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

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

Earlier this month I reported from the Macerata Opera Festival – a largely Italian affair frequented by few foreigners. One week later I attended the 40th anniversary gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, about 100 km north in the same region of Le Marche and a prominent stop on the international circuit. One one hears much English, French, German and Japanese, and the printed program features a long list of non-Italian financial sponsors.

Bel Canto Beauty at St George's Hanover Square: Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda

A merciless and neurotic ruler, whose right to govern is ambiguous and disputed. A dignified Queen whose star is setting, as her husband’s heart burns with new love and her lady-in-waiting betrays her. A courtier whose devotion to the Queen, his first love, is undimmed and destined to push both towards a tragic end. No, not Donizetti’s Anna Bolena but Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda, written three years later, in 1833, for Venice’s La Fenice.

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):