Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.



Tuomas Pursio as Friedrich [Photo by Fabio Parenzan — Visualart Trieste]
01 Jan 2015

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

Aron Stiehl’s production of this rare early Wagner opera cheerfully brings commedia dell’arte to La Cage aux Folles.

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

A review by Jonathan Sutherland

Above: Tuomas Pursio as Friedrich

Photos by Fabio Parenzan — Visualart Trieste


At the outset it should be said that as Das Liebesverbot has so seldom been staged since its disastrous premiere in Magdeburg nearly 180 years ago, this was more a case of re-birth than resurrection. Reportedly after word had got around that the opera was echt Abfall, only three people turned up to the second performance and Richard Wagner (who was 23 at the time) virtually disowned his own composition and insisted that it must never be performed in the sacred Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Apart from some extremely vague musical foretastes of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (the orchestral introduction and postlude to Isabella’s So sei’s! scena in Act II); Lohengrin (Mariana’s Laß mir die Träne meine Trost in Act I) and evenDie Walküre (Isabella’s Herbei! Herbei! Ihr Leute! in Act II),Das Liebesverbot doesn’t sound like a Wagner opera at all. It seems more like a pastiche of demented-Donizetti (the Ha, welcher Lust, er ist gefangen duet between Friedrich and Isabella and subsequent ensemble at the end of Act I could have come straight out of Don Pasquale) and roughhouse Rossini (lots of ha ha ha’s and tralala’s). There are also traces of youthful Carl Maria von Weber Singspiel and ever-present manic tarantella music. In fact Wagner wrote this three hour große komische Oper as an ‘idiomatic’ Italian score full of ersatz-Sicilian rhythms ( feuriger sizilianischer Charaktertanz), rapid patter-songs, endless acciaccature and pizzicati, foot-tapping syncopation, break-neck allegri furiosi passages and curious Zingari percussion effects. Clearly any opera which is scored in the first four measures for only castanets, tambourine and triangle is definitely un po’ strano — especially in 1836.

With a text based loosely on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Wagner’s own libretto is as undistinguished as his partitura. Trite dialogue and strained rhyming couplets (Gott, welche Frechheit nehm’ ich wahr/Jetzt wird die Sache spasshaft gar!) sound more like post-adolescent Teutonic doggerel than gracious strophes of Goethe. Despite several tiresome diversions (such as the absurd character of Ponzio Pilato) the plot concerns the attempted imposition by the unpopular and duplicitous German regent Friedrich of a strict edict banning the good people of Palermo from enjoying their usual pastimes of drinking, whoring, masquerading and (heaven forfend) non-marital love. (Die Liebe, Carneval und Wein für immer streng verboten sind!) This wouldn’t be such a big deal if it wasn’t for the fact that any breach of these draconian measures was to be punishable by death. Fortunately all’s well and that ends well and apart from Friedrich, who is duly exposed as a vile hypocrite, scoundrel and liar, the status quo ante is joyously returned in the rousing finale with almost all characters hoofing and high-kicking across the stage in outrageous drag.

It was a rather courageous decision of Teatro Verdi’s highly personable Sovrintendente e Direttore Artistico Claudio Orazi to enter into a joint production with the Leipzig Oper and Bayreuther Festspiele to open the 2014-2015 Season in Trieste with such an operatic rarity. At least in terms of audience reaction on the opening night, his decision was more than justified. Smiles and cheers all round. Although several of the production’s principals had previously sung in Leipzig and in the Oberfrankenhalle in Bayreuth (definitely not in the Festspeilhaus), the conductor Oliver von Dohnányi (not to be confused with Christoph) was new to the staging but nevertheless managed to navigate the unrelenting rhythms and frantic presti between orchestra, stage and chorus with commendable precision and impressive leggero clarity. The more lyrical moments of the partitura (which were indeed scarce) such as the piano espressivo second subject for strings in the overture and the accompaniment to Mariana’s scena in Act II were played with sensitivity and an agreeably sonorous string tone. The brass section was consistently impressive and the capable percussionists had a busy evening.

The lead role of Isabella (a savvy nun who leaves the convent to rescue her wrongly condemned brother from Friedrich’s clutches) was sung by American soprano Lydia Easley. Isabella is musically at least, a prototype for future Sentas, Isoldes and even Brünnhildes. It is a huge sing with enormous vocal demands and a punishing tessitura. The top ff Bb on Gott gibt mir Kraft ihn zu vernichten dropping to low E natural in the Act I duet with Luzio; the So sei’s! Für seinen feigen Wankelmut aria in Act II finishing with an exposed top B natural on erkämpfen; and the long, almost Verdian phrases in Du schmähest jene and’re Liebe during the courtroom scena in Act I are but a few of the terrors which Miss Easley managed to tame with considerable fortitude. In this production she also needs to perform several soft-shoe shuffles and high-kicks, so think Kirsten Flagstad as a Ziegfeld Follies hoofer.

As the model for a future Telramund or Alberich, the mono-dimensional bad-guy role of Friedrich was confidently sung by Finnish baritone Tuomas Pursio who also displayed a Jorma Hynninen-style lyric timbre when required. Although slightly unfocused in Act I, hisJa, glühend, wie des Südens Hauch aria in Act II was much better sung. The confrontation with Isabella in the Act I courtroom scene (Bedenke wohl, wer ich bin und wie du erscheint) was so menacing it was easy to forget this was supposed to be a grande opera comica.

Of the two leading tenors, the Luzio of Mark Adler had a ringing top, strong middle voice and a convincing, affable stage presence, while the wrongly imprisoned Claudio of Mikheil Sheshaberidze, with an ugly forced top and no conception of phrasing, either Wagnerian or Sicilian, fully deserved any punishment Friedrich could have inflicted. Of the smaller roles, the jilted Mariana of German soprano Anna Shoeck was consistently excellent with an especially agreeable piano cantilena in her Act II scena Welch wunderbar’ Erwarten. As the perky Colombina character Dorella, Francesca Micarelli was big on floozy and short on vocal expertise. The Ponzio Pilato of Federico Lepre was the same without the floozy. As Dorella’s aging libidinous admirer, the stock commedia dell’arte Zanni figure of Brighella was sung by the experienced bass Reinhard Dorn. He certainly milked the role for lots of cheap effects including some cheeky comments to the orchestra before the courtroom scene. That said, his strong and well-projected lower register showed why he has been a successful Fafner in a number of European opera houses. The chorus, which plays an extremely prominent role in the opera, was directed by maestro del coro Paolo Vera and sang the difficult and usually fiendishly fast ensembles with real enthusiasm and musical precision albeit less than perfect German diction.

The multiple recurring set designs by Jürgen Kirner were sometimes difficult to fathom (a huge wall of numbered safe deposit boxes for example) but commedia dell’arte has little need for scenic verisimilitude. The use of three enormous masks of Friedrich’s face when the populace willfully flaunts the ban on masquerades was particularly effective, although if Tuomas Pursio happened to be replaced by another singer, they may have made less sense. The colourful costumes designed by Sven Bindseil, especially the stylized bell-boy suits in the Act I courtroom scene and the outrageous drag-show padded-bust frocks at the end, all added to the fun.

Whether this staging will encourage a plethora of new productions of Das Liebesverbot across the operatic world is probably unlikely. Despite certain interesting moments, the work remains at best a curiosity item for committed Wagnerites — and of course lovers of castanets.

Jonathan Sutherland

Cast and production information:

Friedrich: Tuomas Pursio, Luzio: Mark Adler, Claudio: Mikheil Sheshaberidze, Antonio: Cristiano Olivieri, Angelo: Gianfranco Montresor, Isabella: Lydia Easley, Mariana: Anna Shoeck, Brighella: Reinhard Dorn, Danieli: Pietro Toscano, Dorella: Francesca Micarelli, Ponzio Pilato: Federico Lepre. Conductor: Oliver von Dohnányi, Director: Aron Stiehl, Stage design: Jürgen Kirner, Costume design: Sven Bindseil, Lighting: Claudio Schmid, Chorus Master: Paolo Vero. Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi di Trieste 18th 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):