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 Reviews

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

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):