Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

Syracuse Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ bubbles over with fun, laughter and irresistible music

The company uncorks its 40th Anniversary season with a visually and musically satisfying production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s farcical operetta

Capriccio at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Although performances of Richard Strauss’s last opera Capriccio have increased in recent time, Lyric Opera of Chicago has not experienced the “Konversationsstück für Musik” during the past twenty odd years.

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Plácido Domingo: I due Foscari, London

“Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo” someone said when Verdi’s I due Foscari was announced by the Royal Opera House. There are very good reasons for doing so.

Philip Glass’s The Trial

Music Theatre Wales presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial (Kafka) last night at the Linbury, Royal Opera House. Music Theatre Wales started doing Glass in 1989. Their production of Glass’s In the Penal Colony in 2010 was such a success that Glass conceived The Trial specially for the company.

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

To say that the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere.

A New Don Giovanni and Anniversary at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its sixtieth anniversary season with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni directed by Artistic Director of the Goodman Theater, Robert Falls.

Grande messe des morts, LSO

It was a little over two years ago that I heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the Berlioz Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral; it was the last time I heard — or indeed saw — him conduct his beloved and loving London Symphony Orchestra.

Guillaume Tell, Welsh National Opera

Part of their Liberty or Death season along with Rossini’s Mose in Egitto and Bizet’s Carmen, Welsh National Opera performed David Pountney’s new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (seen 4 October 2014).

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto was the second of two Rossini operas (the other is Guillaume Tell) performed in tandem for their autumn tour.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, Barbican Hall

In Monteverdi’s first Venetian opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (1641), Penelope’s patient devotion as she waits for the return of her beloved Ulysses culminates in the triumph of love and faithfulness; in contrast, in L’incoronazione di Poppea it is the eponymous Queen’s lust, passion and ambition that prevail.

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

After the triumphs of love, the surprises: Les Paladins, under their director Jérôme Correas, and soprano Sandrine Piau are following their tour of material from their 2011 CD, ‘Le Triomphe de L’amour’, with a new amatory arrangement.

Puccini : The Girl of the Golden West, ENO London

At the ENO, Puccini's La fanciulla del West becomes The Girl of the Golden West. Hearing this opera in English instead of Italian has its advantages, While we can still hear the exotic, Italianate Madama Butterfly fantasies in the orchestra, in English, we're closer to the original pot-boiler melodrama. Madama Biutterfly is premier cru: The Girl of the Golden West veers closer, at times, to hokum. The new ENO production gets round the implausibility of the plot by engaging with its natural innocence.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from Jeanne d'Arc - Szenen aus dem Leben der Heiligen Johanna [Photo by Thomas Aurin courtesy of Deutsche Oper Berlin]
21 Nov 2012

Joan of Arc as Atheist Heroine

Jeanne D’Arc—Szenen aus dem Leben der Heiligen Johanna, the last stage work of the German composer Walter Braunfels, documents a passage in music history that has only recently begun to break through the surface.

Joan of Arc as Atheist Heroine

By Rebecca Schmid

Above: Scene from Jeanne d’Arc — Szenen aus dem Leben der Heiligen Johanna

Photos by Thomas Aurin courtesy of Deutsche Oper Berlin

 

Although the composer enjoyed widespread popularity in the mid-1920s with his opera Die Vögel and religious works such as his Te Deum which curried favour with the devout statesman Konrad Adenauer, Braunfels’ antagonism toward the Nazis and half-Jewish heritage led to a ban on his music starting in 1933. It was not until 2001 that Jeanne D’Arc, written at the height of the war between 1938-43, was unveiled to the public with a concert performance in Stockholm starring Juliane Banse and conducted by Manfred Honneck. Seven years later, the Deutsche Oper engaged the late directing provocateur Christoph Schlingensief to conceive what would be the opera’s staged premiere.

Often interpreted as a reaction to the brutality of the Holocaust, Jeanne D’Arc expresses a desperate belief in the powers of the divine to redeem the spiritually pure from the persecution of a society blinded by false values. The French martyr and Catholic saint Joan of Arc had of course already conjured operas by Giuseppe Verdi and Arthur Honegger, yet it was a performance of Hindemith’s subversive Mathis der Maler that moved Braunfels to pen his own libretto and carry forth with a religiously laden opera. Choruses lifted from Passion oratorios intermingle with blocks of extended tonality that evoke Wagner and Strauss without creating a hypnotic sense of inebriation. The most interesting passages emerge in the unpredictable harmonic development and sardonic trumpet fanfares at the start of the second act that give full expression to Braunfels’ unassuaged frustration.

It is a shame that Schlingensief’s production, revived for three performances this season and seen November 16, adopts an atheist critique of western Christianity that is subsequently drowned in silly, morbid gags and distracting video projections (executed with Anna-Sophie Mahler and Søren Schuhmacher). Footage ranging from shots of a Nepalese village, where a wreathed corpse is burned in a religious process, to the juxtaposition of church boys with references to Mafia activity only misconstrues Braunfels’ simple allegory. Images of Schlingensief himself among the Nepalese and the oversized anatomical set of lungs that descend downstage may make this staging a fascinating historical document (the director died of lung cancer in 2010), but he imposes more on this opera than he illuminates. Ultimately, it is hard to justify the expense that went into the rotating stage’s convolution of scenes (designs by Thomas George and Thekla von Müllheim).

A live cow emerges as an ostensible symbol for Johanna when the wife of the Knight Baudricourt insists that she should be set free to bring an end to pestilence in the village, accompanied by a nonsensical sign reading “Tote Kuh fällt vom Schnurrbart” (the dead cow falls from its whiskers). Gaggles of midgets in nun suits and projections of animal insides are enough to make one cringe, but the distaste reaches its peak in an extra with cerebral palsy who, dressed in a crown and gymnast’s suit (costumes by Aino Laberenz), writhes in spasms with the music until he is smothered in fake blood and chokes with suicidal gags for what felt like much too long. Although the character’s symbolic presence as an extension of the King’s suffering eventually makes itself clear, the exploitation of a disabled individual to this artistic end is questionable at best. Schlingensief surely intended to make a statement in favour of tolerance for all human beings, but his warped concept of social activism only undermines the historical value of Braunfels’ opera. The director also replaces some of the Inquisitor’s seminal lines with the spoken words of a midget, such as the final “We have burned a holy being!” The effect is perverse and detracts from the weight of the story. Just as ridiculous is the moment when Joan of Arc emerges as a black-faced death angel from an oversized birthday cake, only to light flickering candles as a symbol of her burning at the stake.

Joan_318.gif 

Despite the tremendous stamina and purity of tone American soprano Mary Mills brought to the title character, she was hampered by the stilted stage concept. Rarely has there been a better example of Regietheater’s power to undermine the presence of impeccable, if not so thespian-oriented, musicianship. The rich-voiced English baritone Simon Neal gave a standout performance as Joan’s ally, Gilles de Rais, and Kim-Lilian Strebel and Annie Rosen made for a prettily sung, homogeneous pair as her female patron saints Katharina and Margarete. In the role of St. Michael, the tenor Paul McNamara gave an earnest delivery but suffered from a somewhat swallowed timbre; the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper under Matthias Foremny also could have helped matters by producing more restrained pianissimi.

Clemens Bieber made for an affecting King, even if one had to avert one’s eyes from the cartoonish portrayal Schlingensief set out to achieve. Tobias Kehrer gave a warm portrayal of Johanna’s father, Jacob, entering the stage in bishop garb on a reindeer sled, and the nasal timbre of Paul Kaufmann made for an appropriately pathetic portrait of the shepherd Colin. Jörg Schörner gave a fine performance in the role of the sympathizing Duke of Alençon, while Lenus Carlson made for an imposing Duke de la Trémouille. Yosep Kang also stood out as Bertrand de Poulengy. The orchestra of the Deutsche Oper was stronger in soaring lyric lines than complex polyphony, with the brass especially smudged. The house chorus also did not sound as rehearsed as usual despite its reliably strong performance. Several seats were empty after intermission, a rare occurrence in Berlin. Perhaps it would have made more sense to focus on this musical specimen in concert performance, which is exactly what the Salzburg Festival has planned for 2013.

Rebecca Schmid

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):