Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Cilea's L'arlesiana at Opera Holland Park

In a rank order of suicidal depressives, Federico - the Provençal peasant besotted with ‘the woman from Arles’, L’arlesiana, who yearns to break free from his mother’s claustrophobic grasp, who seeks solace from betrayal and disillusionment in the arms of a patient childhood sweetheart, but who is ultimately broken by deluded dreams and unrequited passion - would surely give many a Thomas Hardy protagonist a run for their money.

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Adelheid Fink as Iphigenie and Melanie Lang as Klytämnestra [Photo by Thomas Brenner]
01 Apr 2014

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

A review by James Sohre

Above: Adelheid Fink as Iphigenie and Melanie Lang as Klytämnestra

Photos © Thomas Brenner

 

That the orchestra and chorus performed magnificently, tirelessly, must be attributed to the exceptional inspiration from conductor Markus Bieringer. The young Maestro elicited the best playing I have yet heard from this resident orchestra, and he was able to turn his forces on a dime as the tempi and emotional content changed frequently, from recitative to choral statements, to dances, to miniature ariosos, to full-blown scenas, he served up each musical moment with precision, depth and stylistic acumen. Ulrich Nolte’s chorus was also meticulously prepared: accurate, impassioned, and totally committed to the drama. Maestro Bieringer’s concentration and command of Gluck’s richly complex score never faltered, making this reading one of the most inspired (and inspiring) operatic performances in my recent memory.

In the taxing title role, Adelheid Fink offered an assured and persuasive interpretation. Her plangent soprano is freely produced, and her slightly grainy timbre was well suited to the French style. Moreover, she was able to meet all the wide-ranging demands requiring varied vocal delivery, as well as suitably embody the shifting emotional state of the troubled heroine. Iphigénie is a Big Sing, and Ms. Fink’s distinguished, indefatigable achievement proved an auspicious role assumption.

Melanie Lang is a real company asset, showcased here as a musically well-schooled Clitemnestre. Her pliant lyric mezzo easily encompasses the role’s requirements, and when Ms. Lang gets up a head of steam she can effectively introduce just the right weight and hint of steel (especially at the top), to fully command the ear as well as the stage. Bernd Valentin brought a towering presence to Agamemnon. His burly, burnished baritone was deployed with skill and conviction and he maintained admirable control even during the king’s most anguished outbursts. He also nearly peeled the paint off the ceiling with one hurled, high invective that was as astounding for its security as its sheer power. Mr. Valentin’s was a masterful portrayal.

Iphigenie 01.pngBernd Valentin as Agamemnon and Michael Hauenstein as Kalchas with chorus

Bernhard Berchtold sports exactly the kind of tenor needed for Achille: sweet-voiced, comfortable well above the staff, meaty enough to fill the hall, yet flexible enough to serve the more florid aspects of the piece. An early climactic high note almost came to grief (and did not thanks to sheer willpower), but once past that hurdle Mr. Berchtold’s singing just seemed to go from strength to strength, complemented by a stage deportment that was sincere and natural. Michael Hauenstein’s Calchas proved to be a fine complement to Valentin’s Agamemnon. Mr. Hauenstein’s voice is a bit rounder, a bit more modulated, but every bit as ‘present.’ His devious characterization, smooth phrasing, and sly vocal inflections ably embodied Calchas’ bent for crafty manipulation. In the smaller role of Arkas, Alexis Wagner showed off an orotund bass of substantial weight and accomplished training.

The visuals of the physical production were exceptionally rewarding. Smaller theatres with fewer resources sometimes make the mistake of trying to be too avant garde, even garish, but here we were blessed with a well-coordinated, finely detailed, cleanly appealing look from a talented design team.

Anna Kirschstein’s setting features a large arch that is lying in state, toppled by an unseen force. The sturdy construction allows for it to function as a seating area, stage platform, barrier, pathway, and other multi-functional purposes. The playing space is backed by a handsome, neutral drop made up of a collage of earth-toned vertical slats of wood. This “wall” can also split to reveal a cyclorama, trees, projections and a profusion of stage smoke to accent the story.

Iphigenie 03.pngBernd Valentin as Agamemnon

In Act Two when the wedding is about to take place, the massive structure flies up, forming a ceiling of sorts, while leaving a fragmented piece of “ruin” on the ground. The underside of the suspended edifice is cleverly outfitted with internal lighting that floods down on center stage. Harald Zidek’s lighting design is generally very good, and he makes excellent use of cross fades and specials. There are also exciting effects that find the cast momentarily back-lit against the cyc. I would only hope that Mr. Zidek could clean up a few key moments when people were soloing in the dark.

Stephan Rinke’s fanciful costumes seemed loosely based on classical styles but re-interpreted with visual riffs on the silhouette. Unusual folds and pockets figure prominently in Mr. Rinke’s concept. Clitemnestre’s gown was particularly characterful and inventive, with sassily inverted pleats almost suggesting a farthingale effect. The chorus ladies’ knee-length peasant attire had smaller, similar ruffles around the waist. The royal men were generally in long jackets, almost tunics. Stephan chose exciting fabrics in variations of browns and creams, which incorporated complex textures and degrees of refinement that were helpful in powerfully establishing the characters’ station and relationships. Even Agamemnon’s obligatory pointed Euro-production crown was made of appropriate fabric, and all attire was exceptionally well-tailored and carefully accessorized. Hair, wigs and make-up were stylish and well-considered, and there was an imaginative use shoes that found the leading lady changing out (or abandoning) several pairs as she goes through character transitions. Too, I liked the contemporary red hair weaves that were shared by Clitemnestre and her daughter. The overall look was a classy, unified, timeless vision which proved to be a handsome workable concept as well as a bold artistic statement.

Stage director Benjamin Schad for the most part created blocking motivated by the character developments. He crafted numerous memorable pictures, such as an extended introspective moment with Iphigénie on the ground in fetal position; a cat and mouse game that communicated well the lovers growing trust and attraction; a tense confrontation scene that underscored the crackling tension between Agamemnon and Calchas; and a particularly moving segment that found the daughter cradling and comforting her distraught mother. I applaud Mr. Schad for moving the chorus with clarity and purpose, all the while allowing them to focus on singing cleanly. They were so well rehearsed that I could forgive the few times that the groupings yielded more calculated choral posturings than dramatically involved characters.

Iphigenie 04.pngAdelheid Fink as Iphigenie with women's chorus

Very infrequently, strange positioning threatened dramatic effectiveness. Early in the second half, creation of stage picture trumped visibility of the star, and Iphigénie spent an extended scene far upstage right, behind a seated (and non-singing) Clitemnestre, when the scene would have worked as well with the star prominently down right. Minor carping aside, the production scored an affecting ‘coup de theatre’ with a tacked on ending not of Gluck’s creation.

During the original finale toy swords are passed out and the cast play acts at going to war as is presaged in the text. Then, to added instrumental music the toy swords are collected and placed in a pile like so much firewood at the front of the stage where Iphigénie and Clitemnestre are perched on the lip. Then as the chorus sings a unison militant anthem, realistic rifles are passed out, and the assembled forces exit upstage, ultimately in silence, marching relentlessly into a brutal conflict, backlit through swelling smoke, as the two leading women stare helplessly forward into the void during a slow fade to black. I don’t usually approve of tinkering with the composer’s intent, but since none of the original music was violated (merely added to), this was a stunning final impression.

The smallish audience clearly knew that they had just experienced something very special and lavished the performers with extended, heartfelt acclaim. Indeed, the only bad thing to report is the attendance figures. Ticket sales to date have resulted in small houses. Perhaps it is because the title is unfamiliar. Too bad, because Iphigénie en Aulide is a significant achievement and deserves to be seen. It is not often we get a chance to see this piece at all, much less in such a thrilling performance.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Agamemnon: Bernd Valentin; Clitemnestre: Melanie Lang; Iphigénie: Adelheid Fink; Achille: Bernhard Berchtold; Calchas: Michael Hausenstein; Arcas: Alexis Wagner; Conductor: Markus Bieringer; Director: Benjamin Schad; Set Design: Anna Kirschstein; Costume Design: Stephan Rinke; Lighting Design: Harald Zidek; Chorus Master: Ulrich Nolte.

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):