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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Carl Maria von Weber
26 Apr 2012

Der Freischütz, London

The unfashionableness of Der Freischütz in England is a little baffling. In its day, not only was the opera celebrated across Germany, it soon conquered other European stages and indeed theatres worldwide.

Carl Maria von Weber, Der Freischütz, J.277 (concert performance)

Ottokar, Zamiel: Stephan Loges; Kuno: Martin Snell; Agathe: Christine Brewer; Ännchen: Sally Matthews; Kaspar: Lars Woldt; Max: Simon O’Neil; Hermit: Gidon Saks; Killian: Marcus Farnsworth; Four Bridesmaids: Lucy Hall; Narrator: Malcom Sinclair; London Symphony Chorus ; London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis (conductor). Barbican Hall, Saturday 21 April 2012.

Above: Carl Maria von Weber

 

Premiered at the Berlin Schauspielhaus in 1821, by the end of the decade it had already received productions in Danish, Swedish, Czech, Russian, English, French, Hungarian, Polish and Dutch, and by 1850, stagings had been mounted as far afield as Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, and Sydney. Of course, it is in many ways the quintessential German Romantic opera, though one should always remember how much influence other ‘national’ traditions wield over it, but it is saddening that we, or at least the powers that be, should apparently evince so little interest in this tradition. Oberon was programmed to appear this season at Covent Garden, a mouthwatering prospect, only to be cancelled in favour of yet another run — within the same season! — for La traviata. The only staging of Der Freischütz I have seen in London, or indeed elsewhere, was that by ENO in 1999. Meanwhile, Calixto Bieito has just presented a new production in Berlin for the Komische Oper, a must-see staging by all accounts. Perhaps ENO, with its reinvigorated interest in co-productions will bring it across the Channel at some point; we can but hope. Many thanks, in any case, are due to the LSO for this concert performance.

It is not, of course, a work without its problems, first and foremost of which is surely Johann Friedrich Kind’s libretto (even if that seems a masterpiece when compared with the ludicrous effort from James Robinson Planché for Oberon). The dialogue, especially in a concert performance, can present difficulties for a non-German cast, so it is understandable that a decision was made to ditch it in favour of an English narration by Amanda Holden. Whether the latter in any sense marked an improvement remained unclear, to say the least. Malcolm Sinclair’s delivery, whilst clear, was definitely on the ac-tor-ly side, the narration itself prosaic and yet lodged precariously between sanitised fairy-tale — fairy-tales should be anything but sanitised! — and camp. Of the work’s darkness there was little or nothing to be heard. In 1841, sickened and impoverished by the superficiality of Parisian musical culture, the homesick Wagner wrote of a performance: ‘It seems to be the poem of those Bohemian woods themselves, whose dark and solemn aspect permits us at once to grasp how the isolated man would believe himself, if not prey to a dæmonic power of Nature, then at least in eternal submission thereto.’ For a sense of that crucial quality, one had to turn to the music — and indeed, perhaps one always did.

Sir Colin Davis has a lengthy history with the work; he recorded it with the Staatskapelle Dresden — Weber’s own orchestra, of course, and Wagner’s too — twenty years ago, and these two performances have been recorded for release on LSO Live. This was not a reading of incendiary drama such as one hears on Carlos Kleiber’s legendary recording, also with the Dresden orchestra, but won over as one can hardly fail to be by that performance, it is easy to forget how unorthodox it is. Take, for instance, the waltz in the first act, preceding Max’s recitative and aria. Kleiber’s tempo is, on the face of it, bizarrely fast, though somehow it works. Furtwängler takes it far more slowly, as did Davis, though his reading sounded closer to the sound and at times implacability one might have expected from a Klemperer Freischütz. (Now there is a thought; he certainly conducted it in his youth; indeed he made his debut at the Prague Deutsches Landestheater with it, in 1907.) These were sturdier peasants; I can imagine some finding the results staid by comparison, but there was actually a subtler vigour at work.

The Overture was another case in point, its opening gravely Beethovenian. Despite the difference in tempo and almost everything else, I was somehow put in mind of Coriolan. An unfortunate split horn note was heard upon the horns entry, but thereafter, throughout the work, the LSO’s horns were on excellent form, just as required in this of all operas. There was a sense of fairy-tale: I thought of Davis’s Hänsel und Gretel for the Royal Opera. But there was also, and increasingly so, Wagnerian gravity to be heard, reminding us that, so many times in this work, Siegfried is but a stone’s throw away. Fafner’s lair takes form in the Wolf’s Glen Scene. And there was no shortage of dramatic drive to the conclusion of the Overture, but Davis and his wonderful orchestra saw no reason to resort to anything hinting at superficial display. Orchestral malevolence was to be heard in spades at the opening of Kaspar’s aria, ‘Schweig! damit dich niemand warnt,’ and a proper storm was cooked up in that celebrated finale to the second act. (Electronic sound effects proved slightly alienating, but what does one do in a concert performance?) If not exactly folksy — and does one really want that? — there was certainly a nice orchestral jauntiness to Ännchen’s ‘Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen’. Whilst a list of notable orchestral solos would doubtless extend to almost every section principal, I feel I cannot fail to mention the superlative contributions of leader, Carmine Lauri, Rebecca Gilliver (cello), Gareth Davies (flute), and of course, the viola obbligato in ‘Einst träumte meiner sel’gen Base’ (it looked like Paul Silverthorne to me, although the programme said otherwise, so I should probably credit Edward Vanderspare too, just in case).

The London Symphony Chorus was on predictably fine form too. Its choral weight and attack registering unfailingly from the opening Huntsman’s Chorus onwards. Both the chorus and Davis were keenly aware of the echoes of Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten — they recorded it relatively recently — a little later on during the first act. Would that one could hear more choral singing of such distinction in the opera house! Simon O’Neill performed a decent, professional task. He can sing the notes — and did. He can sing the words too, but there remains, as I have generally found with this artist, a lurking suspicion that he is not always entirely clear what the words mean. Moreover, the pinched quality of his voice is, despite its heft, becoming increasingly pronounced. It is perhaps easier to take here than in a work on the scale of Die Meistersinger, but one could hardly call it ingratiating. Christine Brewer again certainly has the required vocal heft for the work. Her wobble became unduly pronounced in her second act aria, but sincerity of spirit won through here, and in a lovely third-act cavatina. To start with, I found Sally Matthews’s timbre a little pallid, but was soon won over. There was certainly much to esteem in her clarity of line (not least vis-à-vis certain of her colleagues), and she handled the coloratura not only with ease but with a sure understanding of its dramatic purpose. A distinguished performance indeed! Lars Woldt was a late replacement for Falk Struckmann as Kaspar. He shone in the role, not least on account of his natural ease with his native tongue. I can imagine some might have found his vibrato a little heavy — I did not — but there was, vibrato aside, something impressively resounding to his tonal quality and delivery. The appearance of Stephan Loges as Ottokar — it is pretty much impossible to judge his electronic appearance as Zamiel — made one wish, from its elegance of delivery, that the character had more to sing. Gidon Saks wobbled a bit as the Hermit, but I am not sure that matters too much with respect to that particular role. I should also definitely mention a winning, stylish Killian from Marcus Farnsworth; again, it was difficult not to wish that the role might be expanded. Martin Snell and Lucy Hall rounded off with aplomb a cast of many virtues.

If it is difficult, then, quite to see those Bohemian Woods in the concrete jungle of the Barbican Centre, and the nature of the concert performance made for a less Romantic rendering than one would hope for in the theatre, this performance exhibited many singular qualities. It will certainly be worth hearing on CD.

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):