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

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

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.

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’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Decca 0440 074 3406 2 [DVD]
13 Nov 2011

Jonas Kaufmann as Werther and Cavaradossi

For some years now the opera world has reveled in the appearance of many fine lyric tenors, with Juan Diego Florez leading the charge.

Jules Massenet: Werther

Werther: Jonas Kaufmann; Charlotte: Sophie Koch; Albert: Ludovic Tézier; Sophie: Anne-Catherine Gillet. Orchestre de l’Opera national de Paris. Conductor: Michel Plasson. Director: Benoît Jacquot.

Decca 0440 074 3406 2 [DVD]

$37.99  Click to buy

The sad corollary has been a feeling that the more heroic tenor sound — often called “spinto” — has gone lacking for fresh talent. Rolando Villazon tried to move from the light roles into the heavier, and a vocal crisis ensued. And just recently we lost to a tragic accident Salvatore Licitra, who a few years ago had seemed poised to attain true stardom in spinto roles.

Now comes Jonas Kaufmann, German by birth, and in his early 40s. He established himself on European stages and has gone on to make some notable appearances in the U.S. His is a strong, masculine sound, as handsome as the man himself. The vocal colors include deeper hues, as with Placido Domingo, but his top seems to be more reliable than Domingo’s often was. So far the greatest acclaim has come to Kaufman in Wagner, but he is by no means limiting himself to Lohengrin and Siegmund. His Don José for Covent Garden made it to DVD, and now Decca has released a Werther from Paris in 2010 and a 2009 Zürich Tosca with Kaufmann’s Cavaradossi. Both DVDs put on display a confident, poised tenor whose stardom obviously stems from a lot more than his good looks. For some he may never be a true spinto in Italian repertory, due to his nationality, but then those same fans (or their “ancestors”) felt the same about Jussi Bjorling. His is a different type of voice, larger and darker, but Kaufmann probably has no qualms in following the great Swedish tenor’s path.

Decca_0743420.png

Film director Benoît Jacquot’s Werther staging for Paris (although initially presented at Covent Garden) leaves wide open spaces for Kaufmann to fill with his stage presence, which the tenor has no problem doing. The set for the first half vaguely resembles a strand near a seashore on an overcast day, while the second half is staged in a vast study, dark and masculine in appearance. Director Jacquot uses these simple surroundings as platforms for emotional interaction, rather than symbolic display. Unfortunately, Jacquot, working with Louise Narboni, indulges in some odd camera angles as a video director, and he also makes use of backstage footage in a gambit that proves initially interesting but ultimately annoying.

Massenet’s opera respects the Goethe source material almost too much, as two hours with a dreary emotional wreck amounts to around 119 minutes more than most people would want to spend, even with such gorgeous music. Kaufmann’s Werther shines in his opening paean to nature, the character’s only few minutes in the opera not spent being a moody, lovesick drip. Even more impressive, though, is Kaufmann’s ability to draw the audience into Werther’s plight, so that the intolerable self-pity is muted by a sense of larger social forces oppressing the anti-hero. A big part of Kaufmann’s success lies with the sheer power and authority of his voice. There is no resorting to sobs or ostentatious drooping of the vocal line. Kaufmann lets the inherent pathos of Massenet’s score fill out the emotional picture.

As the object of Werther’s passion, Sophie Koch plays too much to Charlotte’s modest beauty, both in demeanor and voice — there must be some passion there to make us understand the depth of Werther’s attraction. Ludovic Tezier, on the other hand, is almost aggressively bland and prosaic as Albert, the man Charlotte must marry to fulfill a promise she had made. The veteran conductor Michel Plasson and the Paris musicians unfurl gorgeous swaths of color and texture in Massenet’s score. Decca’s two disc set has no bonus feature, though the booklet does have more original material than the usual DVD set booklet offers these days.

Robert Carsen’s Tosca for Zürich would make the NY audiences that bayed at Luc Bondy’s production for the Metropolitan howl and foam as if rabid. Carsen sees Puccini’s take on the Sardou play as anticipating the glory years of the American film studios, so the sets and costumes (by Anthony Ward) play upon the libretto’s settings to create a sort of mock film set, and at times a stage proscenium. Most of it works quite well, as Tosca and Scarpia are both inherently theatrical creatures, and Kaufmann’s Cavaradossi is more in line with the strong, though not so silent, type of leading man. A couple of bolder touches will not work well for all viewers — whether it’s having Cavardossi’s Madonna painting appear in Scarpia’s office during act two or having Scarpia attack it with a knife. Your reviewer got a big kick out of Tosca’s fatal leap taking place over the footlights at the edge of a stage, topped with Emily Magee taking her solo call in character. Others may not be amused. But the test of any Tosca is if it can find the emotional truth of the drama while breaking through the calcified stage directions that make the drama too clichéd to make any impact, and Carsen does so, with the invaluable assistance of his excellent leads.

Vocally, Kaufmann takes the prize. His solo pieces are gorgeous, and he can roar out a “Vittoria” with the best of them. Magee’s Tosca is best in the dramatic exchanges. Her large voice grows gritty and unpleasant in extended lines, and though Carsen has Thomas Hampson’s Scarpia applaud Magee’s “Vissi d’arte,” his sarcastic look is unfortunately understandable. Hampson’s take on Scarpia has freshness and edge, but it seems unlikely he will take on this role at any of the larger American houses. By the middle of act two, hoarseness scratches at the edge of his voice. Taken together, though, all three leads are successful enough to make this a very worthy competitor in the very crowded field of Tosca on DVD.

An unfamiliar name, conductor Paolo Carignani treats the score to a fresh approach, with expansive pacing and an expert selection of orchestral detail. The Zürich forces follow his lead beautifully. Decca’s single disc set has a basic essay and synopsis in the booklet and no on-disc bonus features.

Kaufmann will be in huge demand for years to come, and US audiences will have to wait their turn for his future appearances here. With two fine DVDs such as these, at least we have something of the tenor’s to watch while we wait.

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):