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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The Albanaian soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry and Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal [Photo © Matthias Baus]
24 Oct 2012

Parsifal bears its own Cross

Parsifal, with its heavy dose of religiosity and strains of racial supremacy, remains at once the most mystical and historically burdened of Wagner’s operas.

Parsifal bears its own Cross

A review by Rebecca Schmid

Above: Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry and Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal

All photos © Matthias Baus


As such, it is no wonder that it has yielded some of Germany’s most seminal and controversial stagings of the past decade. The late Christoph Schlingensief brought giant, rotting bunnies to Bayreuth in 2004, the original stage to which Wagner consecrated the work in 1882—leaving New Yorker critic Alex Ross “ready to hurl,” as he so candidly put it—while Stefan Herheim’s 2008 deconstructionist production for the ‘Green Hill’ becomes an allegory for German history, traveling through the world wars of the twentieth century and into the bureaucratic Federal Republic of Bonn.

Philipp Stötzl, in his new staging for the Deutsche Oper (seen at its premiere on October 21), has opted for a more conventional yet equally radical concept that foregrounds explicitly Christian imagery. The director, who worked in film before making several successful forays into opera, casts the story as a series of tableaux vivants set in a rocky mountainous region that could easily be Nazareth (sets co-designed with Conrad Moritz Reinhardt). The curtains open during the overture to a realist portrait of Jesus on the cross, surrounded by nomads and a Roman soldier. Self-flogging and fake blood abound as the procession continues, with Amfortas carrying his own cross in the final scene.

In a genius stroke that counters the lengthy nature of the opening act, Gurnemanz’s narrations about Amfortas’ seduction by Kundry and the Last Supper are depicted on the rocks in flashbacks. Parsifal, appearing in a modern black suit and tie, descends upon the scene as if walking across a film set, an effect which is accentuated by conspicuous fluorescent lighting on all sides (Ulrich Niepel). Klingsor’s magic garden is fashioned as a Mayan cave of sorts, with Native American-inspired garb for the warlock and semi-nude floral get-ups for the flower maidens (costumes by Kathi Maurer), while the final act returns to a rocky, post-apocalyptic no man’s last featuring modern-day dress and a single streetlamp under which Parsifal is anointed by a blindly fervent crowd.

Parsifal_DO_06.jpgMatti Salminen as Gurnemanz and Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal with chorus

Stötzl’s episodes were for the most part expertly coordinated with the music, such as when Parsifal lunges his spear toward Amfortas’ wound, only to have the ruler grab it in an act of suicide (a gesture borrowed from Schlingensief). The director’s still lives, at their best, served to illustrate Wagner’s proto-cinematic qualities (theories point to the composer’s use of Leitmotifs and underscoring, techniques which were picked up by Hollywood starting in the silent film era, as well as the darkened theatre and continental seating in Bayreuth). The surging Liebesmahl (love feast) motif of the overture against the crucifixion scene captured the essence of Wagner’s spirit, a cry for redemption and a manic belief in the power of art to transform the senses.

Other scenes, such as the slow-moving mass of bodies wielding swords in the orchestral postlude of the final act, were nearly comical in their kitsch factor. The final act proved most perplexing in its chronological jump and aesthetic abstraction, failing to fully explain Parsifal’s anachronistic presence in the rest of the opera. It was also not clear whether the reverential raising of hands toward the grail in the final scene, including the shaking and collapsing of a man in zeal, was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. If Stötzl hoped to include an element of social critique, it was lost in the religious pageant.

Parsifal_DO_03.jpgEvelyn Herlitzius, as Kundry and Thomas Jesatko as Klingsor with dancers

Nonetheless, his characters emerged in immediately human strokes. Klaus Florian Vogt, slowly overtaking Jonas Kaufmann as today’s most coveted Wagnerian tenor, conveyed Parsifal’s selfless naiveté with clarion tones and an unforced thespian presence. Although his high lying timbre may not conform to the vision of many seasoned Wagnerians, his sharp musicianship and natural appeal surely compensate. The baritone Thomas Johannes Mayer gave a wrenching delivery in the role of Amfortas, evoking his existential struggle without chewing the scenery and phrasing with great sensitivity.

The dark voice of veteran bass Matti Saliminen may have developed a slightly gravely quality, but he was unquestionably authoritative as the knight Gurnemanz, winning thunderous applause. Evelyn Herlitzius incarnated the wandering heathen Kundry with seductive tones, grounding large melodic leaps with a burnished low range. She was in particularly fine voice for her narrative to Parsifal, “Ich sah das Kind,” about seeing him as a baby in his mother’s arms. The bass Albert Pesendorfer was rich voiced and commanding as Amfortas’ father Titurel, and Thomas Jesatko a magnetic Klingsor. Comprimario roles were strongly cast, with Burkhard Ulrich and Tobias Kehrer standing out as the First and Second Knights of the Grail. The chorus of the Deutsche Oper brought a characteristic blend of elegant lyricism and homogeneity of tone.

Parsifal_DO_09.jpgThomas J. Mayer as Amfortas and Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry with chorus

Donald Runnicles, now entering his fourth season as music director of the Deutsche Oper, led the orchestra in a smooth, strong-willed reading that did not always brim with tremendous pathos but did full justice to the soaring lines of Wagner’s score. The horns and trumpets were in top form through chromatic motifs, and although the strings’ gleaming tone did not always make its way into the transcendent, there was little doubt of the orchestra’s authentic connection to this tradition. With so many subversive productions circulating as we approach the eve of Wagner’s bicentenary in 2013, perhaps there is no need to fight the inevitable weight of history.

Rebecca Schmid

Click here for cast and production information.

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