20 Aug 2012
Ariadne auf Naxos, Salzburg Festspiele
When announced in November, this was trailed as the original version of Ariadne auf Naxos, a rare treat indeed.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
When announced in November, this was trailed as the original version of Ariadne auf Naxos, a rare treat indeed.
What materialised was something rather different, which ultimately delivered less than it might have seemed to promise. The Salzburg Festival’s Director of Drama not only directed the stage proceedings, but offered a new version of his own. Hofmannsthal’s adaptation of Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme is itself adapted so as to form the basis of a further level of metatheatricality. Nothing wrong with that in principle; indeed Strauss tends to thrive on such æsthetic play.
Emily Magee (The Prima Donna/Ariadne)
The problem, however, is that the new level is ultimately banal, an explanation of the enterprise being a Hollywood love-story between Hofmannsthal and Ottonie von Degenfeld-Schonburg. What most interests many of us about Strauss is the fraught relationship, and sometimes serene disconnection dialectically reinforcing itself as in connection, between life and work. Presentation of a vulgar, sub-Romantic ‘life explains works’ story cheapens rather than intrigues. Otherwise, Bechtholf’s production is unobjectionable. Rolf Glittenberg’s set designs are stylish, likewise Marianne Glittenberg’s costumes, save for an unfathomably dreadful leopard-skin get up for Bacchus. (Zerbinetta likens his stealing forward to that of a panther, but even so )
Added to this mix prior to the interval are certain parts of the later, 1916 Prologue, albeit spoken. What a waste to reduce the Composer to a spoken part! At least, however, we have opportunity to hear the incidental music. Then, after the interval, comes the opera proper, albeit with interventions from Hofmannsthal and Ottonie — yes, their love bears fruit at the same time as that of Ariadne and Bacchus — and, more irritatingly, from the dreadful M.Jourdain, objecting, in a fashion doubtless considered ‘witty’, that the music might be beautiful but it lacks a French horn, that Ariadne does nothing but complain, and so on. Many of these ideas might have sounded good on paper, even in discussion, but would have been better off rejected when it came to practical rehearsal. Yes, we hear the opera music for 1912, but we do not hear it as conceived: a pity, when even this problematical first version is so manifestly greater in sophistication than this 2012 Salzburg ‘version’. It was fascinating to hear what remained from 1912, but it would have been still more fascinating to have heard it all.
Roberto Saccà (Tenor/Bacchus)
After an occasionally shaky start, the Vienna Philharmonic was on good form. Daniel Harding shaped the incidental music before the interval with knowledge both of its French Baroque origins and the affectionate almost-but-not-quite neo-classicism in which Strauss clothes it. The Overture in retrospect offered something of an exception, more Stravinskian than what was to come, but not jarringly so. Form was conveyed intelligently and meaningfully throughout the opera, a more than satisfactory balance achieved between ‘numbers’ and the greater whole. The final climax was thrilling, moving as it should, the chamber orchestral forces persuading one, in a moment of echt-Straussian magic, that they are larger than they are, both consequence and deflation of Wagner’s examples. (The earlier Tristan quotations did not fail to delight, nor, of course, to raise a smile.)
Emily Magee was an adequate Ariadne, but rarely more than that. Too often, her voice failed to soar as it should; an edge to it proved a touch unpleasant. Elena Moşuc, by contrast, proved an outstanding Zerbinetta. Her extended aria, up a semitone, was delivered as flawlessly as I can recall any performance of the somewhat easier — that is, of course, relative! — 1916 version. The 1912 aria is even more outsized, even more absurd, in its way even more lovable; at least, that was how it sounded here. Roberto Saccà did a fine job in the thankless role of Bacchus; if he could not quite manage to prevent the strain from showing, and could not quite help one long for Jonas Kaufmann, who performed the role earlier in the run, there was a great deal for which to be grateful and nothing which to object. (Apart, that is, from the costume.) Zerbinetta’s followers were full of character and inviting of tone; it would really be invidious to choose between Gabriel Bermúdez, Michael Laurenz, Tobias Kehrer, and Martin Mitterrutzner. Likewise the other smaller sung roles. If the actors impressed less, it was difficult to know whether that was simply on account of the material. At any rate, I assume the over-acting of Cornelius Obonya’s M. Jourdain was at least in part on directorial instruction.
Will someone now offer us the 1912 version we were promised? And then we can return safely to the unalloyed joys of 1916.