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 Reviews

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.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

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.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

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).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

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.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

08 Aug 2015

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Die Eroberung von Mexico at the Salzburg Festival

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Bo Skovhus as Cortez
Photos copyright Salzburger Festspiele / Monika Rittershaus

 

Like Nobel Prize winning (1991) poet Octavio Paz composer Wolfgang Rihm is at once a neo-modernist, a surrealist, an existentialist and an esotericist both as a composer and a librettist/poet. More than likely he and his collaborator for this production, stage director Peter Konwitschny are not like Artaud who discovered and devoured peyote during the year he lived in Mexico. There is no way a creation like The Conquest of Mexico with its complexities of concept, of sound and of staging could have been realized without absolute clarity of intellect and solidity of purpose. It was an evening of cold calculation.

What messieurs Rihm and Konwitschny do share with Antonin Artaud is cruelty. It was an unpleasant sometimes disgusting, too long evening that forced you to admire the resources of theater and the skill of execution, an evening that transported you finally to a plain of existential comprehension, this a place you would never dare attempt on your own — too scary. And this was the pleasure perpetrated by the opera, and this pleasure was finally enormous.

Conquest_Salzburg2.pngThe back wall is the arcades of the Felsenreitschule (Summer Riding School) carved into the Salzburg mountainside that is now part of one of the three adjacent theaters of the Salzburg Festival, plus the wrecked cars and apartment of the production.

The Conquest of Mexico is a star vehicle for baritone if ever there was one. In this case it was Bo Skovhus who was Cortez, or in Artaud parlance the male principle. His inherent masculinity was blatant, this is not at all a personal compliment. He climbed through a massive pile of dirty wrecked cars (evidently Mr. Konwitschny’s male principle metaphor) to arrive at a sterile box with a window and a sofa and a door to a kitchen (Mr. Konwitschny’s female principle metaphor to represent Mr. Rihm’s idea of the new world — an opposite world). Montezuma was sung by soprano Angela Denoke whose blond presence was difficult and calculating. It was either rape or it was not but finally it was, the issue of copulation was the neuter world of computer games.

Conquest_Salzburg3.pngAngela Denoke as Montezuma, Bo Skovhus as Cortez

Before all festival performances the audience gathers in front of the festival theaters for one last aperitif before the performance. Any performance at the festival is a dressy event but you did notice more than the usual number of men in tuxedos, unusually they were young men (the festival audience is mature). Well, at a certain moment (intense noise) these thirty-one young guys rushed down through the audience, clamored onto and over the wrecked cars and finally crashed onto the stage where they provoked a beer blast, cheered on first male oral sex then the ugly rape, and finally slobbered over six scantily clad mädchen and a shinny red Porsche.

Conquest_Salzburg4.pngThe tuxedo dressed Spanish soldiers

Bo Skovhus killed Angela Denoke (it was that real), then killed himself (in fact this was a very moving, extended scene). But Mr. Skovhus and Mme. Denoke aka Cortez and Montezuma did come together posthumously. They were seated side by side but not touching to sing the a cappella duet that ends the opera, It was the full exposition of Artaud’s neuter.

Did I get all this right?

There was a sizable ensemble of lower voiced instruments in the pit (violas and cellos, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, harp, piano and lots of tom-tom drums, etc. There was a primary conductor, Ingo Metzmacher, plus a second conductor who seemed to be only interested in the stage. There were two far-away orchestras of percussion instruments and brass instruments and a violin seated on an old truck-tire on each side of the wide stage. It was loud, very loud, then louder with a huge compliment of microphones and speakers. It was ugly music. It was meant to be.

In the pit as well were two male Speakers who spent the first part of the evening sitting in the pit making various weird noises with there voices, and a soprano seated in the pit house left who sang very high, freakish notes from time to time, and in the pit on house right a mezzo-soprano sang very low notes from time to time. And from time to time these four singers climbed out of the pit onto the stage, and climbed over piles of tires and wrecked cars to help out Cortez and Montezuma on the stage.

It was a fun evening.

For a formal exposition of the genesis of this work go to the Salzburg Festival website About this production .

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Montezuma: Angela Denoke; Cortez: Bo Skovhus; Soprano: Susanna Andersson; Mezzo-soprano: Marie-Ange Todorovitch; Speaker 1: Stephan Rehm; Speaker 2: Peter Pruchniewitz. ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien. Conductor: Ingo Metzmacher; Stage Director: Peter Konwitschny; Sets and Costumes: Johannes Leiacker; Lighting: Manfred Voss; Video Design: fettFilm; Sound Design: Peter Böhm and Florian Bogner. Felsenreitschule Theater, Salzburg, August 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):