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

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Tristan und Isolde, Ruhrtriennale
06 Sep 2011

Ruhrtriennale’s Luminous Tristan

Bochum’s Jahrhunderthalle, a massive, re-purposed industrial building, seemed an unlikely location to contain and frame the transcendent, unbounded spiritual journey of Wagner’s masterpiece Tristan und Isolde.

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Tristan: Christian Franz; King Marke: Stephen Milling; Isolde: Anja Kampe; Brangäne: Claudie Mahnke; Kurwenal: Eljandro Marco-Buhrmester; Melot: Boris Grappe; Young Seaman/Shepherd: Thomas Ebenstein; Stearman: Martin Gerke. Jahrhunderthalle Bochum. Duisburg Philharmonic. Conductor: Kirill Petrenko. Director: Willy Decker. Set Design: Wolfgang Gussmann. Costume Design: Wolfgang Gussmann, Susana Mendoza. Lighting Design: Andreas Grüter. Video: fettFilm/ Momme Hinrichs, Torge Moller. Chorus Master: Michael Alber.

All photos by Paul Leclaire BFF, Köln, courtesy of Ruhrtriennale

 

But that was before we were regaled by the consummate artistry of director Willy Decker, conductor Kirill Petrenko, and a team of visionary designers who have crafted an austere, spare, uncommonly affecting work of art that virtually defines Gesamtkunstwerk. If reassurance is needed (and I fear it is, oh how it is) that a gifted creative team can not only brilliantly innovate, but also genuinely serve the composer’s intent, this production was proof positive. I am not sure the last time I was so captivated by a creation of modern art, as I was taken by the massive and utterly simple set design by Wolfgang Gussmann.

In front of the warehouse’s black, bare back wall, Mr. Gussmann has given us two massive white trapezoids (sails?), one as floor and one as ceiling, that narrow in perspective from front to back, gaping open towards us like a yawning room. Upstage, a pure white sphere is the other constant element. These components are perfectly tracked, flown, and hydraulically outfitted to twist, turn and reconfigure in a seemingly endless re-arrangement to spectacular effect. And the motion is often so subtle as to be undetectable until — what the heck? — whoa! — the front corner of the stage right has quietly risen twelve feet in the air tilting the whole dang playing space! As the huge floor spun counter-clockwise over the pit at one point, I did fear for the harpist’s safety (or at least the harp’s)!

The coup de théâtre of this production had to have been the flawlessly stunning video projections by fettFilm’s (sic) Momme Hinrichs and Torge Moller. At key moments the sphere was almost undetectably replaced by a round white screen. The Love Duet’s churning-seas-imagery gave way to a floating, nubile, nude couple who literally tumbled into and through each other variously and repeatedly, a magical mirror of the lovers’ emotional intertwining, and a perfect visual partner to the sinuously sensual musical effects. When Tristan pours out his afflicted feelings in Three, a series of images of a young man trapped behind a wall of fabric provides a devastating counterpoint to our hero’s anguish at being unable to escape his fate. Time and again the young man desperately pushes forward against the stretching, unyielding fabric. I usually run the other way from installation video art in museums, but these images were not the usual self-indulgent filmography, but true works of beauty in their own right, that also greatly supported Wagner’s composition.

I hasten to add that Andreas Grüter’s fluid, moody lighting design was a perfect artistic collaboration. At the very end of the rapturous duet, this team suddenly cross-faded the general wash on the structure and replaced it with a stage-encompassing video projection like the Milky Way. And then, as we made the jump to light speed and the stars began to recede, the two imposing trapezoids seemed to lift and float (all through projections), and spun and receded through the atmosphere like the monolith in 2001, A Space Odyssey. The goose bumps are returning as I recall this as one of the finest theatrical effects in a lifetime of opera-going.

T_I_Ruhr_05.gif

Gussmann collaborated with Susana Mendoza to provide the handsome modern costumes. They treated the characters as contemporary archetypes and it worked well enough, especially for Isolde who appeared to good advantage in a light dusty rose strapless gown with a wrap around ‘ribbon’ of fuschia accenting the bosom. That she was barefoot effortlessly communicated her captivity. Tristan appears first in hip black clubbing garb down to the calf-length trenchcoat. The pair both tellingly change to all-white versions of their clothing for their Act Two encounter. Kurwenal sports a happenin’, dark gray Land’s End ensemble, and Melot is suited up like a pimp. Brangäne’s tailored business outfit was a wonderful contrast to Isolde’s chic look. Only the shepherd was puzzling, with his paper-crown-and-cape outfit looking more like the Fool in King Lear than a simple bucolic lad. I also must point out that the choices of richly textured, detailed fabrics ‘read’ extremely well in the house.

Willy Decker has crafted a straight forward and character-driven approach to the blocking, which is almost choreographed. Mr. Decker uses the changing levels of the floor to underline the dominant character in several encounters. He uses every inch of the playing space with visual variety and dramatic purpose. For Act Two’s garden, he chooses to begin the scene with Isolde trapped next to Marke, as they sit in rows of chairs amid the chorus, as if spectators at a stuffy state function. As the crowd disperses, some meaningful business was provided as Brangäne cleared the stray seats, to make way for the tryst. Luckily, Herr Decker had a willing and talented cast at his disposal to further his conception.

Anja Kampe scored a triumph as Isolde. I first heard her as a very good Sieglinde at Washington Opera, with a gleaming jugendlich-dramatisch soprano of good promise. Well, that promise has been amply fulfilled. She has most assuredly got Isolde ‘in her voice’; that is, she has negotiated her considerably sized, warmly appealing instrument to successfully encompass the myriad demands of the Irish Princess. She has the requisite power, to be sure, but Ms. Kampe also has such a secure, lyrical, personal approach to so much of the role that she now joins the rarefied ranks of “Isolde of Choice.” And Anja is a sincere actress, lovely and unaffected, with a full understanding of Isolde’s journey. The cascades of cheers that met her curtain call were deservedly the most vociferous of the night.

We were almost as fortunate with our Tristan. Christian Franz began with some gorgeously secure phrases, and throughout he displayed absolute knowledge of the role, its glories, and its pitfalls. He found his way most happily through the lyrical sections, where his medium-sized instrument was fully pliable and responsive. Mr. Franz, like many before him, was more challenged by the ranting prose-like declamations that must be hurled out over the competing orchestra. With an apology to all Wagner scholars, the master does not unfailingly write carefully for the balance of band and singer, and I think Tristan gets especially put-upon by some angular vocal writing dipping to lower reaches, and competing with the brass in full tootle. That said, Franz took Wagner’s advice and got quite conversational with some of his delivery, dramatically effective, but arguably a little too near to ‘shouting.’ Christian has certainly learned how to pace himself through this punishing role as evidenced by his many, many affecting moments, not least of which was the expiring, tender exclamation of “Isolde” in Act Three. It was positively melting.

T_I_Ruhr_07.gif

The Publikum was also very taken with veteran Stephen Milling as King Marke and it is easy to see why. Mr. Milling has a barrel-like, ebony-dark tone that only gets more imposing as it descends, a most impressive sound. He displays security throughout, but while he ‘gets’ the handful of the very highest top notes, he tricks them out of hiding with a substantially covered approach. Claudia Mahnke’s searing, white-hot intensity as Brangäne gifted the piece with impetus and real vocal excitement. That she could scale her sizable voice back to equally fine effect (and with no loss of vibrant tone) was a pleasure to encounter. Eljandro Marco-Buhrmester was a solid-voiced, supremely sympathetic Kurwenal. Boris Grappe’s fidgety, thuggish deportment as Melot paid good visual dividends, and his evenly projected baritone made the most of his brief role. Thomas Ebenstein’s pleasing, slender tenor was a perfect match for his double roles as a Young Seaman and the Shepherd, the latter very movingly acted. Martin Gerke’s Stearman rang out with conviction.

Kirill Petrenko worked musical wonders in the pit, inspiring a glowing, expansive reading characterized by insightful playing from the Duisburg Philharmonic. The richness of the strings, the excitable brass licks, the shifting banks of colors were all duly in place. If the winds didn’t always ‘speak’ tightly together on the tricky attacci in the slow, piano, opening bars (nevertheless gorgeously paced), they made up for it with excellent ensemble and solo playing the rest of the night. Indeed, the English Horn solo in Act Three was superlatively rendered with heartfelt personality. Almost without exception, the pace, forward motion, and overall shaping were all that could be desired. I do wish the general attentiveness hadn’t waned somewhat after the Love Duet. We can little afford to slack off at this point, and Marke’s long address suffered from a sameness and a slow pace that was not informed with sufficient inner rhythmic life. When every vocal phrase is weighted the same and every deliberate orchestral utterance is equally ‘Important,’ variety and interest ebb.

Nonetheless, the Ruhrtrienalle has managed to craft as meaningful, musically satisfying, and luminous a staging of Tristan und Isolde as I imagine is possible. Some smart opera company might do well to pursue this definitive contemporary production before it goes away at festival’s end.

James Sohre

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):