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

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mojca Erdmann as Marzelline and Florian Hoffmann as Jaquino [Photo courtesy of Ufficio Stampa Teatro alla Scala]
22 Dec 2014

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

A review by Jonathan Sutherland

Above: Mojca Erdmann as Marzelline and Florian Hoffmann as Jaquino

Photos courtesy of Ufficio Stampa Teatro alla Scala

 

It would be hard to imagine a musician today who is more politically active than Daniel Barenboim. As just one example, the success he has achieved since 1999 with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (comprising young Israeli, Palestinian and Arab musicians) is living proof that Art can prevail when politicians continuously fail. That said, it is hardly surprising that Maestro Barenboim made his farewell as Musical Director of La Scala with Beethoven’s only opera, which like the last movement of the 9th Symphony, extols the eternal values of brotherhood, peace, tolerance and freedom.

Barenboim’s personal connection to this opera is almost palpable and as Musical Director, he must have approved the choice of English director Deborah Warner to follow in the footsteps of Otto Schenk, Giorgio Strehler and Werner Herzog in bringing Fidelio to the Scala stage. The contemporary and perhaps deliberately location-neutral stage setting by Chloe Obolensky (a large, drab, cement-columned, ghetto-esque courtyard — curiously without any visible cells) encouraged the universal themes of the dramaturgy to resonate with a 21st century audience almost inured to brutality and injustice. Certainly Madame Warner brought out consistently fine acting from all protagonists, but as in many modern adaptations, there were some serious inconsistencies between text and direction. When Leonore asks Rocco to let the prisoners out for some fresh air because the weather is so wonderful (Heute ist das Wetter so schön) the semi-subterranean West Side Story-ish cement space was still so gloomy there was hardly any light at all. Gott, welch Dunkel hier indeed. Much more difficult to understand was the final scene when the prisoners were freed as the result of a massive break-in rescue mission led by rather motley, hard-hatted urban guerrillas and not as Rocco states, due to a general pardon by the King. ( Der Minister hat eine Liste aller Gefangenen…alle sollen ihm vorgeführt werden.) To fit her crypto-Che Guevara liberation concept, Madame Warner cut from the dialogue Rocco’s specific instruction to Jacquino to free the prisoners (öffnet die oberen Gefängnisse! ) which was a bit naughty. If regal clemency was good enough for Beethoven, Sonnleithner & Treitschke, why not for Warner? Similarly, after Don Fernando praises the virtues of liberty, love and brotherhood ( Tyrannenstrenge sei mir fern. Es sucht der Bruder seine Bruder und kann er helfen, hilft er gern) instead of Don Pizzaro being led off to an uncertain fate, a very loud gun shot is heard. Summary execution is hardly in the spirit of brotherly compassion. Finally, when all are extolling the praises of Leonore’s extraordinary devotion and courage (Stimm in unsern Jubel ein! Nie wird es zu hoch besungen, Retterinn des Gatten sein !) Madame Warner has Marzelline sulking prominently at the front of the stage then engaging in some superfluous business with Jacquino before giving him a kiss and running off. The domestic trivialities and petty adolescent infatuations of Act 1 have been completely subsumed in Act II by issues of momentous universal truth and importance. It is no time to worry about the selfish disappointments of a miffed teenager. This part of the direction was both irritating, distracting and absolutely unnecessary. Furthermore, the general confusion and chaos of the final staging marred what was otherwise exemplary singing by the chorus.

Klaus Florian Vogt (Florestan) Peter Mattei (Don Fernando) Kwangchul Youn (Rocco) Act II Finale.pngKlaus Florian Vogt as Florestan, Peter Mattei as Don Fernando and Kwangchul Youn as Rocco

As mentioned, the acting by all singers was outstanding and even more impressive in close-up focus on the subsequent RAI broadcast. Florian Hoffmann as Jacquino was a very credible frustrated teenager in jeans, hoodie and white T-shirt which read ‘WOW!’ His appealing light tenor was slightly overpowered by the orchestra in the opening duet with Marzelline and following ensembles, but on the whole this was a very convincing performance. As the object of his unrequited affection, the Marzelline of Mojca Erdmann was very well acted and sung. A highly attractive stage appearance and agreeable vocal colour made Jacquino’s ardour entirely understandable. Although the voice seemed to spread occasionally when forte in the upper register, her Act I aria ‘O wär ich schon mit dir vereint’ was charmingly sung and her cantilena in the sublime ‘ Mir ist so wunderbar’ quartet was extremely well balanced with the other singers. Falk Struckmann has been snarling Don Pizzaro for quite a long time but apart from a rather silly and spivvy Mafioso-style suit, his interpretation seemed fresh and suitably fiendish. His astonishment at finding out that Fidelio was actually a woman (sein Weib?) in the great confrontation scene in Act II was utterly convincing. The Don Fernando of Peter Mattei was mellifluously sung as ever, although his appearance was entirely without gravitas and he looked more like a smug property developer bringing news of a successful rental assistance plan to under-privileged tenants than a compassionate Minister of State rejoicing in the honour of freeing political prisoners. As Rocco, the Korean bass Kwangchul Youn enjoyed a big success with the audience. Certainly an Asian physiognomy would have been somewhat unlikely as a State gaoler in 18th century Spain, but in this location-ambiguous production, it didn’t jar at all. Possessing a very appealing warm baritone timbre and singing (and speaking) with perfect German diction, this was a performance full of personality, humour, subtlety and musical insight which fully deserved the accolades he received from the notoriously picky Scala pubblico. Florestan was sung by Klaus Florian Vogt. Whilst not having the meaty macho tenor klang of Jon Vickers or James King, this Florestan’s more lyric timbre worked extremely well and projected effortlessly over the orchestra from the opening impassioned G natural on ‘Gott’, through themerciless tessitura of theO namenlose Freude duet to the concluding Wer ein solches Weib. The luke-warm response he received during the curtain-calls was difficult to fathom. The standout performance was unquestionably that of Anja Kampe as Leonore. Like Falk Struckmann, Madame Kampe is no stranger to her role, but managed to infuse the part with such spontaneous emotion and total commitment, it was an absolute triumph. Combining the intelligence and dramatic insight of Hildegard Behrens with the vocal technical assurance of Birgit Nilsson, this was in all respects an extremely fine interpretation. Despite a slightly shaky exposed top Bb on Tödt’ erst sein Weib! there were wonderfully powerful low C# chest notes (wie Meereswogen) in the Abscheulicher! recitative, beautiful dulcet piano word-colouring on Farbenbogen, a vibrato-free perfectly pitched top B natural on erreichen and impressive accuracy and clarity during the fioratura and leaps in der treue Gattenliebe. Bravissima Anja!

Florian Hoffmann (Jacquino), Mojca Erdmann (Marzelline), Anja Kampe (Leonore), Klaus Florian Vogt (Florestan), Peter Mattei (Don Fernando) Act II Finale.pngFlorian Hoffmann as Jacquino, Mojca Erdmann as Marzelline, Anja Kampe as Leonore, Klaus Florian Vogt as Florestan and Peter Mattei as Don Fernando

The greatest ovation of the evening however was for conductor Daniel Barenboim and the La Scala orchestra. The maestro opted for the less familiar but longer and more symphonic Leonore Overture No. 2 in C Major to start the performance over the usual E Major alternative. This meant cutting the even more dramatic Leonore Overture No. 3, usually included by conductors such as von Karajan and Bernstein and played in most German houses during the scene change just before the Act II finale. Barenboim’s conducting was so full of nuance, unforced rubati and meticulous attention to the composer’s markings it is difficult to single out specific sections of the partitura for particular praise. Every crescendo and diminuendo, from the strings and winds in the sixth measure of the overture to each sfp, sf and marcato in the tremendous conclusion of Retterin des Gattin sein were played with flawless precision and clarity. This was not just a reading of rhythmic and dynamic exactitude but of gorgeous orchestral colouring as well — the opening cello passage to Mir ist so wunderbar and the soaring oboe solo in Leonore’s Welch ein Augenblick being just two examples. The performance was a worthy Abschiedsgeschenk from a maestro who has not always enjoyed the approbation of the mercurial Milanese, some of whom still squawk about the Simon Boccanegra fiasco in 2010. Whether the same fondness will be felt for Deborah Warner’s production remains to be seen.

The audience at this, the fourth performance, was not quite as enthusiastic as at the premiere and there were no ovations after the overture or arias. Perhaps they confused Fidelio with Parsifal. Local press reported the applause at the opening night curtain went for 15 minutes. One can imagine that having paid over US$3,000 a ticket, the chic prima rappresentazione crowd was determined to have a good time.

Jonathan Sutherland


Cast and production information:

Fernando: Peter Mattei, Don Pizzaro: Falk Struckmann, Florestan: Klaus Florian Vogt, Leonore: Anja Kampe, Rocco: Kwangchul Youn, Marzelline: Mojca Erdmann, Jacquino: Florian Hoffmann, Erster Gefangener: Oreste Cosimo, Zweiter Gefangener: Devis Longo. Conductor: Daniel Barenboim, Director: Deborah Warner, Set and Costume Design: Chloe Obolensky, Chorus Master: Bruno Casoni Don. Teatro alla Scala Milano 16th December 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):