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

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’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

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.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

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).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

16 Nov 2015

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Arrigo Boito : Mefistofele, Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich 15th November 2015

A review by Anne Ozorio

 

Boito's Mefistofele adapts Goethe's Faust to develop the idea of Mefistofele and his relationship with God. They are equals, sort of, the Devil a punk with a huge chip on his shoulder, bristling with resentment even as he struts and shows off. Hence the sprawling set, which resembles the inside of some large structure, with pipes and scaffolding. In this sealed cocoon, Mefistofele is king though he's cut off from the real world outside where presumably God reigns. René Pape, singing Mefistofele is dressed part rock star, part oligarch, surrounded by groupies in an artificial fantasy world. Are we in a film set ? Or an infernal machine ? Mefistofele watches dull TV clips of John Lennon in New York and of a plane flying over the NY skyline. We don't see Twin Towers, but we can draw our own conclusions without the point being made too obvious.

Like so many big shots too big for their boots, Mefistofele thinks he can have a conference call with God, and place a bet. All the while the Heavenly Chorus sing. We don't see them, for they are unsullied by evil. René Pape is an ideal Mefistofele - suave, slimy and tacky, with that 70's shirt open to his waist. He suggests the Devil's twisted charm, but also makes us feel sorry for Mefistofele and his ardent desperation. This double-edged portrayal adds depth to Pape's characterization. He whips through his lines with poisonous bite, but one senses that, deep down, Mefistofele is a misguided fool.

Faust, or a facsimile thereof, is brought on stage and dressed in white, readied for sacrifice. When the orchestra, conducted by Omar Meir |Wellber, begins again, the stage has been transformed, This time it's dominated by a giant fairground carousel. The peasants, as in Faust, are celebrating. More pointed wit. This production takes place in Bavaria. The peasants sit at long tables drinking giant steins. Pape picks up a gingerbread heart with the motto "I mog di", "I love you" in Bavarian slang.

Joseph Calleja doesn't automatically spring to mind as an ascetic old monk, but Boito's Faust is different to stereotype. By changing the part from baritone in the 1868 version to tenor in the 1875 Bologna version, the composer capitalized on a voice which could scale heights even French tenors might envy, while retaining the sensual loveliness of the Italian language. Calleja hits the notes and how ! He sings with enthusiastic flourish - this is a Faust who genuinely enjoys sensual pleasures. A wizened old hermit might not understand. Calleja is also a good visual foil to Pape's sophistication : devil and innocent. Or so it seems. Calleja nails, and holds, stratospheric heights. We can sense that a part as lovely as this will triumph in the end.

Kristine Opolais shines with understated Grace Kelly elegance, which makes her seduction feel more like rape, for it is, since Faust is not what he really should be. The trio at the end of the scene sparks with tension Faust and Margherita are swept away by the force of the sharp, dotted rhythms that mark Mefistofele's music.

The Walpurgisnacht scene is demonic: sharp woodwind flurries suggesting hellfire, perhaps, or moonlight? Calleja and Pape sing in tight lockstep "Folletto ! Folleto!". The manic staccato theme is taken up by the chorus, which then switches to quiet whisper, while the orchestra creates the sprightly "hellfire" motif, first in the woodwinds, then through the celli and basses. The brightness of Calleja's voice contrasts well with Pape's, whose voice grows darker and more malevolent now that Faust is in his realm. The final chorus whips along with crazed energy: the witches are dancing wildly before the "flames" in the orchestra. "Sabba, Sabba, Saboè!"

Back on earth, Opolais sings L'altra notte in fondo al mare and what follows with great emotional depth. Her Margherita is a woman steeled by suffering. When she and Calleja sing Lontano, lontano, lontano, they bring out tenderness and tragedy, beauty and pain. Opolais sings the Spunta, l'aurora pallida with such calm heroism that Calleja's O strazio crudel! tears at the heart. Faust sees the suffering, and women writhing in labour, but soon comes underb the spell of Elena, Helen of Troy ( (Karine Babajanyan)

In the orchestra we hear the exquisite harp sequence, setting the tone for the love duet between Elena and Faust that will follow. The harmony, though, is but a dream. Faust is back in his study, dimly lit, as we might imagine from the quiet murmurs in the orchestra. Faust is a very old man again, presumably wiser, and in this production is seen in a home for geriatrics. This is a sharper observation than one might expect because it shows Faust as part of a community, rather than alone, and makes connections to Goethe's Faust who believed so strongly in society and humankind. It was Wagner (Andrea Borghini) who thought peasants were a waste of time. This ending also emphasizes the idealism with which Faust defeats Mefistofele. The good of mankind versus the Devil's enticements.,

"Cammina, cammina" Mefistofele calls. This time, Faust fights back. Calleja sings with undecorated, but heroic firmness. "Faust ! Faust!" Pape cries, but his prey has slipped from his grasp. The chorus returns, in full, glorious voice with the orchestra in full glory. Even René Pape is no match. But Mefistofele is defeated. Faust has overcome his sensual needs, choosing instead the greater good of mankind. Heaven breaks through Mefistofele's realm with blinding light. The director is Roland Schwab, who started his career with Ruth Berghaus. the sets are by Piero Vinciguerra. On small screen broadcast, we might have lost some of the overwhelming impact of the live experience, but we see the details. And what glorious singing ! Later, it dawned on me that the other people in the nursing home, who gathered to sing the final chorus, might have been angels all along.

Anne Ozorio

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):