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 Performances

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a disappointing Tosca

During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.

Matthias Goerne : Mahler Eisler Wigmore Hall

A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

New Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Lyric Opera, Chicago

In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.

A Salome to Remember

Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.

L’Elisir d’Amore Goes On Despite Storm

On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.

Boris Godunov in Marseille

There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

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):