Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.



Michael Eder and Tom Martinsen [Photo by Jochen Quast]
30 May 2016

Mathis der Maler, Dresden

While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as examples.

Mathis der Maler, Dresden

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Michael Eder and Tom Martinsen

Photos by Jochen Quast


The political situation made the legendary opera house’s new production of Paul Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler (Matthew the Painter) all the more urgent. This intellectually stimulating, musically enthralling, and utterly exhausting experience, made for a rare, highly enriching and unforgettable trip.

Though a popular composer with the avant-garde youth in Germany during the interbellum, Hindemith’s eleven operas are nowadays rarely performed. You might recognize the opera’s title from the composer’s instrumental precursor Symphony: Mathis der Maler. For the opera, he wrote his own libretto. Instead of Acts, Hindemith structured his magnum opus in seven Bilder (paintings).

Inspired by a visit to Isenheim and the altarpiece of “The Temptation of St. Anthony” by painter Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528), Hindemith identified the Nazis’ artistic oppression of him with the painter’s struggle against the powers that be during the Great Peasants’ War--the largest uprising against the aristocracy before the French Revolution. Later, the Nazis would ban Mathis der Maler. Propaganda strategist Heinrich Goebbels declared Hindemith an “atonalen Geräuschemacher” (atonal noisemaker).

02_Annemarie_Kremer__Markus_Marquardt_-_Mathis_der_Maler_-_Foto_Jochen_Quast.pngAnnemarie Kremer and Markus Marquardt

With the scope of grand opera, Hindemith’s libretto nearly mythologizes the painter. Although the Cardinal protects him, Mathis joins the peasant cause and helps its leader Schwalb and his daughter Regina escape from religious persecution. Even though conflicted, Cardinal Albrecht is financially broke, so supports the wealthy. In the massive choral scenes, a book burning leads to a peasant uprising, then an aristocrat is publicly lynched, when the law ends the uprising with a public massacre.

There is also romance. Mathis has an unfulfilled love for the Protestant merchant Riedinger’s daughter Ursula, who must marry Cardinal Albrecht. They don’t, because Albrecht recognises her true convictions. After Schwalb’s death, Ursula ends up caring for the dying Regina. Mathis rejects Cardinal Albrecht’s offer for renewed protection. In the end, the painter bids farewell to all. The story and Hindemith’s industrious score make for consuming opera.

Director Jochen Biganzoli and set designer Andreas Wilkens successfully developed a concept that follows a reverse timeline of controversial 20th Century pieces of art in each of Hindemith’s Bilder. Roberto Longo, Roy Lichtenstein, Ernst Ludwig Richter, Claude Monet pass the revue. In Bild 6, Biganzoli critiques commercialisation of art in an over-the-top auction of Grünewald’s Altar.

There was a dark, sarcastic undertone that reminded of director/provocateur Calixto Bieito’s unsettling ambiences. Biganzoli portrays the powerful as corrupt, sinful hypocrites through Gestapo leather kink, and a philandering Cardinal. Also, during the peasant uprising, a body hangs dangling from his feet upside down over the stage till the scene ends. A bit too abrasive for my taste.

05_vorn_John_Daszak__Markus_Marquardt_-_Mathis_der_Maler_-_Foto_Jochen_Quast.pngJohn Daszak and Markus Marquardt

The last piece is Hindemith’s own rejected opera. After a recording with Goebbels speaks out against (I assumed) Hindemith at the beginning of Bild 7, the final statement involves a stage with a missing orchestra. The topic hit close to home with the current lack of political support for orchestras. This felt particularly urgent concerning the EUYO.

Markus Marquardt triumphed in the technically demanding lead. He offered a human take of the womanizing heroic artist. With his first aria “Sonniges Land” Marquardt demonstrated his wide range and stamina. Such power! His conflicted duet with the fierce Kremer enflamed Bild 3. They produced the highlight of the evening in a battle of frustrated romance presented with refined agita and impossible stamina, resulting in exhilarating chemistry. In Bild 5, Kremer had another showstopper with Daszak. Utterly displeased with the Cardinal, Kremer fired up her voice matching Young’s orchestral intensity.

Herbert Lippert put down a decent Schwalb with a depth that generated a protective vibe. Emily Dorn distinguished Schwalb’s daughter Regina with a resilient vibrato that perforated the orchestra’s volume, while retaining a vulnerable, touching, and utterly virtuous presence.

Simone Young made her debut at Semperoper. She produced a muscular sound from the Dresden Staatskapelle. While Hindemith’s score contains drab passages, Young produced a relentless momentum. Sometimes her forte fortissimo conducting led to overpowering volume that occasionally eclipsed the vocals, though most of the time, the soloists fit in Young’s musical fold.

The Saxony State Opera Chorus Dresden proved an indispensable presence. Its epic intensity increased with each Bild. Perfectly prepared by Jörn Hinnerk Andresen with an undeniable vocal zeal, the choir moved through defeat, rage, and madness. Stamping and swaying, Sylvia Zygouris’ choir choreography gave an extra surge to their stage intensity.

This demanding production of Hindemith at the Semperoper should be commended for its audacity. This rarity must be brought back, because opera fanatics deserve to hear such an intelligent and provocative production of Hindemith’s masterpiece. Impressive how the Semperoper made such a big risk pay off.

David Pinedo

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):