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

Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Barbican

Two great operas come from the year 1911 - Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Bela Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Both are masterpieces, but they are very different kinds of operas and experienced quite asymmetric performance histories.

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, London - Rattle, O'Neill, Gerhaher

By pairing Mahler Das Lied von der Erde (Simon O'Neill, Christian Gerhaher) with Strauss Metamorphosen, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra were making a truly powerful statement. The Barbican performance last night was no ordinary concert. This performance was extraordinary because it carried a message.

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mary Dunleavy as Christine [Photo by Mike Hoban]
12 Jun 2015

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Mary Dunleavy as Christine

Photos by Mike Hoban

 

Well, only if you take as given the increasingly untenable assumptions some ‘major’ opera houses trumpet concerning their audiences – and perhaps not even then. That Birmingham Opera can sell out Stockhausen immediately and that the Royal Opera House – by any standards, a different animal – can sell out operas by Benjamin and Birtwistle puts paid to lazy talk and should put paid to lazy programming, though does so far less often than should be the case. If one takes as one’s core lazy listeners, consequences will follow; if one leads, and especially if one acts upon widespread thirst for modernist repertoire, broadly conceived, other, better consequences will do so. Strauss, it might be countered, is a different matter again, and perhaps he is. But he is hardly unpopular, and if many people have not heard Intermezzo, despite a recent staging at Buxton, then grant them an opportunity such as Garsington has.

Intermezzo-2015-Garsington-Opera-Mark-Stone-Robert-Mary-Dunleavy-Christine-credit-Mike-Hoban.pngMark Stone as Robert and Mary Dunleavy as Christine

An excellent performance was given by the Garsington Orchestra – only once, early in the second act, did I sense a little tiredness – under the baton of Jac van Steen. The conductor’s deep knowledge and understanding of the score, of its post-Ariadne idiom, of its opportunities and challenges had been displayed in my interview with him; it was displayed just as clearly here. Everything was in its place, as it must be; Strauss at his most unsparing allows no room for error. The orchestral interludes put me a little in mind of the ‘closed forms’ of Busoni and Berg, whilst very much retaining their own character. It was perhaps most of all, though, Strauss’s economy, which yet never denies his love of musical proliferation, that shone through. Not a note is wasted; nor was it in performance.

The cast proved persuasive advocates too. Mary Dunleavy’s vocal security was matched to a subtle reading of Christine’s character that extracted her from the realm of patronising, even misogynistic caricature: no mere ‘shrew’ here, but a credible woman of strengths, weaknesses, above all agency. Mark Stone made a powerful impression as her husband, perhaps the closest of all Strauss came to a self-portrait. (The creator of the role wore a mask so as to make him resemble the composer all the more closely. As Norman del Mar observed, this was a ‘striking volte-face after Strauss’s anxieties over the Young Composer in Ariadne’.) One could have taken dictation, verbal as well as notational, from most of his crystal-clear performance: Lied writ large in the best sense. Sam Furnes’’s Baron Lummer offered a well-judged mixture of vocal allure and immaturity of character. Ailish Tynan’s perky Anna proved just the right sort of knowing, informed servant. In a fine company performance, other singers to stand out included Oliver Johnston’s finely sung – and acted – Stroh, Gerald Collett’s equally impressive Legal Counsellor, and Benjamin Bevan’s honourable Notary. Everyone, however, made a considerable contribution.

Intermezzo-2015-Garsington-Opera-Barnaby-Rea-Singer-James-Cleverton-Commercial-Counsellor-Oliver-Johnston-Stroh-Gerard-Collett-Legal-Counsellor-credit-Mike-Hoban-.pngBarnaby Rea (Singer), James Cleverton (Commercial Counsellor), Oliver Johnston (Stroh), Gerard Collett (Legal Counsellor)

Bruno Ravella’s production takes the work seriously, on its own terms, and succeeds accordingly. Giles Cadle’s resourceful set moves us in and out of a Garmisch-style villa, modern (to Strauss), without being avant garde. There is always a strong sense of who everyone is, and why he or she is acting in the manner we observe. The card game is, as the conductor observed to me, wonderfully, knowingly realistic; such understanding could hardly be feigned. The crucial element of communication and its speed – the telephone, the telegram, Strauss’s pace of conversation delivery – offered an excellent example of musical performances and production acting as one.

One can speak of the plot being trivial, if one wishes. (I suppose one can speak about anything if one wishes, so that was an especially meaningless claim!) But some of that seems to be snobbery; would we think differently, were these gods, or indeed from another class, ‘higher’ or ‘lower’. In his original Preface, replaced when the score was published, Strauss not unreasonably claimed to break genuine new ground in the variety of everyday life he had brought to the stage; Hindemith and Schoenberg would follow suit in Neues vom Tage and Von heute auf morgen. Still more to the point, though, (high) bourgeois domesticity matters to those involved in it; it certainly matters to the little boy caught at the centre of marital dispute and potentially breakdown, as countless children, sleepless with worry at raised voices downstairs, will tell you. (Young Louis Hynes deserved great credit for his portrayal of that difficult role, here rendered more difficult still.) Now Intermezzo is not essentially ‘about’ that, although I think it is more concerned with it than, say, Elektra is; but a subtle yet perceptible shift in that direction from the production did no harm in opening up the work.

Intermezzo-2015-Garsington-Opera-Sarah-Redgwick-Notarys-Wife-Benjamin-Bevan-Notary-Anna-Sideris-Resi-credit-Mike-Hoban.pngSarah Redgwick as the Notary’s Wife, Benjamin Bevan as the Notary, and Anna Sideris as Resi

Only one gripe, really: it was a great pity that the opera was sung in English, and that Andrew Porter’s translation was the version used. Given surtitles, there really is no need; Strauss really does not sound right in translation, still more so as here, when odd words remained in German, the contrast jarring. Moreover, accents tended to slide – or at least to slide more noticeably to an English ear. But, as ever with Strauss, in the battle of Wort with Ton, there was little doubt which would emerge victorious. This was a far from insignificant victory over Strauss’s critics, Garsington’s latest estimable contribution to a hero’s after-life.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Robert Storch: Mark Stone; Christine: Mary Dunleavy; Anna: Ailish Tynan; Franzl: Louis Hynes; Baron Lummer: Sam Furness; Notary: Benjamin Bevan; Notary’s Wife: Sarah Sedgwick; Stroh: Oliver Johnston; Commercial Counsellor: James Cleverton; Legal Counsellor: Gerard Collett; Singer: Barnaby Rea; Fanny: Alice Devine; Marie: Elka Lee-Green; Therese: Charlotte Sutherland; Resi: Anna Sideris. Director: Bruno Ravella; Designs: Giles Cadle; Lighting: Bruno Poet. Garsington Opera Orchestra/Jac van Steen (conductor). Garsington Opera House, Sunday 6 June 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):