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.



Richard Wagner: Rienzi — Der Letzte der Tribunen
16 Jun 2011

Wagner’s Rienzi in Berlin

The Voltaire maxim usually given in English as “The perfect is the enemy of the good” illuminates the artistic conflicts surrounding many a Wagner production.

Richard Wagner: Rienzi — Der Letzte der Tribunen

Rienzi: Torsten Kerl; Irene: Camilla Nylund; Steffano Colonna: Ante Jerkunica; Adriano: Kate Aldrich; Paolo Orsini: Krzysztof Szumanski; Cardinal Orvieto: Lenus Carlson; Baroncelli: Clemens Bieber; Cecco del Vecchio: Stephen Bronk. Berlin Deutsche Opera Chorus and Orchestra (chorus master: William Spaulding). Sebastian Lang-Lessing, conductor. Philipp Stölzl, stage director and set design. Ulrike Siegrist, set design. Kathi Maurer and Ursula Kudrna, costume design. Recorded live from the Deutsche Oper Berlin, 2010.

ArtHaus Musik 101521 [2DVDs] | 101522 [Blu-Ray]

$39.99  Click to buy

With such large operas — in duration, cast, theme, and more — the viewer is best prepared to enjoy any production by foregoing Apollonian expectations. Wagner held himself to very high standards, of course, and one early victim of his search for perfect artistic self-expression was his opera Rienzi — Last of the Tribunes. Created around the same time as The Flying Dutchman, Wagner decided later that Rienzi fell into his early growth period, while Dutchman marked the beginnings of his artistic maturity. So Rienzi was banned from the Bayreuth canon, and indeed the opera has seldom been staged elsewhere, although there are some historic recordings available. What has kept the opera’s title alive is the popularity of its overture in performance and on classical music radio stations. The stirring nobility of the main theme and then the energetic propulsion of the middle section must have led many a listener to be curious about what the opera would be like, seen staged.

An answer — if partial — can be found in the ArtHaus DVD of a 2010 Deutsche Oper Berlin performance, directed by Philip Stötzl. Wagnerian perfectionists face two daunting challenges in enjoying the best of this staging: first, the radically edited version of the score created as the basis of this performance, and second, Stötzl’s decision to forego the setting and even tone of Wagner’s libretto for the sort of modern theatrical interpretation often described, not to say derided, as “regie.”

Set in 14th century Rome, Wagner’s original libretto had a sprawling cast of characters engaging in multiple subplots, but Stötzl cut away everything except the central story of the Roman tribune Rienzi, who becomes a hero to the people when, with the backing of the Church, he faces down a civil revolt. Somewhat reluctantly, he agrees to take leadership and find a final resolution to the conflict. A key member of one of the opposing factions, Adriano, falls in love with Rienzi’s devoted sister, Irene. Adriano pledges support to Rienzi, but other members of the rebelling factions attempt an assassination. Rienzi survives, but then he becomes as autocratic and oppressive as those he sought to subdue. Ultimately, civil war breaks out again, and Rienzi is killed, along with his sister Irene, who chooses her brother over Adriano, leaving the young man bereft.

That much of the story Stötzl communicates very clearly, but he does it through the iconic images of the Third Reich (although there is no specific Hitler parallel in Rienzi’s appearance). Under the overture, a gymnast in a fat military suit cavorts around a huge desk, a homage to Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator playing with a globe-shaped balloon. In his white suit and pulled back hair, Torsten Kerl as Rienzi has a quasi-Mussolini affect, but even from the beginning he seems unstable and unreliable as a force for bringing others together. His dissolution carries no tragic force, therefore, but tragedy is not Stötzl’s aim. The best of the score is known through that famous overture; otherwise, this is indeed early Wagner, the anarchic master locked into the rigid forms of a Meyerbeerian grand spectacle. Stötzl’s menacing yet comical tone turns out to be an effective gambit. And Kerl deserves a lot of credit, singing out with sustained power and thrust, but also fully invested in the production’s atmosphere. Kerl rivets the attention, even if the character often repels it.

In appearance Camilla Nylund is almost too spot-on as Irene — tall, attractive and blonde, Nylund embodies what might have once been called a vision of feminine Aryan beauty. She also physically overwhelms Kate Aldrich in the pants-role of Adriano, but Nylund doesn’t supplant Aldrich as a vocalist. Aldrich sings with great precision and passion, in a type of role that Wagner would never attempt again. While effective, Nylund lacks any special character to her soprano.

Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing doesn’t allow any of the score’s many edits to disrupt a potent, melodic flow. And for once a disc’s “special feature” is truly special — a 20-minute “making of” documentary that actually has interesting interviews and rehearsal glimpses that give a good sense of how a complex staging such as this comes together. Look for the moment when Nylund asks Stötzl why Irene doesn’t approach Rienzi when her libretto line states she is coming to his side, and a momentarily exasperated Stötzl points out that the production is far from literal. Whether one sympathizes with the singer’s inquiry or the director’s response, the exchange shows the kind of involvement of all parties that resulted in this unusual and frequently exciting production. Recommended.

Chris Mullins


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):