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

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

Donizetti's 'Regiment' Ride the Highway: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

'The score … is precisely one of those works that neither the composer nor the public takes seriously. The harmony, melody, rhythmic effects, instrumental and vocal combinations; it’s music, if you wish, but not new music. The orchestra consumes itself in useless noises…'

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Bo Skovhus as Beckmesser and James Morris as Hans Sachs [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
12 Mar 2013

Wagner’s Die Meistersinger in Chicago

Productions of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg are ambitious undertakings, if only for the number of performers involved and the duration of orchestral and vocal commitment.

Wagner’s Die Meistersinger in Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Bo Skovhus as Beckmesser and James Morris as Hans Sachs

Photos by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

Happily, the current season’s production at Lyric Opera of Chicago has been a delightful success, one performed with such dedication that the event may be called an exemplary Meistersinger. James Morris performs the character Hans Sachs, the Nürnberg cobbler and master, a role for which the bass-baritone is particularly well known. The couple Walter von Stolzing and Eva Pogner is sung by Johan Botha and Amanda Majeski; the supporting couple David and Magdalene, significant in any production, is sung by David Portillo and Jamie Barton. Eva’s father Veit Pogner is performed with decided authority by the bass Dmitry Ivashchenko, and the role of the meddling Sixtus Beckmesser is taken by Bo Skovhus. The Lyric Opera Orchestra is conducted by Sir Andrew Davis in a new production shared with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and the San Francisco Opera. The Lyric Opera Chorus is led by Guest Choral Master Ian Robertson.

From the lush romantic effect produced by the intersection of strings and brass to the penetrating discipline of the percussion the overture was played with reverence to the spirit of Wagner. Davis maintained an admirable sense of control in communicating the sense of a large ensemble with substrata of melodies throughout the overture and during the ensuing drama. Tempos were beautifully drawn out in this prelude as it culminated with descending strings in the midst of a prayer to Saint John the Baptist in the Katharinenkirche at Nürnberg. Walther von Stolzing watches Eva Pogner from a distance, who in turn returns his glances as she is positioned in the church pew together with her companion Magdalene. As the service concludes, the women respond to Walter’s pleas for “Ein Wort! Ein einzig Wort!” [“Just a word! A single word!”]. Ms. Majeski’s Eva retains at this point an appropriately demure vocal impression, whereas the Magdalene of Jamie Barton instructs her own suitor David with urgent intonation: she suggests that he take up the cause of Walter and supervise the nobleman’s efforts at performance in the upcoming song-competition. Ms. Barton’s idiomatic phrasing was especially evident in the lines “Laßt David Euch lehren / die Freiung begehren. - Davidchen! Hör, mein lieber Gesell” [“Let David teach you / how to follow through with the courting. - My David, listen to me, my dear friend”]. In the following scene David indeed takes Walter into his charge. David learns with dismay that Walter is unfamiliar with the rules and expectations of formal singing as part of the masters’ tradition. As Sachs’s cobbler apprentice and pupil in song David has himself reached a level which he displays proudly. In response to Walter’s “Ratet mir gut!” [“Advise me properly!”], Mr. Portillo delivered David’s extended solo aria on the art of song with confident and accurate German declamation, exquisite ornamentation, and the physical involvement so typical of the character. Portillo’s sensitivity to David’s persona was one of the highlights of this performance with his enumeration of the masters’ intricate melodic designations -- named for herbs, flowers, and birds -- recited with seemingly breathless melismas.

2. Act Three, Scene 1, DIE MEISTERSINGER, RST_1204 c. Dan Rest.pngAct Three, Scene 1

Once the remaining apprentices were ushered into public with well-rehearsed choral involvement, the next scene was dominated by Veit Pogner, Sixtus Beckmesser, and the remaining Meister. After initial disagreements on protocol and the formal introduction of Walter von Stolzing, Pogner delivers his monologue on the significance of art in German lands as cultivated by the Meister [“Nun hört, und versteht mich recht!” (“Now listen, and understand me well!”)]. Mr. Ivashchenko’s sonorous bass enveloped the deep vocal line with superb attention to diction; he delivered confident and expressive top notes on “Eva, mein einzig Kind, zur Eh” when designating “Eva, my only child, in marriage” as the prize to be granted to the victorious singer. The Beckmesser of Skovhus was appropriately oily, with a pedantic and simpering intonation, yet at times his vocal projection was somewhat too understated. Once Walter began his song, with Botha here giving the impression of being a tad too loud and a tad under pitch, Beckmesser as the Merker (“Marker”) continued to register faults, until Walter was discouraged from singing further. Mr. Morris’s Hans Sachs came now to the fore as he both disagreed with Beckmesser on motivation and reflected on Walter’s potential. The Act closed on a blackout with a hint of the confusion that would come to dominate in Act Two.

After the short orchestral prelude, played here with an ironically light touch, David speaks with the other apprentices about the expectations for Johannestag. Comedy and sincere emotion predominate in Act Two, as the characters interact in shifting constellations that emphasize both. Eva visits Sachs to argue a case for Walter’s opportunities. In this scene both Majeski and Morris sing warmly and convincingly of affection, suggesting at first their own relationship but ultimately communicating a lasting union between Eva and Walter. In the following scene Morris accompanies Beckmesser’s nocturnal serenade of Eva with expert timing as he comments and cobbles shoes with the blows and marks of a Merker. The brawl which ensues when David realizes that his Lene a sshe is disguised, and not Eva, is serenaded by Beckmesser, is staged so that seemingly everyone in the city participates in a physical and acrobatic tour de force. Only the calls of the Nightwatchman send the assembled crowds ascatter, so that Beckmesser is left alone in confusion as Andrea Silvestrelli’s rich, low pitches resound in the Watchman’s warnings.

The lengthy Act Three begins again with David, now in the workroom of his Master Sachs. It is of course in this Act that Sachs’s character shows its fullest development, just as Eva will experience a personal and vocal transformation. Both characters in this production were admirably portrayed. Morris lent a sense of confused pathos to “Wahn! Wahn! Űberall Wahn! [“Madness! Madness! Everywhere madness!”], which he channeled convincingly into the dictum that even noble causes acquire a touch of this Wahn. He performed a moving high pitch piano on “Johannestag” to underline the magic of the forthcoming midsummer events. Likewise Majeski’s Eva bloomed in this Act as she became assured of Sachs’s support of Walter. Her aria “Ein Kind ward hier geboren” [“A child was born here”] gave evidence of her assured lyric technique. Her excellent top notes on “Selig” and throughout the quintet concluded with a vibrant, shivering trill. The staging of the final scenes with the competition on the meadow was creative and exciting in keeping with the spirit of the festivity. The close of the production belonged appropriately to the efforts of Hans Sachs, as Morris here reminded the successful Walter “to honor for me their art” [“ehrt mir ihre Kunst”] in his resonant praise of the Master.

Salvatore Calomino

Click here for cast and production information.

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):