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

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.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

19 Jul 2014

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: William Kentridge as Schubert's Voyager [all photos by Patrick Berger, courtesy of the Aix Festival]

 

Luckily German baritone Matthais Goerne and Austrian pianist Markus Hinterhauser were enlisted by the Festival to imbue genuine nordic Romanticism into the Schubert masterpiece. Albeit the strum und drang of late Romanticism that seemed on the brink of expressionism.

Mr. Goerne is famous for his performances of Die Schöne Müllerin (including a recent performance in San Francisco), making this 1826 Schubert cycle an outwardly emotional experience within his evenly tempered, dynamic and very clear baritone sound. It is a reading of the cycle that proves his mastery of its performance traditions and embarks on a measured transcendence of historical style and Schubertian presence.

Winterreise_Aix1.png


His Winterreise was even more transcendent. It was a terrifying, angry journey through Schubert’s bleak landscape. Mr. Goerne emitted uncomprehending cries and bitter exclamations reliving an heretofore unexplored agony that can only be supposed within the soul of the syphilis stricken 28 year-old composer. With his accomplice Markus Hinterhauser hunched over the gigantic Steinway piano middle-aged Matthais Goerne exposed Schubert’s one hour twenty minute journey in unrelenting, electric tones that tore through your soul.

The physical presence of this large man and powerful artist, his voice magnified by the designer acoustic of the recital hall of the new Aix conservatory of music, plus the resources of a twenty-first century engineered concert grand piano played by a hyper sophisticated musician (Mr. Hinterhäuser is the artistic director of the Salzburg Festival) could only dwarf the gloss of the video accompaniment imagined by South African artist and actor William Kentridge. Mr. Kentridge does not possess the vocabulary or emotional scope to embody or virtualize these first moments of the very brief Schubert maturity.

In spite of a vague physical resemblance (both middle aged, comfortably fed men) Mr. Goerne could not become the traveler imagined by Mr. Kentridge. In fact that traveler was William Kentridge himself, his pen and ink drawn profile (resembling and as recognizable as the famous profile of Alfred Hitchcock) marched across the screen already in the second song. This alone created an insurmountable gulf between the actual (Mr. Goerne) and the virtual (Mr. Kentridge).

Winterreise_Aix2.png


Mr. Kentridge is well known to opera audiences through his brilliant stagings of a puppet Il ritorno d’Ulisse and a multi-media Die Zauberflöte. His staging of Shostakovich’s derisive The Nose was betrayed by his evident good and open nature, quick wit and easy charm. These overpowering Kentridge attributes were indeed present in his Winterreise as well and were in irreconcilable conflict Mr. Goerne’s angoisse.

There were a few interesting moments. Baritone Goerne gave his performance in concert position standing by the piano that was placed off to the side of a low stage platform backed by a large screen. In the seventh song Goerne walked to the middle of the platform to relate momentarily to the projected visual field — Schubert’s river torrents were rendered as pen and ink drawn water faucets. It was conscious recognition that there was no connection between music and image, and this alone created a powerful connection.

Again in the seventeenth song the baritone moved center stage to recognize Muller’s sleepless villager who had become Kentridge’s sleepless, cigar smoking mogul — a striking, wild card image that effectively layered extraneous nineteenth century industrial revolution overtones upon baritone Goerne’s private and personal desolation.

The twenty-first song, Schubert’s inn by a cemetery, achieved a sort of unity of word and image. Kentridge rendered the simplicity of the conceit of this song by drawing lines of tombstones in crude shapes that bespoke his exhaustion of ideas. And finally in the twenty-fourth and final song Schubert’s old man rolling his cart on icy paths through the freezing village became Kentridge’s procession of bent South African black women, silhouettes, carrying their burdens or pumping railroad carts, images that are a recurrent image in the Kentridge oeuvre. Word and image were in distinct hemispheres (northern and southern) but became, surprisingly, one globe.

Katie Mitchell’s Trauernacht is a collection of four choruses, five recitatives and five arias (ranging between BWV 46 and BWV 668) from among J.S. Bach’s 200 cantatas. Plus an initial a capella motet composed by Johann Christof Bach that at once reduced our expectations of the vocal forces for the evening to the four singers who were on the stage to sing it.

British stage director Mitchell distinguished herself at the Aix Festival two years ago with her staging of Richard Benjamin’s Written on Skin (it was a complicated household situation) and returned last summer for another premiere, The House Taken Over (a complicated household situation) thus it was no surprise that Trauernacht (Night of Mourning) was a complicated household situation — a soprano, alto, tenor and bass try to come to grips with the death of their father over dinner.

Trauernacht_Aix.png


Katie Mitchell and young French early-music conductor (and counter-tenor) Raphaël Pichon compiled these bits of cantatas that are sort of like a requiem mass — a sinner begs to be saved — though unlike a requiem mass it seems in Trauernacht that the children ultimately find solace in the illusion that their father basks in the gaze of God.

The four voices (two males and two females), simply and somberly clothed, wandered onto a platform where there was a dinner table and four chairs, though there was a fifth chair that was finally occupied by the father who sang one brief aria. However for most of the evening he remained a phantom who sat at the back of the naked stage, standing up from time to time to whistle eerily.

The four singers had mastered slow motion movement in order to move on and off the stage without disturbing the almost beat-less flow of the music. These artificial movements were quite extended as the singers served themselves a three course meal from shelves that were on the far sides of the stage. They were barefoot.

All this might have worked had the musical forces been finished artists. As it was the young musicians on the stage and particularly those in the pit lacked the polish to create a purity of sound and form that can propel J.S. Bach’s music into celestial spheres. What might have been sublime music (and probably was on the recordings used to imagine this pastiche) became a tedious exposition of antique four-part harmony.

Katie Mitchell is old enough to have known better.

Michael Milenski


Casts and production information:

Winterreise: Baryton: Matthias Goerne; Piano: Markus Hinterhäuser. Mise en scène et création visuelle: William Kentridge; Scénographie: William Kentridge et Sabine Theunissen; Costumes: Greta Goiris; Lumière: Herman Sorgeloos. Aix-en-Provence Conservatory of Music, July 12, 2014.

Trauernacht: Le Père: Frode Olsen; Soprano: Aoife Miskelly; Mezzo-soprano: Eve-Maud Hubeaux; Ténor: Rupert Charlesworth; Basse: Andri Björn Robertsson. Orchestre: Instrumentistes de l'Académie européenne de musique. Conductor: Raphaël Pichon; Mise en scène: Katie Mitchell; Costumes et scénographie: Vicki Mortimer; Lumière: James Farncombe. Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, Aix-en-Provence, July 16, 2016.
/small>


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):