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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Irene Theorin as Turnadot [Photo © ROH / Tristram Kenton]
24 Feb 2014

Turandot, Royal Opera

This was in almost every respect an excellent performance — which therefore exacerbates the problem lying at the heart, or whatever it is that lies in its place, of the work itself.

Turandot, Royal Opera

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Irene Theorin as Turnadot

Photos © ROH / Tristram Kenton

 

The field may be fiercely contested, and I should hesitate to award first place to any one contender, but is there a more brazenly offensive opera to modern sensibilities than Turandot? Its racism and misogyny are far from unique, though they are experienced here in a form so extreme that even the dullest of listeners could hardly fail to notice them. The particular offensiveness goes far beyond that, however. Michael Tanner, writing in The Spectator upon this production’s previous outing of the season, went so far as to describe it as ‘an irredeemable work, a terrible end to a career that had included three indisputable masterpieces and three less evident ones, counting Il Trittico as one.’ The real problem is the plot itself. Again to quote Tanner, only summarizing what happens yet in reality twisting the knife by having the plot speak for itself, ‘once Liù has killed herself because she can’t stand any more pain, Calaf forgets about her, and about his frail old father Timur who just disappears, and turns all his attention on Turandot.’ It is repellent, and it is well-nigh impossible to imagine someone possessed of a smidgeon of humanity feeling otherwise.

And yet, its repellent quality fascinates, on account of Puccini’s manipulative genius. There is nothing beneath the surface, but what a surface! What Tanner rightly condemns as a ‘void’ draws one in to its nothingness and achieves if not nihilistic intent then certainly representation and experience of the work’s nihilistic essence. It is not entirely different from much Strauss in that respect, though the sadism is Puccini’s own: how he revels once again in the torture as much as the vile sacrifice itself! A ‘successful’ performance is therefore a problematical concept indeed. Should the work simply be portrayed for what it is? Or should it be confronted, questioned, in some sense ‘dealt with’?

Turandot-14-02-14-ROH-89.gifAlfred Kim as Calaf, Matthew Rose as Timur and Ailyn Perez as Liù

The Royal Opera opted for the former, at least in terms of the umpteenth revival of Andrei Serban’s production, first seen in 1984. Andrew Sinclair’s revival direction seemed tighter than it had in September of last year, though I think that may have been in large part a matter of greater musical — in particular, orchestral — dynamism, sharpening the cruel edges of the work. Yes, there is something of an effort — which again, came across more strongly than last time around — to present the performance with the idea of ‘staging’ to the forefront. It comes perilously close to being lost, however, by the exuberant success of the execution, not least Kate Flatt’s choreography. ‘About staging’ turns into ‘mere staging’. Likewise the Orientalism of Sally Jacobs’s designs. Surely by 2014, we need to inject a measure of irony, or indeed violence. I had a nasty feeling that many of those in the audience wildly applauding had not so much as registered the attendant problems: an urgent need for any responsible new production.

The orchestra was on magnificent form throughout. Nicola Luisotti not only revelled in the score’s phantasmagorical harmonies and sonorities but also imparted a startling symphonic continuity not only to each act but to the work as a whole. Puccini’s surface and that void beneath could hardly have been more brilliantly — in more than one sense — evoked. This Puccini, quite rightly, sounded more than ever a brother of Strauss, not least in his twin descent from Wagner’s invention and disavowal of Wagner’s moral intent. Such made the echoes and/or presentiments of Schoenberg — not only the avant-gardism of Pierrot lunaire, but also the wondrous late Romanticism of Gurrelieder — sound all the more painful, given the strenuous moralism of the Austrian composer, as fervent an admirer of Puccini as Puccini was of him. Luisotti had done for the most part a decent job with Don Giovanni, but he was clearly more in his element here. If only the staging had questioned the work as the fine musical performance necessarily did.

Turandot-14-02-14-ROH-1082.gifDavid Butt Philip as Pang, Grant Doyle as Ping and Luis Gomes as Pong

Iréne Theorin did what she had to do in the truly repugnant title role. Steel and sheer vocal strength were allied to a subtler-than-usual command of dynamic contrast. Alfred Kim might have offered more in terms of subtlety, especially during that aria, which sounded too much like an aria, however much responsibility Puccini must also bear for that. But otherwise, his was a formidable, untiring performance. Liù once again fared very well in indeed in terms of casting, Ailyn Pérez offering a moving portrayal — again, may Puccini’s manipulations be cursed! — in which musical and dramatic imperatives were as one. There are greater opportunities for vocal shading, and of course for sympathy, than with the Princess; Perez undoubtedly took them all. Matthew Rose made for a noble Timur, whilst the unbearably irritating trio of Ping, Pong, and Pang received uncommonly excellent performances, again as laudable in stage as in musical terms, from Grant Doyle, David Butt Philip, and Luis Gomes. Renato Balsadonna’s chorus and extra chorus showed themselves the orchestra’s equals in excellence.

Wagner feared that excellent performances of Tristan would be his ruin; audiences would not be able to take them. In a very different sense, one might say the same of this ‘irredeemable’ work; at least unless a director has the courage more directly to confront its horrors.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Mandarin: Ashley Riches; Liù: Ailyn Pérez; Timur: Matthew Rose; Calaf: Alfred Kim; Ping: Grant Doyle; Pang: David Butt Philip; Pong: Luis Gomes; Turandot: Iréne Theorin; Emperor Altoum: Alasdair Elliott; Soprano soli — Marianne Cotterill, Anne Osborne. Director: Andrei Serban; Andrew Sinclair (revival director); Sally Jacobs (designs); F. Mitchell Dana (lighting); Kate Flatt (choreography); Tatiana Novaes Coelho (choreologist). Royal Opera Chorus and Extra Chorus (chorus master: Renato Balsadonna)/Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Nicola Luisotti (conductor). Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Thursday 20 February 2014.

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):