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.
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.
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.