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 Performances

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Gustav Mahler c. 1907 [Color enhanced photo by Armando Bravi courtesy of International Gustav Mahler Society]
30 Sep 2011

Mahler, Royal Festival Hall

My response to much of this and last year’s Mahler anniversary bonanza has been to stay away: certainly not out of antipathy, nor out of boredom, nor on account of any other negative reaction to the music of a composer whom I admire as greatly as ever, but simply because there are too many unnecessary performances of that music on offer.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no.10: I. ‘Adagio’; Das Lied von der Erde

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano); Stefan Vinke (tenor); Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor: Lorin Maazel. Royal Festival Hall, London, Thursday, 29 September 2011.

Above: Gustav Mahler c. 1907 [Color enhanced photo by Armando Bravi courtesy of International Gustav Mahler Society]

 

Whilst always interested in hearing great or potentially interesting Mahlerians, I simply have no need to hear Maestro x conduct orchestra y in a run-of-the-mill Mahler Symphony no.z. Hearing the symphonies (alas, bar the Tenth) and song-cycles (bar some of the Wunderhorn songs) from the Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, and Pierre Boulez, in Berlin, in April 2007, was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my musical life. When the Philharmonia announced its 2011 Mahler cycle under Lorin Maazel, my enthusiasm was tempered. Nevertheless, I have heard good things, from a variety of sources, many of which I respect greatly, as the cycle has progressed. It therefore seemed time to experience Maazel’s Mahler for myself. On this showing, I am afraid, it emerges as barely preferable to that of Valery Gergiev, the miscast conductor of another (!) recent London cycle.

The opening work, or rather part of a work, the ‘Adagio’ from the Tenth Symphony was as unbearable as Gergiev’s, albeit in rather different ways. At least Gergiev rushed through his equally micromanaged account; I wonder whether anyone has taken this movement so slowly, whether individually or as part of a complete symphonic performance. Maazel’s reading actually opened promisingly, the viola line tremulous in a good way, suggestive, if we dare follow so Romantically autobiographical a route, of the failing heartbeat more often associated, dubiously or otherwise, with the Ninth Symphony. Thereafter, torpor set in. I have nothing against a daringly slow tempo, but Maazel proved quite incapable of sustaining it, at least meaningfully. Whatever the truth of the minutes on the clock, the music sounded as if it were taken at half-speed, and worse still, a phrase at a time, often with meaningless pauses inserted between those phrases. Worse still again, almost every subdivision of every beat was visibly and, more to the point, audibly, conducted, sapping Mahler’s music of any life. The music collapsed, less under its own (undeniable) weight than under the conductor’s shallowness: there was not even the slightest suggestion that it meant anything, whether or no that ‘anything’ might be put into words. It was, I am sad to say, inert and insufferable. Much of Mahler’s music might well be understood as haunted by death, but that means nothing without the impulse to life, here utterly lacking. Oh for the late Kurt Sanderling, Conductor Emeritus of the Philharmonia…

Maazel.gifLorin Maazel

Das Lied von der Erde was better, though mostly on account of the soloists’ contribution. The first movement, ‘Das Trinklied von Jammer der Erde’, did not initially show Stefan Vinke at his best. Intonational problems compounded the cruel, almost insupportable, challenge Mahler throws at the tenor in this song. However, Vinke improved considerably in the second and third stanzas, the latter evincing the heroism of a Siegfried – or rather the forlorn Mahlerian effort to return to a Siegfried, to which effort’s failure the only answer is to fill the wine glass and to drink oneself into oblivion. If only the conducting had not been so regimented; for Maazel, alas, exchanged torpor for brash brutality, the unifying feature being lifelessness born at least in part of that direction of every last subdivision of a beat. Even Sir Simon Rattle at his most tediously ‘interventionist’ rarely conducts quite so fussily. Once again, I longed for Sanderling, still more so for Bruno Walter, cited by Julian Johnson in his excellent pre-performance talk.

The frozen quality, both temporal and sonorous, of ‘Der Einsame im Herbst’ suited Maazel better, if only by default. Alice Coote surmounted a viral infection in a fine Lieder-singer’s account, equally attentive to words and line. The words ‘Mein Herz ist müde’ were imploring, touching almost beyond words. There was a true sense of this as a song, in which Maazel, mercifully, acted more as ‘accompanist’ than ‘conductor’. (I was again struck by the parallel with Rattle, who often emerges preferably when paying heed to a soloist.) ‘Von der Jugend’ emerged mechanically, but at least there was a Coppelia-sort of life to it, absent entirely during the first part of the concert. Vinke was on good form, by turns playful and nostalgic, doubtless benefiting from the reality that this song is much less of a vocal struggle. If both ‘Von der Jugend’ and ‘Von der Schönheit’ ultimately veered towards the neo-classical, failing to yield as Mahler should, then one could at least appreciate the pointing of the chinoiserie. Meaning in the latter, it must be said, seemed to hail entirely from Coote, not from the podium. Vinke once again showed some strain at the outset of ‘Der Trunkene im Frühling’, but settled reasonably into Siegfried-vein: his was not the subtlest reading, but it was for the most part well enough delivered. Leader Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay provided a delectable solo, but Maazel never proved more than efficient.

It was, then, something of a surprise to hear the baleful opening chords of ‘Der Abschied’ so resounding in menace, movingly responded to by Christopher Cowie’s excellent oboe solo. The problem was that this seemed to have come from nowhere. Mahler’s extraordinary finale needs to be approached, not implanted. One could draw solace that the music, at least to start with, moved fluently, but it rarely moved. Coote suffered a few moments where strain told, not least in a somewhat sour rendition of the words ‘die müden Menschen gehn heimwärts, um im Schlaf vergessnes Glück’, but more important were her palpable sincerity and textual understanding. The final blue light in the distance truly sounded as if it were such in eternity. With the best will in the world, however, it could not be said that her sensibility, even when ailing, was matched by Maazel, despite some fine woodwind playing (and an unfortunate, albeit brief, duet between flute and telephone). The laboured quality of the purely orchestral passages told their own story. Why, I could not help but wonder, did the Philharmonia not offer its Mahler cycle to a musician or to musicians better suited to the task?

Mark Berry

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):