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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Peter Eötvös [Photo © Jean-Francois Leclercq (jfleclercq@free.fr)]
12 May 2012

Bartók and Szymanowski, Barbican Hall

In this, the second of two LSO concerts in which Péter Eötvös replaced Pierre Boulez, one continued to feel the loss of the latter in his repertoire, yet one equally continued to value his replacement, very much his own man.

Béla Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Violin Concerto

Nikolaj Znaider (violin), Steve Davislim (tenor), London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Péter Eötvös (conductor). Barbican Hall, London, Tuesday 8 May 2012.

Above: Peter Eötvös [Photo © Jean-Francois Leclercq (jfleclercq@free.fr)]

 

Where the first concert had inserted Szymanowski’s Second Violin Concerto between Debussy’s Images and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, here Szymanowski’s Third Symphony, the ‘Song of the Night’ was preceded by two Bartók works.The Szymanowski symphony provided a fitting climax, and made for an interesting contrast with another recent London performance, from Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In almost every respect, Eötvös’s performance proved superior. Eötvös’s, or rather Boulez’s, programme made a great deal more sense too. (There will, extraordinarily, be a third London performance later in the year, or rather two performances on 11 and 18 December, again from the LSO, conducted by Valery Gergiev.)

In the opening bars, Eötvös imparted a fine sense of purpose, of onward tread, which had often been lacking in Jurowski’s somewhat meandering account. Yet there was no loss of delight in sonority, nor of fantasy from an LSO very much on top form. Steve Davislim in his opening line, ‘O nie śpij, druhu, nocy tej,’ (‘O! Sleep not, my dearest friend, this night’) immediately announced himself more commandingly than Jurowski’s tenor, more fervent, even possessed, for there was here and elsewhere a fine sense of mysticism to the performances of all concerned. Where Jurowski had often skated over the surface and had misplaced one particular climax, here one truly felt that Eötvös knew where he was going, climaxes expertly prepared and executed. Orchestrally and chorally – for the London Symphony Chorus was on equally wonderful form – this was not just a magic carpet of sound; it was a carpet that took us somewhere. Eötvös was, in that typically Wagnerian dialectic, both more ‘symphonic’ and more ‘musico-dramatic,’ the one quality contributing to the other. Not only did he exhibit a fine command of rhythm, including harmonic rhythm; he also communicated musical ‘character’, whether or no Szymanowski’s ‘song’ embodies an actual ‘story’. The opening of the second stanza was again noteworthy for Davislim’s mystical yet commanding performance: ‘Jak cicho. Inni śpia.’ (‘How peaceful it is. All the world is sleeping.’) However, it was equally remarkable for the Nietzschean stillness (hints of Also sprach Zarathustra, both in Nietzsche’s and Strauss’s versions, perhaps of Mahler’s Third Symphony too) from the orchestra and a duly awestruck chorus. Orchestral memories of Tristan und Isolde soon verged upon the overwhelming: this is Night, after all. And the chorus sounded explosions in the heavens. Yes, contra Nietzsche, one can, indeed must, transcend, even if only momentarily. And was that an echo of another transfiguration, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, in the orchestral conclusion?

Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta had found the LSO’s strings and percussion on fine form too. I very much liked the questing opening, violas going so far as to evoke the stirrings of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. There was a true darkness to Eötvös’s performance, almost Romantic, but avowedly of the twentieth century, a darkness that characterised both mood and trajectory, ‘fearful symmetry’ indeed. And how splendid it was to benefit from a full orchestral string section, with no half-way house of a chamber compromise. That certainly enabled a highly dramatic performance of the fugue to emerge, as enveloping, as arresting a drama, so it seemed, as Bluebeard’s Castle itself. The second movement benefited from the placing of the violins – crucial in this of all works – to the extent that one had a sense of versicle and response, properly ‘antiphonal’ (a word seemingly often employed by people not entirely sure what it means). Rhythms were sharp without a hint of showiness. The contrapuntal delights of both work and performance seemed to evoke Bachian ‘invention’ in more than one sense. (One could hardly fail to think of Mikrokosmos.) The slow movement was wonderfully eerie, ‘night music’ that suggested as much a menacing toy kingdom, a Nutcracker turned sour, as ‘mere’ Nature. And there was a Bluebeard-like sadness underlying the violence, a vale of tears that had no need of staging. The finale was taken at quite a lick, though there were a few tempo adjustments later on that did not entirely convince. For the most part, however, this was a performance secure in direction. Again, Bachian antecedents were to the fore: a Transylvanian Brandenburg Concerto perhaps?

Of the three performances, it was that of Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto that slightly disappointed, mostly on account of the first movement, in which soloist Nikolaj Znaider seemed curiously disconnected from the orchestra. Znaider is a musician I admire greatly, but here his approach seemed somewhat sectional, and lacked a real sense of interplay with the LSO, whose musicians could hardly be faulted. Perhaps it was telling that it was only really in the cadenza that Znaider’s first-movement performance ignited. What came thereafter, including the conclusion to that movement, seemed far more responsive, far better integrated, giving a sense of what might have been. The slow movement continued in that vein; the violin sang soulfully, nobly, but now sounded infinitely better ‘connected’. Its central scherzando material was sharply etched. The finale, though it had occasional reminders of earlier disengagement, proved highly successful in voicing the sheer range of Bartók’s thematic expression, in both solo and orchestral parts. Znaider’s tone was seductive, but never for its own sake. Here was a foretaste of the emotional commitment we should fully experience in Szymanowski.

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):