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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Camilla Nylund as Rusalka [Photo by Clive Barda/ROH]
28 Feb 2012

Rusalka, Royal Opera

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an interesting opera production will be met with incomprehension and lazy, philistine hostility by vast swathes of the audience in many, perhaps most, of the world’s ‘major’ houses, a truth that renders one all the more grateful for the Royal Opera showing the courage to stage this new — to London — production of Rusalka.

Antonín Dvořák: Rusalka

Rusalka: Camilla Nylund; Foreign Princess: Petra Lang; Prince: Bryan Hymel; Ježibaba: Agnes Zwierko; Vodník: Alan Held; Huntsman: Daniel Grice; Gamekeeper: Gyula Orendt; Kitchen Boy: Ilse Eerens; Wood Nymphs: Anna Devin, Justina Gringyte, Madeleine Pierard; Mourek: Claire Talbot. Directors: Jossi Wieler, Sergio Morabito; Revival Director: Samantha Seymour; Set Designs: Barbara Ehnes; Costumes: Anja Rabes; Lighting: Olaf Freese; Video Designs: Chris Kondek; Choreography: Altea Garrido. Royal Opera Chorus (chorus master: Renato Balsadonna); Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/ Yannick Nézet-Seguin (conductor). Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Monday 27 February 2012.

Above: Camilla Nylund as Rusalka

Photos by Clive Barda/ROH

 

Rusalka_ROH_2012_02.gifAgnes Zwierko as Ježibaba and Camilla Nylund as Rusalka

That is not to say that any production meeting with hostility qualifies as interesting; some, of course, are simply not very good, or worse. Yet, it seems that only the most vapid, unchallenging — and yes, I realise that the word ‘challenging’ is a red rag to self-appointed ‘traditionalist’ bulls — of productions will garner approval from the ranks of the petite bourgeoisie. The boorish behaviour of those who booed this Rusalka equates more or less precisely to the sort of antics they would condemn if they occurred on the street — the work of ‘hoodlums’, the ‘lower classes’, the ‘uneducated’, ‘rioters’, ‘immigrants’, et al. — yet somehow unwillingness or inability to think, the fascistic refusal to consider an alternative point of view, the threat of mob violence, becomes perfectly acceptable when one has paid the asking price for what they consider to be their rightful ‘entertainment’. They would no more bother to understand, to explore, to question, Rusalka were it depicted in the most ‘traditional’ of fashions, of course, but they explode at the mere suggestion that a work and a performance might ask something of them. For, as John Stuart Mill famously noted, ‘Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.’ Wagner’s ‘emotionalisation of the intellect’ — ‘emotionalisation’, not abdication! — remains as foreign a country to them as it did to the Jockey Club thugs who prevented Tannhäuser from being performed in Paris; at least one might claim that the latter were having to deal with challenging ‘new music’, Zukunftsmuik, even. Here they were faced with an opera by Dvořák, first performed in 1901, in a staging that would barely raise an eyebrow in most German house or festivals. (The production, by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, hails initially from the Salzburg Festival.) It would be interesting to know how many of those booing had selfishly, uncomprehendingly disrupted a recent Marriage of Figaro in the same house by erupting into laughter at the very moment Count Almaviva sought forgiveness from the Countess. (There was also, bizarrely, to be heard at the opening of the third act a shouted call from a member of the audience for a ‘free’ Quebec.)

Rusalka_ROH_2012_03.gifScene from Rusalka

What, then, was it that incurred the wrath of the Tunbridge Wells beau monde? I can only assume that it was for the most part Barbara Ehnes’s sets, since the stage direction (presumably a good part of it from revival director, Samantha Seymour) was more often that not quite in harmony with the urgings and suggestions of Dvořák’s score. (The hostile rarely if ever listen to the music; at best, they follow the surtitles and bridle at deviations from what they imagine the stage directions might have been.) Even modern dress is mixed with a sense of the magical, the environment of Ježibaba the witch a case in point. There is even a cat, played both in giant form by Claire Talbot, and in real form, by — a cat, ‘Girlie’. What is real, and what is not? Collision between spirit and human worlds is compellingly brought to life, the devils and demons of a heathen past, including Slavonic river spirits (rusalki) come to tempt, to question, to lay bare the delusions of moralistic, bigoted modernity. Just as modern ‘love’ and marriage’ quickly boil down to money and power, so Vodník the water goblin finds his tawdry place of temptation whilst issuing his moralistic warnings. (Did the audience see itself reflected in the mirror? Perhaps, though I doubt that it even bothered to think that far.) Our ideas of Nature having been hopelessly compromised by what we have become, we ‘naturally’ see the world of rusalki from within the comforts of our hypocritical bordello. Who is exploiting whom, and who is ‘impure’? The souls of women who have committed suicide and of stillborn children — there are various accounts of who the rusalki actually are — or those who shun them in life and in death? Wieler and Morabito do not offer agitprop; rather they allow us to ask these questions of the work, and of ourselves. But equally importantly, they permit a sense of wonder to suffuse what remains very much a fairy tale, realism coexisting with, being corrected by, something older, more mysterious, more dangerous, and perhaps ultimately liberating. Chris Kondek’s video designs, not unlike the hydroelectric dam of Patrice Chéreau’s ‘Centenary’ Ring, both suggest Nature and through their necessary technological apparatus remind us of our distance from any supposed ‘Golden Age’, just as the opening scene will inevitably suggest to us Alberich, the Rhinemaidens, and the power of the erotic. (Wagner used the term liebesgelüste.)

Rusalka_ROH_2012_04.gifBryan Hymel as Prince and Petra Lang as Foreign Princess

Musical performances were equally strong, in many respects signalling a triumph for Covent Garden. First and foremost should be mentioned Yannick Nézet-Séguin, making his Royal Opera debut. The orchestra played for him as if for an old friend, offering a luscious, long-breathed Romanticism that made it sound a match — as, on its best days, it is — for any orchestra in the world. Magic was certainly to be heard: the sound of Dvořák’s harps again took me back to Das Rheingold — and to Bernard Haitink’s tenure at the house. Ominous fate was brought into being with similar conviction and communicative skill. Above all, Nézet-Séguin conveyed both a necessary sense of direction and a love for the score’s particular glories. If there are times when Dvořák might benefit from a little more, at least, of Janáček’s extraordinary dramatic concision, it would take a harder heart than mine to eschew the luxuriance on offer both in score and performance. Crucially, staging and performance interacted so that the contrast between worlds on stage intensified that in the pit, and vice versa.

Camilla Nylund shone in the title role. At times, especially during the first act, one might have wondered whether her voice would prove to have the necessary heft, but it did, and Nylund proved herself an accomplished actress into the bargain. Bryan Hymel may not be the most exciting of singers; the voice is not especially variegated. However, he proved dependable, and often a great deal more, the final duet as moving as one could reasonably expect. Alan Held was everything a Vodník should be: baleful, threatening, sincere, and yet perhaps not quite. The Spirit of the Lake may well have his own agenda — and certainly did here. Agnes Zwierko played the witch Ježibaba with wit, menace, and a fine sense of hypocrisy that brought the closed environments of Janáček’s dramas to mind. The four Jette Parker Young Artists participating, nymphs Anna Devin, Madeleine Perard, and Justina Gringyte, and Huntsman Daniel Grice all acquitted themselves with glowing colours. Indeed, Grice’s solo, enveloped by miraculous Freischütz-like horns from the orchestra, movingly evoked a world of lost or never-existent woodland innocence. Last but not least, Petra Lang’s Foreign Princess emerged, like Wagner’s Ortrud, as in some respects the most truthful, as well as the most devious, character of all. Splendidly sung and acted, Lang’s was a performance truly to savour. But then, this was a performance as a whole that was far more than the sum of its parts, a triumphant return to form for Covent Garden with its first ever staging of the work.

Mark Berry

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):