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

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ana María Martínez [Photo by Tom Specht]
10 Apr 2014

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

A New Rusalka in Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Ana María Martínez [Photo by Tom Specht]

 

Sir Andrew Davis conducted these performances in which Ana María Martínez portrayed the water-nymph Rusalka, Brandon Jovanovich the Prince, and Eric Owens performed the role of Vodník, the water-goblin and father of Rusalka. Additional significant contributions were made by Jill Grove as Ježibaba the witch, Ekaterina Gubanova as the Foreign Princess, Daniela Mack as the Kitchen Boy, and Philip Hirst as the Gamekeeper. The three wood-nymphs were performed by Lauren Snouffer, J’nai Bridges, and Cynthia Hanna, and the hunter was Anthony Clark Evans. Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

Before the curtain rises on Act One I in this production a brief pantomime is conducted during the orchestral introduction. The moon is clearly prominent during the preamble, a man and woman both in formal attire gaze intently at a suspended painting. The man tumbles out of a chair after having consumed a beverage during what was a presumed social event. At the start of the action the forest is depicted in semi-realistic branches with coloration shading between grey and dullish blues. The three wood-nymphs call out to Vodník as they tease him yet they elude his grasp. [“Hou, hou, hou, hastrmánek nad vodu!” (“Hou, hou, hou! The Lord of the waters is climbing out of the deep!”)]. Mr. Owens, who is made up for his role with exaggerated hands and feet, participates believably in this game of seduction. Once the nymphs retreat, Rusalka appears and begs the indulgent ear and heart of her father. Ms. Maftínez commands admirable vocal projection from the start. When she reveals her desire to Vodník, [“člověkem byt a v zlátem slunci žíti!” (“I want to become a woman and live beneath the golden sun!”)], Martínez describes her longing with a high forte pitch of remarkable purity. Martínez uses her practiced range in describing the wish to join those humans who have souls [“že mají duši, které nemáme”] by contrasting low pitches with opposing high notes to express the love she senses in those very souls [“A pina lásky!”] Vodník reacts with despair when he hears Rusalka’s pleas; here Owens’s appropriate mix of declamatory and lyrical phrasing shows concern for his daughter. At the same time, he communicates a clear disapproval of her need to communicate with the young prince who visits the lake regularly to bathe. Upon his suggestion that she consult the forest-witch,` Rusalka turns for consolation to nature and sings her celebrated song to the moon. Martínez delivered an achingly touching performance as she lay on her bck propped on one of the tree-branches. With imploring tones she expressed her appeal to the moon to stop and tell her the location of her beloved. [“Měsíčku, postůj chvíli, řekni mi, kde je můj milý!” (“Moon, stay but a moment and tell me where my beloved may be found!”)]. At this point both Martínez and the orchestra lingered with telling rubato in their encouragement to slow the celestial bodies. Her whispering piano on the request to communicate with the prince swelled into full voice as Martínez proclaimed that she awaits him at the accustomed locale in the wood. Despite her urgent appeals that it might linger, the moon recedes leaving Rusalka alone to cry out to Ježibaba. In the latter role Jill Grove excelled at portraying the divided nature that Rusalka addressed in flattering appeals, that she was “of both worlds,” the mortal and the magical. In response to Rusalka’s request for a potion to grant her human status, Ježibaba demands both compensation and an explanation. When she perceives Rusalka’s motives, “to love and be loved,” Ms. Grove’s vocal intensity gave excited warnings of the risks to be taken by the water-nymph. She elaborated that Rusalka’s lover would also suffer under a curse of retribution, if the emotional bond should fail to continue. As the incantation proceeded Grove engaged in a physically dramatic and daring scale of recitations to produenthe desired magical effect. She reminds Rusalka further that she will henceforth be mute in exchange for a soul.

With the admonitions of Rusalka’s father echoing in the distance, the Hunter as first enters followed by the Prince, who is overcome by inexplicable weakness in the vicinity of the water. The Prince orders the Hunter to return to the castle and allow him alone to sort out the “strange magic of the forest overwhelming my soul” [“divnější čáry v duši mám domů vrat’te se, chci býti sám!”]. When Mr. Jovanovich as the Prince sees Rusalka for the first time in human form, he begins to understand the water’s powers. The Prince asks, “Vidino divan, … jsi-li ty člověk nebo pohádka?” [“wondrous apparition, … are you real?”]; at the same time Jovanovich released sumptuous high, soft pitches expressing his irrepressible attraction to Rusalka. The final scene of this act enhances the growing love between the protagonists. Since she is unable to speak, the Prince hopes that her kisses will reveal the secret of her condition. After Rusalka gives him the desired sign of her love, Jovanovich declared with anguished joy that he realized Rusalka is not mortal [“Vím, že jsi kouzlo, které mine” (“I know that you are no more than a vision”)] Despite the voices of her father and sisters calling out to Rusalka, the pair runs off to indulge their love out of the forest.

In Act Two the fleeting happiness of Rusalka and the Prince seems troubled both in their own emotional relations and in the eyes of others. After a brief orchestral introduction the curtain rises on a kitchen scene populated by the domestics of the castle. The kitchen-boy stuffs a turkey energetically as the other staff prepares for a festive evening in the palace with expected guests. In the role of the kitchen-boy Daniela Mack gives a distressing account of the Prince’s acquaintance with Rusalka and the effect of the relationship on his demeanor. Ms. Mack truly inhabits the role as she senses fear and predicts instability for the Prince’s future. In the scene immediately following the Prince questions Rusalka on her hesitancy despite having lived in his presence for the past week. Jovanovich’s legato and impassioned top notes expressed the potential still of his growing love for Rusalka, to which she cannot of course similarly respond. The entrance of the Foreign Princess interrupts such developments and functions as a wedge between the pair. The Prince orders Rusalka to dress for the evening’s ball just as the Foreign Princess takes command of her host’s attention. Ms. Gubanova delivers her part with measured hauteur and leaves no doubt that she will destroy any love between the Prince and Rusalka if she cannot herself win over the Prince’s heart. She pronounces the line “mám dvornost jeho, vy však srdce mátez’ [“I have his courtesy although you still have his heart”] with noticeable and very effective vibrato, as she exits on the arm of the Prince.

In the second part of Act Two movement and vocal expression enhance the dramatic excitement. While the ball commences inside the palace, the “ancestral chains” linking Rusalka to the water kingdom reassert their draw [“ve jhu jsi spjatá odvěkém”]. In Lyric Opera’s clever staging the interior and inhabitants of the festively lit palace are visible through a window. In the darkness outside Vodník emerges from his watery realm and laments the unhappiness of his daughter. Owens proclaims with dramatic top notes that Rusalka will be “condemned and drained of life” [“Prokletí živlů jsi propadla!”] At this point Rusalka leaves the ball and, once again able to speak, begs her father for help in her current distress. Martínez used this solo vocal part to delineate her character’s emotional imprisonment: finding it impossible to win over the Prince she is “neither fully spirit nor woman” [“ženou ni vílou nemohu být”]. In the final scene of the act two pairs are caught up in confrontation: after the Prince and Foreign Princess leave the ball, he swears his growing ardor; Rusalka and Vodník remain at the lake’s edge, nez pallid arms, the Prince is cursed by Vodník [“Objetí jejímu neujdeš” (“You will never escape the arms of Rusalka”)]; as if to seal this prediction, Gubanova’s character rejects the Prince while condemning him to the eternal depths with an emotionally powerful dramatic final note as the stage goes black.

Act Three of this production returns to the forest as in the first dramatic scene. In something of a mirror to her famous song to the moon in Act One, Rusalka now sings a lament (“Necitelná vodní moci’ in which she speaks of cruel nature and her unfulfilled wish to die. In her aria Martínez applied diminuendo most effectively, and she placed decoration at particularly wistful phrases. Ms. Grove as Ježibaba now comments on the fate of the water-nymph, reminding her of the previous warning given before Rusalka fled with the Prince. Grove released impressive low pitches forte in condemning the man who abandoned Rusalka. Ježibaba insists that the Prince must die despite Rusalka’s resistance. A comparable message is delivered by Vodník to the Gamekeeper and Kitchen-Boy when they wander into the forest to find help for their master. As the last one to appear searching for his Rusalka, Jovanovich begins his part with dramatic top notes accompanied here by a sumptuous brass section. When lower pitches signal his appeal for Rusalka’s presence, the water-nymph appears. In their final duet Martínez’s voice trembles with dramatic intensity in her warning “that she can only bring death.” The Prince’s relentless demands lead to Rusalka’s kiss and, as predicted, his death. Only thus, as expressed poignantly by Jovanovich can he find peace. Since she is banished from communion with her family, Rusalka must disappear at the close of the drama. Chicago is truly fortunate to have experienced such an exceptional ensemble and sensitive orchestral support from the direction of Sir Andrew Davis.

Salvatore Calomino

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):