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

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

Discovering Gounod’s Cinq Mars: Another Rarity Success for Oper Leipzig

Oper Leipzig usually receives less international attention than its Dresden, Munich or Berlin counterparts; however, with its fabulous Gewandhaus Orchestra, and its penchant for opera rarities (and a new Ring Cycle), this quality hotspot will be attracting more and more opera lovers. Leipzig’s new production of Gounod’s Cinq Mars continues this high quality tradition.

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

05 Jul 2017

Carmen at the Aix Festival

There were four simultaneous Carmen — those of Prosper Merimee, Georges Bizet, Dimitri Tcherniakov and Pablo Heras-Casado.

Carmen at the Aix Festival

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Stéphanie d'Oustrac as Carmen, Michael Fabbiano as Jose [All photos by Patrick Berger/ArtComPress) of the Aix Festival]

 

This new production by the Aix Festival was awaited with bated breath, Tcherniakov no stranger at the Aix Festival with two recent, unforgettable Don Giovanni under his belt, and the Aix Festival debut and role debut of conducting star Pablo Heras-Casado.

The euphoria and the dangers of imagining Bizet’s Carmen have long challenged avant-garde directors, among notable examples in my experience the by now historic stagings of Harry Kupfer and Calixto Bieito. The bar has been set always deeper into re-imagining the piece, and now Dimitri Tcherniakov has simply knocked the bar off its pinnings.

Carmen_Aix2.pngThe card trio

Tcherniakov’s Carmen is no longer Carmen. It is the naked destruction of a human psyche, Carmen is merely its means. Layers of emotional bravado are meticulously stripped away within Tcherniakov’s chamber of horrors, a type of corporate-style self-improvement sanitarium. Not only the male anima is destroyed by an unfathomable sensation of maybe love, so also is the female anima destroyed. The tragedy sinks to the most elemental level of human existence, feeling laid bare. It is ugly, not cathartic.

To get there Tcherniakov has constructed a witty platform that ruthlessly plays with Bizet’s opera, and plays with us, challenging us to make it into a Carmen. Maybe you will be able to — there are five more performances and the production will travel to Luxembourg. I could not find a Carmen, this staging was not a real, working metaphor. But yes, the experience was pure gesamtkunstwerk, and high art, very high art.

Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado gave corpus to the stage. It was orchestrally full-throated, forcing out always intense feeling, i.e. the ultimate emotional elaboration of every melody, and the uncovering of emotional depths by laying bare the inner workings of Bizet’s harmonies and structures (who knew they were so incredibly rich). He took the Seguidilla to impossible hysterical frenzy, rendered the third act idyll as intense uncertainty, promise and frustration. As Tcherniakov laid naked his victims, the maestro flayed their feelings.

French diva Stéphanie d’Oustrac moved through Tcherniakov’s paces balancing a number of personalities, living not only the realities of Bizet’s vocal heroine and Merimée’s cold gypsy but also the delicacies, fears and sympathies of a real woman, and at the same time the detached professionalism of Tcherniakov’s illusive metaphor. The extent of these changing emotions were exponentially explored, her persona and her voice able to find always another elaboration, another level of feeling, another release of spirit.

American tenor Michael Fabbiano has the young tycoon swagger, the thirst for the ultimate experience, the blatant bravery, the unstoppable drive, the hidden vulnerability and the final weakness of all heroes. Mr. Fabbiano’s essentially monochromatic voice served this Jose to the fullest, his persona able to sustain the pressures and the abuse he imposed on himself until his final destruction. May you too beware of self discovery.

Carmen_Aix3.pngJose'e graduation. Carmen, Jose, Michaëla

In Tcherniakov’s spoken frame for the opera Micaëla was Jose’s wife. Sung by French-Danish soprano Elsa Dreisig she used a bell-like purity of tone, in fact of metallic strength to push her husband into finding deeper feelings for her, i.e. so that he could give her more than wealth. This Micaëla was maybe a lot like Tcherniakov’s Lady Macbeth, but here in search of a sort of selfish emotional power.

American baritone Michael Todd Simpson had the task of acting out a matinée idol in Tcherniakov’s implied metaphor. The smugglers were simply magnificent, the quintet a masterpiece of execution. The children’s chorus was in the pit, in impeccable unison with the stage (the male chorus mouthed their words in hilarious pantomime).

Essentially the same set as his Don Giovanni which he used for his two distinctively different stagings perhaps Tcherniakov will use this set as well to stage a second edition of this Aix Carmen. There will always be something more to say.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Carmen Stéphanie d’Oustrac; Don José: Michael Fabbiano; Micaëla: Elsa Dreisig; Escamillo: Michael Todd Simpson; Frasquita: Gabrielle Philiponet; Mercédès: Virginie Verrez; Zuniga: Christian Helmer; Moralès: Pierre Doyen; Le Dancaïre: Guillaume Andrieux; Le Remendado: Mathias Vidal; L’Administrateur: Pierre Grammont. Chorus: Chœur Aedes; Childrens Chorus: Chœur d'enfants Maîtrise des Bouches-du-Rhône; Orchestra: Orchestre de Paris. Conductor: Pablo Heras-Casado; Mise en scène, décors et costumes: Dmitri Tcherniakov; Costumes: Elena Zaytseva; Lumière: Gleb Filshtinsky. Grand Théâtre de Provence, Aix-en-Provence, July 4, 2017.

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):