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

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

Dulwich Opera’s Carmen

Dulwich Opera Company’s Carmen was a convincingly successful show.  This was mainly due to succinct musical direction and rigorous dramatic direction.  It also meant that the proximity of the action was a fascinating treat, and by the artists being young, and easy on the eye.

Franz Schreker: Die Gezeichneten

There is a host of fine operas out there languishing more or less unperformed (in some cases, quite unperformed). A few of them might even qualify as ‘great’. (Feel free to remove inverted commas, should that be your thing.) Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, whatever its proponents might claim, is certainly not one of those: not even close.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

20 Jul 2013

Stockhausen at the BBC Proms

The Royal Albert Hall was made for Karl-Heinz Stockhausen. BBC Prom 11 2013 featured Gesang der Jünglinge and Welt-Parliament from Mittwoch from Licht.

The Royal Albert Hall is an imposing building, designed on a grand scale. It is built in an unusual circular shape, which can cause acoustic problems. But it's ideal for Karllheinz Stockhausen's grand visions. The BBC Proms have done Gruppen four times, despite the logistics posed by the use of three orchestras. In 2008, there was an astounding Cosmic Pulses, the 13th Hour from Klang. Stockhausen sculpted sound. At the Royal Albert Hall, he had a huge canvas onto which he could project his experiments. The shape of the building means that sound waves have to travel longer distances than they might in a smaller auditorium. As they bounce off the walls and reverberate, the sound changes, becoming ever more subtle. Architecture becomes a component of performance.

In Gesang der Jünglinge (1955/6), the performers "are" the audience.The "music" happens when an audience processes the aural stimuli around them. The building goes dark. What's happening? Is the show over, one might ask? Slowly, out of the gloom emerge disembodied sounds, coming from many different, unexpected directions. The "performer" is a recording of a young boy, made many decades ago. He's an old man now, but on the tape he's immortal: another Stockhausen concept. The tape is spliced into myriad fragments and reconstituted into something completely different. Gesang der Jünglinge is the great great great grandfather of DJ mixes. Once Stockhausen himself adjusted the balances and frequencies at the mixing desk. Now his disciple Kathinka Pasveer does the sound projection. Stockhausen decreed that the stage should remain empty but for a few desks, to emphasize the idea that performance isn't something passive, but as blend of what's happening at the sound desk and what we hear, wherever we might be seated in the performance space.

Gesang der Jünglinge is based on a story in the biblical Book of Daniel, where three youths are condemned to die in a fiery furnace. But they're saved by their faith. In a heatwave, the Royal Albert Hall becomes a furnace. So the audience experiences the piece as all-round sensory endurance, in a way no-one could have imagined. The oscillating electronic sound waves quiver like flames. When disjointed words leap out “Sonne, Mond, Mund…..Frost und Eis, Frost und Eis”., we feel life-restoring deliverance just as the youths in the furnace might have felt. Karlheinz Stockhausen, wherever he is, must have been looking down with glee.

Last year, the Birmingham Opera Company produced the first complete UK performance of Mittwoch from Stockhausen's grand saga Licht. For this Prom 11 in 2013, the singers, Ex Cathedra, with Jeffrey Skidmore (director), recreated the first scene, Welt-Parliament. It was a good choice because the segment focuses on the variety of voices and vocal techniques. This is an extension of Stockhausen's concept of breaking sound into cells, reconstituting them into something new. Stockhausen is also deconstructing the idea of language.We hear words from recognizable languages, and randomly-generated noise. Just as in life, our task as listeners is to process for ourselves what we hear, not to take things as given. There are allusions to chorale, complete with liturgical bells, and red herrings, like when a man in a reflective jacket who materializes from the back of the Royal Albert Hall and calls out about a car with a number plate MITT2013WCH (!) Eventually, a consensus of sorts emerges. "Licht!" most of the singers conclude. The singers file out gravely. One remains "And now the next scene will follow" he says, but you have to decipher because he stutters to an extreme degree. Yet again, Stockhausen's breaking sound into minute fragments, so we have to really listen, not sit by passively and coast.

Although we're not likely to catch the complete 30 hour Licht anywhere soon, by studying fragments like this in detail, we can put together something of the whole, bit by bit. Indeed I wonder if Stockhausen meant for us to listen in this way, cell by cell, in random order. In conventional opera we follow a narrative where time and meaning are compressed. Stockhausen's approach replicates the way we experience real life. We put our own narratives together by listening and re-listening, backwards and forwards in time.

Anne Ozorio

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):