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

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Magdalena Koženà as Mélisande and Stéphane Degout as  Pelléas [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
31 Dec 2010

Pelléas et Mélisande, New York

Pelléas et Mélisande, Debussy’s impressionist drama closely based on Maeterlinck’s eerie, symbolist play, is not a terribly vocal opera; it calls more for the subtlety of art song style than the belting of great divas and divos.

Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Mélisande: Magdalena Koženà; Geneviève: Felicity Palmer; Pelléas: Stéphane Degout; Golaud: Gerald Finley; Yniold: Neel Ram Nagarajan; Arkel: Willard White. Metropolitan Opera, conducted by Simon Rattle. Performance of December 20.

Above: Magdalena Koženà as Mélisande and Stéphane Degout as Pelléas

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

 

Therefore it makes me a bit uneasy to report that the latest Met revival features the best all-around cast the company has fielded (theatered?) all season, nearly flawless from top to bottom, no one vocally out of her or his league, everyone suited to the scale of the work and to singing it at the Met—at least when Simon Rattle is in the pit, keeping the evening in flawless balance.

PELLEAS_Finley_Kozena_White_7077c.pngMagdalena Kožená as Mélisande, Gerald Finley as Golaud and Willard White as Arkel

Jonathan Miller’s production removes Maeterlinck’s tragedy from the mystical, pre-Raphaelite mists in which the playwright set it to a definite location: an English country house in the Merchant-Ivory style. Miller’s feeling seems to be that we have forgotten the once-upon-a kingdoms of fairy tale, that we nowadays have similar half-sensual half- memories related to the forgotten refinements and restraints of the turn of the century world. This does not always fail of its proper effect, though killing with broadswords seems a little strange. I do not quite understand why Mélisande, first discovered in a Jungian wood far from the rest of the action, weeping into a forest pool, is already within the walls of the house. Surely her tragedy, in part, is that she begins and remains an outsider? For Miller, evidently, “Allemond,” the name of Arkel’s kingdom, is truly all-the-world, and just as there is no place to flee, there is no outside for Mélisande to have come from.

The singers, an extraordinary ensemble, perform with sensitivity and grace. Every sound they make is musically grateful and lulls one into the texture of Debussy’s tone poem. Stéphane Degout’s ardent Pelléas is nicely contrasted with Gerald Finley’s agonized and menacing Golaud. Willard White and Felicity Palmer give moving performances as the helpless elders Arkel and Geneviève. Neel Ram Narajan’s boy soprano reaches all the notes with perfect support and has no trouble filling the house. He is often called upon to “witness” the actions of the incomprehensible adults, and he acts bravely. (In one clever Miller touch, Yniold’s scene with the Shepherd becomes a nightmare, sing in bed.)

PELLEAS_Kozena_and_Degout_0804a.pngMagdalena Koženà as Mélisande and Stéphane Degout as Pelléas

The one member of the cast who did not seem quite acclimatized with the rest, perhaps appropriately, was Lady Rattle, Magdalena Koženà, who sang Mélisande, that quintessential outsider. It was easy to put her accented French down to the character’s foreignness; this did not bother me at all. More awkward was her air of conscious coquetry, of flirting with Pélleas, of manipulating those about her. This is not appropriate to Mélisande whose innocence is precisely the keynote of her character. Koženà stares, as required, at the actions of others, but her stare does not seem to imply wonder or puzzle; simply a languid lack of interest. Innocence is a commodity that Maeterlinck’s admirers longed for, missing their pre-Freudian, pre-Darwinian youth perhaps; if we can no longer believe in it, we still must have a Mélisande who incarnates it to perform the opera properly.

The hero of the evening, shining despite the brilliance of so extraordinary a group of singers, was conductor Sir Simon Rattle in his Met debut. His Pelléas et Mélisande was of so measured a pace that the moments of rising tension, imminent violence, came upon us with an almost shocking suddenness and, as the stage action remained calm, tied us more closely to the internal states that the score tends to paint in any case. His sureness and lightness of touch permitted the singers to project conversationally without any strain or push. He brought us to our feet.

John Yohalem

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):