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 Reviews

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 »

Reviews

27 Jul 2012

Pierre Boulez : Le marteau sans maître BBC Proms

Pierre Boulez Le marteau sans maître is important as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, says conductor François-Xavier Roth, who conducted it with members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in BBC Prom 17.

Pierre Boulez : Le marteau sans maître

Members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Hilary Summers (alto), Guy Eshad (flute), Ori Kam (viola) Caroline Delume (guitar),Bishara Harouni (piano). Adrian Salloum (xylorimba), Pedro Manel Torrejón González (vibraphone), Noya Schleien (percussion), François-Xavier Roth (conductor).

27th July 2012, Royal Albert Hall, London.

 

Ironically, though Daniel Barenboim's Proms series features Beethoven, its greatest achievement long term may be bringing Boulez to mainstream audiences. Barenboim is a man of courage and principle. He's confronted social injustice, and now he's challenging musical prejudice.

Although the singer (Hilary Summers) sings in only four of the nine sequences of Boulez's Le marteau sans maître , it is a work infused with the concept of voice, a kind of meta-song. "Whereas Pierrot Lunaire is a theatre piece with instrumental accompaniment, the voice always prepondering," said Boulez in a description of the piece. "Le marteau sans maître stems from the cell of a poem which is eventually absorbed in toto". As a young man, Boulez was drawn to the poetry of René Char and wrote three major cycles based on his work. "Le marteau sans maître is thus crucial to any understanding of Boulez's output.

Char was a surrealist In his poetry, images are compressed, as if by homeopathic distillation. The poet's brief phrases don't reveal meaning in the usual sense, but force the reader to respond intuitiuvely. "Sudddenly", said Boulez, "You recognize yourself.... the illuminating paragraph seems simultaneously to take possession of you, and to increase your potential, your grasp and your power beyond anything you had dreamed possible".

In Le marteau sans maître, Char's words are crystalized still further so their very relationship with obvious meaning dissolves into the music itself, like a droplet spreading concentric cirles in a pool of water. Words are used for musical quality, such as alliteration. Boulez specifies that the singer is not a soloist. She sits with the ensemble, so the flow between players is uninterrupted. At the end, she intones abstract sound, almost the sound of body rhythms, and the flute (Guy Eshed) sings on her behalf, as had the viola (Ori Kam) before It's significant that Char was anti-fascist long before the German occupation. On a very deep level, Boulez is reiterating Char's beliefs in the value of the individual against the mass. He uses a strict, almost mathematical structure of three internal cycles within the nine pieces and other more subtle interrelationships. From this almost ritual formality, however, springs freedom of invention. Hence, the concept of hammer without a master.

Yet how that "hammer" is wielded ! Instead of blasts of massed brass and percussion, the "aural violence" of the orchestral palette, Boulez uses a small ensemble, where instruments are carefully balanced in terms of pitch and timbre. Lines are short, with lively traceries of individual notes rather than full tutti. Nor does he demand Lachenmann-esque distortions. These players aren't there to show off, but to co-operate. Boulez also emplys instruments that suggest, but don't copy, instruments from non-western cultures. The guitar (Caroline Delume), suggesting the Japanese koto, xylomarimba (Adrian Salloum) and vibraphone (Pedro Manuel Torrejon Gonzales) suggesting gamelan and the African balafon. They exist, not as exotics, because they can express the non-dogmatic nature of the piece and its sparkling fragments, merrily moving together. Even the percussion (Noya Schleien) employs no heavy timpani but a brushes, a gong, maracas, bongos. On this occasion I was struck by how Le marteau sans maître picks up on Messiaen's concepts. In a dawn chorus, many birds sing, but each is individual, and an astute listener can pick them out. In many ways Le marteau sans maître is also a precursor of Messiaen's Sept Haïkaï.

By choosing to showcase Le marteau sans maître in this Proms series, Barenboim is again making an extra-musical statement. This piece gives the musicians much more room to engage than the more complex Dérive 2 at the start of the series and it much more suited to their strengths. Performance is a journey not an end in itself, as a deep reading of this piece might suggest. François-Xavier Roth is a charismatic, slightly eccentric personality (in the best creative sense). He's sensitive to Boulez's idiom, and his rapport with the players was good. In Le marteau sans maître, everyone's a player if they're listening.

Anne Ozorio

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):