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

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Kaufmann, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Janáček, The Makropulos Case, Bavarian State Opera

Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

30 Sep 2013

La Traviata, Hamburg

Johannes Erath's production of Verdi's La Traviata opened at the Staatsoper Hamburg in February this year, with Ailyn Perez in the title role. Perez returned with Stephen Costello as Alfredo for three performances in September 2013

Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata, Hamburg State Opera

A review by Robert Hugill

 

I caught the third on 27 September 2013, with Alexandru Agache as Giorgio Germont and Rebecca Jo Loeb as Flora. The production was designed by Annette Kurz with costumes by Herbert Murauer. The conductor was Alexander Joel.

As we entered the auditorium the curtain was up and we saw a lone figure sitting on a huge bare stage, black walls, lighting rig visible. The figure started playing the accordion, two figures came on stage, Alfredo (Costello) and Annina (Ida Aldrian), she gave money to the accordionist (Jakob Neubauer) whilst Costello pulled the body of Violetta out of the ground and cradled it. At the conclusion of the prelude, the rear wall opened and the party guests were revealed, coming forward on a platform whilst Costello was still on stage. This was clearly a production which was understood to be happening in flashback.

There were a number of key elements which helped define Erath's dramaturgy. The first was the use of dodgems, these were lowered from the flies for the party scene in act one and the party took place in and around them. Dodgems were the only set, two remained on stage during the opening of act two, and the whole set of them returned for the party at Flora's. The other major element was a set of circus performers, all played by older actors, all in white whom only Violetta could see and whom we had to take as ghosts from her past. They reoccurred at key moments of the drama. Apart from the circus performers, all the cast were in modern dress.

The platform that I referred to earlier contained a revolve and Erath made a too frequent cliched use of it with much walking on the spot. But generally the visual style was very considered with movements and gestures being mirrored in the two party scenes; for example Costello laid Perez in one of the dodgems, in act one prior to an erotic encounter, in act three as she lay dying.

The problem was that Erath used these elements in rather too obvious a way. He clearly took a very particular view of the dramaturgy of the opera and wanted to ensure that we knew what to think. There was something heavy handed about the rather obvious way he martialled his forces to reinforce his ideas, such as bringing on the circus performers with monotonous regularity. For me, though, the main problem was the way that he tried to re-write the ending of the opera. During Addio del passato there was steady, slow progression of the circus performers with a second Violetta at the end. Perez greeted her doppelganger and whilst the second Violetta climbed into her grave, Perez removed her dress to reveal her white shift. She too had become a ghost and we were to understand that for much, but not all of the remainder of the act neither Alfredo nor his father could see her or interact with her. But not quite, as parts of Verdi's score almost forced them to interact. It was very much a cast of forcing the opera to fit a konzept and I could not help wishing that Erath had emulated a director like Peter Konwitschny who has no qualms at separating words and music.

LA TRAVIATA - Staatsoper Hamburg from Theater-TV on Vimeo.

There were odd details too. During act two scene one we saw Annina selling to Flora the dress that Violetta work in act one, and Flora wore it at her party. The entertainment at Flora's party was not Spanish, but a re-enactment of the story of Violetta, Alfredo and Giorgio Germont. At the end of the previous scene, Agache had given his overcoat and hat to Perez, who appeared at Flora's party still wearing them.

The production worked because Perez gave a performance of such brilliance and intensity, clearly identifying with Erath's concept of Violetta. Perez is a lyric soprano and there were moments in act two scene two and in act three when having a more spinto voice would have been ideal, but this didn't matter because Perez used her resources superbly. Technically the end of act one was well done, but it never felt like a coloratura showpiece, Perez simply used the music to further the drama. Common to all her performance was a superb feeling for the line of Verdi's music, with Perez spinning out long phrases in a profoundly moving and expressive manner. She was able to thin her voice to the merest thread, but also revealed a surprisingly rich and warm depth to her voice at key moments. Unlike other lyric colorratura sopranos in the role, I was never aware of Perez managing her voice. Her identification was total and her performance simply mesmerising.

Stephen Costello was new to the production, but is Perez's husband in real life, and the two generated quite a remarkable buzz. Costello's voice is the sort of lyric tenor that might be termed useful. It lacks an Italianate ping but is evenly produced throughout the range and he sang intelligently and never grandstanded, If these virtues seem a little negative, it did mean that we appreciated his Alfredo rather than simply watching Stephen Costello. From the first moment his Alfredo was quite poised, having sex with one of Violetta's party guests and clearly a bit of a shit. This was no eager puppy and the relationship with Violetta, so serious in its intensity was clearly a surprise to both of them. He coped well with the extra drama required of him, the framing device so that we saw things in flash-back, and he cr dled the dummy body manfully during sections of the close opf act three. It says much of Costello and Perez's relationship that they could generate so much electricity during the Parigi o cara duet with him cradling a dummy and her sitting alone on a dodgem.

During Flora's party, Alfredo's treatment of Violetta was profoundly disturbing; Costello did not just throw money at Perex but launched himself at her and in a highly disturbing and rather extended scene, seemed to virtually kill her with Perez only reviving in time to join in the ensemble. For the remainder of the scene Perez was shunned by the party goers. The scene moved into act three without a break (the intermission was in the middle of act two), and the opening of act three seemed to explore Violetta's alienation rather than her illness. It seemed as if, in some way, Violetta died by Alfredo's hand during Flora's party.

Agache made a notable Giorgio Germont. His voice lacks something of the flexibility at the top of his range, and he was clearly making an effort not to simply bark the upper passages. But his stiff-backed, rigid Germont was a notable participant in the drama, unbending enough at the end of act two scene one to give Perez his coat for protection. His duet with Perez was another musico-dramatic highpoint of the evening.

The lack of a set seems to have caused acoustical problems, at least that is what I presume because all the principals had moments of tuning problems in some of Verdi's extended cantilena, because they could not hear the orchestra sufficiently.

Rebecca Jo Loeb was a fine Flora, gamely stripping down to her underwear during her party, and acting as the main focus of the drama during the dance sequence there. Ida Aldrian, a member of the Opera Studio, made a notable Annina, in this version participating far more in the drama than is usual.

Over the conducting of Alexander Joel I could wish I could draw a veil. His speeds were lively and his feelings for Verdi's music was clearly strong, but he seemed entirely unable to keep the stage in time with the pit in the bigger ensembles, something that happened not just once but repeatedly.

This was however, Perez and Costello's evening and whatever the drawbacks of the production I took away the amazing electricity and musicality of the performance

Robert Hugill


Cast and production information:

Ailyn Perez: Violetta, Stephen Costello: Alfredo, Alexandru Agache: Giorgio Germont, Rebecca Jo Loeb: Flora, Ida Aldrian: Annina, Sergiu Saplacan: Gastone, Jan Buchwald: Douphol, Florian Spiess: D'Obigny, Levente Pall: Grenvil, Manuel Gunther: Giuseppe, Gheorghiu Vlad: Un domestico di Flora, Jakob Neubauer: Accordionist Johannes Erath: Director, Annette Kurz: Set Design, Herbert Murauer: Costume, Alexander Joel: Conductor. Staatsoper Hamburg, 27 September 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):