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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Daniel Barenboim, Prom 14
23 Jul 2013

Prom 14: Das Rheingold

For me, this is almost to have come full circle — though as anyone with even the slightest acquaintance with the Ring will tell you, the so-called ‘cycle’ does not end where it began, its world having been changed forever.

Das Rheingold, London

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Daniel Barenboim

 

Though I saw Richard Jones’s Royal Opera Götterdämmerung at the old house, the only performance I saw before its closure, my first full Ring was at the Royal Albert Hall, with Royal Opera forces under Bernard Haitink. Travelling down from Cambridge each day, this sometime impoverished student standing up in the Gallery still considers it, from the relative comfort of the RAH Stalls, a formative musical experience of his life. It has certainly never been better conducted in his experience, nor better sung; and, given the vagaries of stagings, it is sometimes difficult to avoid the reactionary position that ‘a concert performance would be preferable’. Of course it is not; but the semi-staged solution adopted at the Albert Hall both then and now does afford us the great luxury of being able to concentrate entirely upon the score (words included). Justin Way’s direction was keen, but was limited, so far as one could tell, to placing of the singers and presumably at least some advice concerning their stage interaction. If one has any sense, one takes what one can from different performances and productions, ever aware that no one performance will ‘have it all’. What I can say, however, is that there was, with the possible exception of the production, not a single element of this Proms Rheingold that was not preferable to Antonio Pappano’s at-best-amateurish attempts at Covent Garden to act as Haitink’s successor.

There was actually one other aspect of the Proms experience that lessened appreciation: a heavy-breather seated behind me. Not once, despite the hardest of stares, did he relent. It might sound trivial, but, in a drama that requires of its audience total concentration, it is possible to ignore. How I wish there were some Stasi-style opportunity to report such selfish behaviour and have the miscreant banished for future performances. Moreover, the entry of audience members during the descent to Nibelheim should never have been permitted; I assumed at first that a highly conspicuous woman with shopping bag across the hall, seemingly heading for the stage, denoted a racy realisation of Mime. Such afforded amusement; others breaking the spell did not. Moreover, a telephone’s invasion of Nibelheim took the idea of Alberich’s technological breakthroughs far too literally.

Logistical matters detracted, but the drama remained the thing. Whereas, across town, Pappano has never proved able to maintain a Wagnerian line, Daniel Barenboim did so almost effortlessly. From the opening E-flat to the gods’ entrance into Valhalla, the drama unfolded as if heard in a single breath. If that sounds like the Fernhören of Barenboim’s idol, Furtwängler, then inspiration doubtless derives from that source, but the differences are at least as noteworthy. As I noted with respect to Barenboim’s Rheingold with similar forces in Berlin , there is perhaps a surprising degree of ‘objectivity’ that seems, given the evidence of two separate performances, to have become part and parcel of his conception. (On the evidence of Berlin, it is a feature only of Rheingold, but we shall see — or rather, hear.) It is a perfectly justifiable response to the frigid ‘pre-historical’ world of Wagner’s Vorabend, and has something in common with the readings of Karajan and Boulez. Some, at least, of the music one hears rather as if there were an aural counterpart to the veil that would, according to Wagner’s directions, conceal Valhalla until the end. (In Berlin, Barenboim actually adopted the Bayreuth practice of covering the pit.) There were, moreover, even within a highly flexible reading as a whole, certain passages that intriguingly hinted towards the Neue Sachlichkeit of a composer such as Hindemith; Schoenberg, another Barenboim speciality, can doubtless wait until following evenings. Barenboim’s reading, in keeping with the relatively ‘objective’ approach, was often on the swift side, yet anything but superficial; there was, though, no tendency to linger, just for the sake of it, Wagner’s textural variegation offering its own opportunities for æsthetic absorption. The conductor showed beyond doubt — not that there should ever have been any grounds for such naïve either/or oppositions — that a fully satisfying musical reading was perfectly consonant with, indeed dependent upon, dramatic communication of Wagner’s poem: to take but one instance, Barenboim almost punched the air on the ‘wiss’ Fasolt’s ‘Du Weiser, wiss’ es von ihm’, incitement to an accent that was musico-dramatic in the fullest sense of the term.

None of that, of course, could be accomplished without the burnished Staatskapelle Berlin. If this Proms Ring were to have but one lasting accomplishment, to have made London audiences once again aware of how Wagner might sound with the combination of a great orchestra and conductor would be achievement enough. The Prelude received a realisation — insofar as I could disregard the sub-Alberich breathing from behind — as close to perfect as anyone might reasonably hope for: neither Barenboim nor his orchestra offered ‘interventionism’, yet Wagner’s evolving vision of what his contemporary Marx termed ‘spontaneous generation’ told its own story, even when shorn of scenic realisation. As Wagner’s Dresden comrade-in-arms, Bakunin, put it in his earlier essay, God and the State, we hear ‘the gradual development of the material world … a wholly natural movement from the simple to the complex, from the lower to the higher,’ not ‘the vile matter of the idealists … incapable of producing anything,’ but ‘matter … spontaneously and eternally mobile, active, productive.’ The words might almost have been intended as a programme note — though they come a little more than a decade before Wagner’s composition.

The orchestral contribution was, a very occasional obscured entry notwithstanding, truly excellent: not in a quasi-narcissistic fashion, such as one heard sometimes with the Berlin Philharmonic’s Ring under Simon Rattle , but as a proper instantiation of Wagner’s Opera and Drama ‘Greek chorus’. A splendidly sepulchral Wagner tuba offered the deftest — a word one does not always necessarily associate with the instrument — upon Woglinde’s broaching the apparently absurd idea of renouncing love for gold. And how the brass and timpani let rip when permitted to do so — for instance, upon the arrival of Fasolt and Fafner: larger than life in more than one sense. The transformation between the first scenes, in which the ring motif is dialectically transformed into that denoting Valhalla, owed a great deal to the timbral sophistication of middle-range instruments such as that baleful English horn, violas, and of course the increasingly tender horn. Likewise the wind ageing of the gods upon Freia’s departure was second to none I have ever heard, effected with painful, cruel beauty, a telling comment upon Wagner’s Feuerbachian unmasking of delusions to immortality. (They looked increasingly frozen of aspect too, for which the director deserves credit.) It was a pity, then, that the anvils were so underwhelming: almost a case of spoiling the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar. No matter: the horn-playing as Mime told us of old Nibelheim was so exquisitely, musically phrased that ‘wonnig Geschmeid’, nielichen Niblungentand’ came to life before our ears.

Barenboim’s cast was more than equal to the task , as distinguished a complement to the orchestra as anyone might reasonably hope for. The Rhinemaidens were near-idea in blend, as fine a trio as I can recall having heard, Anna Lapkovskaja’s Flosshilde perhaps especially radiant. Their final lament was as beautifully, heart-rendingly piercing as I can recall. Iain Paterson made a distinguished debut as Wotan, perhaps less authoritative than many, but the god of Das Rheingold is a less weighty figure than he will become. Attention to the text was exemplary throughout. Ekaterina Gubanova once again shone as Wotan’s consort. The portrayal of Fricka’s tenderness, an intimate portrait of a wronged, anxious wife, blossomed into splendidly divine self-assurance where necessary, but this was so much more than a mere harridan. When she approached Wotan following Erda’s intervention, Gubanova showed just how expertly she could spin out a line, not for its own sake but for dramatic effect, Barenboim her encouraging and trusting partner. Stephan Rügamer’s Loge was a vivid assumption, sardonic yet not caricatured, indeed at times beautifully sung. The moment of shock upon Loge’s ‘Durch Raub!’ registered without being milked, testament to the artistry of both Rügamer and Barenboim. It verged upon a mini-caesura, at the very least a telling piece of punctuation, punctuation that nevertheless made sense in terms of the greater whole. (Alberich’s ‘Knecht’, as in his Act IV ‘als des Ringes Knecht’ curse, offered a telling parallel — and development, followed by the vilest orchestral fury, properly chilling.)

Johannes Martin Kränzle’s Alberich was lighter than one generally hears, but he made a virtue of that, drawing our attention to the intricacies of Wagner’s poem. This Alberich could shade into Sprechgesang, for instance on the ‘Lust’ of ‘doch listig erzwäng’ ich mir Lust?’ The alienating darkness had chilling dramatic effect, so long as it were not over-employed, which it was not. Especially notable was the colouring of every word in his Nibelheim threats to his band of wage-slaves — ‘Zögert ihr noch? Zaudert wohl gar?’ Every word told, yet without disruption to phrasing. Barenboim’s pointing of rhythms as Alberich poured out sarcastic scorn upon Loge — ‘Der Listigste dünkt sich Loge; andre denkt er immer sich dumm...’ — offered an excellent example of the indissoluble union of singer and conductor, words and music; this was music drama at its finest. Peter Bronder’s Mime offered a fine evocation of proto-Nietzschean ressentiment, his pitiful anger formed by his lowly position within the world — Wotan’s, be it noted, as well as Alberich’s. Eric Halfvarson and Stephen Milling made much of their roles as giants. Milling’s Fasolt was, quite rightly, more mellifluous, more sympathetic. Fafner’s insulting ‘Geck’ towards his lovelorn brother, the word veritably spat out, said it all. Nor of course, however predictable the assessment may be, should one forget Anna Larsson’s well-nigh definitive Erda, Mahler’s Urlicht palpably on the aural horizon. Everything, then, augurs well for Die Walküre this evening — not least the mendacious orchestral blaze for the gods’ closing Totentanz. A storm awaits.

Mark Berry


Production and cast information:

Wotan: Iain Paterson; Loge: Stephan Rügamer; Donner: Jan Buchwald; Froh: Marius Vlad; Fricka: Ekaterina Gubanova; Freia: Anna Samuil; Erda: Anna Larsson; Alberich: Johannes Martin Kränzle; Mime: Peter Bronder; Fasolt: Stephen Milling; Fafner: Eric Halfvarson; Woglinde: Aga Mikolaj; Wellgunde: Maria Gortsevskaja; Flosshilde: Anna Lapkovskaja. Justin Way (director). Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, Monday 22 July

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):