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 Reviews

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico



Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A newly discovered song by Alma Mahler

It is well known that in addition to the fourteen songs by Alma Mahler published in her lifetime, several dozen more - perhaps as many as one hundred - were written and have been lost or destroyed.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

Glyndebourne Opera Cup 2018: semi-finalists announced

The semi-finalists for the first Glyndebourne Opera Cup have been announced. Following a worldwide search that attracted nearly 200 entries, and preliminary rounds in Berlin, London and Philadelphia, 23 singers aged 21-28 have been chosen to compete in the semi-final at Glyndebourne on 22 March.

ENO announces Studio Live casts and three new Harewood Artists

English National Opera (ENO) has announced the casts for Acis and Galatea and Paul Bunyan, 2018’s two ENO Studio Live productions. ENO Studio Live forms part of ENO Outside which takes ENO’s work to arts-engaged audiences that may not have considered opera before, presenting the immense power of opera in more intimate studio and theatre environments.

Handel in London: 2018 London Handel Festival

The 2018 London Handel Festival explores Handel’s relationship with the city. Running from 17 March to 16 April 2018, the Festival offers four weeks of concerts, talks, walks & film screenings explore masterpieces by Handel, from semi-staged operas to grand oratorio and lunchtime recitals.

Dartington International Summer School & Festival: 70th anniversary programme

Internationally-renowned Dartington Summer School & Festival has released the course programme for its 70th Anniversary Summer School and Festival, curated by the pianist Joanna MacGregor, that will run from 28th July to 25th of August 2018.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

15 Feb 2011

Werther in Lyon

Massenet tells us that his Werther is 23 years old, that Charlotte is 20 years old. Albert is 25 and Sophie is but 15. Just now the Lyon Opera assembled just such a cast.

Jules Massenet: Werther

Arturo Chacon-Cruz: Werther; Karine Deshayes: Charlotte; Lionel Lhote: Albert; Alain Vernhes: Le Bailli; Anne-Catherine Gillet: Sophie; Jean-Paul Fouchécourt: Schmidt; Nabil Suliman: Johann; Marie-Laure Cloarec: Kätchen; Grégory Escolin: Bruhlmann; Orchestre et Maîtrise de l'Opéra de Lyon. Direction musicale: Leopold Hager; Mise en scène: Rolando Villazòn; Décors: François Séguin; Costumes: Thibault Vancraenenbroeck; Lumières: Wolfgang Goebbel; Mise en mouvement: Nola Rae.

All photos by Michel Cavalca courtesy of Opéra de Lyon

 

This unusual casting was the crucial element of an astonishing concept production. Director Rolando Villazón mined the delicate moments of transition between childhood, adolescence and the first revelatory moments of maturity that he divined in The Sorrows of Young Werther. Goethe himself could not argue with Mr. Villazón.

The delicacy of Mr. Villazón's concept was exacerbated by his metaphor. The action of opera's most turgid tale was transferred to the big top — yes, a circus! and narrated in the language of clowning. If all this sounds off-putting, it was. For about three minutes. It became first fascinating, and finally convincing.

DSC_4132_werther_MCavalca.gifThe opera wore the concept well, Massenet's local drunks Schmidt and Johann were singing clowns (very good ones) and a couple of young town folk, Katchen and Bruhlmann, were in fact very real circus clowns. Mr. Villazón's clowns were always on or never far from the stage. They complicated the opera's world of childish delights — Massenet's Yuletide begins and ends his opera — by framing the opera's story with the sadness that is inherent in all clowns. They also imposed a blatantly simple language of storytelling.

They cavorted as clowns do (Schmidt's teared clown-face hovered behind Charlotte as she delivered her Va, laisse couler mes larmes, marking its moments with his clown-hand miming). They exploited the clowning technique to use a simple prop to represent a fare more complicated image (a black dress for Charlotte's dead mother, and finally Werther's frock coat for the dying then dead Werther).

Two identical Werthers moved in simultaneous motions on the stage, one the 10-year-old child Werther, the other the Werther who now faces a different world. Mr. Villazón knows that Charlotte is the victim of the opera Werther, suffering the overwhelming forces of maternal love in conflict with nearly equal forces of romantic love. Werther himself has only to cope with the realization that Werther the child no longer exists, but it is Charlotte who must place his tiny frock coat into the small, coffin shaped box of clowning props.

The clowning metaphor was relentlessly pursued, not for a moment did the concept waiver within the appropriate decors designed by François Séguin — the big-top made of many masts supporting flowing cloth, cages, the toys clowns use and an abstracted harpsichord that mimed the church organ sounds of resigned and contented lives. Costume design by Thibault Vancraenenbroeck [sic] underscored the depth of the concept in its deft mixture of period costume and clowning tradition.

DSC_3293_werther_MCavalca.gif

This startling concept insisted that we hear this masterpiece as we never had heard it before. And that we did in a very present (loud) orchestral reading that magnified the scores more vivid colors. Austrian conductor Lionel Hager had obvious respect for the concept. He found inspired orchestral realization for the love that flowed though a long red, clown scarf pulled between the Charlotte and Werther. He brought a multitude of fortissimo climaxes to the outpourings of the young Werther. And no real gunshot shocked the musical torrent of the suicide (the gun was merely a prop from the box of toys).

Famed hautecontre tenor Jean-Paul Fouchecourt stole the clowning show as Schmid, well matched by Lyon Opera regular, Syrian baritone Nabil Suliman as Johann. Katchen and Bruhlmann (Marie-Laure Cloarec and Gregory Escolin) managed their few lines somehow and otherwise added artistic sheen as professional clowns. Mr.Escolin embodied yet a third Werther, this one a clown imprisoned in a cage.

Usually the province of a mature, read matronly, artist here Charlotte was gracefully embodied by young French mezzo soprano Karine Deshayes. She is a finished artist with a bright and vibrant voice, a revelation in this role. American tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz substituted youth and good looks for the refinement associated with Massenet's singer (and Goethe's poet), and had an abundant supply of secure and powerful high notes to win over those not taken in by looks alone. Belgian baritone Lionel Lhote was a gentile, sympathetic young Albert not yet made hard by worldly success. Though obviously far from fifteen Belgian soprano Anne-Catherine Gillet nonetheless captured the accents of incipient adolescence far more than the usual vocal brilliance of Sophie, and this innocence made her endearing.

DSC_3966_werther_MCavalca.gif

Rolando Villazón is a tenor of enormous reputation, and obviously a man of directorial vision. At the same time much credit must go to the Opéra de Lyon for seeing this remarkable production through to the end and for adding exceptional polish to such a problemic endeavor.

Mr. Villazón is an admitted amateur clown. Let us hope he has not blown his directorial wad with this bizarre first production. And that he may have other hidden talents to theatrically exploit in future productions. Hopefully some daring opera house will find out.

Michael Milenski

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):