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

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.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Albéric Magnard: Bérénice
02 Feb 2011

Bérénice, Carnegie Hall

Albéric Magnard, inspired to abandon the law for music by a visit to Bayreuth in 1886, was wealthy enough to ignore the public and go off on his own to compose.

Albéric Magnard: Bérénice

Bérénice: Michaela Martens; Lia: Margaret Lattimore; Titus: Brian Mulligan; Mucien: Gregory Reinhart. American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein. At Carnegie Hall. Performance of January 30.

 

He was a virtuoso of his particular instrument: the later romantic orchestra in all its excess of size and sonority and varieties of color, and like many a virtuoso he tended to ignore other aspects of the compositions he worked on. When one is composing an opera, after all, one wants a clear story or at least clearly “musicable” (as Verdi put it) situations, and to have the music emerge from those situations and characters. Magnard’s Bérénice features long, powerful lead parts with rich orchestral accompaniment but very little of all its music (some three hours’ worth) is effectively theatrical or illuminates the famous play from which he drew his libretto.

In the days when classical culture meant something, the romance of Emperor Titus and Queen Bérénice was the very type of Noble Renunciation: Duty before Love. The lovers met when Titus commanded the Roman army besieging Jerusalem in 69 A.D.; Bérénice and her brother, Herod Agrippa II, took the Roman side against the Jewish rebels. When the war was over and the Second Temple destroyed, Bérénice followed Titus to Rome, where his father, Vespasian, had become emperor. For nearly ten years, older woman and younger man were the talk of Roman society—a Rome that had not forgotten Marc Antony and his loss of self-control, of empire, of life on account of another oriental queen. When Titus succeeded his father, he felt it to be his duty to send Bérénice away. This tragedy without bloodshed challenged Jean Racine, who made a drama out of the situation by adding a third character, a great friend of Titus who (unknown to the others) is also in love with Bérénice. All three, as Dudley Moore would put it, bemoan and bemoan and bemoan—and then separate for good. It is exquisite but, at five acts, a bit much for modern audiences. (Red Bull Theater, which specializes in Jacobean drama, gave a delicious staged reading of Racine’s play last winter.) Metastasio’s libretto on noble Titus, familiar from Mozart’s setting, begins on the day of Bérénice’s exile from Rome, therefore omitting her as a character. Magnard omitted the friend and reduced his cast to four, so that his hero and heroine would each have someone to argue with between love duets or recrimination duets with one another.

This was presented at Carnegie Hall by the American Symphony Orchestra led by Leon Botstein, who has a sweet tooth for neglected music, especially late romantic scores of more grandiloquence than substance (Le Roi Arthus, anybody? or Ariane et Barbe-Bleu? or Fervaal?), but who has rendered great services to New York opera-lovers by his explorations of obscure repertory (The Wreckers! Die Ferne Klang! Le Roi d’Ys! or Die Liebe der Danäe—which last, by the way, will be his staged offering at Bard this summer). From one hearing, one is inclined to place Bérénice in the former group, of worthy technical exercises low on appeal to those who like drama with their künst.

Enriching a full afternoon of music, however, was an exceptional cast of four singers worthily sinking their teeth into Magnard’s Wagnerian vocal lines. Michaela Martens, in the title role, calls herself a mezzo soprano. She has a voice that hovers between soprano and mezzo, if anything brighter and fuller on top than bottom, and might evolve to dramatic soprano heights in time. The Met has regularly miscast her in the tiny role of Alisa in Lucia di Lammermoor—where she not only outsings whoever the Lucia may be but, during the sextet, the entire remainder of the cast plus the chorus. She has been winning praise from Chicago to Graz in the arduous role of the Amme in Die Frau ohne Schatten—which, the Met being the Met, probably means she will be assigned Flora Bervoix there next season (Violettas, beware!), when a voice like this deserves Ortrud or Waltraute if not Didon. At Carnegie Hall, she demonstrated that she can indeed sing softly, though clearly, when required, murmuring of love or sinking into recriminations, but it is the fierce, brassy color and tireless, unwavering solidity of Martens’ voice that Wagnerians will find exciting. Margaret Lattimore gave a distinguished performance as Lia, Bérénice’s confidante.

Brian Mulligan, an effective Prometheus in the Los Angeles performances of Die Vögel, sang Titus. He is a baritone but, just as Magnard pushed Bérénice’s mezzo soprano limits, he pushed Titus to the top of a baritone’s comfort level; some of those present thought he must be a tenor. That he managed this music with so little audible discomfort was most impressive; on the other hand, his French diction was atrocious and calls for some heavy coaching if he considers other roles in that language. Bass Gregory Reinhart, as Mucien, the Voice of Duty (as it were), was sonorous, thrilling and a little scary—in a good way.

The Collegiate Chorale had very little to do but provide scenic “color” to scenes of the luxurious imperial court, rioting mobs and cheerful sailors. The ASO demonstrated its familiar aptitude for this sort of score, its swift changes of tempo, its tonal painting of scenes that all added up to a demonstration of technique without compositorial inspiration. Could one request Mr. Botstein to give us more Schreker or Zemlinsky or Smyth and skip the French dilettantes in the future? Or how about Janáček’s Osud, which he once presented at Bard but which has never been performed in New York? With the same composer’s Excursions of Mr. Brouček, that would make a double bill of most uncommon interest.

John Yohalem

Click here for program notes relating to this production.

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):