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

Juliane Banse as Elsa von Brabant and Nikolai Schukoff as Lohengrin with Koor van De Nationale Opera [Photo by Ruth Walz]
30 Dec 2014

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

Stage director Pierre Audi is not one to be strictly representational in his story telling.

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

A review by James Sohre

Above: Juliane Banse as Elsa von Brabant and Nikolai Schukoff as Lohengrin with Koor van De Nationale Opera

Photos by Ruth Walz

 

At times in my past encounters, Mr. Audi has summoned forth interpretive results of unearthly beauty and unerring emotional resonance. His successes are among my most memorable opera-going experiences. At other times, Pierre’s over-thinking of subtext has muddied the plot and defused the emotional core of the musico-dramatic source material.

His ambitious Lohengrin for the Netherlands Opera manages moments of haunting beauty, it is true, but random choices of distracting symbols and inexplicable stage movement draw the viewer out of the artistic illusion with alarming regularity.

I quite admired almost all of Jannis Kounellis’ imposing, brooding set design. The cavernous stage of the Muziekthater can be a big space to fill, but Mr. Kounellis has crafted an overwhelming, four story, floor-to-ceiling structure for Act I, that featured seated rows of countless stoic choristers, presiding like unyielding magistrates over a life-or-death trial in a colosseum.

Act II opened up quite a bit, first with an austere balcony for Elsa stage right, then with a more claustrophobic set of receding walls with restricted entrances that nonetheless provided concentrated focal points. For the bridal chamber, Kounellis provided a mysterious set of dark panels that were punctuated with (presumably swan) feathers. Illuminating and apt.

Angelo Figus contributed a wide-ranging, fantastical costume design, with attire often larger than life, bulky, and well, it has to be said, misshapen. The splendid sculpted voluminous capes for the men at the start of Two were replaced by curious white body ‘wraps’ that were unshapely and unflattering. Lohengrin himself appeared not unlike like he was wearing a sculpture of a swan. Best look of the night: Ortrud looked hip and stylish in a red-lined black vamp dress and blond wig. Runner up: the gorgeous visual moment when Elsa was ceremoniously topped with her bridal veil.

All of these visual components were tellingly lit by Jean Kalman. The harsh cross lighting was complemented by well-chosen specials and warm tints at critical dramatic revelations. The separate areas for the conspirators and Elsa in Act II were especially well considered. Mr. Kalman could only do so much however, and his gamely rendered, glowing backlighting effect for the arrival of the swan could not compensate for the fact a train-car full of oars (not a swan) slowly rolled across the stage from left to right as the hero’s voice sounded from off stage left. (See ‘distracting symbols,’ above.)

lohengrin0151.pngMichaela Schuster as Otrud and Evgeny Nikitin as Friedrich von Telramund

Audi did manage to provide plenty of ideas to chew on. After an opening act that seemed almost Konzertant, replete with semaphoric gestures and ritual choreographic movement, the director infused the rest of the night with more teeming movement that pulsated and morphed with dramatic purpose. The original primitive ritual posturing in which all men had weapons (clubs, staves, knives, pipes), relaxed into more naturalistic interaction to good effect.

The musical achievements were largely impressive. In the first third, the performance was characterized by a rather diffuse sound and lack of forward motion. No import. No inherent burning fire. But as of Act Two, conductor Marc Albrecht seems to have found his muse and from that point on the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra achieved a translucent vibrance and a thrilling sense of ensemble. Ching-Lien Wu’s meticulously prepared chorus went from strength to strength all night long.

The towering vocal performance of the night was the white-hot Ortrud from the laser-toned Michaela Schuster. Ms. Schuster poured out phrase after phrase that etched in the memory as among the finest I have yet heard in this role. The potent Michaela not only sang her socks off, but maybe also sang off the ceiling paint, and she alone was worth the price of admission.

Juliane Banse had most of the assets required as Elsa, including a warm and pulsing soprano that is very sympathetic. But if the occasional smudged phrases and splayed tone are any indication, the part may at this point be a size “just” too large for her inherently lyric soprano. It cannot be denied that her duo scene with Ortrud was arguably the highlight of the evening.

The reliable bass-baritone Günther Groissböck was plagued by an uncharacteristically unfocussed top at the start, but then settled down to regale us with his usual impressive, warm, and powerful vocal presence. Evgeny Nikitin, as an ersatz tattooed biker, was a stolid Freidrich von Telramund. Mr. Nikitin seemed hell bent on pulverizing top notes and ended up barely hanging onto sustained upper phrases with somewhat wooly, straight tone. But, when he sang softer, lo, Evgeny demonstrated a baritone of great beauty and control. More of that, please, sir!

Still, the opera is not named Ortrud, nor Elsa, nor Telramund. The actual title role found Nikolai Schukoff, and his slim tenor, lacking. Mr. Schukoff is handsome and stage-savvy. He has admirable innate musical sensibilities. What he does not have, and cannot suggest, is a heroic voice. Being over-parted, Nikolai resorted to trying to ride the orchestra by manufacturing a pointed, almost pinched delivery, but there was no disguising the fact that there simply was no substantial presence in his smallish instrument. When the opera is called Lohengrin, and that title role calls for a Wagnerian heroic tenor, that shortcoming is a serious limitation.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Heinrich der Vogler: Günther Groissböck; Lohengrin: Nikolai Schukoff; Elsa von Brabant: Juliane Banse; Freidrich von Telramund: Evgeny Nikitin; Ortrud: Michaela Schuster; Der Heerrufer des Königs: Bastiaan Everink; Conductor: Marc Albrecht; Director: Pierre Audi; Set Design: Jannis Kounellis; Costume Design: Angelo Figus; Lighting Design: Jean Kalman; Chorus Master: Ching-Lien Wu.

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):