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

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Handel's Partenope: surrealism and sensuality at English National Opera

Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a lesson in Patience

A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.

Tara Erraught: mezzo and clarinet in partnership at the Wigmore Hall

Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.

Opera Across the Waves

This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful producers of opera.

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a disappointing Tosca

During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.

A Winter's Tale: a world premiere at English National Opera

The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.

Wexford Festival Opera announces details of 2017 Festival

Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.

Matthias Goerne : Mahler Eisler Wigmore Hall

A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.

Oxford Lieder Festival 2017: Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna

Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

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):