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

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Statue of Cola Di Rienzo by Girolamo Masini, erected in 1877 near the Campidoglio
31 Jan 2012

Rienzi, OONY

For the first hour or so of the latest Opera Orchestra of New York venture, a concert performance of Wagner’s Rienzi, I often said to myself, This…isn’t so terrible.

Richard Wagner: Rienzi

Irene: Elisabete Matos; Adriano: Geraldine Chauvet; Rienzi: Ian Storey; Baroncelli: Jonathan Winell; Cecco del Vecchio: Shannon DeVine; Messenger of Peace: Emily Duncan-Brown. New York Choral Society and Opera Orchestra of New York, conducted by Eve Queler. Avery Fisher Hall. Performance of January 29.

Above: Statue of Cola Di Rienzo by Girolamo Masini, erected in 1877 near the Campidoglio

 

The orchestra sounds good, lovely rich string sounds that prefigure Tannhäuser, and coarse versions of Wagner’s endless modulation, continually reworking musical material to disguise his slight melodic gift. But it went on and on, brass choirs and brainless choruses, lovers rejoicing or denouncing, nobles sulking and plotting, and it was difficult to be sure which singer was playing which role; no synopsis was provided and, in Wagner’s libretto from a Bulwer Lytton novel about fourteenth-century Roman politics, only the three leads have any individuality.

Rienzi rates a single paragraph in Ernest Newman’s Wagner as Man and Artist. Newman loved Wagner, and his books are the best front-line tomes for background and analysis. He approved Wagner’s distinction between the “romantic operas” (up through Lohengrin) and the “music-dramas,” and when he said Wagner was the greatest opera composer who ever lived, he meant aside from the total-art-works in their higher realm. Yet even Newman (who has a ten-page warm spot for Das Liebesverbot) couldn’t come up with a kind word for Rienzi. “Almost offensive” and “a sheer failure of the imagination” are his dicta on the opera’s musical language. “It is astounding how few phrases there are in all these six hundred pages.” He grudgingly admits the “rampant horse-power vigor” of the overture (the only bit of the work we generally hear), then returns to its “vulgarity, its intolerable prolixity.”

I can’t disagree with this assessment, though Rienzi does offer the intriguing spectacle of youthful genius finding himself…and not quite getting there yet, just as Mozart does with Mitridate or La finta giardiniera. And, to be fair, Rienzi achieved just what its composer desired: A hit at its premiere, it remained popular for years, whereas Fliegende Hollander and Tristan took decades to enter the general repertory. From the chatter around me, I gathered that the house was full of last-minute attendees, lured by a spate of ten-dollar tickets, and that these newbies were happy with what they encountered, with the performance’s sheer busyness. Can opera lovers be so shallow that huge performing forces in colorful costumes and martial formation making a huge noise in a huge room, the power of mere spectacle, overwhelms refinement of taste? Well, you know the answer to that one.

William_Holman_Hunt_-_Rienz.gifRienzi Vowing to Obtain Justice for the Death of his Young Brother by William Holman Hunt

The Met last gave Rienzi in 1890; 122 years do not justify any call for its revival. Opera Orchestra of New York has given it in concert four times now, at least two more than curiosity could merit, but Eve Queler loves operas that have lots of moving parts, brasses scattered around the room, choral groups marching up and down the aisles, a long organ solo, and Rienzi gives her all that. Wagnerians used to sneer at Rienzi as “the greatest Meyerbeer opera,” but that is because they do not know Meyerbeer’s tuneful, elegant, dramatically pointed scores. The only thing Meyerbeerian about Rienzi is its grotesque length. (Queler cut it significantly, of course: An uncut Rienzi could last five hours easy.) Rienzi’s repetitiveness, the thrill in exploiting its slight substance, no one would deplore more than Meyerbeer, unless it be the mature Richard Wagner. Effects without causes—that’s what we have here.

The 27-year-old composer, weary of being an underpaid, over-indebted opera conductor and critic, wanted to demonstrate he was ready for hardball with the big boys. You know: Spontini, Auber, Halévy… Too, he wanted to write an opera on imperial themes to set pre-unified Germany afire, and he wanted to set it in Italy because … well, because. But he hadn’t yet visited Italy. So the local color of his medieval Rome is very beer hall. A loud beer hall. A loud, smoky, Germanic beer hall. Hitler is said to have adored Rienzi, but too much need not be made of that: He also adored Die Meistersinger and The Merry Widow.

So the orchestra was okay on this occasion, and the choruses rather good, but what of the singers? Ian Storey, a well-known mediocre Tristan, was in appalling shape, not an unforced tone all day. As no announcement of ill health was made, one must assume he just wasn’t up to the stentorian title role, though he sounded very sick and Queler may simply not have had a replacement handy. (Who learns this role any more? Why bother?) Geraldine Chauvet in the musico (i.e., trouser) role of Adriano Colonna—the only character in the opera with a dash of personality—had a far happier day and the applause to go with it. She sang the Prayer that is the only vocal number ever excerpted from Rienzi, and though not entirely in charge of it, produced fine phrases in a yearning style and got through her Wagner turns, the composer’s favorite ornamental figure, with credit. Elisabete Matos, who made a thrilling Met debut last year in Fanciulla del West but is better known in Europe for dramatic roles, sang Rienzi’s sister and Adriano’s girlfriend, Irene, a one-(very high)-note idealistic personality whose soprano must cut through the orchestra like a gleaming bread knife. Matos had the sheen and was usually on the right pitches, and her final, suicidally heroic outburst implied that she’d sing one hell of a Senta if she got the chance. Among the lesser figures, baritone Shannon DeVine and soprano Emily Duncan-Brown distinguished themselves.

John Yohalem

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):