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

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

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.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Amber Wagner as Ariadne and Brandon Jovanovich as Bacchus
23 Jan 2012

A Noteworthy Ariadne auf Naxos, Chicago

Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos presents challenges in casting not only because of the vocal line and identity associated with individual characters but also because of its nature as a self-comment on the musical stage and the requisite dramatic skills thus needed.

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Click here for cast and other production information.

Above: Amber Wagner as Ariadne and Brandon Jovanovich as Bacchus

Photos by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds in meeting these challenges on both accounts in its recent revival. The title role was sung by Amber Wagner, the Composer in the Prologue by Alice Coote, Zerbinetta by Anna Christy, and the god Bacchus by Brandon Jovanovich. Other roles showing strong performances include Eike Wilm Schulte as the Music Master, Matthew Worth (debut) as Harlekin, and Nili Riemer (debut), Jamie Barton, and Kiri Deonarine (debut) singing the three nymphs Naiad, Dryad, and Echo respectively. Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra in a fluid and moving performance of Strauss’s score.

Ariadne_Chicago_2.gifAlice Coote as the Composer

During the instrumental prelude to the first part the audience is presented with preparations for a seventeenth-century production. Scaffolds, doorways to dressing rooms, props and primitive dramatic machinery clutter the stage in this self-reflective Prologue to the varieties of entertainment scheduled to follow. The performers of the evening run about their tasks until the first exchange of dialogue between the Music Master and the Major Domo of the palace. Eike Wilm Schulte’s fluency and projection of both spoken and sung German are exemplary as needed to steer a course of diplomacy between the Major Domo’s demands and the sensitivity of his pupil, the Composer. Schulte’s legato and attention to pitch in distended notes enhanced his desperation in trying to fulfill multiple roles. In the speaking role of the Major Domo David Holloway cut an appropriately pompous figure while relaying his maser’s whims in a bureaucratic monotone. When the Composer, visible in diligence at his desk from earlier in the Prologue, begins to react to news from the Music Master, Alice Coote’s voice blooms with passion and devotion to the musical art. Her wide range with a fluid transition from low to secure top notes was used skillfully to convey the Composer’s consternation and disbelief that his serious opera “Ariadne” was to be mixed with low comedy.

Ariadne_Chicago_11.pngAnna Christy as Zerbinetta with commedia dell’arte troupe

Phrases such as “Allmächtiger Gott” and “Nach meiner Oper ein lustiges Nachspiel!” [“Almighty God” “A humorous interlude after my opera!”] showed effective use of Coote’s dramatic sense of vocal transition. As the Prima Donna and Tenor for the opera plead the importance of their own roles, the Composer swirls in further controversy. Only after he learns that his opera must be performed simultaneously with the commedia, Zerbinetta and Her Four Lovers, does attention focus primarily on the personalities of the Composer and Zerbinetta. Ms. Christy had portrayed a sprightly, playful figure until this point. Her own transformation into a counterpoint for the Composer is not only convincing dramatically, but it is also demonstrative of a vocally altered character. The Composer, in turn, declares that he would prefer to toss his precious score into the fire, detailed excitingly by Coote with ascending pitches on “Lieber ins Feuer.” During the ensuing duet both characters seem to lose their animosity, with the Composer’s interest clearly in acceleration. Although he continues to take himself seriously, Zerbinetta makes him see everything, as Coote declares urgently, “mit anderen Augen” [“with different eyes”]. During their interchange Davis provided excellent orchestral support with the woodwinds standing out especially in expressive lines parallel to those for the voice. Coote’s final aria, “Musik ist eine heilige Kunst,” [“music is a holy art”] was delivered as a heartfelt soliloquy with effectively held notes emphasizing the Composer’s sincere dedication to his art. When pulled out of this self-absorption by Zerbinetta’s whistle and calls to prepare her troupe, Coote ended the prologue with dramatic expressiveness on “frieren, verhungern, sterben” [“to freeze, to starve, to die”] as reactions to this unexpected forthcoming medley.

In the prelude to the opera proper Davis’s conducting brought out the rich, orchestral colors with horns balancing off the nicely integrated string playing. The three nymphs, who introduced the act with questions and repartee on Ariadne’s emotional and physical state, sang distinctly as a trio with vocal decorations blending fittingly. Ms. Wagner’s entrance began with solidly produced low notes followed by equally impressive and emotionally charged high pitches on “Mein Kopf ist leer” [“My mind is empty”]. Wagner’s dramatic approach to “Dies muß ich finden” [“I must find this”] prepared Ariadne’s personality for the aria “Es gibt ein Reich” [“There exists a kingdom”]. In this performance Ms. Wagner drew on her preceding vocal characterization and added moments such as a deep emphasis on “Totenreich” [“realm of death”] contrasting with an impressive high pitch on “Hermes, stiller Gott.” When she described being alone, “ganz allein,” with a touching piano, it further emphasized her brittle emotional state, since this followed on her dramatic rubato at “von meiner Höhle” [“from my cave”]. Her conclusion to the aria left an impression of her character’s yearning and incompleteness. Immediately after this piece Zerbinetta and her troupe dominate the stage but their attention is now focused on sympathy with Ariadne’s plight. Matthew Worth displayed an appropriate physicality as Harlekin while he sang an exquisite lyrical appeal to the inattentive Ariadne.

Ariadne_Chicago_9.pngScene from Ariadne auf Naxos

Of course one of the highlights of the operatic segment of Ariadne auf Naxos is Zerbinetta’s aria “Großmächtige Prinzessin,” in which the innermost feelings of the commedia performer answer the question, “Are we not both women?” Ms. Christy sang the challenging role with alternating glee and wistfulness: her voice is a comfortable fit for the many roulades and interpolated decorations. The effect taken on “treulos” [“faithless”] and trills executed just before “Als ein Gott kam jeder gegangen” [“Every man approached me like a god”] were a tasteful and knowing cap on this splendid performance of the aria.

Once the nymphs announce the arrival of Bacchus [“Ein schönes Wunder (“A beautiful miracle”)], his cries of “Circe” from the distance match their excitement. From the start of his role Mr. Jovanovich was always on pitch with notes produced forte when dramatically needed and piano when expressing his appeals to Ariadne. His cries of “Circe” intensified without a hint of strain just as he sang diminuendo on “Zauberin” [“magical being”] when voicing his attraction. The final extended duet celebrating the love between Ariadne and Bacchus as performed by Wagner and Jovanovich was sufficiently moving to count as the “schönes Wunder” that the nymphs had anticipated.

Salvatore Calomino

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):