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

Manon Lescaut Munich : Opolais, Kaufmann

Puccini Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera. What is Manon Lescaut really about? The Abbé Prévost's 1731 narrative was a moral discourse. Unlike many modern novels, it wasn't a potboiler but a philosphical tract in which the protagonists face moral dilemmas

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

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):