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

A sunny L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House

Theresa May could do with a Doctor Dulcamara in the Conservative Cabinet: his miracle pills for every illness from asthma to apoplexy would slash the NHS bill - and, if he really could rejuvenate the aged then he’d solve the looming social care funding crisis too.

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

06 Feb 2015

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Tristan und Isolde in Toulouse

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Robert Dean Smith as Tristan, Elisabete Matos as Isolde [all photos copyright Patrice Nin, courtesy of the Théâtre du Capitole]

 

But ten years later, 1952, Kirsten Flagstad sang Isolde in Toulouse, in German of course. The then director of the opera, tenor Louis Izar was a celebrated Ring Mime, and the then mayor of Toulouse, Raymond Badiou himself was big friends with Wieland Wagner. Toulouse had become known as Bayreuth-sur-Garonne (the river that passes through Toulouse).

Tristan und Isolde however disappeared from the Theatre du Capitole after the 1972 production (Herbert Becker and Klara Barlow), not to reappear until 2007 in a production by Nicholas Joël, remounted just now with American tenor Robert Dean Smith as Tristan and Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos as Isolde. At the first intermission a tall gentleman strode through the bar loudly proclaiming in hoch British that it was “better than Bayreuth.”

Tristan_Toulouse2.pngElisabete Matos as Isolde

Most of us have not been to Bayreuth so we cannot know, but it was indeed certain that this Tristan was already an ultimate experience, and that was well before the Tristan delirium that was the musically shattering climax of the performance. The conductor was 62 year old, Leipzig born conductor Claus Peter Flor, known in the U.S. as the guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony (1999-2008). While no stranger to the opera pit his program booklet biography reveals him to be primarily an orchestral conductor.

The maestro concentrated his attention on the famed Toulouse orchestra, here strings 12/12/10/8/6, triple winds but 6 horns, with the full backstage complement of 6 horns and 3 each trumpets and trombones. There were two harps for the mesmerizingly beautiful second act love tryst, Brangäne gorgeously intoning her admonitions. The exquisite minor third trills of the clarinets had already laid the foundations for Wagner’s eternally quivering passions.

If seventy six orchestra players and two heroic voices can be said to whisper this was the intimacy of the second act. In fact the first act as well was developed in personal rather than mythical voices, the oboes, flutes and English horn working to color Isolde’s despair, Brangäne’s (in black spectacles) deception, and Tristan’s indifference. The first act love duet was surprise more than passion, preparing us for the musico-psychological treatise on nineteenth Romantic century love that was the second and third acts.

Metteur en scène Nicholas Joël hovered between the real and the magical, his production sometimes staged and sometimes semi-staged. Wagner’s first act sailors were 8 supernumeraries [figurants] (the chorus was hidden) in formal concert dress (tails) who reappeared at the end of the opera as King Mark’s soldiers. The second act swords drawn, Melot’s thrust was symbolically received, Tristan fell, isolated on the other side of the stage. At the end of the opera Kurvenal’s thrust was symbolic, not actually touching the jealous traitor, Tristan’s friend Melot.

Tristan_Toulouse3.pngElisabete Matos as Isolde, Robert Dean Smith as Tristan

Finally Tristan lying dead, Isolde rose, walked down stage center (the soldiers, the dead Kurvenal and Melot as well as King Mark had all slipped off stage). This was the liebestod for the brilliant-red gowned Isolde, in concert now. It was, as intended, a panegyric to love. It was not the end of an opera.

The coup de théâtre occurred at the beginning of the third act. The curtain rose on the wounded Tristan hanging over the front point of the now sharply elevated triangular center platform (the stage set was three platforms that in the first act had moved up and down as the wave motions of the sea). Arms and head dangling into the emptiness high above the orchestra pit Tristan remained there for maybe ten minutes (through the English horn solo and Kurvenal’s scene with the shepherd).

He awoke to deliver his great mad scene, always perched on this point, and somehow balanced philosophy with emotional rawness, rationality with irrationality. It was in this delirium that the maestro let loose with the great (and here the biggest) orchestral climaxes of the entire opera. It was the cerebral drama of this extended tract that made the Joël concept of Tristan become the masterpiece Tristan und Isolde is said to be — we both understood and felt love as if we were a Romantic poet.

Robert Dean Smith is of strong, secure and virile voice, his dramatic and musical intelligence apparent, well able to effect the considerable challenges of this mise en scène. He has already established himself as one of the important Tristans of our day on the world’s important stages. Elisabete Matos has performed Isolde once before, in 2011 at Barcelona’s Liceu. In the prime of voice she is able to soar to and beyond the enormous climaxes never compromising her richly colored sound. Her familiarity with the great Verdi dramatic soprano roles lies under her Isolde, the liebestod far more intimate and personal than heroic. The vast emotional vistas and philosophic scope of this production were perfectly realized in her performance.

German mezzo-soprano Daniela Sindram well fulfilled the requirements of this production, her Brangäne a very present figure in Wagner’s conceptual preparations. Costumed in white German baritone Stefan Heidemann made a very present Kurvenal, his rather loud, darkly colored voice a welcomed contrast to the refined Heldon tenor tone of Robert Dean Smith. German bass Hans-Peter König was a perfunctory King Mark.

Conductor Claus Peter Flor created this remarkable musical vision that fulfilled the complex theatrical vision of Nicholas Joël. The stage and pit were remarkably synchronized, the maestro focused on his orchestra, the stage very sure of itself.

Michael Milenski


Casts and production information:

Tristan: Robert Dean Smith; Isolde: Elisabete Matos; King Mark: Hans-Peter Koenig; Kurwenal: Stefan Heidemann; Melot: Thomas Dolié; Brangaene: Daniela Sindram; Un Jeune matelot / Un Berger: Paul Kaufmann; Un Pilote: Jean-Luc Antoine. Choeur du Capitole, Orchestre national du Capitole. Conductor: Claus Peter Flor; Mise en scène: Nicolas Joel; Scenery and costumes: Andreas Reinhardt; Lighting: Vinicio Cheli. Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse, February 1, 2015.

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):