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

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

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):