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

<em>Ariadne auf Naxos</em>, Glyndebourne
27 Jun 2017

Glyndebourne's wartime Ariadne auf Naxos

It’s country-house opera season, and Glyndebourne have decided it’s time for a return of Katharina Thoma’s country-house-set Ariadne auf Naxos, first seen in 2013. Thoma locates Strauss’s opera-about-opera in a 1940s manor house which has been sequestered as a military hospital, neatly alluding to Glyndebourne’s own history when it transformed itself into a centre for evacuees from east London and the Christie children’s nursery became a sick bay.

Ariadne auf Naxos , Glyndebourne

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Angela Brower (The Composer)

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

When, in the Prologue, the Dancing Master jokes that the commedia dell’arte troupe’s vaudeville would be better performed after the new opera that His Lordship has commissioned - because once ‘the great and the good’ have stuffed themselves at dinner they will be bored stiff by the opera, nod off, and be ready for some more zippy entertainment - Glyndebourne patrons might feel that the self-referential nudges are getting a bit sharp.

I’m not sure how many meta-layers one has to plunge through before we’re into surreal territory, but there is certainly plenty of scope for farce during Thoma’s Prologue. The Composer, an over-sensitive idealist, becomes desperate and distraught when he learns that his patron - originally a nouveau riche in eighteenth-century Vienna - has decreed that his maiden opera, a lofty rendition of the myth of the god Bacchus rescuing Ariadne from Naxos, must, owing to time pressures over the dining arrangements, be performed simultaneously with a low-brow comic romp.

During the orchestral prelude, the Music Master and a few lackeys fuss about with malfunctioning front curtains. As the fraught preparations unfold, servants mount step-ladders to pin up patriotic bunting choreographed to the gloriously sensual peaks of Strauss’s score, while grumpy army personnel and petulant singers whizz back and forth slamming doors behind them. The palm tree on the ‘set’ of Naxos wilts, emasculated by drought or by the thought of the entertainment ahead, who knows. A barbershop quartet in natty green-and-white striped blazers put their feet through their paces and try out their poses (Strauss’s score indicates that they enter in ‘goose-step’ which despite the period setting Thoma wisely eschews), while the Prima Donna dons a leopard skin coat and, towering over the haughty Major-Domo, threatens to flounce out in pique.

The only one with a cool head is Thomas Allen’s Music Master and even he is momentarily wrong-footed by the butler’s announcement of His Lordship’s unusual request. As unswervingly dependable as ever, Allen’s diction and acting is superlative in the secco recitative: he placates the chest-puffing Tenor, destined for the role of Bacchus, and cajoles the diva soprano - she’ll be deemed even more sublime when judged against such riff-raff - and all prepare to get the show underway.

As the troupe’s leading lady, Zerbinetta, tries to win round the despairing Composer with a kiss, Strauss and Hofmannsthal entwine the opera’s two themes: the role of art in society and the nature of true love. Is this kiss, as Zerbinetta suggests, just a fleeting instant never to be relived or, as The Composer hopes, an eternal moment never to be forgotten?

Troupe and Z.jpg Four comedians (Daniel Mirosław, Björn Bürger, Manuel Günther, François Piolino), Dancing Master (Michael Laurenz) and Zerbinetta (Erin Morley). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Attention is diverted, however, by looming shadows which are cast by the wings of a Luftwaffe squadron that swoops low over the gardens. The House takes a direct hit, the blast of explosive sparks usurping the promised firework display. Dinner guests, downstairs staff and artistes evacuate the burning building, with just the Composer left behind, writhing in despair, clutching his score and begging to be allowed to die with his integrity and artistic ideals intact: ‘Tod und Verklärung’ indeed.

At this point, Strauss asks us to sit back, watch the ‘hybrid entertainment’ and judge for ourselves between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, and between unwavering faithfulness and cheerful promiscuity. Thoma, however, does not present us with the opera-within-an-opera but side-steps into a different narrative. The director professes to wish us to imagine that ‘something major happens between Parts 1 and 2’ and that the catastrophe of war has thrown The Composer ‘into a more urgent situation’.

So, we return to the manor house a few months later and discover that it is now serving as a hospital for the wounded and traumatised. Instead of naiads we have Florence Nightingales who tend to the nightmare-afflicted PTSD sufferers. To account for the presence of Zerbinetta and the harlequinade, Thoma turns them into ENSA entertainers who are preparing a wartime variety show to perk up the patients.

I’m not sure that soft shoe shuffles and musical hall ditties are the best kind of music therapy for the severely traumatised. When the sleeping Ariadne wakes, she entreats her entertainers to be relieved of the heartbreak of life; for a moment, I was reminded that the popular translation of the acronym ENSA was ‘Every Night Something Awful’.

In fact, the dapper quartet - Björn Bürger (Harlequin), François Piolino (Scaramuccio), Daniel Mirosław (Truffaldino) and Manuel Günther (Brighella) - croon charmingly and gambol with panache. And, taken on its own terms Thoma’s concept works well. The problem is that it has nothing to do with Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s intention that after the ‘realism’ of the Prologue we should be offered an artifice, the juxtaposition cleverly guiding us to interrogate the relationship between art and life. In literalising the question - making the Composer ‘face the reality that not only artistic interferences but the outside world are breaking into his ivory tower’ - Thoma disturbs the subtle balance and interplay devised by the original creators.

That said, this cast are so good that one can push such matters aside and simply enjoy the fantastic singing. Angela Brower’s Composer has theatrical presence and flashes with fury when his dream debut is being sabotaged. Brower is convincingly elevated and ecstatic when singing of the redeeming power of music, shaping the arioso beautifully.

Erin Morley’s frivolous, flirtatious Zerbinetta injects some vitality amid the misery and morbidity. When teasing The Composer, Morley apes his lyricism with tenderness, and her soprano sparkles through the roulades of her virtuoso showpiece, in which she advises Ariadne to adopt a laissez faire worldliness in her romantic liaisons. Her agility and reliability at the top did not seem to merit the punishment - being locked into a straitjacket - that the staid ward sisters inflict upon Zerbinetta.

Ariadne.jpg Lise Davidsen (Ariadne). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

To say that Lise Davidsen is head-and-shoulders above the rest is not just a reflection on her statuesque height. Davidsen’s gloriously full and shining soprano transforms Ariadne - draped in a black hospital dressing-gown - back into a ‘goddess’. It’s no effort for Davidsen to swell through Strauss’s elated vocal peaks, her soprano bursting with lustre, but she can hold her huge voice back, too, shaping cool threads of sound to convey Ariadne’s vulnerability. Her reminiscence of love with Theseus was one of those moments when time seemed to stand still, triggering thoughts that at the premiere of the lament’s progenitor, Monteverdi’s 1607 setting of the same myth, it was recorded that ‘There was not one lady who failed to shed a tear’. And, in her joyful anticipation of death, Davidsen retained a grace and nobility which rose above the context.

Thoma struggles to make Bacchus’s arrival and subsequent wooing of Ariadne convincing. Bacchus has escaped from the sea nymph Circe and when he is spied approaching Naxos, Ariadne mistakes him first for Theseus and then for Hermes the Messenger of Death for whom she has been calling. AJ Glueckert’s Bacchus is not water-borne - the hospital is clearly not located by the seaside - but arrives by air. He’s a Battle of Britain pilot and it’s not clear who or what he’s escaped from, but once he has clambered through the window he’s quickly urged by the dulcet trio of Naiad (Hyesang Park), Dryad (Avery Amereau) and Echo (Ruzan Mantashyan) to continue his song and assuage Ariadne’s grief.

Bacchus.jpg AJ Glueckert (Bacchus). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

When Hofmannsthal wrote to Strauss clarifying the ‘meaning’ of the end of the opera, the composer encouraged him to publish what has become known as the ‘Ariadne letter’: the librettist explains that Ariadne and Bacchus are ‘transformed through mutual influence - she was prepared to die but reborn as immortal heavenly body; Bacchus realises the full nature of his divinity’. In the hospital ward, such thoughts seemed a long way off. Believing that she is about to be conducted to the land of the dead, Davidsen blindfolds herself and kneels before Hermes/Bacchus, but he seems unconcerned during her appeal to be released her from earthly suffering, preferring to read the newspaper. Fortunately, Glueckert’s appealing tenor is youthful and rich, and he has the stamina required to survive Strauss’s seemingly endless denial of the need for a perfect cadence. The final, lengthy duet certainly was ‘godly’.

Conducted by a sprightly Cornelius Meister, the London Philharmonic Orchestra played with airiness and clarity, the chamber-like forces rising to the challenges of Strauss’s instrumental sonorities. The lead clarinet and horn were especially elegant.

In a programme article, Thoma describes the opera as both a debate about merit of high and low art and ‘a journey from despair and disappointment to hope’. Her white hospital robe effectively becoming her wedding gown, Ariadne retreats behind the bed-curtains - which have been miraculously hoisted to the ceiling and are being gently stirred by wafts of air (has Bacchus left the window open?) - where she and Bacchus can be heard in rapturous celebration of their love.

The Composer reappears bearing a suitcase - he’s been discharged having apparently recovered from his mental anguish - and is amazed to espy his former idol canoodling with a fighter-pilot cum Greek god. In his astonishment, he spots the score of his opera lying on the table and flicks through to the final pages. There is a pause, a wry smile, a quick glance back at the transfigured couple, before our ‘hero’ departs reconciled, redeemed, restored. It is as if, in the opera’s final moments, Thoma has remembered The Composer’s climactic phrase from the Prologue: ‘Musik ist eine heilige Kunst’.

Claire Seymour

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Ariadne - Lise Davidsen, Composer - Angela Brower, Zerbinetta - Erin Morley, Bacchus - AJ Glueckert, Music Master - Thomas Allen, Dancing Master - Michael Laurenz, Scaramuccio - François Piolino, Harlequin - Björn Bürger, Brighella - Manuel Günther, Truffaldino - Daniel Mirosław, Naiad - Hyesang Park, Dryad -Avery Amereau, Echo - Ruzan Mantashyan, Major-Domo - Nicholas Folwell, Lackey - Edmund Danon, Officer - John Findon; Director - Katharina Thoma, Conductor - Cornelius Meister, Set Designer - Julia Müer, Costume Designer - Irina Bartels, Lighting Designer - Olaf Winter, London Philharmonic Orchestra.

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):