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 Performances

Late Schumann in context - Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, London

Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels. Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist. Therein lay the pleasure !

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

William Burden as Nikolaus Sprink [Photo 2011 © Michal Daniel courtesy of Minnesota Opera]
06 Dec 2011

Silent Night, Minnesota Opera

At the November 12, 2011 world premiere of Silent Night at the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul, a buzz of energy filled the audience.

Kevin Puts: Silent Night

Click here for cast and production details.

Above: William Burden as Nikolaus Sprink

Photos 2011 © Michal Daniel courtesy of Minnesota Opera

 

Silent Night had been highly anticipated in the Twin Cities for over the past year, which the company had work-shopped the opera with its Resident Artist singers, tweaking vocal parts, shoring up orchestral textures, as well as readying the Minnesota Opera’s fan base for a different kind of opera outside of its more traditional programming. Anticipation was also high for this particular performance, as only the Opera Company of Philadelphia had contributed to the commission, and several representatives of interested companies were in the audience to scout this opera for their prospective seasons.

Based upon a true World War I story, Christian Carion’s 2005 film Joyeux Noël, depicted an incident during World War I near the French border. Three encampments, Scottish, French and German, encircled a battlefield. After bloody fighting, soldiers called an unofficial truce for Christmas day, 1914. The film’s compelling message of religious unity and the commonality of the human condition, all in the midst of waging war, inspired Dale Johnson, artistic director of the Minnesota Opera, to commission Kevin Puts to translate the film into operatic form.

Silent Night is Puts’s first opera, though his career boasts a variety of orchestral and chamber works commissioned and performed by leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists throughout North America, Europe and the Far East. Johnson provided Puts with significant dramaturgical support partnering the composer with veteran librettist Mark Campbell and director Eric Simonson. “Eric’s not only a wonderful director, he’s an accomplished writer himself,” Johnson said. “So we put him and Mark in the mix to really make sure this young composer had the kind of support he needed to create the piece.” (Opera News, 2011)

Despite the gamble of hiring a composer with no operatic compositional experience, Silent Night is arguably one of Minnesota Opera’s most masterful achievements in recent years. The company’s $1.5 million budget for this work was 50 percent larger than a normal season production, supported by their New Work’s Initiative. The production thus boasted polished performers across the board, as well as a visually realistic yet imaginative set, including a shockingly violent battle scene that opens the opera. Francis O’Connor’s ingenious staging, Kärin Kopischke’s military costumes hit the mark, with Marcus Dilliard’s lighting and Andrzej Goulding’s digital projections tastefully inserted to heighten the dramatic effect.

MNO_2360.gifKarin Wolverton as Anna Sørensen

The one drawback of the premiere performance was the illness of the lead tenor, William Burden, in the role of Nikolaus Sprink. Burden was able to walk the role of Sprink, while former resident artist Brad Benoit, who had work-shopped the role last year, sang from the wings. Benoit gave a solid performance, despite having received the call only hours before the performance. It was clear, however, that there lacked some finesse and power in many of the soaring musical lines, as Benoit was eager to end the phrase while the orchestra clung to ritardandos originally dictated by Burden. The character of Sprink is a German opera singer manning the front lines, and Puts places much of the musical emphasis and beauty on this character vocal lines, which were unfortunately not delivered to their fullest on opening night.

MNO_1228.gifTroy Cook as Father Palmer and John Robert Lindsey as Jonathan Dale

However, John Robert Lindsey’s Jonathan, Andrew Wilkowske’s Ponchel and the trio of lieutenant (performed by Liam Bonner, Craig Irvin, and Gabriel Preisser) achieved the most captivating musical moments. Bonner’s clarion baritone and grounded stage presence was of special note. With his flexible yet full instrument rising to the role’s high dramatic tasks, Lindsey is a young tenor to watch,

Though the production and performers delivered an outstanding performance, the composition itself lacked many things that make opera opera. As an accomplished orchestral composer, Puts’ orchestral writing knows no bounds, and encompasses high emotional ranges with striking instrumental colors and textures. The opening battle scene evokes the rhythmic intensity and sharpness of Bernstein’s Westside Story and the harmonic clash and tension of Gustav Holst’s Mars.

MNO_2674.gifLiam Bonner as Lieutenant Audebert, Gabriel Preisser as Lieutenant Gordon and Craig Irvin as Lieutenant Horstmayer

But, there seem to be no real musical moments in the vocal writing. There is no pivotal aria that lingers in the mind after the performance finishes, and most of the vocal writing is more of a recitative style, with fewer soaring lines. The writing is more through-composed, dramatically trucking along at a good pace in Act I, but losing steam in Act II. There are also many silences in the vocal parts, and Puts seems to give the orchestra the heavier lifting to carry the drama.

Puts will obviously learn from his experience writing his first opera. His compositional style, especially in the orchestra, is attractive to a more modern ear, evoking orchestral soundtracks of this generation. If he can better apply his knowledge for color, harmonic tension, and rhythmic intensity to his vocal writing, he will be formidable.

Sarah Luebke

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):