Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.



Anna Larsson as Kundry [Photo by Bernd Uhlig courtesy of La Monnaie | De Munt]
12 Feb 2011

Parsifal in Brussels

Romeo Castellucci is the cat’s whisker of current avant-garde theater directors. Thus it has simply been a matter of time before he would be invited to the Monnaie to stage an opera.

Richard Wagner: Parsifal

Amfortas: Thomas Johannes Mayer: Titurel: Victor von Halem; Gurnemanz:Jan-Hendrik Rootering; Parsifal: Andrew Richards; Klingsor: Tómas Tómasson; Kundry: Anna Larsson; Gralsritter: Willem Van der Heyden, Friedemann Röhlig. Orchestre symphonique, chœurs et chœur de jeunes de la Monnaie. Direction musicale: Hartmut Haenchen. Mise en scène: Romeo Castellucci. Chorégraphie: Cindy Van Acker. Décors, costumes et éclairages: Romeo Castellucci.

Above: Anna Larsson as Kundry

All photos by Bernd Uhlig courtesy of La Monnaie | De Munt


Unlike most avant-garde artists Sig. Castellucci has earned mainstream credibility and recognition (France’s major daily newspaper Le Monde named his Divine Comedy cycle the best theatrical event dans le monde for the first decade of the twenty-first century!).

Here in the south of France Sig. Castellucci created one of his eleven-piece cycle La Tragedia Endogonidia for Marseille (each part was created in different cities). We were led, blind, into a black space and left standing, lights illuminated a huge pile of furniture, a brutal action occurred, meanwhile the mess of furniture disappeared and a survivor of the action sat at a piano and played the Gymnopédie #3 (the one everyone knows). Twenty minutes after we had entered the space we left.

In Brussels it was into the splendor of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie that we entered and some four hours plus later we emerged. What had happened was that a kinetic mess of a forest (trees kept falling) gave way to a brutal action and the survivor then marched to the Holy Grail. And, uhm, that is more or less what happens in Dante’s Divine Comedy too.

While Sig. Castellucci may be stuck in his story telling he is not stuck in the imagery, and that is of course what his art is all about. The Parsifal at the Monnaie was not about Wagner’s Parsifal but about Sig. Castellucci’s art. And that art is considerable and there is no shortage of self congratulation. To wit, Klingsor is a chef d’orchestre, the holy lance is his baton but Parsifal does not catch it because Klingsor lays it on the floor and walks off the stage. Thus in this improvised second act contest between stage and pit Mr. Castellucci seems to be the winner.

Not to mention that for the entire overture a huge image of Nietsche was projected above the orchestra. FYI Nietsche detested Wagner.

Sig. Castellucci’s imagistic language is rife with reference, and like most music the images are not metaphors of ideas or translated spaces but superimpositions of impressions. When examined these vast impressions lead to so many conceptual conclusions that no one may be identified as the absolute. Though it is fun to try.

The first unveiling of the Holy Grail is a clue to Sig. Castellucci’s artistic intuition. A huge white sheet suddenly covered the kinetic forest, thus all motion stopped as we were confronted only with one small, black quotation mark in this void of white — the word of God? As the final vision of the Grail was unfolding Parsifal and the multitudes marched relentlessly forward it (a rolling stage floor allowed the perpetual forward marching). The lights in auditorium were illuminated — we knew that we are not only a part of the multitudes, we were the Grail itself. Well, why not refer this magnificent affirmation of existence to Satie’s insipid ditty.


Too bad for Sig. Castellucci, but the pit won after all. Wagner’s magnetic score received a magnificent reading at the baton of German conductor Hartmut Haenchen who was clearly sympathetic to this reduction of Wagner’s holy rite to visual images — his task was now purely musical rather than dramatic. Never before have such sounds emerged from a pit, the antagonistic guttural attacks of the string bows, shattering fortes, earth shaking fortissimos. Most striking of all innovations were the nymphs of the garden scene placed in the pit which gave the maestro opportunity to transform the sweetness of this music into loud music of inexorable persuasiveness. Mo. Haenchen too abstracted Wagner’s opera.

For all the brilliance of the imagery and the discovery and superlative implementation of a myriad of scenic techniques, for all the visual excitement created by the plasticity (constant movement) of these images and for the intuitive sense of a supra-eternal artistic presence, those four hours seemed long. The slow succession of Sig. Castellucci’s depth images impeded the dramatic flow of Wagner’s opera, visual and musical climaxes seldom coincided.

The casting of young American tenor Andrew Richards was a coup de théâtre in itself. This neophyte Wagnerian embodied a Parsifal of genuine innocence, and managed its delivery effectively if with far more sweetness than heldentenor brilliance. Because Sig. Castellucci art is visual rather than dramatic the singers rarely had the support of creating and developing character. Thus much of their success was dependent on sheer vocal artistry. The performances of Kundry (Anna Larsson), Amfortas (Thomas Johannes Mayer) and particularly Gurnemanz (Jan-Hendrik Rootering) missed creating sufficient presence. Klingson (Tómas Tomasson) had much to do — conducting as well as trussing and hanging ballerinas — and thus made a big impression.


The production is huge and magnificent, and, hear/tell, a bit compromised in execution. It is the idealized stuff of the Aix Festival. May it arrive at the Grand Théâtre de Provence! I would like a second look.

Michael Milenski

Click here for a photo gallery of 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):