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

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Anna Caterina Antonacci as Cassandra, Brian Mulligan as Coroebus [Photo by Corey Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
19 Jun 2015

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Les Troyens in San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Anna Caterina Antonacci as Cassandra, Brian Mulligan as Coroebus

Photos by Corey Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

Often these days the two parts are separated by a break of a couple hours thus enabling an audience to transcend the horror of the Trojan slaughter before settling into the beatific idyll of Dido’s Carthage and the fervors of founding Rome.

No such good fortune in San Francisco. It was done as one long moment, over five plus straight hours, its temporal monumentality forced into a single span of unrelenting musical and dramatic intensity. The action was so tightly drawn that British director David McVicar forced Susan Graham’s Dido to stand before a naked black stage curtain to deliver her impassioned adieu to Carthage (while her pyre was rolled onto the scene behind the curtain) — no pause before immediate immolation.

There was not a moment to be wasted in the race to the end.

On good days conductor Donald Runnicles brought the show in at just under five hours.

The McVicar production can indeed boast theatrical efficiency. It was all effected in front of a massive amphitheater shape set, its convex face apparent for Troy, its concave face exposed for Carthage. Both sides of the scenic unit were tiered so that the choristers could be deployed on the structure almost concert style gracefully eliminating the problem of how to stage the massive choruses.

Trojans3.pngA scene from Act IV

Carthage was first a floor placed oval platform of miniature buildings on which McVicar’s signature male acolytes cavorted. The platform was tilted on its side and raised high, moonlike (deep blue light) for the garden, and then split, its halves moving to the sides of the stage when the love affair fell apart.

No stranger to heroic proportions the production designer, Es Devlin designed the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics and will design the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio de Janiero games. Maximum of effect with a minimum of means (someone mentioned there are 35 tons of Trojans scenery). Not to be confused with minimalism.

The McVicar direction was absolutely straightforward. The action was exactly the old story and exactly the music, like the choristers raining confetti onto their queen at the precise moments the Berlioz music spilled into momentary ecstasies. We were simply swept along by the action, no roadblocks to the inexorable destruction of a queen and her city.

Strangely the gigantic Trojan House head was made of bits of industrial revolution detritus plus a Greek shield or two, as was the gigantic torso of Aeneas that would one day squash Carthage. Dress was nineteenth century (a bewildered audience member was overheard explaining that maybe this was because there are a lot of nineteenth century operas so San Francisco Opera has a lot of old costumes that could be used).

If there was a concept besides theatrical efficiency it was not discernible. The McVicar production was heavy on solutions for easy story telling and quick scene changes. These solutions did make those five hours fly by with not a lot to think about!

Berlioz was left in the dust. Berlioz is an iconoclast, a misfit, a dreamer, an egomaniac, and of course a genius. His music is at once naive and brilliant. He absorbed Gluck and Beethoven making them uncomfortable partners. He could write meltingly beautiful music and at the same time relish in pushing harmonic rhythms beyond academic acceptability. It is not easy music.

Furthermore and by the way his estranged wife was an English Shakespearean tragedienne, he detested Rome as much as he detested (and was detested by) the operatic establishment.

Trojans2.pngBryon Hymel as Aeneas

There were many, many fine performances (it is a huge cast) in this San Francisco edition, certainly beginning with the conducting of Donald Runnicles who carefully, even too carefully integrated his musical flow into the slick McVicar storytelling. There was wonderfully direct communication and understanding between the stage and pit in measured — huge or intimate as needed — never unleashed musicality.

Italian mezzo soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci created a riveting Cassandra at the San Francisco premiere, her voice lying comfortably in the role, no hint of the careful control she exerts in creating her higher Gluck heroines, rather she was a beautiful, human Cassandra in warm, strong and open tone and in honest, agonized posture. This made her love duet with her husband-to-be Coroebus, sung by Brian Mulligan, the most splendid moment of these performances. Baritone Mulligan, a catch-all San Francisco Opera regular, here found a role where his voice flowed in quite beautifully smooth, French colored tones, his persona constrained in mannered postures consistent with this brief and sad final encounter with his fiancé.

At the second performance one week later the role of Cassandra was taken by American soprano Michaela Martens. She is known to broader audiences for brilliantly portraying the passivity of Marilyn Klinghoffer both at ENO and the Met. A fine singer with a sizable voice (and career) she does not have the persona or experience to embody this epic character role, begging the question why she was cast.

There is no question that the role of Aeneas currently belongs to American tenor Bryan Hymel. He is handsome and heroic, his voice lies perfectly in the French heroic style pioneered by Berlioz. He has a sound that is uniquely French (he is from New Orleans) the strength of voice to portray a hero, a top that is open, secure and thrilling. Most of all he exudes youth and discovery creating an Aeneas who is emotionally connected to discovering love and discovering the world.

Trojans4.pngSusan Graham as Dido

Esteemed American mezzo Susan Graham donned the long blond tresses of the tragic queen Dido. Mme. Graham is an exquisite singer, able to elegantly carve the ecstatic and desperate outpourings of this unfortunate, operatically over-exposed queen. Mme. Grahams’ Dido was sculpted art. It was not Dido the tragic queen.

The expanded San Francisco Opera Chorus was magnificent, as prescribed. Operatic ballet is famously maligned (remember the ballet in Samson et Dalila?). Here, if ever, operatic ballet has been exonerated. Sixteen dancers superbly executed the original Covent Garden Broadway style choreography by Lynne Page.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Cassandra: Anna Caterina Antonacci (June 7); Cassandra: Michaela Martens (June 12); Dido: Susan Graham; Aeneas: Bryan Hymel; Ascanius: Nian Wang; Anna: Sasha Cooke; Coroebus: Brian Mulligan; Narbal: Christian van Horn; Pantheus: Philip Horst; Iopas: Renè Barbera; Helenus: Chong Wang; Hylas: Chong Wang; King Briam: Philip Skinner; Queen Hecuba: Buffy Baggott; The Ghost of Cassandra: Buffy Baggott; The Ghost of Hector: Jordan Bisch; Greek Captain: Anthony Reed; Trojan Soldier: Matthew Stump; Trojan Chief: Jere Torkelsen; Andromaque: Brook Broughton; Polyxena: Rachel Speidel Little. Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet of the San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Donald Runnicles; Production: David McVicar; Stage Director: Leah Hausman; Choreographer: Lynne Page; Set Designer: Es Devlin; Costume Designer: Moritz Junge; Lighting Designer: Wolfgang Göbbel. War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, June 12 and June 17, 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):