Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Michael Weinus as Siegmund and Lee Bisset as Sieglinde
30 Jun 2016

Die Walküre, Opera North

A day is now a very long time indeed in politics; would that it were otherwise. It certainly is in the Ring, as we move forward a generation to Die Walküre.

Die Walküre, Opera North

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Michael Weinus as Siegmund and Lee Bisset as Sieglinde

Photo credit: Clive Barda (2016)

 

I had two principal reservations for the ‘first day’ proper of the trilogy ‘with preliminary evening’, the odd minor niggle, and otherwise nothing but praise. Opera North continues to put many starrier, yet in no sense superior, companies to shame.

Robert Hayward’s Wotan was for me the weakest link. It was not a bad performance, and his facial expressions conveyed a great deal (at least for someone as lucky as I to be seated towards the front of the Stalls, or indeed for those watching on the big screen in the Clore Ballroom, for which many thanks should go to the Southbank Centre). His vowels were often odd, though, and there was less of an expressive range than one might have hoped for. Otherwise, there was little to complain about in the cast, and, as I said, much to praise. I have heard more heroic Siegmunds than Michael Weinius, but his was a thoughtful, eminently musical performance throughout. Siegmund’s love for his sister-bride was palpable. And how could it not be, given so fine a performance as we heard from Lee Bisset? For me, she was the star of the show: no mere victim, but a woman with agency, however much circumstances - and bourgeois society -might have repressed her. I cannot instantly recall a more compleat Sieglinde ‘in the flesh’, perhaps because I have not heard one.

Yvonne Howard’s triumphant - though for how long? - Fricka was again pretty much everything it should have been. Her dialectical path to victory over her husband chilled as it must, not least since the orchestra (on which more soon) told so very different a story, a story of, in Wagner’s celebrated phrase, the ‘purely human’. Her vassal, Hunding, was in the excellent hands - and voice - of James Creswell. Brutal authoritarianism is the character’s stock-in-trade; so it was that of his interpreter. Latent slavery in the family,’ we learn in both The German Ideology of Wagner’s contemporaries, Marx and Engels, and in Hunding’s treatment of Sieglinde, ‘is the first form of property. … Division of labour and private property are, after all, identical expressions.’ And Wagner never had any doubt that marriage was slavery; nor did we. Kelly Cae Hogan made for a wonderfully impressive Brünnhilde, her transformation as witness to the truest of love both plausible and highly moving. Hers, moreover, seemed to be a staged performance in all but name; this was certainly an artist who lived the role. All of the Valkyries were on excellent form. One might have taken dictation from them individually, and yet their ensemble was equally excellent. I doubt I have heard finer.

That other reservation was Richard Farnes’s conducting of the first act. It certainly was not anything to which anyone could reasonably object. However - and mine seems to be very much a minority report here - I did not really find that it caught fire until toward the end of the final scene, just, actually, as fire began to blaze as part of the (now somewhat irritating) projections above the stage. As soon as we returned after the first interval, there was, by contrast, no letting up. It is the mark of a great Wagner conductor that he can weld the second act of Die Walküre together as not only a convincing whole, but perhaps as the most profoundly moving act in the entire Ring (at least until one comes to the next, and the next!) Amongst conductors I have heard ‘live’ in this work, Bernard Haitink and Daniel Barenboim have proved themselves true masters in that respect. Farnes now joins their company. There was, both here and in the third act, an almost infinite variegation of tempo, without ever losing sight of the whole.

Orchestral balances were just as fine, likewise the often wondrous playing of the Orchestra of Opera North. If I found the strings a little subdued in the first act, they were, by the time of Wotan’s Farewell, not far off a match for a great Central European orchestra, with a sheen to match. The otherworldliness of what we heard during the Annunciation of Death could scarcely have been outdone, brass and timpani playing their roles as the characters-cum-commentators they are. As Ludwig Feuerbach wrote, in his Thoughts on Death and Immortality, a crucial, acknowledged influence upon Wagner: ‘Only when the human once again recognises that there exists not merely an appearance of death, but an actual and real death, a death that completely terminates the life of an individual, only when he returns to the awareness of his finitude will he gain the courage to begin a new life and to experience the pressing need for making … that which is actually infinite [death] into the theme and content of his entire spiritual activity.’ The orchestra was not the least of Wagner’s instruments on this evening in having us realise the full truth of that message. And so, Siegmund’s heroism proved to be as much that of the orchestra as his own - which is just as it should be.

Mark Berry

Richard Wagner, Die Walküre

Siegmund: Michael Weinius; Sieglinde: Lee Bisset; Hunding: James Creswell; Wotan: Robert Hayward; Brünnhilde: Kelly Cae Hogan; Fricka: Yvonne Howard; Gerhilde: Giselle Allen; Ortlinde: Kate Valentine; Waltraute: Heather Shipp; Schwertleite: Claudia Huckle; Helmwige: Katherine Broderick; Siegrune: Sarah Castle; Grimgerde: Fiona Kimm; Rossweisse: Madeleine Shaw. Concert Staging, Design Concept, Lighting, Projection: Peter Mumford; Associate Director: Joe Austin. Orchestra of Opera North/Richard Farnes. Royal Festival Hall, London, Wednesday 29 June 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):