Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Johannes der Evangelist auf Patmos by Hieronymus Bosch
27 Aug 2011

Franz Schmidt’s The Book with Seven Seals at Grant Park

In keeping with the festival nature of the piece, the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, along with guest soloists and a guest chorus director, gave two performances of Franz Schmidt’s Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln on recent weekend evenings.

Franz Schmidt: The Book with Seven Seals

Edith Lienbacher, Soprano; Christa Ratzenböck, Mezzo-Soprano; Robert Künzli, Tenor; Alexander Kaimbacher, Tenor; Albert Pesendorfer, Bass. Grant Park Orchestra. Grant Park Chorus. William Spaulding, Guest Chorus Director. Carlos Kalmar, Conductor.

Above: Johannes der Evangelist auf Patmos by Hieronymus Bosch

 

Carlos Kalmar conducted his forces with the intensity needed to retain the devotional focus and tension throughout the lengthy work. In the extended and demanding role of Saint John the tenor Robert Künzli gave a riveting performance of vocal and dramatic strengths. Participating in various solo and ensemble parts the well chosen cast was made up of soprano Edith Lienbacher, mezzo soprano Christa Ratzenböck, tenor Alexander Kaimbacher, and bass Albert Pesendorfer.

The orchestral prelude to Schmidt’s composition returns, as appropriate, at the close in one of several musical gestures underlining the cyclical nature of the work. In much the same way, the vocal declamations and variations on these are performed in complementary passages near the start and at the end of the work. In the role of both introducing and concluding the piece Künzli’s unflagging Saint John called upon his listeners to recall the sacrifice of Christ. Further, he announced that revelations concerning the end of the world would truly come to pass. Künzli’s approach was at times dramatic and ringing in delivery, whereas at others he used a lighter tone on softer intonation (e.g., the word “gewaschen” [“washed”] in “Der uns geliebet hat und gewaschen von den Sünden” [“He who loved us and washed us from our sins”]). In the role of the Lord’s voice Pesendorfer gave a consistently strong impression in vocal flexibility. His extended mid-range notes on “Ich bin das A und das O” were followed by exhortations to approach the heavenly throne with well projected articulation on low bass notes. After this declaration from above Saint John described the heavenly throne with Künzli achieving specific emphasis on the dramatic “Donner und Stimmen” (“thunder and voices”). As he concluded this description with rapid tempos on “einem fliegenden Adler” (“a flying eagle”), the remaining “Wesen” or “beasts” were enumerated in their positions surrounding the heavenly throne. At this point the additional soloists are first heard as part of a quartet in the parts of the beasts. The soprano, mezzo-soprano, and tenor were joined by Pesendorfer in the quartet as Kaimbacher’s emotive tenor called memorably the holiness of the Lord. For the remaining portions of the prologue the Chorus and Saint John, alternating with the other soloists, introduced the substance of the Book with its seals, the concept of sacrifice, and the preparations to open the Book and announce its revealed wisdom.

Just as the first mention of the Book in the Prologue was heralded by the accompaniment of the organ, Part I and Part II of Schmidt’s work are both introduced by extended organ solos. As each of the first six seals of the Book is opened in Part I, a symbolic figure occurs together with descriptive events on the earth. The Grant Park Chorus, first as a whole and then divided into groups, communicated in their well-rehearsed performance the fate of individuals as the firs two seals released the white and red horses of the apocalypse. Male and female groups of the Chorus conveyed the violent ravages and the intense suffering as a result of war and its devastations. Künzli’s moving summary that “Hölle folgte ihm nach” (“Hell followed after him”) brought a transition to the third seal or the black horseman of hunger. Pesendorfer’s solo in this role introduced a duet for mother and daughter. Ms. Lienbacher and Ms. Ratzenböck sang here with especially effective, merging vocal lines, so that the pain and desperation of human needs were touchingly communicated. After Saint John declared the fourth seal opened, and the pale horse of death was announced, the two male survivors sang that in death they are brothers. Kaimbacher and Pesendorfer performed with fervor their individual parts of the complementary duet which coalesced in a Biblical quote that found both voices perfectly matched. For the earthquake associated with opening the sixth seal toward the close of Part I both Chorus and orchestra swelled into a crescendo ending on “O wer kann da bestehen?” (“O who will be able to stand?”).

The organ solo at the start of Part II has a more ominous tone than in Part I with, as played here, somewhat more pointed individual notes. In the introduction to Saint John’s announcement of the seventh and final seal being opened Künzli lavished emotional effects on his long monologue detailing the original battle between angels and dragon. Orchestral effects were carefully matched to vocal lines so that trumpet and percussion led to a message of judgment. The solo quartet “Wehe euch! Das vierte Wehe” (“Woe! The fourth sorrow”), as introduced by the bass and integrating the other voices skillfully, warns of the celestial lights being extinguished in preparation for the time of judgment. From here to the conclusion of Schmidt’s work the Chorus shares the sung pronouncements with Saint John and with the voice of the Lord. Saint John declares now that a second Book was brought forth, the “Buch des Lebens” or Book of Life, in which are listed those who will be saved. As Künzli reiterated this line with emotional emphasis on “Leben,” the series of repetitions commences which echo the start of the work. His further, emphatic treatment of the prophecy of “Worte” (“words”), as here most appropriate, led to a resolution with the Chorus on the word “Amen!” Chicagoans are fortunate to have heard performances of such commitment of Schmidt’s Book with Seven Seals. These concerts by distinguished soloists and the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus under Kalmar will surely rank among the finest presentations of this masterpiece.

Salvatore Calomino

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):