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

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Janina Baechle as Anna Akhmatova and Atilla Kiss-B as Lev Goumilev  [Photo by  Elisa Haberer courtesy of Opèra National de Paris]
19 Apr 2011

Akhmatova in Paris

The very name Mantovani strikes musical terror in the hearts of high minded Americans and Brits of a certain age. Now the same surname is evidently terrorizing Parisians.

Bruno Mantovani: Akhmatova

Janina Baechle: Anna Akhmatova; Atilla Kiss-B.: Lev Goumilev; Lionel Peintre: Nicolaï Pounin; Varduhi Abrahamyan: Lydia Tchoukovskaya; Valérie Condoluci: Faina Ranevskaya; Christophe Dumaux: the representative of the Writers' Union; Fabrice Dalis: a sculptor: an English Academic; Ugo Rabec: an agent. Pascal Rophé, conductor; Nicolas Joel, stage director; Wolfgang Gussmann, sets and costumes; Hans Toelstede, lighting. Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Above: Janina Baechle as Anna Akhmatova and Atilla Kiss-B as Lev Goumilev [Photos by Elisa Haberer courtesy of Opèra National de Paris]

 

At least it seemed so, judging by the empty seats of the sixth and final performance of Bruno Mantovani’s Akhmatova at the Bastille (and the even more empty seats after intermission).

Just when Parisians have breathed a collective sigh of relief that the Gerard Mortier reign of terror has ended. [Gerard Mortier is a notorious impresario now in Madrid.]

This French Mantovani (only the name is Italian, with no relation to Annuncio Paolo Mantovani) is 37 years old. His musical idiom is a continuum of sonic explosions effected in astringently classical mediums. For Akhmatova he used a Beethoven orchestra with a couple of clarinets added plus some extra brass and a remarkably restrained percussion battery. In a concert the previous evening of piano music by Mr. Mantovani only the piano keys were struck, there was no amplification or other extra-classical application. His string quartets are just that.

There was a time when an opera was credited to the author of its play, its composer only identified on a second line. Turning back to this custom of bygone centuries let us credit this work, Akhmatova, to its creator, one Christophe Ghristi, dramaturg of the Toulouse Opera who presented the idea and libretto to Bruno Mantovani. It is a book of complex theme and sad to say little poetry.

Strange to say little poetry because Anna Akhmatova, if you did not know, is one of Russia’s great poets. Like many of the important Soviet era artists she was tortured by her art and tortured by her social responsibility. Ghristi exposes Akhmatova’s tortures not through her poetry, but by recounting a back story — her alienation from her son Lev, alienation that was both artistically and politically motivated. In fact her most beautiful poetry dwells on separation, but Akhmatova knows too that her art is superfluous. Thus by conscience she must condemn her son’s defense of the art of his father, the poet Nikolai Gumilyov who was executed by the Revolution.

So we have some pretty big themes put on the table. Too bad that they are left there. The story is told but rarely felt even though Mantovani’s orchestra is as sentient as Strauss’ orchestra, maybe even moreso. The Mantovani sonic vocabulary is enormous, based on repeated notes, trills, glissandi, and oblique tonal movement in, strange to say, almost Beethovenesque sonority. It is music that is potentially responsive to the biggest and smallest movements of the human spirit.

Note that there are no steps in a progression of tones, the term melody is not relevant. Accords between tones are equally irrelevant, any occasional suspicion of harmony is diffused by quietly apparent foreign tones. Like Rameau who bragged that he could set newspaper copy to music, there is no doubt, evidenced by Akhmatova, that Mantovani could as well — interesting, vital and beautiful music.

Mantovani is a lyric composer who is motivated by word, image and idea, real or imagined, the stuff of poetry. The Ghristi book gave him copy that he colorfully illuminated, but Ghristi gave him no poetry, and surprisingly incorporated a most minimal amount of Akhmatova verse though her quite brilliant poetry was certainly there for the taking!

Akhamatova_02.gif

The Opéra de Paris production directed by Nicolas Joel and designed by Wolfgang Gussmann relied on the usual devices of slick modern storytelling. Its point of departure was the abstract portrait that Modigliani sketched of the 20 year old Akhmatova. This black and white image was omnipresent at the Bastille, and dictated that all color in the production would be within the gray scale (a brief bright red scene in the second act indicated a bit of frivolity). The Modigliani minimalism in fact informed all decor. It is a simplified staging idiom that seemed ignorant of or impervious to the luxuriant compositional techniques of Mantovani.

German mezzo-soprano Janina Baechle was Anna Akhmatova. Mme. Baechle’s usual repertory is Mistress Quickly, Brangene, Fricka, etc. The beautiful, young Akhmatova of the Modigliani sketch bore no relationship to the heavy-set, bitter, aged Akhmatova we saw all evening and who only made sense in the opera’s third and final act. The first and second acts lacked the presence of the thin, intense, charismatic Akhmatova of middle age who was illustrated by photographs in the program booklet. Such impersonation would have brought vibrancy and finally pathos to Mr. Ghristi’s story. As it was Mme. Baechle’s quite powerful performance was unfulfilling.

Romanian tenor Atilla Kiss-B. [sic] was Akhmatova’s son Lev. Mr. Kiss-B.’s usual repertoire seems to be emotionally complicated Strauss and Janacek roles, and that was his weight in this production. He is a striking performer who fully embodied the bitter, strident middle-aged Lev returned from the Gulag camps, but missed creating the naivete of Lev the idealistic university student in the early moments of the opera. His impressive delivery of his ugly adieu to his mother begged for the sense of the boy whose innocence was wasted.

The balance of a mismatched cast negotiated the Mantovani vocal lines with aplomb, no easy feat. Mr. Ghristi’s phrases were generally declaimed on a single note, jumping, seldom if ever stepping to subsequent tones to further the speech. From the initial downbeat conductor Pascal Rophé made Mantovani’s orchestra the center of attention. Perhaps there never was the possibility of the traditional operatic relationship between pit and stage as the Mantovani orchestral continuum naturally absorbs the voice rather than supports it.

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):