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

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.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Esa-Pekka Salonen [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of Fidelio Arts]
14 Nov 2012

Wozzeck at UC Berkeley

At this famous bastion of intellect the biggest drama was the parking. Though the football stadium may have been stuffed, Zellerbach Hall was not.

Wozzeck at UC Berkeley

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Esa-Pekka Salonen [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of Fidelio Arts]

 

An appearance by London’s famed Philharmonia orchestra starring in one of opera’s most riveting theater pieces (an avowed intellectual masterpiece as well) might well have generated sufficient advance excitement to fill the hall. Sad to say, come to pass, not a lot of excitement was created in the hall either.

The Philharmonia’s claim to fame is its conductorial pedigree more so than its sound — Otto Klemperer, Herbert von Karijan, Ricardo Muti, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Christoph von Dohnányi. And now Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, well known locally as one of the L.A. Phil’s wunderkind (with Rattle and Dudamel).

The no-longer-young maestro did deliver splendidly on what we came for — the three stupendous B’s after Marie is murdered grew to unequaled quivering force, and the masterful, musically riveting Invention in D minor led to the superbly delivered, tonally pure “hop hop” repetitions that end the opera (how did excellent boy soprano Zachary Mamis so securely find those incredibly high pitches?). All these were wonderful, uniquely Salonen moments.

The maestro made a good case for Wozzeck as an orchestral showpiece, marking solid beats to expose the shape and rhythms of the abstract structures that construct acts I and II, reserving his serpentine hand movement to motivate elaborations of color in the too few moments of orchestral solo. As Berg’s score is cerebral Salonen’s delivery too was cerebral, may we say cold, even uninvolved in the opera’s dramatic exposition.

Berg’s score, an opera, is far more than pure music. It is the physical atmospheres in which the Wozzeck tragedy unfolds. Without Berg’s prescribed physical production (sets, lights, costumes) an orchestra acting alone takes on the enormous burden of creating complex atmospheres. This began to occur somewhat in the second act in the public scenes, and took hold in the third act when Berg’s more formal structures gave way to free musical invention. Here Salonen followed suit with a freer dramatic involvement.

The Philharmonia Orchestra is known for the warmth of its strings, an attribute that is not really present in the Wozzeck atonalities. Yet the strings of this orchestra made a startling showing in projecting the nervous attitudes that Berg created and the still youthful maestro elicited. The youth (relative) of the players was evident, dominated by the nearly electric presence of 30-year-old German concert master Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay.

Spreading the Philarmonia Orchestra on the stage rather than, let’s say, cramming Berg’s sizable orchestral requirements into a pit engendered a clarity of instrumental tone, and a transparency of sound that exacerbated Salonen’s coldness. At the same time however it redeemed the coldness into a musical and instrumental purity that made this very fine orchestra great, and made it the star of the show, as intended.

The assembled singers included several distinguished artists. All were quite capable of fulfilling their role, here primarily to fill the musical space Berg’s score demands. With no overview of the opera other than that imposed by the maestro it became however a mere reading of the text. Then there was the unfortunate idea that some staging was needed, when in fact a purely concert performance would have complemented the performance by the orchestra.

The singers apparently attempted to move and emote as they saw fit. This resulted in some strange solutions to entrances and exits, motivations and discoveries. Unfortunately this British bred Wozzeck did not attempt to compete with the semi-staged operas recently attempted by the L.A. and N.Y. Philharmonics, endeavors that sensibly enough involved opera directors. And by the way when are opera companies going to start staging symphonies?

This Wozzeck in Berkeley was the full musical nine-yards. The UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus acquitted itself handsomely (a few missed pitches), the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choirs marched on and did its duty, and members of the UC Berkeley Symphony well managed the off-stage banda and most of the on-stage banda (the clarinet player was from the Philharmonia).

Michael Milenski


Cast and Production

Wozzeck: Johan Reuter; Marie: Angela Denoke; Drum Major: Hubert Francis; Andres: Joshua Ellicott; Captain: Peter Hoare; Doctor: Tijl Faveyts; First Apprentice Henry Waddington; Second Apprentice: Eddie Wade; Idiot: Harry Nicoll; Margret: Anna Burford; Marie’s Child: Zachary Mamis. UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus. Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir. Members of the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. The Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen. Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, California. November 10, 2012.

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):