Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Plácido Domingo as Oreste [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera]
27 Feb 2011

Iphigénie en Tauride, New York

Gluck’s operas are part of a continuum, a tradition of French vocal declamation (as opposed to the Italian school of flights of elegant, open-throated vocal fantasy) that can be traced to him from Lully and Rameau, and then from Gluck through certain works of Mozart and Gluck’s pupil, Salieri to the operas of Spontini, Berlioz and Wagner.

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride

Iphigénie: Elizabeth Bishop; Oreste: Plácido Domingo; Pylade: Paul Groves; Thoas: Gordon Hawkins; Diane: Julie Boulianne; Priestesses: Lei Xu, Cecelia Hall. Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Patrick Summers. Performance of February 16.

Above: Plácido Domingo as Oreste

Except as otherwise indicated, all photos by Ken Howard courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera

 

It is not a greater or lesser tradition than the Italian style, but it achieves different dramatic effects, or the same effects by different means, and individual singers are often more proficient in one than in the other. Specialists in Gluck being rare (though he is, happily, going through one of his periodic revivals just now), one must seek great Gluck singers in other branches of the repertory. Those trained for Wagner, not too surprisingly, often fit well in the Gluckian glove. Thus, back in the 1950s, Flagstad and Farrell were both superb as Gluck’s Alceste and would probably have been exciting as his Iphigénie.

Elizabeth_Bishop_02.gifElizabeth Bishop [Photo by Sasha Vasiljev courtesy of Barrett Vantage Artists]

With this in mind, I was intrigued to learn that Susan Graham was indisposed on the night I attended Iphigénie en Tauride at the Met and would be replaced by Elizabeth Bishop. I had last heard Bishop as Venus in Tannhäuser (also a last-minute replacement) and have fond memories of that performance: a young singer of great authority and potential in dramatic roles. But Iphigénie is a less one-note conception than Venus; too, she is the epitome of restraint where Venus is just the opposite.

Gluck’s Iphigénie, taken from Euripides, is a dignified priestess, torn between her personal, humane, Greek sense of ethics and the demands of the barbaric society in which she finds herself trapped, demands that include performing human sacrifices. The screw turns its final gyre when two proposed victims are her long-lost brother, Oreste, and his friend Pylade. Tension is provided by the fact that, after fifteen years apart, the siblings do not recognize each other and somehow never ask each other’s name. Wouldn’t you tell a priestess your name before she cut your throat?

The situation is resolved in antique high style by the appearance of the deity, Diane, who rescues the Greeks and abolishes human sacrifice—but she takes her time to show up (at the end of Act IV), allowing us to comprehend the noble natures of our legendary characters as they face their predicament. In Gluck’s stately score dignity is the watchword, though at the Met, in Stephen Wadsworth’s excessively busy production, Iphigénie is inclined to hysterical fits and hallucinations. So, for that matter, is Oreste, but he has an excuse—the Furies drove him mad for his brief fit of matricide back in Aeschylus’ Oresteia.

IPHIGENIE_Groves_and_Doming.gifPaul Groves as Pylade and Plácido Domingo as Oreste

Bishop sang the priestess-princess with the right stately propriety and a large, burnished mezzo, but with occasional lapses of evenness, of control, that suggested she had not fully gauged the demands of this long role. It was not a fully crafted performance, though a promising one; if Ms. Graham remains under the weather (Bishop has sung at least one other evening since the one I attended), another excursion or two should pull it all together. Plácido Domingo, too, had a cold (and had the Met say so) but, canny codger that he is, concealed his discomfort behind the craziness Oreste calls for. Not until Bishop had him on his back on the altar, knife poised above, did the familiar Domingo sound pour miraculously forth. Paul Groves, as Pylade, had much the best night of the three leading singers, with an ardent, gleaming sound and acting that made this two-dimensional sidekick role seem genuinely heroic. Mr. Groves has usually been regarded as a lightweight, Mozartean tenor, but his singing here implied that he could take on weightier assignments rewardingly: Florestan or Samson or (in Domingo’s footsteps) light Wagner. Gordon Hawkins sang Thoas unimpressively, Julie Boulianne was acceptable as Diane, and I must say a word about Lei Xu and Cecelia Hall, who made a genuine and joyous impression in the small roles of Iphigénie’s assisting priestesses. Gluck obscures no one; his score allows everyone to shine if she or he is able to. The Met chorus did a tidy a job and Patrick Summers brought out the many felicities of this gracious, unusual score that sums up so much of where drama and opera had led by 1779 and predicts so much of what was to come.

IPHIGENIE_Graham_and_Hawkin.gifSusan Graham as Iphigénie and Gordon Hawkins as Thoas

The Wadsworth production accompanies the “Janissary” percussion Gluck composed so that we’d know we were in a land of barbarians with inane and frantic dancing here and there in nooks and landings and crannies of the set to make us think wild orgies were going on next door. There are also pointless and tiresome intrusions of the ghosts of persons sung about who have no business being on stage, where they confuse the casual viewer and annoy the knowing one. All these things, and Iphigénie’s hysteria could be altered with a simple restaging. Less easy to comprehend and impossible to forgive is the positioning of the statue of the goddess in her temple: In all the long millennia of religious faith, this is surely the only occasion anyone has ever offered prayers, sacrifices and hymns to the backside of a deity. Couldn’t they turn her at least ninety degrees and have them offer sacrifice beside her?

All that aside, it’s a good show.

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):