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 Reviews

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Carl Maria von Weber
13 Sep 2011

BBC Prom 73: Der Freischütz

Why would a French composer take an opera which epitomises German Romanticism and Nationalism and adapt it to the conventions of the French grand opera tradition?

Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freischütz (French version, 1841, with

Max: Andrew Kennedy; Kilian: Samuel Evans; Kouno: Matthew Brook; Gaspard: Gidon Saks; Annette: Virginie Pochon; Agathe: Sophie Karthäuser; Samiel: Christian Pelissier; Ottakar: Robert Davies; Hermit: Luc Bertin-Hugault. Monteverdi Choir. Orchestra Révolutionnaire and Romantique. Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner.BBC Proms 2011, Royal Albert Hall, London, Friday 9th September 2011.

 

It seems that Hector Berlioz was compelled in this endeavour by a memory of a 1824 performance of Weber’s Der Freischütz, when the Frenchman was just 21 years old, which he bewailed was “hacked and mutilated in the most wanton fashion by an arranger”. However, despite severe misgivings about the production and vocal performances, Berlioz was enchanted by the work itself, and did not miss a single performance in the run.

When the Opéra decided to revive the opera, under the title Le Freyschütz, 17 years later, Berlioz perhaps feared that if he did not himself take on the task of modifying the work to satisfy the requirements of the Opéra’s statutes — no speech on stage, but there must be dancing — the outcome would be another garbled monstrosity. So, he set about replacing the spoken dialogue with sung recitatives and also inventing a musical vehicle for the obligatory ballet, on the condition that the opera was performed without a word or note being cut or altered.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner performed Berlioz’s French-language version earlier this year, at the Opéra Comique in Paris; upon transferring the production to the Royal Albert Hall for the penultimate Prom of the 2011 season, sets were dispensed with but a few props, costumes and some neat stage business — even a few rifle shots — lifted what was described in the programme as a ‘concert performance’ to a genuinely dramatic format. Indeed, while movements and gestures were deft and economically, it was hard to see what would have been gained by a more extravagant staging: essentially, the drama lies within Weber’s score, the vocal lines revealing credible and engaging relationships between the protagonists, and the orchestral fabric fully evoking the dark, elemental forests where the melodrama unfolds.

Substituting sung recitative need not necessarily alter the ambience or dramatic tempo; but, in this instance I felt that the recitative ‘diluted’ the melodrama and weakened the naturalism for which Weber strived. And, to my ear the gentle lyricism of the French text could not match the grim Gothic resonances of the original German. Moreover, the cast were not all equal to the demands of the French text; not surprisingly the two Francophones, bass Luc Bertin-Hugault and soprano Virginie Pochon, fared best.

Indeed Virginie Pochon’s Annette was a show-stealing performance. Her striking Act 2 aria revealed her rich bright tone, while in a stunning ‘Chanson’ in Act 3 she combined disciplined accuracy with energetic and spontaneous freshness.

Act 1 is dominated by male voices. Andrew Kennedy was a naïve, charming Max, his light high tenor sweet and appealing, although some of the role’s low-lying phrases did not carry over the orchestral texture. In this large arena, he was also a little lacking in stage presence; this Max was certainly no match for Gidon Saks's dastardly Gaspard whose committed embodiment of spitefulness managed to stay just the right side of cartoon villain, and who also had the vocal heft to fling his venom to the far reaches of the Hall. Before the seemingly impervious bust of Sir Henry Wood, Gaspard’s devilry unfolded, as he delved to the depths of a vast cauldron cloaked in swirls of dry ice to summon up his magic bullets.

Sophie Karthäuser as Agathe has a radiant tone and accurate intonation but she was rather underpowered, struggling to project above the incisive orchestral playing; in fairness, Agathe is a two-dimensional character, and while Karthäuser certainly captured her innocence, she did not uncover the anxious foreboding in the music which might convey her ‘darker’ qualities.

The smaller parts were competently delivered, although once again the young singers occasionally seemed a little reticent, vocally and dramatically. Matthew Brook’s Kouno successfully conveyed his gentleness and tender feelings for Max, and Robert Davies was an assertive Ottokar. Samuel Evans was a competent Kilian, while Luc Bertin-Hugault might have strived for more gravity and stature as the Hermit. However, I found Christian Pelissier’s Mephistophelian Samiel somewhat exaggerated and lacking in sophistication — disengaged from his victims and uninterested in their fate.

The superb Monteverdi Choir were utterly convincing and engaging, entrancing and exiting fluently, moving naturally on the raked staging, one even descending to the fore-stage to dance a peasant waltz with Kilian. In the ‘folk’ numbers, there was some wonderfully warm singing from the men — their hunting calls perfectly mimicking the ringing tones of a hunter’s horn — and some fine performances from the solo bridesmaids in Act 3. Overall the precision of the ensemble reminded one of Weber’s nationalistic ideals: he elevated the purity of the folk as representative of the ‘soul’ of the people, the ‘people’ being an organism in its own right, capable of democratically determining its own destiny.

In many ways, the most impressive aspect of the performance was the marvellous playing of the Orchestra Révolutionnaire and Romantique, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner who whisked the players along with dramatic urgency and fleetness. The overture was richly melodiousness, the four horns lustrous. Elsewhere string tremolos shimmered, and there were countless woodwind solos of exquisite clarity; the tone and articulation of the period instruments evoked the beauty and strength of the natural world, highlighting Weber’s rich symphonic tone painting. The climactic ‘Wolf’s Glen’ scene was spine-chillingly suggestive, striking horn playing, trembling low woodwind and ominous booming timpani strokes revealing the harmonic power and radicalism of Weber’s score.

Having struggled without success to convince the Opéra to overlook their demand for a balletic diversion, the best that Berlioz could do was to orchestrate Weber’s own piano piece, Invitation to the Dance. Although the intervention of this instrumental divertissement strikes a somewhat disruptive note in the drama, it did give the instrumentalists another opportunity to shine.

Although the pace lagged a little towards the close — not aided by the balletic intervention — and the happy ending is rather contrived, this performance forcefully demonstrated that Weber’s opera, in both Germanic and Gallic ‘variants’, is a work of both enormous musical charm and radical creative invention.

Claire Seymour

Click here for access to audio recordings of this performance.

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):