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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Stuart Skelton as Parsifal [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera]
20 Feb 2011

Parsifal, ENO

This production retains a special place in my heart: its first outing in 1999 was my first Parsifal in the theatre. Saving up my student pennies, I made the journey not once but twice from Cambridge to London, was mightily impressed the first time and a little irritated the second.

Amfortas: Iain Paterson; Titurel: Andrew Greenan; Gurnemanz: Sir John Tomlinson; Klingsor: Tom Fox; Parsifal: Stuart Skelton; Kundry: Jane Dutton; First Knight: Adrian Dwyer; Second Knight: Robert Winslade Anderson; First Squire: Julia Sporsén; Second Squire: Stephanie Marshall; Third Squire: Christopher Turner; Fourth Squire: Michael Bracegirdle; Voice from Above: Amy Kerenza Sedgwick; First Group of Flowermaidens: Sarah-Jane Davies, Julia Sporsén, Helena Dix; Second Group of Flowermaidens: Meeta Ravel, Sarah Jane Brandon, Stephanie Marshall. Director: Nikolaus Lehnhoff; Associate Director: Dan Dooner; Designer: Raimund Bauer; Costumes: Andrea Schmidt-Futterer; Lighting: Duane Schuler; Choreography: Denni Sayers. Orchestra of the English National Opera; Chorus of the English National Opera and additional chorus (chorus master: Martin Merry); Mark Wigglesworth (conductor). Coliseum, London, Wednesday 16 February 2011.

Above: Stuart Skelton as Parsifal

All photos by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera

 

Even though I began to harbour doubts about some aspects of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production, above all its ending, it remains preferable to many I have seen in the meantime. Stefan Herheim’s astounding Bayreuth version stands in a class of its own. Leaving that aside, however, Lehnhoff is immeasurably superior, say, to the pitiful, incoherent offeringsfrom Klaus Michael Grüber for Covent Garden — why on earth did the Royal Opera revive a universally derided non-production? — or Bernd Eichinger’s confused effort for the Berlin State Opera, let alone glimpses of Tony Palmer’s cod-mediævalism for the Mariinsky. Lehnhoff’s conception, powerfully aided by Raimund Bauer’s stage designs, stands very much in the shadow of the Holocaust, taking as a further, generally productive cue the Waste Land’s ‘heap of broken images’. Apposite both to Wagner’s drama ‘in itself’ and to how we may now feel compelled to consider it, we encounter in the first act a community clearly in need of rejuvenation; by the time of the third act, much has turned to rubble and stone, it not being clear until the end whether there should remain any hope at all, even under Parsifal, of that rejuvenation. The second act seems less sure of itself, its abiding images being the bizarre costumes Andrea Schmidt-Futterer allots to Klingsor (weirdly space-age) and Kundry (a strange chrysalis, out of and into which she awkwardly squeezes herself). But compared to the horrors of Grüber’s Covent Garden production, we perhaps should not concern ourselves unduly with that. What the whole lacked, I thought, was more incisive direction on stage, doubtless a consequence of Lehnhoff’s absence through illness: there was more than the occasional hint of a routine ‘revival’, a great pity given the ideas presented.

The broken railway line present during the whole of the third act is a powerful ‘broken image’, presumably intended to refer to Auschwitz. But what is being said there? That the variety of revival offered by the community’s new leader leads to racial rather than Schopenhauerian annihilation? That would be wrong-headed in the extreme, but a point of view at least, yet it seems undercut by the joy with which Kundry — she does not die — and Parsifal begin their journey along the line. The implication seems to be that they are wandering off to initiate a sexual relationship: bewildering, and arguably offensive, in the production’s context. The production, understandably, appears to waver between a quasi-Adornian attempt to ‘rescue’ Wagner and a desire to condemn him. Part of the reason, I suspect, why this conundrum presents itself is the production’s absolute refusal to engage with the work’s complex relationship towards Christianity. (I should direct anyone interested in my thoughts on the latter to an article in The Wagner Journal, 3/3, pp.29-59.) Simply to ignore the issue seems to me an unduly easy way out. And yes, that includes the deflating absence of any substitute for the second-act Sign of the Cross; text and music cry out for something, whatever it might be.

Mark Wigglesworth’s conducting was for the most part something to savour. Parsifal is by any standards a tough proposition, but the structure was largely in place, most impressively of all in the first act, which opened with a beautifully slow yet sustained prelude. The third act occasionally dragged: not a matter of tempo as such, but of faltering line; however, I should not wish to exaggerate. The score’s dialectic between horizontal and vertical demands was more surely navigated than I have often heard. Moreover, the ENO orchestra gave perhaps the finest performance I have ever heard from it; I have certainly never heard it finer. Strings had weight, sweetness, and silkiness, as required, whilst the rounded tone of the brass, sepulchral and never brash, proved exemplary.

Parsifal_Stuart_Skelton_Jane_Dutton_3_credit_Richard_Hubert_Smith.pngStuart Skelton as Parsifal and Jane Dutton as Kundry

Allowances had to be made for some of the vocal portrayals — and for almost all of Richard Stokes’s English translation. The latter is doubtless an horrendously difficult task to undertake, but some of the inaccuracies — why change a gander to a ‘duckling’, making nonsense of the relationship to a goose? — and banalities could surely have been improved upon. Choral singing was generally very good. Jane Dutton’s Kundry was sadly below par; one could only regret the absence, owing to ‘artistic differences’, of the originally advertised Iréne Theorin. Sir John Tomlinson’s voice is becoming increasingly threadbare at the top, but there was no denying the overall majesty of his Gurnemanz, however impoverished the great narrations may have been by the act of translation. Iain Paterson had a slightly shaky start as Amfortas, but recovered well, soon erasing unfortunate memories of his bizarre miscasting by ENO as Don Giovanni; here, instead, we had a typically detailed response to text and music, and a credible dramatic assumption, for the most part finely acted on stage. Tom Fox and Andrew Greenan made their respective marks without blemish as Klingsor and Titurel, both rising vocally above the handicap of their strange costumes. Stuart Skelton displayed a fine Heldentenor in the title role, very much in the baritonal, ‘Bayreuth’ tradition. As with many of the best exponents of the role, he left one initially a little disappointed, an apparent disappointment rectified by the appreciation of dramatic strategy: the first act Parsifal should sound somewhat vacant, in order to allow for the extraordinary development the character undergoes. (Even ‘extraordinary’ is to put it mildly.) The voice lacks nothing in power; if anything, the thought occurred that it might have benefited from a larger space.

Parsifal_Iain_Patterson_Adrian_Dwyer_Robert_Winslade_Anderson_2_.pngIain Patterson as Amfortas, Adrian Dwyer as First Knight and Robert Winslade Anderson as Second Knight

Indeed, I still wonder whether a theatre other than the Bayreuth Festspielhaus is a suitable venue for staging Parsifal at all: not out of misplaced ‘Bayreuth Idealist’ piety, but rather because I think other, non-theatrical spaces, from Siena Cathedral to the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, might prove much more appropriate. A work that has so far transcended the narrow horizons of the Italianate opera house — or, in the case of the Coliseum case, the music hall! — jars somewhat in such a setting. Whether one considers that jarring productive may be a matter of taste, however, and the problem, such as it is, is not ENO’s alone; far from it.

Mark Berry

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):