Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

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):