Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Karita Mattila as Ariadne [Photo © ROH/ Catherine Ashmore]
30 Jun 2014

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Karita Mattila as Ariadne

Photos © ROH/ Catherine Ashmore

 

Unimpressed by the librettist’s pretentiousness, Strauss replied that as a ‘superficial musician’ he couldn’t understand Hofmannsthal’s complex symbolism concerning the nature of Ariadne's salvation and transformation, and that the audience was likely to share his bafflement.

Hofmannsthal is certainly equivocal about why the interaction between the two seemingly incompatible philosophies of art and life presented in Ariadne auf Naxos results in the transfiguration of Ariadne as she lies in Bacchus’ arms at the end of the work. And, Christof Loy’s 2002 production doesn’t really address the opera’s theoretical conundrums; but, in the hands of a superlative cast, it does offer visual and musical sumptuousness and gratification. Back in 2002, the production marked both the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after a major refurbishment and the arrival of Antonio Pappano as musical director. The adventurousness of the striking coup de theatre at the start of the Prologue is an apt symbol of the aspiration and confidence which Pappano has brought to the House, and twelve years on this second revival retains its classiness and ambition.

Ariadne, daughter of Minos, the King of Crete, has helped her Athenian lover Theseus slay the Minotaur and escape from the labyrinth. However, upon their arrival on the island of Naxos, Theseus deserts his saviour and Ariadne languishes alone until Bacchus arrives, having fleed from Circe’s evil clutches. The grieving Princess mistakes Bacchus for Hermes, the messenger of Death, while he believes she is an enchantress — although this time he is happy to submit to her magic.

2662ashm_0269.gifJane Archibald as Zerbinetta and Ruxandra Donose as the Composer

This is the subject of the after-dinner Opera commissioned by the ‘richest man in Vienna’ which forms Strauss’s second ‘Act’. It is preceded by a Prologue in which we see the Composer learn, with dismay and impassioned disbelief, that his noble opera seria is to be performed ‘simultaneously’ with the dances and distractions of a commedia dell’arte troupe. Consoled by his Music Master, he is forced to make sacrilegious cuts to his score while the comedians and dancers delight in devising the intrusive diversions.

Designer Herbert Murauer opening set is the entrance salon of an affluent mansion: it’s glossy and sleek, but also soulless. His Lordship’s money can buy anything, except sensibility; served by a haughty Major Domo (an imperious Christoph Quest) who can bark out orders but is denied the language of music, the master commissions masterpieces but rates fireworks about art.

Murauer swiftly takes us from the clinical vestibule into more creative, if somewhat chaotic, realms, the whole set magically rising as we descend into the cellar where the artists are at work. The transformation is slick, but it’s a pity that a 40-minute interval is necessary to dismantle the complex machinery that it necessitates and to assemble the Poussin-esque set for the ensuing Opera. Moreover, although the candle-lit emeralds and aquamarines of the ‘island’ are an effective representation of seventeenth-century taste (Jennifer Tipton’s lighting design is particularly atmospheric and emphasises the ‘artifice’ which is such a significant element of Strauss’s dialectic), the classical French Baroque landscape mural has little in common with the modern-period Prologue and there are scant directorial connections between the two parts of the opera. Costumes are similarly confusing: Ariadne dons mourning black, the nymphs and spirits sport eighteenth-century dress (one looks suspiciously like Mozart) and Zerbinetta — her stilletto boots and skimpy dress sluttishly flirtatious — is accompanied by a cast of entertainers dressed respectively in combat gear, a shiny shellsuit, tartan and rockers’ black leather. Ariadne’s cave is a dressing table perhaps to suggest that, peering into the mirror, she is consumed by her own solipsism?

But, things cannot fail to please with Karita Matilla taking the title role for the first time. Wittily self-parodic as the Prima Donna in the Prologue, she tranforms into a ‘real’ diva for the Opera proper, rapturous of voice and expertly balancing nobility with excess. Matilla’s soprano possesses a powerful Straussian lustre, easily capable of soaring over the orchestra, and she sings her long monologues with heartful commitment. But, she also finds variety of colour: recalling her happiness with Theseus in ‘Ein schönes war’ her tone is bright and joyful. And, Matilla demonstrates a strong lower range, particularly when she sings of the ‘Realm of Death’, building this monologue to an ecstatic climax.

Matilla commands the stage but the other principals are no less satisfying. Ruxandre Donose’s Composer was overflowing with adolescent fervour and idealism. Her smooth mezzo is perfect for Strauss’s flowing arioso melodies, and her outburst that ‘Musik ist eine heilige Kunst’ (music is a holy art) was full of elevated feeling and conviction. Donose made engaging use of a wide dynamic range and was totally convincing in her interaction with Jane Archibald’s Zerbinetta. The latter has all the necessary vocal weapons in her arsenal and she had no trouble whizzing nimbly through the coloratura tricks of ‘Großmächtige Prinzessin’ and sustaining a reliable high F. Archibald’s tone is silvery and even in the stratosphere retains its sweetness. She had a good stab at capturing Zerbinetta’s less-than-innocent coquetry and effervescence; and one could forgive the Composer for submitting to the charms of her Prologue number, ‘Ein Augenblick ist wenig’. But, she didn’t have quite enough stage presence or depth of characterisation for this production — a touch more of Despina needed, perhaps?

2662ashm_0839.gifKiandra Howarth as Echo, Wynne Evans as Scaramuccio, Paul Schweinester as Brighella, Karita Mattila as Ariadne, Jane Archibald as Zerbinetta and Jeremy White as Truffaldino

Roberto Saccà tenor doesn’t have quite enough dramatic energy or openness at the top for the demanding role of Bacchus — it is after all the voice that frees Ariadne from her torment and pain — but in many other ways he acquitted himself well and had the stamina to cope with the unforgiving challenges, and tessitura, of the part. There were some deft comic touches during the tomfoolery of the Prologue, and his overall performance was robust, maintaining focus through to the final duet.

Thomas Allen was typically dependable as the rather frazzled Music Master, the diction superb as always. Ed Lyons had all the high notes, including a secure top B, and delivered the preening Dancing Master’s comic lines with waggishness. Baritone Marcus Werber sang Harlequin’s song with a pleasing cantilena and strong high notes. Tenor Wynne Evans was a powerful Scaramuccio, while Truffaldin was sung with smooth lyricism by bass Jeremy White. Paul Schweinester used his flexible tenor well in the role of Brighella. However, as the commedia dell’arte troupe insinuate themselves into the Opera, choreographer Beate Vollack’s routines at times verged on slapstick and the pantomimesque steps of ‘Die Dame gibt mis trübem Sinn’ — danced in an attempt to cheer up the gloomy Princess — were tiresome.

Echo (Kiandra Howarth), Naiad (Sofia Fomina) and Dryad (Karen Cargill) blended beautifully, especially in their trio commenting on Ariadne’s grief. Howarth’s pure, youthful soprano is just right for Echo’s simple imitations; Cargill’s mezzo is fittingly dark and rich. In the smaller roles of the Lackey, Officer and Wig-maker, Jihoon Kim, David Butt Philip and Ashley Riches, respectively, all performed well.

Supportive of his singers throughout, Pappano brought a surprising mix of luxuriousness and lucidity — there were some very effective pianissimi — to Strauss’s richly textured score. Solos from clarinet, horn, flute and bassoon were beautifully executed in sentimental dialogue with the vocal lines; and the string playing in the overture to the Opera was sorrowful and affecting. The conductor paced the drama with mastery, especially the final duet, controlling the ever-accumulating waves of sound with fine judgment. In Pappano’s hands, Romanticism and Classicism were perfectly blended.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Ariadne/The Prima Donna, Karita Mattila; Bacchus/The Tenor, Roberto Saccà; Zerbinetta, Jane Archibald; The Composer, Ruxandra Donose; Harlequin, Markus Werba; A Music Master, Thomas Allen; Dancing Master, Ed Lyon; Wig Maker, Ashley Riches; Lackey, Jihoon Kim; Scaramuccio, Wynne Evans; Brighella, Paul Schweinester; Truffaldino, Jeremy White; Officer, David Butt Philip; Naiad, Sofia Fomina; Dryad, Karen Cargill; Echo, Kiandra Howarth; Major Domo, Christoph Quest; Director, Christof Loy; Conductor, Antonio Pappano; Designs, Herbert Murauer; Lighting, Jennifer Tipton; Choreography, Beate Vollack; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Wednesday 25th June 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):