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

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

Don Giovanni at Garsington Opera

A violent splash of black paint triggers the D minor chord which initiates the Overture. The subsequent A major dominant is a startling slash of red. There follows much artistic swishing and swirling by Don Giovanni-cum-Jackson Pollock. The down-at-heel artist’s assistant, Leporello, assists his Master, gleefully spraying carmine oil paint from a paint-gun. A ‘lady in red’ joins in, graffiti-ing ‘WOMAN’ across the canvas. The Master and the Woman slip through a crimson-black aperture; the frame wobbles.

A brilliant The Bartered Bride to open Garsington's 2019 30th anniversary season

Is it love or money that brings one happiness? The village mayor and marriage broker, Kecal, has passionate faith in the banknotes, while the young beloveds, Mařenka and Jeník, put their own money on true love.

A reverent Gluck double bill by Classical Opera

In staging this Gluck double bill for Classical Opera, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, director John Wilkie took a reverent approach to classical allegory.

Time Stands Still: L'Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

Christina Pluhar would presumably irritate the Brexit Party: she delights in crossing borders and boundaries. Mediterraneo, the programme that she recorded and performed with L’Arpeggiata in 2013, journeyed through the ‘olive frontier’ - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain, southern Italy - mixing the sultry folk melodies of Greece, Spain and Italy with the formal repetitions of Baroque instrumental structures, and added a dash of the shady timbres and rhythmic litheness of jazz.

Puccini’s Tosca at The Royal Opera House

Sitting through Tosca - and how we see and hear it these days - does sometimes make one feel one hasn’t been to the opera but to a boxing match. Joseph Kerman’s lurid, inspired or plain wrong-headed description of this opera as ‘a shabby little shocker’ was at least half right in this tenth revival of Jonathan Kent’s production.

A life-affirming Vixen at the Royal Academy of Music

‘It will be a dream, a fairy tale that will warm your heart’: so promised a preview article in Moravské noviny designed to whet the appetite of the Brno public before the first performance of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the town’s Na hradbách Theatre on 6th November 1924.

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Anna Netrebko as Elsa von Brabant and Piotr Beczala as Lohengrin [Photo © Daniel Koch]
02 Jun 2016

Lohengrin, Dresden

The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.

Lohengrin, Dresden

A review by Andrew Moravcsik

Above: Anna Netrebko as Elsa von Brabant and Piotr Beczala as Lohengrin

Photos © Daniel Koch

 

The unit set, semi-realistic historical costumes, and laugh-out-loud glittering swan of Christine Mielitz’s tired old production, first seen in the 1980s, need not detain us. It had only one virtue: two operatic stars essaying Wagner for the first time could park all night on the front lip of the stage, comfortably close to the prompter’s box, and sing. This evening was all about the music.

Can Anna Netrebko sing Wagner? Announcement of her first foray on stage provoked many worries, most of which proved groundless. Netrebko herself said that her biggest problem was to master the German text. Yet her crisp (if not quite idiomatic) diction rendered Wagner’s faux medieval poetry easily intelligible. Some doubted that her voice is big enough for Wagner. Yet at forte she easily rode Christian Thielemann’s robust orchestra and in ensembles she cut through massed orchestral sound more vividly than the experienced Wagnerians beside her. Others questioned whether her voice possesses that ineffable, lyrically virginal “Elsa” sound. She certainly can project such a timbre when she chooses to do so. Moreover, the natural quality of her voice—secure and even, warm yet penetrating, shading from a dark cello resonance at the bottom to sweet violin sound with a slight metallic glint at the top—is one of the glories of the modern operatic world. Most people at the Semperoper last Wednesday would have come to hear her sing the telephone book.

Still, Netrebko’s Elsa remains a work in progress. The most deeply moving passages she sang are as lovely as those of any soprano in a quarter century. They tended to come at times of Elsa’s greatest repose and reflection, for example her virtuous glow after seeming to rescue Ortrud or stunned regret after asking the fatal question. Music and drama would come into vivid focus, and, for a brief moment, Netrebko showed that she has what it takes to be an Elsa for the ages.

Lohengrin_8915.pngAnna Netrebko (Elsa von Brabant), Piotr Beczala (Lohengrin), Matthias Henneberg (Dritter Edler), Tom Martinsen (Erster Edler), Tomasz Konieczny (Friedrich von Telramund)

Yet more often she simply oversang. Her instrument has grown remarkably in recent years, yet she still sometimes feels the need to barge into phrases, arias and scenes. She also overuses a particular pressed and slightly spread timbre she has developed to bulk up the voice for spinto parts. All this was entirely unnecessary in a reverberant house like the Semperoper, except perhaps to underscore a few anguished fortissimos.

This overtly emotional approach often places her at odds both with Elsa’s character and with Wagner’s score. Consider the first stanza of “Einsam in trüben Tagen”—the aria of spiritual reverie that introduces Elsa to us as a dreamy mystic. Wagner tells singers exactly how to achieve the appropriate effect: eleven measures at piano or pianissimo describing Elsa’s “lonely…prayer” are followed by a quick crescendo culminating in a powerful cry” to the heavens, followed by 8 measures at the original dynamic markings as a “distant echo” induces her sweet sleep.” In short, it is a gentle dream or vision.

Netrebko sings the passage broadly and more loudly from the outset, expressing emotional agitation more appropriate to Senta than Elsa. She is surely capable of greater vocal focus and more introspective characterization. One must assume that in order to do so, she simply needs time to fully internalize Elsa’s character. Unfortunately, in this era of intense media scrutiny, she may not get it. High-definition cameras in the hall suggest that this performance will be distributed on video. Let’s hope that she nonetheless reprises the role often enough to refine it—perhaps at Bayreuth, where Thielemann is reputed to be planning to reassemble this cast.

The other Wagnerian debut in this production was that of Polish tenor Piotr Beczała, a 49-year old bel canto and early Verdi specialist, in the title role. Few modern singers possess the voice type traditionally associated with Lohengrin. To hope today for the baritonal resonance, honeyed voix mixte, and stentorian declamation commanded by Lauritz Melchior, Franz Völker, Wolfgang Windgassen, Sándor Kónya or even Plácido Domingo is to dream that a glittering Grail Knight will appear to solve our problems in casting Wagner.

Lohengrin_8838.pngDerek Welton (Heerrufer des Königs), Evelyn Herlitzius (Ortrud), Piotr Beczala (Lohengrin), Anna Netrebko (Elsa von Brabant), Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden/Herren des Sinfoniechores Dresden - Extrachor der Semperoper Dresden

Instead the role of Lohengrin now belongs almost exclusively to lyric tenors. Ironically, in an era when opera houses pride themselves on eschewing “park and bark” vocalism, the primary virtues of such singers lies almost entirely in producing a sweet and uniform timbre bordering on choir-boy purity, sometimes backed by clever use of falsetto. They find it nearly impossible to project the mysterious combination of heroic warrior and pure saint that led generations to view Lohengrin as a uniquely fascinating figure. We should not forget that, while Lohengrin may live in a monastery, he comes to Brabant to prevail in battle with Telramund (a heavy-weight Wagner baritone) and then to lead armies (a robust four-part men’s chorus) to victory. Lyric tenors often come across like boys sent out to do a man’s job.

Within these limitations of our times, Beczała makes a convincing Lohengrin. The voice, while not as pure or even as some, is technically solid and penetrating, beautiful in the middle and ringing at the top. He is an honest and intelligent musician, more overtly emotional and characterful than most, and able to distinguish subtly and thoughtfully between the more heroic and the more personal aspects of the character. He shapes the music affectingly, points the words well, and deploys a somewhat limited dynamic range sensitively, particularly in the big areas. Only occasional loss of control around the passaggio, some inaudible low notes, and a slight vocal roughness (absent in his more glamorous assumptions of lighter roles) betrays some underlying strain.

The rest of the cast gave strong support. Today major opera houses often cast singers as Ortrud who possess great intensity of expression, but lack refined control over dynamics, intonation and phrasing. Evelyn Herlitzius is an example: she used her Elektra-weight voice to threaten, bellow and vamp. The resulting scenery-chewing—and not just in the famous curse—was entertaining and forceful enough to generate a clear contrast to Netrebko. Never mind that it sometimes bordered on caricature and, in some lower-lying passages, exceeded Herlitzius’s vocal capacity. The 44-year old Polish bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny used nearly as large a voice to snarl his way menacingly through the role of Telramund. He, too, offered a vivid portrayal, even if his interpretation lacked nobility, subtlety or beauty, and his German was only rarely intelligible.

Lohengrin_8789.pngTomasz Konieczny (Friedrich von Telramund), Evelyn Herlitzius (Ortrud), Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden/Herren des Sinfoniechores Dresden - Extrachor der Semperoper Dresden

The bottom of the ensemble was bolstered by two impressive basses. As with tenors, great pure voices of this type are rare today. Still, Dresden-based Georg Zeppenfeld sang a darkly-colored, elegant and clearly articulated König Heinrich, while the young Australian bass Derek Welton, based at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, resoundingly declaimed crystal-clear German as his Heerrufer. Both are singers destined for greater things.

Undergirding it all was Thielemann’s robust Staatskapelle Dresden. Thielemann favors bold, forceful and somewhat rough-hewn Wagner—an approach, some might object, that suits Lohengrin less than other Wagner works. Yet other orchestral virtues—tight ensemble, sensitive vocal accompaniment, subtle emphasis on middle instrumental voices, and thrilling brass in the antiphonal fanfares—assured an impressive result. The chorus sang robustly, though it might have been more precise and transparent in the sections with split parts. The sound resounded in the wonderfully full acoustic of the Semperoper.

Overall, this is the type of high-profile triumph that Dresden must offer regularly to compete with leading German houses in Berlin and München.

Andrew Moravcsik

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):