Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

ArtHaus Musik 101515
05 Oct 2011

Menotti in German

As long as one keeps in mind that historical value is not the same as aesthetic quality, this DVD of early 1960’s live German TV performances of two short Gian Carlo Menotti operas makes for fascinating viewing.

Gian Carlo Menotti: Die Alte Jungfer und der Dieb / Das Medium (Studio Productions, 1961 and 1964)

Die alte Jungfer und der Dieb (The Old Maid and the Thief) — Miss Todd: Elisabeth Höngen; Laetitia: Olive Moorefield; Miss Pinkerton: Hilde Konetzni; Bob: Eberhard Waechter. Vienna Volksoper Orchestra. Wolfgang Rennert, conductor. Historical Studio Production, 1964.

Das Medium (The Medium) — Madame Flora: Elisabeth Höngen; Monika: Maria José De Vine; Toby: Nino Albanese; Mrs. Gobineau: Sonja Draksler; Mrs. Nolan: Hilde Konetzni; Mr. Gobineau: Norman Foster. Vienna Volksoper Orchestra. Armando Aliberti, conductor. Historical Studio Production, 1961.

Otto Schenk, stage director. Maxi Tschunko, costume design. Gerhard Hruby, set design.

ArtHaus Musik 101515 [DVD]

$26.99  Click to buy

Translated into German and filmed in the standard grainy black-and-white of the day, Die alte Jungfer und der Dieb and Das Medium benefit from sharp direction (by a young Otto Schenk) and expert performances. The scale of one’s enjoyment, of course, will be determined by the depth of one’s appreciation for the operas of Gian Carlo Menotti — and “depth” is probably not the term of choice in that context.

In a bonus feature interview, recorded at the time of the broadcasts, Schenk calmly argues for the merits of Menotti’s work, claiming they show a “typical American setting” and advocating for the appeal of the music, despite what Schenk calls its “banality” (as the subtitles translate it). Perhaps the original German word has a different connotation, but “banality” seems apt.

With their small casts and domestic settings, the Menotti works seen here are perfect for the TV screen. The Medium in particular seems like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, with the odd innovation of sung dialogue. Both operas, however, feel stretched to fill an hour, especially The Old Lady and the Thief. In this supposed comedy (Scheck’s description), a spinster takes in a homeless man, due to her maid’s pleading and the spinster’s own suppressed desire. When the two later hear that a thief is on the loose, they suspect it is their man. In the decidedly un-comic conclusion, the man reveals he is not a thief — and then, with the maid, absconds with the spinster’s most precious possessions, leaving her bereft. This sour piffle gets a better performance than it deserves, in remarkably effective German. Elisabeth Höngen’s Miss Todd, the spinster, achieves real pathos, and Olive Moorfield strikes some sparks as her maid Laetitia. As the supposed thief Bob, Eberhard Waechter shows a little bit of what made him a Don Giovanni worthy of leading the starry ensemble on the famous Carlo Maria Giulini recording. Menotti’s debt to Puccini weighs down almost every bar of music, from the comic fast music right out of the opening to Madama Butterfly (and Menotti seems to acknowledge this by naming a minor character Miss Pinkerton) to the melodic arias. But where Puccini’s music grows in impact with repeated exposure, Menotti’s never develops beyond a superficial appeal.

The Medium serves as a showcase for a soprano “of a certain age,” and Höngen reveals her depth by taking on this role and making it clearly distinct from the spinster. Here she delineates Madame Flora, a bitter woman who leads séances with people who have recently lost a loved one, knowing that their pain and sensitivity will make her clients vulnerable to her cheap effects. A female assistant and Toby, a deaf-mute young male, support her, but when Madame Flora herself feels a cold hand on her throat at the end of a seance, she chases her customers out and collapses in terror. In the extended act two, her paranoia grows, until finally she mistakes Toby, hiding behind a curtain, for a ghost, and shoots him. Before she goes crazy, however, Menotti gives Madame Flora an extended scene of high-octane vocalism, owing quite a bit to Minnie from Fanciulla in act two.

Despite the questionable merit of Menotti, anyone with any nostalgia at all about the early days of TV and live performance should seek out this DVD. Even the interview is a treat, with its bland interviewer sitting at a bare desk before a curtain, asking Otto Schenk to explain the show for the audience. Schenk clearly believes in these works, as the committed acting of his singers indicates. So as a historical document rather than artistic artifact, this DVD gets a recommendation.

Chris Mullins

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):