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

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Johan Botha as Tannhäuser [Photo © Todd Rosenberg]
26 Mar 2015

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Johan Botha as Tannhäuser

Photos © Todd Rosenberg

 

The Chicago performances include Johan Botha as Tannhäuser, Amber Wagner in the role of Elisabeth, Gerald Finley as Wolfram von Eschenbach, Michaela Schuster as Venus, and John Relyea as Landgraf Hermann. Also participating in these performances are Jesse Donner as Walter, Daniel Sutin as Biterolf, Angela Mannino as the Shepherd, Corey Bix as Heinrich, and Richard Wiegold as Reinmar. Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Michael Black has prepared the chorus, both groups here performing at the level of a festival. The production is directed by Tim Albery. Messrs. Bix, Wiegold, and Albery are in their debut season at Lyric Opera.

10_Gerald_Finley_Johan_Botha_Amber_Wagner_TANNHAUSER_LYR150204_358_cTodd_Rosenberg.pngGerald Finley as Wolfram, Johan Botha as Tannhäuser, and Amber Wagner as Elisabeth

Staging the Venusberg scene is a perennial challenge to dramatic credibility. The current production makes a valiant effort to capture the spirit of music and drama, while matching a modernist updating in dress and stage props. After an impressive performance of the overture’s opening with the horns squarely on pitch and sensitive playing by the violas, the viewer notes a straight-back chair positioned at stage front on the right-hand side. Seated in the chair, dressed in a contemporary suit, is Tannhäuser. From the darkened stage recesses a figure emerges, and a miniature theater-frame with curtain descends onto the main stage, just as the Venusberg music intensifies. As the curtain in this stage-upon-a-stage opens, Venus - draped in a black evening dress - appears at its center. Dressed likewise as a match to the principals in style and formality, the male and female dancers participating in the bacchanal populate the center stage around a longish table. The choreographed motions suggest the physical pleasure to which Tannhäuser has committed himself after his departure from the society of the court. The dancers fulfill here Wagner’s textual summary of undulating movement interspersed with the sirens’ chorus of “Naht euch dem Strande” [“Draw near to the shore”]. Once the pair is alone, Venus questions the grounds for Tannhäuser’s distraction; his reveries simply recall images of nature which are now banned from his experience. In this response Mr. Botha’s recitation signals the tedium of his present, timeless state with drawn-out emphasis on “Tage, Monde …” [“Days, months …”]. In reaction to Ms. Schuster’s expressive “Ergreife Deine Harfe” [“Seize your harp”], Botha begins his praise of Venus [“Dir töne Lob” (“Praise be to you”)] with a lilting and embellished line. Yet in the midst of his love-song Botha’s tone changes effectively with the realization that he is a “Sterblicher” [“mortal”]. After Venus’s offended reaction Tannhäuser repeats both his praise and his appeal to leave her realm. Botha’s lyrical decorations on the line “nach unsrer Vöglein liebem Sange” [“for the sweet song of our beloved birds”] in describing the homeland build the grounds for his repeated declarations on “Freiheit” and “Laß mich ziehn!” [“Freedom” “Let me depart!”]. Resulting from his final dramatic statement, “Mein Heil liegt in Maria” [“My salvation remains with Mary”], delivered by Botha with exciting forte pitches, Tannhäuser is released from the control of Venus and returns to his origins.

Once Tannhäuser is anchored in a familiar landscape, his sense of sinfulness is enhanced. He sees a shepherd beneath a tree, located here toward the rear of the stage, and soon the latter’s song, “Frau Holda,” celebrates the return of pleasant weather. As the shepherd Angela Mannino sings with bright, unforced line, executing lovely decoration on “strahlte” to emphasize the play of the sun’s rays in “da strahlte warm die Sonne” [“and the sun began to shine warmly”]. A troop of pilgrims sings of its devotional passage just as the shepherd wishes them Godspeed to Rome. As an observer Tannhäuser is struck by their piety and laments his guilt even more intensely. In the balance of Act I the remaining male characters of the opera are introduced. The identity of the isolated penitent is first questioned by Landgraf Hermann, then immediately recognized by Wolfram. Messrs. Relyea and Finley inhabit these roles seamlessly. After individual welcoming words the knights and singers encourage Tannhäuser collectively to remain in their midst. Wolfram’s appeal, “Bleib bei Elisabeth!” [“Stay for the sake of Elisabeth!”] turns the tide in the returning knight’s resolve. While elaborating on this statement, Finley’s Wolfram sings a lush melodic passage recalling the effect of Tannhäuser’s departure on Elisabeth. Beginning with thoughts confined to individual verses [“Als du in kühnem Sange uns besrittest” (“When you in daring song did strive with us”)], Finley’s application of legato and transition builds as he proclaims, “O kehr zurück, du kühner Sänger” [“O return to us, you bold singer”]. The palpable effect of these lines, echoed by Relyea’s Landgraf, show Tannhäuser proclaiming his determination to remain in this company at the close of the act.

Act II introduces from its start the heroine Elisabeth. The interior of the palace whose hall she addresses in “Dich teure Halle” [“You, beloved hall”] suffers from neglect. By showing a state of decay, the set seems to externalize the inner ruin of Elisabeth’s and the court’s temperament. Ms. Wagner sings her opening aria with a commitment and power that bodes well for her assumption of yet additional roles in the dramatic-lyric repertoire. Wagner’s believable emphasis in her middle and lower registers to describe the effects of Tannhäuser’s earlier departure [“aus düstrem Traum” (“from gloomy dreams”)] transformed into a joyful declaration of welcome, squarely on pitch, in the repeat of “Sei mir gegrüßt!” [“Be greeted by me!”]. The subsequent duet with Tannhäuser, as they celebrate their reunion in the hall, shows both voices in elevated, forte excitement [“Gepriesen sei die Stunde!” (“Praised be the hour!”)], yet also woven together in emotional harmony.

An orchestral interlude heralds the arrival of guests who will observe the singers perform at the festivity. The latter are addressed directly by the Landgraf [“Ihr lieben Sänger” (“You dear singers”)] when he encourages each to describe while singing “der Liebe Wesen” [“the nature of love”]. Relyea’s diction and sense of communicating the text are exemplary in this extended depiction of the singers’ task. The first to sing is Wolfram in an address which shows Finley lingering convincingly on “die Seele” [“the soul”] and “der Liebe reinstes Wesen” [“love’s purest essence”], as he emphasizes the spirituality of love. Tannhäuser’s demur at this characterization of love is contradicted roundly by Walter von der Vogelweide. Mr. Donner’s Walter is sung with full, nicely rounded voice, laying emphasis on “die Tugend wahr” [“true virtue”] and decorating skillfully the “Inbrunst” [“fervor”] which he derides Tannhäuser for lacking. That very spirituality is flaunted in Botha’s resounding subsequent paean to sensual love. The court’s shocked denunciation of Tannhäuser is interrupted passionately by Elisabeth. Ms. Wagner’s recitation of this monologue contains striking shifts between describing Tannhäuser’s fall and her own sense of inner piety. As she reminds the others that “auch für ihn einst der Erlöser litt” [“the Redeemer suffered once for him as well”], Ms. Wagner leads the assembled members of the court to encourage forgiveness and repentance. In the final ensemble before Tannhäuser leaves on a pilgrimage - tellingly to Rome, as an echo of Act I - individual voices blend here yet are also perceived distinctly in a plea for a potential miracle.

The final act of Tannhäuser continues the passage to that very miracle, yet only after the demonstration of true sacrifice. Elisabeth’s prayer near the start of the act is achingly delivered by Ms. Wagner, as she begs the Virgin Mary to be taken from this earth as a means to atone “für seine Schuld” [“for his transgression”]. Wolfram’s response, when his attempts to follow her to the palace are gently rebuffed, is the prayer to the evening star to accompany Elisabeth in her journey heavenward. Finley’s performance of this piece, “O du, mein holder Abendstern,” is justly lauded, and here his singing matches the wistful yearning of the production’s movements. His voice quivers with devotion, as he graces the words “ein sel’ger Engel dort zu werden” [“to become a blessed angel there”] with fervent embellishment. Tannhäuser’s return signals his final confrontation with the character Wolfram. Botha details with dramatic gesture the rejection of his entreaties at Rome and his determination to return to Venus. In the struggle over the fate of Tannhäuser’s soul, Finley and Botha act with urgency to the point of the chorus announcing Elisabeth’s sacrifice. As the penitent now begs a departed Elisabeth to pray for him, the miracle of the pope’s staff is revealed. The final scenes in these performances are not simply a denouement but rather a convincing resolution of love’s dilemma.

Salvatore Calomino

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):