Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

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):