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 Performances

Falstaff, Royal Opera

Director Robert Carsen’s 2012 production of Verdi’s Falstaff, here revived by Christophe Gayral, might be subtitled ‘full of stuff’ or ‘stuffed full’: for it’s a veritable orgy of feasting from first to last - from Falstaff’s breakfast binge-in-bed to the final sumptuous wedding banquet.

Die schweigsame Frau, Munich

If Strauss’s operas of the 1920s receive far too little performing attention, especially in the Anglosphere, those of the 1930s seem to fare worse still.

Abduction and Alcina at the Aix Festival

The 67th edition of the prestigious Festival d’Aix-en-Provence opened on July 2 with an explosive production of Handel’s Alcina followed the next night by an explosive production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

O/MODƏRNT: Monteverdi in Historical Counterpoint

O/MODƏRNT is Swedish for ‘un/modern’. It is also the name of the festival — curated by artistic director Hugo Ticciati and held annually since 2011 at the Ulriksdal’s Palace Theatre, Confidencen — which aims to look back and celebrate the past ‘by exploring the relationships between the work of old composers and the artistic and intellectual creations of modern culture’.

Late Schumann in context — Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, London

Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels.

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Johan Reuter [Photo courtesy of Michael Storrs Music]
21 Nov 2012

Wozzeck at Los Angeles

Wozzeck Wozzeck, Wozzeck: The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Laureate Conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, now Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor to the London’ Philharmonia Orchestra, is touring the United States with a program that includes three staged performances of Alban Berg’s opera, Wozzeck.

Wozzeck at Los Angeles

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Johan Reuter [Photo courtesy of Michael Storrs Music]

 

One took place in Berkeley, (see OT), one in Los Angeles (about which further) and one is scheduled for New York.

Why Wozzeck? It’s an opera largely unknown to the usual opera going public and therefore likely to be box office poison. It’s an opera, unknown as well, to many musicians. Two Philharmonia instrumentalists commented on never having played the work before, and not liking it when they began rehearsals. Yet Maestro Salonen deliberately chose to perform the work on this tour. “I wanted to do something that has been very central in my life and in my repertoire for all those years, yet something that I haven’t performed in the United States.” he said. “And Wozzeck was one of those pieces — the first opera I ever conducted in my life. I was still in my twenties…and it has been absolutely central to me since.”

To any opera goer, who has been resistant to Wozzeck and to “the so-called atonal style” (a term used by Berg in discussing the opera), a statement like the above by a musician of Salonen’s status, should be reason enough to search out and listen to the work. But Salonen offered an even more compelling reason. “Wozzeck” he observed, is “one of the most powerful things composed by anybody. It’s hugely emotional, hugely dramatic and hugely tragic — with moments of humor, great tenderness and deepest despair ….It’s one of the most powerful experiences you can have in a concert hall.”

Wozzeck — a quick overview — the libretto: The plot is not much. You’ve heard or read the story every day in whatever media you follow.“Lover/husband kills girlfriend/wife — defense pleads insanity.”And indeed it was the 1824 execution of a Leipzig ex-soldier named Woyzeck, for whom one of the first ever insanity pleas was offered, (and denied) that inspired a young writer named Georg Büchner to begin writing a play on the subject.Büchner composed 23 sketches - essentially character sketches and brief encounters, but never completed the work. Young and radical, Büchner, who died in 1837 at the age of 23, was struck by what he saw as oppression of the poor by the rich and powerful. His well-to-do, powerful, self centered and cruel authority figures, a Doctor, an army Captain, and Drum Major, exploit, manipulate and destroy the impoverished and powerless Woyzeck and his wife. In the play, as in the opera, Woyzeck kills his wife and then drowns. Büchner’s incomplete and disordered sketches were eventually put together by others to form a play first performed seventy-six years after his death, in 1913. Immediately upon seeing the play, Berg determined to turn it into an opera. He chose fifteen of Büchner’s sketches and reordered them into three acts. Wozzeck (Berg changed the name) premiered in 1925, nearly a century after the playwright’s death.

The music- quickly again, though it’s information you don’t need in order to enjoy the opera. To accomplish that, you need only to listen and listen again.

As you’d expect much has been written about Berg’s genius in making a coherent musical whole of this disjointed text. He was a member of the Viennese School, led by Arnold Schoenberg, which in Berg’s own words had theretofore been “restricted to the creation of small forms such as songs, piano pieces and orchestral pieces.” In his detailed 1929 discussion of Wozzeck he describes the harmonic and structural techniques he employed to produce a large, cohesive work “without using tonality and the formal possibilities which spring from it.”

But don’t let Berg scare you. His music offers points of rest and coherency. Berg drew his audience’s attention to the harmony at the end of each act. “The point in a tonal composition at which the return to and establishment of the main key is made clear, so that it is recognizable to the eyes and ears of even the layman, must also be the point at which the harmonic circle closes in an atonal work. This sense of closure was first of all ensured by having each act of the opera steer towards one and the same closing chord, a chord that acted in the manner of a cadence and that was dwelled on as if on a tonic.”Berg employed the tonal feature of repeated Bs heard in every range, every instrument, and every dynamic associated with love and death in Third Act. There is dance music played by an accordion, a guitar and an out of tune piano in the ensuing tavern scene.And there’s Marie’s tender lullaby, a melody I assure you, it’s possible to keep in your head.

Berg’s lengthy lecture about the construction of Wozzeck reads the way Sergio Pininfarina might have sounded explaining how he put his latest Ferrari together. Fascinating — but to us ordinary folk, the power, the emotion, the pleasure derives not from the blueprint, but from the product itself.

The performance: Maestro Salonen’s affection and affinity for Wozzeck was made patently clear in this staged version of the opera. It was performed straight through with only brief pauses at the end of each act for the conductor to sit quietly and have some water. A large screen with English titles was visible throughout the house. The male singers were dressed alike in black pants and shirts, the two women, Marie and her friend, Margret wore long, elegant garments. The singers seemed closely supervised by Salonen, who faced them quite often and quite specifically cued them.

This was a unique performance of Wozzeck that would enhance anyone’s appreciation of the work in greatest part because of Salonen’s extraordinary intensity and attention to musical detail. However, the particular visual aspects of the Walt Disney Concert Hall were a factor as well. In this venue, where a large part of the audience can look directly down onto a well lit orchestra, it was possible to see how some of the opera’s most emotional moments were created: the single violist accompanying a vocal line, or the two percussionists slamming at a single timpani at a cataclysmic moment.

Salonen’s animated conducting style generally evokes comments by reviewers. What struck me most was his stance for instant cut-offs. Turned toward his left and the singers, he would stop sideways on the podium — and slash his baton toward the orchestra like a swordsman holding off a threatening enemy.

Danish bass-baritone Johan Reuter was a powerful and moving Wozzeck. His large well focused voice served him as well for tender moments, as for fury. His lumbering unsteady gait entering and leaving the stage suited the character. As Marie, Wozzeck’s wife, German soprano Angela Denoke, who had vocal problems two years ago, sounded as if those were well in the past. Her large lyric voice rang effortlessly throughout its range and her acting captured both Marie’s affection for Wozzeck and their child, as well as her attraction to the Drum Major. British tenor Peter Hoare, who began his musical life as a percussionist, made a clear-voiced, suitably nasty Captain. Hubert Francis, dressed more smartly than the townspeople in white-tie and tails, was appropriately cocky, then fierce as the Drum Major. Kevin Burdette, a young American bass, who flew in the morning of the Los Angeles performance to replace Tijl Faveyts, sang the Doctor fluently — occasionally with the aid of score. Joshua Ellicott, as Andres, Anna Burford, as Margret, and Zachary Mamis, as Marie’s child, were excellent in smaller roles, as were Henry Waddington, Eddie Wade and Harry Nicoll. The UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir were impressive. Instrumentalist of the UC Berkeley Symphony contributed to the performance as well.

It should be noted that Wozzeck was not the only work that Maestro Salonen and the Philharmonia are performing on their tour, and that the tour includes many more cities than the above three named. The orchestra’s performance in San Diego of Mahler’s 9th Symphony was another example of Salonen’s ability to elucidate the emotional elements of a profound musical work.

Estelle Gilson


Cast and Production

Johan Reuter: Wozzeck; Angela Denoke:Marie; Hubert Francis: The Drum-Major; Joshua Ellicott:Andres; Peter Hoare:the Captain; Kevin Burdette:the Doctor; Henry Waddington:First Apprentice; Eddie Wade:Second Apprentice; Harry Nicoll:an Idiot;Anna Burford:Margret; Zachary Mamis, Marie’s Child

Philharmonia Orchestra. Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

Members of the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. David Milnes, director. UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus. Marika Kuzma, director. Members of Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir. Robert Geary, director. Sue Bolin: conductor.

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):