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

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Emily Magee as Empress [Photo © ROH / Clive Barda]
19 Mar 2014

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Emily Magee as Empress

Photos © ROH / Clive Barda

 

Dread memories of Christof Loy (Tristan and Lulu, here in London, still more his unspeakable Salzburg travesty of Die Frau) made me wonder afterward whether I had shown undue clemency, but no: almost two days later, I am still reeling from the impact of so extraordinary a performance, one which no house in the world could conceivably improve upon, and which I doubt could even be matched. For whilst Claus Guth’s production had many virtues, which I shall come to a little later, it was Strauss’s astonishing, still widely misunderstood, score which, rightly, had pride of place. If any performance, anywhere in the world, does more for his cause in this anniversary year, I think I shall find myself in need of a new vocabulary of superlatives.

140311_0862.pngJohan Reuter as Barak and Elena Pankratova as Barak’s Wife

Above all, I must commend Semyon Bychkov and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. The very first time I heard this work was in 2001, the final outing of John Cox’s Royal Opera production, with celebrated designs by David Hockney; Christoph von Dohnányi’s conducting of the orchestra remains one of the finest I have heard of a Strauss opera. Then, I found myself lost in admiration both for his and for this orchestra’s achievement. Bychkov proved himself every inch Dohnányi’s equal; indeed, I am not entirely sure that he was not surpassed. No matter: it is not a competition. Bychkov’s command of the orchestra was nothing short of awe-inspiring. If in retrospect, the first act seemed seemed a little on the expository side, then that is surely a reflection of Strauss’s writing. Patiently building up not only the dramatic tension but the motivic material from which the score would truly, ravishingly blossom, Bychkov showed himself possessed in equal measure of an ear for colour so acute as almost to rival Boulez — now imagine a FroSch from him! — with the deepest of structural understanding. Horizontal and vertical presentation of the score offered in conjunction with voices and staging a three-, even four- dimensional performance to rival that one sees in one’s mind when hearing Karl Böhm on CD. And if the Covent Garden did not sound quite with Böhm’s Viennese sweetness, it had phantasmagorical qualities all of its own: the refreshment of a true rival rather than the flattery of imitation. More than once, I found myself thinking, doubtless heretically: Klangfarbenmelodie! Strauss’s uncomprehending disdain for the ‘atonal’ Schoenberg notwithstanding, we did not stand so very far from the world of the latter’s op.16 Orchestral Pieces. Bychkov’s ear for combining musico-dramatical tension in the combination of sonority and harmonic tension ensured that we must think of him as not only an excellent, but a great Straussian.

And then — the singing! That earlier Covent Garden performance had also marked my first encounter with Johan Botha. He proved at least as remarkable more than twelve years on. This Emperor, as mellifluous as he was vocally powerful, sounded every inch a Siegfried, and a golden age Siegfried at that. (If indeed such an age ever really existed.) Emily Magee had a few moments of relative infallibility, but by any reasonable standards, her Empress was an impressive achievement, all the more so given the wholehearted dramatic commitment offered in conjunction with the purely vocal. Elena Pankratova was making her Royal Opera debut as Barak’s Wife; hochdramtisch singing of the highest order was to be savoured here, her climaxes at the end of the first and second acts sending shivers down the spine. If Johan Reuter’s Barak at first sounded a little plain, that may as much have been character-portrayal as anything else; his performance grew into something genuinely moving, testament to the potential greatness of, as it were, Everyman (to borrow from Hofmannsthal’s future). As for Michaela Schuster’s Nurse, her offerng of musical and dramatic malevolence — tonality on less the pre- than the post-Schoenbergian brink, though never beyond it — would have been an object lesson in itself, even had it not been heightened by such stage presence and intelligence. Smaller roles were almost all impressively handled, David Butt Philip’s attractively voiced Apparition perhaps especially worthy of note. The only disappointment was the tremulous Falcon of Anush Hovhannisyan. Renato Balsadonna’s Royal Opera Chorus was, as expected, excellent throughout.

140311_0631.pngElena Pankratova as Barak’s Wife; Michaela Schuster as Nurse and Emily Magee as Empress

Guth’s staging, first seen at La Scala in 2012, presents the Empress in a sanatorium, Christian Schmidt’s stylish designs highly evocative of the time of composition. Our heroine is, one might say, hysterical in every sense. To begin with, she — and we — are somewhat unclear concerning the boundaries of reality and dream. Is Freud being channelled or satirised? Unclear, and all the better for it, which renders the very ending, in which it appears ‘all to have been a dream’ something of a disappointment. That said, much of what we see in between is riveting. With the best will in the world, some of Hofmannsthal’s symbolism upon symbolism — The Magic Flute really is best left alone — can seem unnecessary; it certainly seemed — and seems — to do so to Strauss. Yet the poet’s idea of transformation gains a fair hearing, or rather viewing, and there is a proper sense of the mythological, even the fantastical, to the dreamed world we enter, never more so than at the spectacular close to the second act, Olaf Winter’s lighting crucial here, and the craggy opening of the third. Those problematical echoes of Tamino and Pamina’s trials are presented with greater visual conviction than I can previously recall — and indeed greater conviction than one often sees in productions of the ‘original’. The sheer weirdness but also menacing sense of judgement emanating from a courtroom of strange creatures close to the end not only testifies to imagination and its possibilities but also to the misogynistic pro-natalism, from which, try as we might, we cannot ultimately rescue the opera. By contrast, Loy in Salzburg arrogantly declared that the work did not interest him and made not even the slightest attempt to deal with it. It was the sort of thing that might appeal to those who do not care for Strauss, or indeed Hofmannsthal, in the first place, though even they would most likely have been bored to tears with the banal ‘alternative’ narrative presented. Guth, for the most part, successfully treads a tightrope between presentation and interpretation.

A good staging then, and a truly outstanding musical performance. My first act upon returning home was to visit the Royal Opera House website, to buy myself another ticket. Hear this if you can. The performance on 29 March will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 at 5.45 p.m.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Nurse: Michaela Schuster; Spirit Messenger: Ashley Holland; Emperor: Johan Botha; Empress: Emily Magee; Voice of the Falcon: Anush Hovhannisyan; The One-Eyed: Adrian Clarke; The One-Armed: Jeremy White; The Hunchback: Hubert Francis; Barak’s Wife: Elena Pankratova; Barak: Johan Reuter; Serving Maids: Kathy Batho, Emma Smith, Andrea Hazell; Apparition of a Youth: David Butt Philip; Voices of Unborn Children: Ana James, Kiandra Howarth, Andrea Hazell, Nadezhda Karyazina, Cari Searle, Amy Catt; Night-Watchmen: Michel de Souza, Jihoon Kim, Adrian Clarke Voice from Above: Catherine Carby; Guardian of the Threshold: Dušica Bijelić. Director: Claus Guth; Designs: Christian Schmidt; Lighting: Olaf Winter; Video: Andi A. Müller; Associate Director: Aglaja Nicolet; Dramaturge: Ronny Dietrich; Royal Opera Chorus (chorus master: Renato Balsadonna)/Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Semyon Bychkov (conductor). Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Friday 14 March 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):