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

A sunny L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House

Theresa May could do with a Doctor Dulcamara in the Conservative Cabinet: his miracle pills for every illness from asthma to apoplexy would slash the NHS bill - and, if he really could rejuvenate the aged then he’d solve the looming social care funding crisis too.

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

17 Jan 2017

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Richard Wagner : The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

A review by Anne Ozorio

 

Holten connects Der fliegende Holländer to Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg and even to Parsifal by bringing out sub-texts on artistic creativity and metaphysics. And what amazing theatre this is, too, and very sensitive to the abstract cues in the music.

Just as the Overture begins quietly with woodwinds, we encounter The Dutchman (Johan Reuter) in a contemplative mood. He's in a studio, possibly a painter who makes portraits. A woman is lying on his bed. Model, lover or muse, we don't now, but as tempi increase, and the orchestra swells like the ocean, Reuter moves outside, exposed to the elements of the storm that is breaking. Huge figures loom over him, suggesting storm clouds and crashing waves. Darkened figures scurry past, like the cross- currents in the score. Back in his studio, the Dutchman is confronted by female dancers, who writhe as the music does, tantalizing him yet pulling away. The Overture reaches a crescendo, then decelerates. We glimpse the private Dutchman, as Reuter's face contorts in agony. He's having a panic attack. Far more moving, and human, than Dutchman-as-Demon.

Daland (Gregory Frank) and his crew have survived the storm unscathed. Unlike The Dutchman, Daland is a public person, who likes status and wealth. Here, he's in what might be an art gallery reception, where the rich pose. They don't actually "do" art. Amidst this sophistication, the Steuermann's song seems unsettling, too sincere and too simple to fit in with the pretentious setting. But so it should be, for the Steersman (Tuomas Katajala) represents earthier values. Significantly, in the libretto, Daland passes responsibility for his ship to the lowly sailor. "Gefahr ist nicht, doch gut ist's, wenn du wachst." He doesn't realize that the Dutchman has quietly entered the party unnoticed. Low winds and brass moan, and suddenly the Dutchman materializes and the crowd clears. "Der Frist is um", sings Reuter. Gold means nothing. "Ew'ge Vernichtung, nimm mich auf!" with intense agony. The party crowd repeat the phrase, but still don't get the full import. Daland thinks he's been through the same storm. If only he's paid attention to the music Wagner wrote around the Dutchman! He doesn't even realize what he might be letting his daughter in for. The Dutchman brings out a portrait. Drums beat in the orchestra, but Daland's laying around with his i-pad, oblivious.

The women are seen spinning, their movements reflecting the circular figures in the music though their cheerful singing parodies the infinitely grimmer cycles the Dutchman has to keep repeating. Pottery classes are middle class, producing nice objects, not necessarily functional, or artistic. Senta (Camilla Nylund) has her sights on greater things. She grabs the clay on her wheel and squishes it up into a shape that vaguely suggests a penis, reminding us that sexuality, in some form or other, is implicit in the true meaning of this opera. Shen then dons a white painter suit and paints with huge, dramatic brush strokes as she sings her keynote monologue, without missing a beat or inflection in her singing: quite a feat. The other women look on, uncomprehending. It's interesting how Wagner sets their chorus as quasi-religious chorale. Nylund jumps bodily into the painting, getting dirty. The women grab their bags, preparing to flee. Mary, (Sari Nordqvist), the only woman with individual flair, pays attention. When Erik (Mika Pojhonen) comes with roses, he flinches. Hes a land person not someone who faces the open seas. The Steersman's song is exquisitely beautiful because he lives: Erik's music is sincere, but dreams are the only time he lives in the imagination.

Senta and the Dutchman meet, and gradually their music builds up towards intense passion. In this production, we see their connection grow as the Dutchman sees a painting Senta's created. He takes out his camera, in deep appreciation. The use of a revolving stage allows the action to flow, marking the subtle gradations in their relationship. Eventually, the Dutchman and Senta end up, embracing tenderly in bed, but almost immediately the Sailors' chorus intrudes upon their dream This time, the innocent song sounds frantic, the rhythm clipped with near ostinato violence. Alcohol fuelled sexuality and fundamental antagonism between the living and the dead. This isn't a party in the normal sense. Senta sleeps on, but the Dutchman has been through this before. The nightmare's coming back, as it does every seven years. The ghostly chorus surround the bed, their faces masked and menacing, flashing their phones, to blind the Dutchman. When he's encircled, they point at him accusingly. This staging also emphasizes the way the Norwegian chorus parallel the chorus of the Dutchman's crew, and both adapt the Steersman's tune in brutal new ways. The village women dance with the Dutchman, but their coldness has a Flower Maiden surrealism. He tries to make sense by painting on them, as an artist does, but he's doomed, pursued by the singing, the music and the storm that's building up. Demonic lighting effects, sharp angles match visuals to music Modern technology can whip up cosmic storms of truly metaphysical force.

The music stills, for a moment, and the Dutchman wakes. Senta's still there, asleep. Has he broken the curse. Erik enters, scolding, showing Senta clips of their happy past on his i-phone. . For the Dutchman, the nightmare descends again. "Verloren! Ach! Verloren! Ewig verlornes Heil!" The Dutchman sets sail, in his mind. Everything's turning in dizzying circles: we see closeups of Reuter's face as if taken from a small handheld, projected across the entire stage. "Du kennst mich nicht, du ahnst nicht, wer ich bin!". Reality disintegrates. Do we see the Dutchman shoot himself We know he cannot die. But suddenly we're back in the art gallery, Senta is showing an installation she's made in which the Dutchman's last moments are preserved forever on endless tape loop. Has the Dutchman sacrificed his dreams to save Senta? Or has Senta sacrificed herself, after all, to redeem him? Nylund turns away from the crowd, and we see her, "as" Reuter, her features contorted in agony, as if her soul were disintegrating within. Is the Dutchman free, or has the curse fallen on Senta in his place ? A tantalizing but brilliant ending, which suggests that being creative is a vocation, where vision matters. Sacrifice and redemption, through art. Holten's Der fliegende Holländer is true Wagner.

Watch this production, conducted for the Finnish National Opera by John Fiore, on Opera Platform until 17th February.

Anne Ozorio

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):