for his instrument. Pity.

2eOuvertureRetable_lb.gifIsenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald (1506-1515)

Not so with the Albrecht von Brandenburg as sung by Scott MacAllister. The bright, incisive, clarion tenor may not have the elegant richness of say, James King, but McAllister nails the part. Is it quibbling to wish that he was capable of more variety of color when he sings it this well? I also admired Thorsten Gruen who utilized his vibrant, dark bass baritone to good musical effect as Lorenz von Pommersfelden. Every bit his equal, Michael Weinius offered a beautiful orotund bass in the service of Hans Schwalb. In the less grateful role of Wolfgang Capito, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke was musically competent if dramatically flat, and did all that was required, if no more. Gregory Reinhart’s solid bass gave much pleasure as Riedinger, with veteran basso Antoine Garcin in thundering voice as Truchsess von Waldburg.

Melanie Diener has a fine career going with notable appearances at major houses. Hers is a meaty enough soprano, with a reedy quality and quicksilver vibrato that serves the role of Ursula very well indeed. She has a vibrant stage presence and is wholly involved in the drama. Her musical instincts are first rate, and her sound technique delivers whatever she (and the composer) asks of it. It is true, the cruelly high tessitura on a few angular phrases challenged her to modulate to a thinner, tighter production. But Ms. Diener delivered the goods, and projected the most fire of anyone on the stage. Curiously, she didn’t have quite the cumulative impact I imagined she should, but maybe it is a limitation of the writing? Altogether a first class performance none the less.

The lovely, lilting singing from lovely, blond Martina Welschenbach also brought much joy to the proceedings as Regina. Ms. Welschenbach also has a winning stage demeanor and dramatic savvy. Her well-schooled soprano rang out with good presence, and she assuredly contributed some of the evening’s most affecting phrasing. Nadine Weissman gave a solid, plummy account of the Countess of Helfenstein’s featured scenes.

Mathis der Maleris unquestionably better known as a greatly truncated symphonic piece and if we have any expectations coming into the auditorium, it is to hear the orchestral music thrilling played. Christoph Eschenbach and his splendid orchestra did not disappoint. The greater the challenge the better this group seems to play and they were riveting all night as they tossed off every fiendish requirement Hindemith could devise. Rich, complex banks of strings? You got it. Virtuosic solo turns? No problem. Heart-racing rhythmic effects? Check. Magnificent work from the pit. And kudos to the always fine chorus under the tutelage of Patrick Marie Aubert.

I have (perhaps overly) fond recollections of a beautifully sung, sparingly staged version of the piece in Wiesbaden many years ago, with the altarpiece itself forming almost the entire scenic concept. Masterful, I thought at the time. I found myself longing for its simpler, less bombastic pleasures. But still, it is always wonderful to have any opportunity at all to see Mathis der Maler and if Paris’s unruly design elements are really more “malheur” than “Maler” perhaps they could be tamed, the blocking quirks addressed, and the current staging might just yet be fully redeemed by its superior musical achievements.

James Sohre

Click here for a video excerpt.

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):