24 Oct 2011
Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera
Wagner’s Flying Dutchman returns to the Royal Opera House, London.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
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.)
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.
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.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
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.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
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).
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’.
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.
Wagner’s Flying Dutchman returns to the Royal Opera House, London.
When this production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer premiered at the Royal Opera House in February 2009, (review here), Bryn Terfel was its raison d’être. His absence was sorely felt, even by those who aren’t usually seduced by his charms. In this revival, the draw was Jeffrey Tate’s return to Covent Garden after nearly 20 years.
Minimal stagings can work when they highlight meaning and music. Tim Albery’s production (designed by Michael Levine) is a blank canvas, which styles The Flying Dutchman rather than suggests much about who he is. No portrait of any kind in sight. Instead, a toy boat. The boat itself is wonderfully staged, and it’s a masterstroke to see real water on stage, lit so its reflection shines magically into the auditorium. But it doesn’t convey the wildness of the open ocean, nor the turbulent psychic storm around which this opera predicates.
Perhaps Albery’s interpretation is that the opera predicates on Senta and her frustratons, the Dutchman being a projection of her fantasies. Anja Kempe’s Senta was extremely impressive in 2009. Then, she was a perfect foil to Terfel’s solid, taciturn Dutchman. Kempe’s energy created Senta as driven to extremes to escape what to her might have seemed mind numbing conformity. The Dutchman is her ticket out of town, rather than a cursed soul. It’s a valid interpretation, given Albery’s factory staging of the spinning scene, and marginal references to the haunted ship. The concept is worth exploring, though here it’s rather too simplistic. Senta’s not Tosca. Wildness is tricky to sing into this part, and occasionally Kempe relied more on forcefulness than finesse. Nonetheless, she can do it well, and should settle further into the run.
Egils Silins was a late replacement for Falk Struckmann as The Dutchman. This was his Covent Garden debut, and possibly his highest profile performance to date. Although his voice isn’t particularly distinctive, he’s secure vocally and does seem to have a feel for the part. In a production where the singer has more to work with and is less exposed, he’d make a bigger impact. Part of this stems from Albery’s approach, where the Dutchman is reduced to little more than Senta’s dreams. It takes an unusually powerful and charismatic singer to counterbalance these limitations.
Stephen Milling’s Daland was forcefully secure, even too noble, given that the character has an unpleasant streak of venality, which would work well in Albery’s concept, but wasn’t developed. Still, it’s enough that he sang well. Endrik Wottrich’s Erik had problems with pitch and intonation, but was reasonably well acted. Clare Shearer’s Mary was excellent — no fault of hers that the role here was a cipher.
The role of Steersman is much bigger, and critical to the plot, for the Steersman is guides the ship into the distance. Both Senta and the Steersman dream, but Senta can’t think past the present. John Tessier has to sing suspended up a rope ladder, but hasn’t quite the character to make the part as compelling as it might be. But then many productions don’t make enough of the role, and this production doesn’t, either. It’s odd, given Albery’s interest in images of conformity as the Steersman is part of the crew. As always, the Royal Opera House choruses sing and move perfectly. The vocal battle between the Dutchman’s crew and Daland’s crew isn’t quite as horrific as it might be, but the “Steuermann, laß die Wacht!” refrain was sung with such jaunty zest that it left no doubt that these sailors and their families had no time for spooks and neurosis.
Egils Silins as Der Holländer, Anja Kampe as Senta and Stephen Milling as Daland
And so to Jeffrey Tate’s long awaited return to London. Fortunately Albery did not stage the protracted Overture, so we could concentrate on the orchestra. Tate’s pace was electric, injecting the malevolent atmosphere the staging tried so hard to suppress. The energy dissipated at other points, which was a kindness to the singers, who didn’t have to compete, and to Albery’s staging, which was so much at odds with the demonic, elemental fury in the music. When the Dutchman’s crew descend back into the bowels of their ship, Tate lets the orchestra burst forth again. They’re back on the ocean again, metaphorically defying storms and tribulations.
For more details, please see the Royal Opera House website.