Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La Bohème, Manitoba

Manitoba Opera’s first production in nine years of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème still stirs the heart and inspires tears with its tragic tale of bohemian artists living — and loving — in 1840s Paris.

Arizona Opera Presents Don Pasquale in Tucson

On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Tucson. Chuck Hudson’s production of this opera combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history.

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

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):