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

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

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):