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

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

Sarah Wegener sings Strauss and Jurowski’s shattering Mahler

A little under a month ago, I reflected on Vladimir Jurowski’s tempi in Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. That willingness to range between extremes, often within the same work, was a very striking feature of this second concert, which also fielded a Mahler symphony - this time the Fifth. But we also had a Wagner prelude and Strauss songs to leave some of us scratching our heads.

Manon Lescaut in San Francisco

Of the San Francisco Opera Manon Lescauts (in past seasons Leontyne Price, Mirella Freni, Karita Mattila among others, all in their full maturity) the latest is Armenian born Parisian finished soprano Lianna Haroutounian in her role debut. And Mme. Haroutounian is surely the finest of them all.

A lukewarm performance of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette from the LSO and Tilson Thomas

A double celebration was the occasion for a packed house at the Barbican: the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth, alongside Michael Tilson Thomas’s fifty-year association with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Photo by Petrovsky & Ramone
29 Feb 2016

Khovanshchina at Dutch National Opera convinces musically, less so theatrically

Dutch National Opera’s Khovanshchina’s finest asset was Anita Rachvelishvili’s vocally ravishing Marfa. The darkly opalescent Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra came in a close second.

Khovanshchina at Dutch National Opera convinces musically, less so theatrically

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above photo by Petrovsky & Ramone

 

Modest Mussorgsky’s byzantine Khovanshchina fictionalises historical power struggles from which Tsar Peter, later the Great, emerges as the victor. Its plot, a series of episodic scenes, centres around Prince Ivan Khovansky’s attempt to topple the Romanovs and put his son Andrey on the throne. His muscle are the Streltsy, elite guardsmen who have degenerated into a drunken, plundering menace. The Khovanskys oppose the progressive movement, represented by Prince Vasily Golitsin, who supports Peter’s reforms towards a Westernised Russia. As leader of the Old Believers, the enigmatic Dosifey also opposes religious and political reform, but abhors the Streltsy’s excesses. Inhabiting an ambiguous moral landscape, these characters’ motivations are often clouded, making them both intriguing and difficult to fathom.

Director Christof Loy’s production opens with a tableau vivant of a painting by Vasily Surikov called the Morning of the Streltsy’s Execution (1881), which depicts Peter’s barbaric annihilation of the insurgent militia, an event that occurred outside the opera’s time frame. Saturated in golden light, as in the original, the figures in the painting doff their historical costumes and become our contemporaries. The golden light ebbs away and returns only when the painting is pieced together again at the end. The concept lucidly connects the 17th century to our time, but relies heavily on strong singing actors. Once the painting dissolves, the sets consist of starkly lit monochrome walls, and three hours is a long time to be looking at vacant walls.

khovanshchina_401.pngAnita Rachvelishvili (Marfa), Maxim Aksenov (Vorst Andrej Chovanski), Koor van De Nationale Opera [Photo by Monika Rittershaus]

Burdened with sustaining dramatic interest, not all the singers met the challenge. It was the insistent surge in the orchestra, who poured out delicate and mysterious tinctures, which unfailingly kept up the tension. Conductor Ingo Metzmacher beautifully captured both the heady Eastern perfume and the groundswell of ancient tides in Dmitri Shostakovich’s orchestration of the score, which Mussorgsky left unfinished. A reinforced brass section provided excellent military display. In the stupendous choral scenes, the Dutch National Chorus was on its best form when mixed. All-male numbers lacked a Slavic full-toned bass and the women’s chorus entertaining Khovansky was marred by strident top notes. In their best scenes, however, most notably as the Old Believers, the chorus matched the orchestra in highly evocative soundscapes.

Transplanting the action to the present worked only partially. Khovansky’s harem as a nightclub, where underage sex slaves are coerced into a clumsy Dance of the Persian Slaves, was compellingly disturbing. On the other hand, a group of supposedly illiterate office workers bullying a Scribe, portrayed with avid self-importance and reedy tenor by Andrey Popov, into reading them a notice board, is the kind of incongruence that causes a mental short circuit. Some symbols remained unclear, maybe on purpose. Did the pigtailed little girl instrumental in Khovansky’s assassination personify Russia’s innocence?

The cast was more satisfying than the staging. Well-sung supporting roles included the orotund-voiced, boisterous soldiers of Vitali Roznyko and Sulkhan Jaiani. Acting credibly as the drunken Strelets Kuzka, Vasily Efimov wielded a puzzling tenor, with a breathless, small middle range and brawny loud notes. Bass Dimitry Ivashchenko, announced as suffering from a cold, sang Ivan Khovansky full-bodiedly and securely, but needed to tread carefully, sacrificing a degree of expression. As his son Andrey, tenor Maxim Aksenov started out with faltering pitch, but improved later on. Orlin Anastassov gave a frustrating performance as the sect leader Dosifey. His luxurious bass fitted the role like a glove, but he alternated splendid singing and vivid moments with gurgled vocalism and monotony. In the end, his Dosifey lacked the dark charisma that would persuade his disciples to commit mass suicide.

Bass Gábor Bretz’s first appearance as the pro-Romanov nobleman Shaklovity was vocally prepossessing but rather featureless. Fortunately, he caught dramatic fire in his great aria bemoaning Russia’s suffering. The other incendiary performances came from tenor Kurt Streit as the agitated Golitsin, his bleached high notes registering rising panic, and the three women. Svetlana Ignatovich left a radiant impression in the short role of Emma. Some shrillness in her high notes suited the character, who was being set upon by the lecherous Andrey. Olga Savova was equally arresting as the judgmental Susanna. Her confrontation with fellow Old Believer Marfa was a theatrical peak. In fact, every scene with Anita Rachvelishvili in it set off the dramatic seismograph. Her fascinating Marfa was complex in voice and action, and completely mesmerising, longing for Andrey in gorgeous mezza voce, and terrifying Golitsin in her quaking fortune-telling scene. With her voluptuous contralto base from which her voice curls smokily up the scale, Ms Rachvelishvili was born to sing this role. Whether she stood in front of a black or white wall, when she sang the whole stage was aswirl with colour.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Prince Ivan Khovansky— Dimitry Ivashchenko, Prince Andrey Khovansky — Maxim Aksenov, Prince Vasily Golitsin — Kurt Streit, Boyar Fyodor Shaklovity — Gábor Bretz, Dosifey — Orlin Anastassov, Marfa — Anita Rachvelishvili, Emma — Svetlana Ignatovich, Susanna — Olga Savova, Scribe — Andrey Popov , Kuzka — Vasily Efimov, Varsonofiev — Roger Smeets, Streshnev — Morschi Franz, First Strelets — Vitali Roznyko, Second Strelets — Sulkhan Jaiani, Prince Golitsin’s Servant — Richard Prada, Principal Dancer — Gyorgy Puchalski, Conductor — Ingo Metzmacher, Director — Christof Loy, Set Designer — Johannes Leiacker, Costume Designer — Ursula Renzenbrink, Lighting Designer — Reinhard Traub, Choreographer — Thomas Wilhelm, Dramaturge — Katja Hagedorn, ­Dutch National Opera Choir, New Amsterdam Children’s Choir, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. Seen at Dutch National Opera & Ballet, Amsterdam, Saturday, 27th February 2016.

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):