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

Jiří Bělohlávek : new editions of Janáček Glagolitic Mass, Sinfonietta

From Decca, Janáček classics with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Given that Bělohlávek died in May 2017, all these recordings are relatively recent, not re-issues, and include performances of two new critical editions of the Glagolitic Mass and the Sinfonietta.

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

10 Apr 2016

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

De Materie in Manhattan

A review by Rebecca Lentjes

All photos copyright Stephanie Berger, courtesy of the Park Avenue Armory

 

The opera, composed in 1985-1988, received its North American stage première in March 2016 at the Park Avenue Armory. Indeed, there were moments of the music that were stereotypically unbeautiful, particularly during the hammered clangor of the first movement. This opera does not make for "easy listening". But these moments, challenging the ear and mind of the listener, are beautiful, at least in the Marxist sense of the word, illustrating the rhythms and realism of human existence as they jolt us out of futile reveries and delusions of myth. This production of De Materie, directed brilliantly by Heiner Goebbels, was surprising in many respects (and, yes, I'll get to the sheep). Yet it was Andriessen's music, performed in all its miraculous starkness by the International Contemporary Ensemble, that elevated the performance to what will surely be remembered as one of the top cultural events of the year.

DeMaterie2.png

The first movement, intended as an evocation of the Dutch seventeenth-century ship-building industry, opens with the same brutally loud, metallic chord repeated 144 times in the brass and percussion. In De Materie Andriessen turns minimalism on its head in the same vein of his 1975 Workers' Union, which is scored for "any loud-sounding group of instruments"; repetition and process music get melted down into something more earthy and dissonant. The sounds were made even more elemental and unexpected by their sources' location; the musicians were partially obscured from the audience but must have been steered with precision by conductor Peter Rundel. The brash bangs and clangs contrasted bitingly with the human voices interspersed as Chorwerk Ruhr began singing from a balcony. These sounds were juxtaposed with the elegant visuals of Florence von Gerkan's costumes and Klaus Grünberg's stage and lighting design: glowing tents arranged like a checkerboard along the enormous black stage of the Park Avenue Armory; likewise glowing blimps floated languidly overhead. Occasionally the text of the vocals would appear in wavering font along the side of a tent or blimp. However, this wasn't a narrative meant to be followed linearly but rather glimpsed in momentary bursts, through the cacophony and confusion.

Throughout the second, third, and fourth movements, sharply defined musical moods were likewise paired with abstract, sleek visuals and Goebbels' continually startling direction. During the second movement, a stunning 25-minute long aria was sung by soprano Evgeniya Sotnikova in the role of 13th-century mystic poetess Hadewych. As she sang, her face frequently obscured by her dark robe, a procession of rectangular-costumed figures bowed and posed and held their bodies in contorted positions, scattered throughout a checkerboard of pews. Occasionally their positions would change; at one point a burbling bassoon interrupted the legato vocals and strings. The next movement—a scherzo to the second movement's adagio—featured a team of dancers choreographed by Florian Bilbao, including boogie-woogie soloists Gauthier Dedieu and Niklas Taffner. Jazzy, pointillistic music was here paired with a Mondrianesque acrobat show, visually centered around a pendulum and the color blocks (red, yellow, blue, black, white) associated with the early twentieth-century visual art movement De Stijl. The frenzied dancing continued; the musicians' platform rotated across the stage; and finally, 100 Pennsylvanian sheep made their way onto the stage.

DeMaterie3.png

The fourth movement was a bit anti-climactic; I had heard about the sheep but couldn't discern their purpose, other than to make the final 25 minutes of the opera somewhat awkward and smelly. Audience members coughed and buried their noses in their sleeves; I don't envy whoever's job it was to clear the stage of sheep excrement in between performances. As the sheep followed each other around the stage, occasionally eliciting a humorous "baa!", the final portrait began. Dancer Catherine Milliken read out Marie Curie's regretful reminiscences, first accompanied by simple, repeated chords from the percussion and then by silence. She continued reading aloud, both from Curie's diaries and from her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, as a group of silent men filed into the performance space, in a visual echo of the sheep. Eventually, the percussion crescendoed on a recurring metallic tone; the opera, quite suddenly, was over. I thought surely I had missed something. What were the sheep there for—as a further commentary on the state of humanity? Another tile in the mosaic of Dutch culture and history? The entire fourth movement felt contrived, not to mention confusing. And yet, it seemed so far from reality as to negatively illustrate reality, bringing about what Goebbels laid out as his goal in the program note: "art, and theater too, should not imitate reality nor represent it, but it should insist on the difference to empirical reality." Andriessen's opera—and Goebbels's production of it—is extraordinary in its illumination of the chasm between art and reality, the instability of matter and of spirit, and the beauty of ugliness.

Rebecca Lentjes

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):