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

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

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.

Baroque at the Edge: London Festival of Baroque Music, 12-20 May 2017

On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.

OPERA RARA AUCTION: online auction for opera lovers worldwide

On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

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’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[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.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

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.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

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.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

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.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

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”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

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.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

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.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

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.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

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.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

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.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

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!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

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.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Richard Nixon [Source: Wikipedia]
28 Sep 2012

Nixon in China at the BBC Proms

John Adams’s Nixon in China has become one of the most successful operas in the late 20th/early 21st century wave of post-modernist attempts to revitalise the operatic tradition. It has even started its own sub-genre, the so-called CNN opera.

John Adams : NIxon in China

Madame Mao: Kathleen Kim, Chairman Mao: Alan Oke, Chou En-Lai: Gerald Finley, President Nixon: Robert Orth, Pat Nixon: Jessica Rivera, Kissinger: James Rutherford, Secretary: Stephanie Marshall, Secretary: Louise Poole, Secretary: Susan Platts, Stage Director: Paul Curran, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers, Conductor: John Adams

Royal Albert Hall, London 5th September 2012

Above: Richard Nixon [Source: Wikipedia]

 

The opera’s success owes something to Adams’s very personal musical style, with its inspirations from minimalism but with a liking for dramatic juxtapositions and willingness to embraces singable lines and individual characterisation. But the opera also owes a lot to Adams’s collaborators, director Peter Sellers and librettist Alice Goodman. It was Sellers who helped ensure that the opera was dramatically and dramaturgically sound, and Goodman who created the beautifully poetic libretto. One of the great tragedies of contemporary opera is that the furore surrounding The Death of Klinghoffer prevented the three from collaborating again. For the Prom on Wednesday5 September, the BBC had invited John Adams to conduct Nixon in China at the Royal Albert Hall.

Adams conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers with predominantly transatlantic principals. There was a staging of sorts by Paul Curran, with dramatic lighting. But this was an interesting opportunity to hear the work divorced from the iconic Peter Sellers production. The soloists were placed in front of the orchestra and were reliant on TV monitors and a repetiteur placed in the arena for communication with Adams, so not quite ideal circumstances.

Another drawback was that the acoustic intervention, that every Adams event like this has, was less than perfect. All the singers had individual microphones but the projection of each was rather variable; an effect perhaps of the infamous Royal Albert Hall acoustic. The singers used scores, but were certainly not static and Paul Curran managed to create both drama and humour, even the BBC Singers were involved, shouting, waving flags, manipulating a model of ‘The Spirit of 76’ and holding up Mao’s little red book.

Robert Orth as Nixon was new to me, though he was played the role on numerous occasions in the USA and is on the Naxos recording. As a visual and dramatic representation of Richard Nixon he was excellent, giving us a convincing visual simulacrum. Musically, I was less convinced and had rather wished that the BBC had had the courage to employ a singer who did not look like Nixon. In a non-representational semi-staging, all of Orth’s tics and visual mannerisms became wearing. Orth is an experienced singer, very experienced, his career dates back to the 1970’s; quite whether he was the best person for the role I am not sure.

His iconic opening aria was sung well enough, but it was far less than imposing. Without a life size representation of ‘The Spirit of 76’ behind him (we had to make to with a tiny model), he needed much more authority. Without authority and gravitas, there was a danger of Nixon being simply a buffoon. That this could be done was shown but Gerald Finley who managed to imbue every note of Chou En-lai’s statements with authority and commitment, making the role seem far more than it really is. I’d even begun to wonder what Finley might have been like as Nixon.

Where Orth came over well was in the quieter more intimate scenes with Jessica Rivera’s Pat Nixon. US born Rivera has appeared in a number of Adams’s operas, making her European debut in Doctor Atomic with Netherlands Opera. She made a poised, sympathetic Pat Nixon. Singing with a lovely rich toned lyric voice which brought radiance to the more purple passages.

James Rutherford played Kissinger with energy and gravitas but didn’t quite succeed in making complete sense of what is rather a diffuse and diverse role. I think that it is the role of Kissinger that most benefits from a detailed full staging.

Gerald Finley made Chou En-lai the central role of the opera, without appearing to actually do anything. He certainly brought convincing commitment to the rather densely purple philosophising, and was profoundly touching in the final monologue. It was an object lesson in how character can be created in this opera without over doing things.

Alan Oke brought similar commitment, and fearlessness, to Chairman Mao. His delivery of the role, with its high tessitura, was masterly. And he made Mao’s odd philosophical statements seem coherent, bringing real anger at the right moments. The irony of this role is that Adams has given wickedly high music to a character that is ailing (at least in the first act). Oke did not sound ailing, but he looked convincingly so.

Oke was ably supported by Louise Poole, Stephanie Marshall and Susan Platts as the three secretaries. They managed to sing and perform in neat unison and executed all of Curran’s comic moments with wonderful, dead-pan aplomb.

Curran could not manage to disguise the fact that the ballet sequence in act two out-stayed its welcome. Without a dance troop and Mark Morris’s choreography to cheer things up, the lack of real drama began to tell. This satirical sequence, based on one of Madam Mao’s infamous workers ballets has always seemed a saggy part of the opera.

So it was with more than usual relief that we welcomed the appearance of Korean soprano Kathleen Kim as Madam Mao and her stunning delivery of the showpiece aria ‘I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung’. Kim’s command of the coloratura and acuti was impressive. It has to be admitted that her tone seemed a little hard, but then this is in keeping with the character.

The final act would, I think, have benefited from not being staged. As it was Curran’s staging did not match many of the stage directions. And the characters are not really doing anything, I just wanted to be able to sit back and listen.

Bringing the orchestra out of the pit meant that we could appreciate even more the amazing and luminous effects Adams gets with his orchestration, especially as the BBC Symphony Orchestra were on such strong form. Adams seemed to take a moderately steady view of the work, concerned perhaps that everything could be heard clearly. This meant that come of the more dramatic passages lacked the visceral thrill that other conductors bring to them. The timings of Adams’s performance seemed to indicate that he was overall marginally slower than Marin Alsop on the Naxos recording, and Alsop’s speeds are marginally slower than those of Edo de Waart on the premiere recording.

Also, some sequences seemed oddly stilted with gaps between the in a way that I don’t think I have heard before. But then, I’ve never heard the composer conduct the work, nor was I following it with a score.

This was quite a long evening (7pm to 10.30pm with two 20 minute intervals) and there were times when I thought that the piece might benefit from cutting. But it was a pleasure and a privilege to hear Adams conducting his own work.

Robert Hugill

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):