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

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Nina Stemme [Photo by Tanja Niemann]
30 Jul 2013

Prom 20: Wagner — Götterdämmerung

By the end of the first act, I was convinced that, barring a catastrophe of, well, Götterdämmerung-like proportions, this would now turn out to be the greatest Ring since Bernard Haitink’s 1998 Royal Opera performances— also semi-staged, also at the Royal Albert Hall.

Prom 20: Wagner — Götterdämmerung

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Nina Stemme [Photo by Tanja Niemann]

 

And so it came to pass. Not only did we continue to hear superlative conducting from Daniel Barenboim and equally superlative playing from the Staatskapelle Berlin. (To guard my back, unlike Siegfried, I shall mention in passing very occasional signs of tiredness towards the end, if only so as not to have to return to such Beckmesserish thoughts.) We also at last heard a Siegfried and Brünnhilde worthy of the roles. Götterdämmerung, by virtue of its placing as the third ‘day’ of the Ring, should always be a special occasion, though sadly that is anything but a foregone conclusion; this performance, however went beyond ‘special’, to ‘great’.

The weight of history was apparent in those portentous opening chords to the Norns’ Scene, but so was sonorous magic. Wagner’s goal-orientation is not Beethoven’s, though it is not diametrically opposed either; Barenboim’s guiding of this crucial scene opened up possibilities rather than closing them, whilst at the same time ensuring that the drama’s tragic import won out. The bassoon line following the Second Norn’s ‘...woran spannst du das Seil?’ sounded as if it were itself the guiding thread of the Norns’ rope of Fate. More often than one might expect, conductors misjudge Wagner’s climaxes; often, indeed, they try to introduce irrelevant climaxes of their own. There was no such danger here, the outbreak of Dawn judged to perfection, the Staatskapelle Berlin in truly glorious sound, followed by a scene with an ebb and flow — Wagner’s melos — in which words and music truly melded together to form a musico-dramatic whole. And the tenderness of the strings, for instance when Brünnhilde here embraced Siegfried, far surpassed anything the BBC SO had been able to conjure up the previous evening, for Tristan. The final climax to the scene sounded as fully achieved as if Furtwängler himself had been at the podium; not that we should forget here the extraordinary contributions of Andreas Schager as Siegfried and Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde, on whom more below. As ever, Barenboim proved worthy of Wagner’s ‘most subtle art’ of transition, that wonderful Dawn followed by a masterly Rhine Journey, placed aptly midway between Beethovenian playfulness and Mahlerian contrapuntal involvement. (Special mention here should be afforded to the glockenspiel, veritable icing on the orchestral cake.) Once we reached the Rhineland proper, moving towards the Hall of the Gibichungs, we were afforded a veritable pageant, noteworthy not just in itself, but, in its ‘secondary’ diatonicism (to borrow from Carl Dahlhaus on Die Meistersinger, the mediated diatonic harmony being predicated upon the chromaticism it both negated and incorporated) already conveying the mediated unease of ‘civilisation’. Beneath the surface lay not only the nixies of the Rhine, but more worryingly, the snares of Hagen’s plotting. The aural stench of decay — how truly, truthfully ugly some of Götterdämmerung’s music is! — led us to the Hall itself. There was already something of the unhealthy air of Venice, of the Palazzo Vendramin.

And so to the first act proper. The sturdiness Barenboim imparted to Gunther’s rhythms — Lohengrin, as it were, aufgehoben — immediately made clear the hopelessness of that character’s plight. (If only Gerd Grochowski had managed a little better the difficult balancing act of a strong portrayal of a weak character, but anyway...) Throughout the act, orchestral exultancy would bid Siegfried to new deeds, all the more movingly for our knowledge of Hagen’s snares, his Watch again sick with chromatic decay, whilst the transition to Brünnhilde’s rock drew us into a more intimate, tragically fragile world. The phantasmagoria with which Brünnhilde’s anger was transformed into evening twilight again had to be heard to be believed, likewise the cruellest of interruptions — more so even the coitus interruptus of Tristan ’s second act — upon Siegfried’s appearance (as Gunther). The violence of rape horrified, as it must, at the close.

How one relished the richness of the bass line — reinforced by those eight double basses — at the opening of the second act! The architecture of every act was perfectly in place: long familiarity, for conductor and orchestra alike, clearly pays off; the vengeance trio proved no mere set piece, but a true culmination. But moments told equally truthfully, whether the trombone interjections of ‘Hagen’ as Brünnhilde screamed of her deceit. Then the new sound-world of the third act came as a breath of fresh air, though just as soon as one had thought that, necessary doubts set in. The orchestra sounded languorous, almost Debussyan; one often hears Liszt here, in this first scene, but Barenboim’s balances imparted intriguing and apposite presentiments not so much of Pelléas as of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and even the Images. Integration was, as ever key, the Funeral March all the more impressive for acting as interlude rather than interposed set piece. Barenboim’s greatness in Beethoven now fully informs his Wagner, and did so until the closing bar, bathed in the after-glow of orchestral flames that might well have burned us. And yet, at the end there was a message of equivocal hope. Barenboim has no fear of comparisons with anyone, not even Haitink (from whom, in any case, we are extremely unlikely to hear another Ring).

From Siegfried’s very first line, we heard what had been missing earlier on. Lance Ryan had proved serviceable in the previous instalment, yet Andreas Schager proved preferable in every respect. The beauty of his voice alone here showed what earlier had been lacking, let alone the dramatic commitment he would show when acting his third-act narration or, indeed, stiffly as ‘Gunther’ with the Tarnhelm. It was clear even in the Prologue that this was a fully mature Siegfried, a man, no longer a boy, despite his fatal flaws; Schager’s interaction with the orchestra as part of a musico-dramatic whole that extended far beyond any single contributor was not the least of his virtues. Drinking the potion brought a touching hymn to lost innocence, soon enough followed by an eroticism entirely lacking in many portrayals (let alone Robert Dean Smith’s Tristan, the night before). There was, moreover, real anger to his contesting Brünnhilde’s claims in the second act, betokening a psychological understanding rarely present in this role. One might have taken dictation, of words and music, from either him or Stemme, for pretty much the whole of the performance. Anyone who did not respond both to the irrepressible vitality of this Siegfried’s swagger with the Rhinemaidens and to the detailed, loving narrative of his deeds recalled would be satisfied with no one, not even Lauritz Melchior. This might actually have been the first time I was moved as I should have been by the moment when he recalls Brünnhilde: a true monument to a truer love than I have heard.

Stemme’s Prologue ‘O heilige Götter!’ was a paean to a glorious age, an age which yet had passed; the realm of the gods was not belittled, but there was no doubt that the future held something different. The dramatic urgency she imparted to the Waltraute scene was every bit the equal of Waltraud Meier’s. ‘Denn selig aus ihm leuchtet mir Siegfrieds Liebe!’ revelled in tragic irony: Stemme sang in the present but the orchestra — and we — knew that she sang of the past, the ecstasy of her love notwithstanding. Her fear before Siegfried (as Gunther) was palpable, yet without loss to the commanding nature of her performance. And her Immolation Scene, delivered from the organ, somehow bringing together the strongest virtues of Flagstad’s womanhood and Nilsson’s authority, should become the stuff of legend. Meier’s turning to her sister as the latter asked ‘Weisst du, wie das wird?’ was a dramatic moment worth all (or most of) the stagings in the world. How she later made the words come alive as she told, for instance, of Wotan taming Loge! Though Meier’s Waltraute may be dangerously close to definitive, that is no excuse for overlooking the excellence of her contribution, here with a true sense of epic narrative in telling her tale of Wotan’s depression. Increasing desperation urged on the orchestra, as it in turn urged her on. Her departure had one think of Cassandra herself.

Mikhail Petrenko’s protean Hagen is now a known quantity. Sometimes, from force of habit perhaps more than from dramatic necessity, one finds oneself expecting a darker voice, but Petrenko’s vision is in many ways more dangerous than the traditional Ridderbusch-like performance. Rather than pitch-black ‘mere’ evil, we hear someone devilishly intelligent, and troublingly alluring. Not that Petrenko’s voice is without heft, but, for instance, his ‘Heil! Siegfried, teurer Held!’ as the hero brought his boat ashore was curdled with a menace that went beyond brute force. (After all, it is through cunning that he will slay Siegfried, not though overpowering him.) ‘Dir ha ich guten Rat,’ seemed almost throwaway: ‘I gave you good advice,’ but the words were made to tell, to inform us that such advice to Siegfried was anything but ‘good’, however that might be understood. Aggression and restlessness suggested a power-lust that might have been enhanced by substances the modern would tends to deem illicit. This Hagen was one dealer no one would wish to encounter upon a dark night.

Johannes Martin Kränzle’s Alberich once again showed a fine way with words. His injunction to Hagen, ‘Hasse die Frohen!’ seethed with Nietzschean ressentiment, whilst the ghostliness of the regfrain, ‘Schläfst du, Hagen, mein Sohn,’ chilled as it should. Our trio of Rhinemaidens if anything surpassed its excellence in Das Rheingold. Anna Samuil, alas, proved somewhat on the shrill side as the Third Norn and blowsy as Gutrune, her vibrato, especially during the first act, uncomfortably unsteady. She was more honeytrap than dupe, and less interesting for it. There was, though, real vocal presence to be heard from Margarita Nekrasova’s First Norn. The Royal Opera Chorus excelled, its weight as impressive as its clarity.

All were rightly commended by Barenboim in a few closing words. Charming as ever, he praised the audience for its silence as well as for its most fulsome applause, and forewent to mention the selfish **** (fill in as appropriate) who had interrupted Hagen’s opening advice to Gunther with a mobile telephone call. There were many stars to this Ring, but once again, this proved above all others the achievement of Barenboim’s Staatskapelle Berlin, no secret to those of us enamoured with the German capital, but now firmly ensconced in Londoners’ hearts too. Wolf-Dieter Batzdorf took a well-deserved bow, retiring as concert-master — surely only Barenboim could get away with an implicit Führer gag here, explaining that Germans do not favour the English term, ‘leader’ — but applause resounded for the whole of Wagner’s Attic chorus. And, one hopes, for Wagner himself, a fitting tribute, which is really saying something, to the composer’s bicentenary. Now, please, someone, a CD release...!

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Brünnhilde: Nina Stemme; Siegfried: Andreas Schager; Gunther: Gerd Grochowski; Alberich: Johannes Martin Kränzle; Hagen: Mikhail Petrenko; Gutrune, Third Norn: Anna Samuil; Waltraute, Second Norn: Waltraud Meier; First Norn: Margarita Nekrasova; Woglinde: Aga Mikolaj; Wellgunde: Maria Gortsevskaja; Flosshilde: Anna Lapovskaja. Justin Way (director). Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, Sunday 28 July 2013.

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):