Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Die Familie Schönberg by Richard Gerstl (1883-1908) [Source: Wikipedia]
14 Aug 2012

Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder — BBC Proms 2012

Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder is conceived as cosmic panorama. King Waldemar curses God and is himself cursed, doomed to ride the skies forever, inspiring awe and horror.

Arnold Schoenberg: Gurrelieder

Angela Denoke, soprano; Simon O'Neill, tenor (Waldemar); Katarina Karnéus, mezzo-soprano (Wood-Dove); Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, tenor (Klaus the Fool); Neal Davies, bass-baritone (Peasant); Wolfgang Schöne, speaker. BBC Singers. BBC Symphony Chorus. Crouch End Festival Chorus. New London Chamber Choir. BBC Symphony Orchestra. Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor.

Royal Albert Hall, London, 12th August 2012

Above: Die Familie Schönberg by Richard Gerstl (1883-1908) [Source: Wikipedia]

 

This is an audacious work of theatre for orchestra and voices. No costumes needed, nor staging, though seeing it in a performance space as inherently dramatic as the Royal Albert Hall intensifies its impact. No live Gurrelieder will ever be dull.

Gurrelieder has featured in seven BBC Proms. Pierre Boulez conducted it in 1973, in an astounding performance that is still one of the best recordings available. Andrew Davis opened the 1994 Proms with a Gurrelieder where Hans Hotter gave an outstanding performance as speaker, so remarkable that it’s lived in my memory ever since. Jukka-Pekka Saraste and his musicians have a lot to live up to, but their 2012 Proms performance did not disappoint. Every performance has its merits, and from each we learn.

Wagner’s influence was so pervasive that Schoenberg, like Mahler and Hugo Wolf before him, needed to find forms other than opera through which to develop his musical persona. Saraste emphasizes the “Wagnerisms” in Gurrelieder so forcefully that you keep hearing echoes from Tristan und Isolde in the interaction between Waldemar and Tove. here’s even an echo of the Shepherd’s tune in the woodwind passages. King Waldemar’s men sound like Gunther’s Gibichungs, and the Waldtraube plays as pivotal a role as the Waldvogel. It’s relevant that Simon O’Neill, who sang Waldemar, specializes in lower-range Wagnerian roles like Siegmund. Angela Denoke was a reasonable Tove, and Katarina Karnéus sang a beautifully rounded Wood Dove.

Saraste’s emphasis so dominates that the differences betwen Parts 1 and 3 in Gurrelieder are minimized, particularly as Part 1 was conducted more loosely than Part 3. It’s a valid approach, and certainly makes the piece approachable. Yet it’s not an interpretation that brings out the Schoenberg in Gurrelieder, which is far more original and challenging.

Between the time Schoenberg began Gurrelieder and the time he completed it, he went through trauma in his personal life. The picture above shows Schoenberg and his wife Mathilde Zemlinsky, with their two children. It’s a summer afternoon, they’re in the Austrian countryside. But the faces are pools of blood. Mathilde and the artist Richard Gerstl had an affair but when it ended, Gerstl killed himself. The following year, Schoenberg (himself a painter) wrote Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten and Ewartung (op 17, 1909). He was now able to resolve the impasse with Gurrelieder.

In Part 2 of Gurrelieder, Waldemar responds to the loss of Tove with “Herrgott, Herrgott, wiesst du was du tatest” . The notes that are later sung as “Herrgott” appear right at the beginning of the whole piece, but are now transformed. Simon O’Neill doesn’t have the most lyrically beautiful voice, but it’s right for Waldemar, consumed as he is with cosmic rage. O’Neill uses the idiosyncrasies of his voice intelligently. This Waldemar is maddened by suffering and turns on God. “Lasst mich, Herr, die Kappe deines Hofnarr’n tragen!”, he snaps. (Let me wear your jester’s cap). As Klaus Narr tells us, Waldemar isn’t a nice man, which is perhaps why he’s so overwhelmed when Tove loves him. O’Neill seems to have understood the part in context of the whole work, rather than just singing his own part regardless as some of the smaller parts are often done. This I respect more than a “lovely” voice, Roman Trekel had an even more metallic burr, but sang parts that worked for him. Philip Langridge (a good Klaus Narr) had an even more awkward instrument, but used it to create character better than most.

As the ghost of Waldemar rides through the skies, the terrified Peasant (Neal Davies) hides and puts his faith in formulaic prayers. So it’s significant that Schoenberg makes so much of Klaus Narr. He’s a jester and plays the fool, but it’s his job ito say things to kings (and Gods) that they don’t want to hear. Like Waldemar and his hunters, the jester is dead, too, a haunted spirit forced to walk in endless circles, going nowhere. It’s not a good thing and he knows it. His music is unsettling, as it should be, despite the mock bucolic text. The joke is on the jester, who must ride with his master in death. Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts sang correctly but could have expressed more savage irony. From this point, a change is coming, overturning the “Wagnerian” forces that prevailed before. In the orchestra, Saraste lets small instruments like piccolo and xylophone be heard over the big brass and overwhelming strings.

Superlative choruses sang the demonic huntsmen, extremely well-parted so their song moved with the wildness you’d expect from ghosts riding on the wind. As they fade into “Versinkt! Versinkt”, an eerie chill seems to sink in, even in the overheated Royal Albert Hall.

The “Wild Hunt of the Summer Wind” sweeps away all that’s gone before. But Waldemar’s curse is not resolved. Instead, Schoenberg uses his music and Sprechstimme to herald something completely new. Haunted as I am by Hans Hotter’s Speaker I probably expect miracles. This is a part for baritones who retain their musical instincts even when their voices bloom no more, which adds to the meaning of this strange part. As dawn breaks, the ghosts fade, and nature, in its glory, awakes. Wolfgang Schöne still has a voice, and intones the tricky rhythms nicely. But we’re definitely not in Wagner territory now. The Speaker addresses “Herr Gänsefuß, Frau Gänsekraut” (Lord Goosefoot, Lady Amaranth), a reference to the “Herrgott” heard earlier. It’s also a reference to Waldemar and Tove and their status in the scheme of worldly things. But Goosefoot and Amaranth are tall weeds cut down by wind. This Wind blows the past away, to welcome new growth.

“Seht die Sonne!” the chorus sang with tumultous vigor, the orchestra resurgent in glorious splendour. “Läßt von lichter Stirne fliegen Strahlenlockenpracht” (and from the sun’s glowing brow flies “the spendour of his locks of light” as the translation by Donna Hewitt puts that last, lovely and very Germanic noun).

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):