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

Jonathan Miller’s “Così” strikes gold again

When did “concept” become a dirty word? In the world of opera, the rot set in innocently, gradually.

Tucson Desert Song Festival Presents Artists from the Met and Arizona Opera

The Tucson Desert Song Festival consists of three weekends of vocal music in orchestral, chamber, choral, and solo formats along with related lectures and master classes.

Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Barbican

Two great operas come from the year 1911 - Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Bela Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Both are masterpieces, but they are very different kinds of operas and experienced quite asymmetric performance histories.

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, London - Rattle, O'Neill, Gerhaher

By pairing Mahler Das Lied von der Erde (Simon O'Neill, Christian Gerhaher) with Strauss Metamorphosen, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra were making a truly powerful statement. The Barbican performance last night was no ordinary concert. This performance was extraordinary because it carried a message.

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Elena Pankratova (Färberin), Statisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper [Photo © Wilfried Hösl]
09 Jul 2017

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Elena Pankratova (Färberin), Statisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper

Photos © Wilfried Hösl

 

First, and perhaps most important: both received outstanding performances, fully worthy of any festival in the world, let alone one such as this which offers both new productions and stagings from the repertory. This FroSch may have been the latter, but who would have known? There are clearly advantages to being conducted by the Music Director — not least the identity of this particular music director — but even so…

Both works offered the director considerable challenges. In the Schreker opera, Warlikowski rose admirably to the challenge of drawing out what was of greatest interest in a flawed work and, indeed, even to criticising certain of its more problematical aspects. Die Frau ohne Schatten is not without its problematical aspects either, of course, not least Hofmannsthal’s bizarre pronatalism — perhaps a staging that made more of its wartime origins might help, but I have yet to see one — and, more broadly, the mismatch between Strauss and Hofmannsthal here. If Strauss misunderstands Hofmannsthal, though — and we should be wary of awarding priority simply on a chronological basis, especially with so complex a composer-librettist relationship as this — it is, to borrow a term from Webern and the post-war avant garde, a productive misreading.

5M1A1507.pngSebastian Holecek (Der Geisterbote), Michaela Schuster (Die Amme), Ricarda Merbeth (Die Kaiserin), Statisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper

How does Warlikowski deal with that, in a production first seen in 2013? I am not entirely sure that he does, but it may well be that I am missing something. What he certainly does accomplish is to present a number of standpoints, which may, to an extent, like those presented in the work ‘itself’, be reconciled, or even set against each other. The world of medicalised hysteria, of the sanatorium is present, just as in Claus Guth’s production (seen at La Scala, Covent Garden, and the Berlin State Opera). Perhaps counter-intuitively, for a work in which, laboriously at times, Hofmannsthal at least seems to offer layer upon layer of symbolism, often highly referential or at least allusive, Warlikowski penetrates to a very human drama at the work’s heart. It might sound banal; perhaps in some ways it is; but why not actually present this as a drama concerning a woman, the Dyer’s Wife rather than the Empress, who wishes to have children, is pressured to renounce her desire, and then achieves what would seem to be genuine fulfilment by doing so? There are various answers to that, of course, or at least to why such a drama might be problematical; but they are not unanswerable answers.

Freud hangs less heavily over the production than he does over Guth’s, but he is there, glimpsed indeed in video projections at the end alongside a motley crew that includes (I think) Gandhi, Christ, the Buddha, King Kong, and Marilyn Monroe. (I have no idea, I am afraid; I suspect I am missing something terribly obvious, but never mind…) More overtly present is Last Year in Marienbad. Pictures from the film lead us in to the opening of the opera and accompany its course, far from obtrusively, yet offering connections should we wish to follow them. A sadness born of lack of fulfilment, perceived or otherwise, hangs over what we see — and interacts, sometimes harmoniously, sometimes less so, with what we hear. Even the Nurse seems a far more human figure than usual. There is, perhaps, loss there too, but to see her a broken woman, trying to deal with an impossible situation that is not of her choosing is fascinating: it certainly made me reconsider the role.

5M1A1801.pngRicarda Merbeth (Die Kaiserin), Michaela Schuster (Die Amme)

Where Ingo Metzmacher had given a commanding account of Schreker’s score the previous night, Kirill Petrenko went further still in Strauss’s score. It does no harm, of course, that Strauss is by far the greater composer and musical dramatist. But that can come to naught, or at least be severely diminished in the wrong hands. Musical performance is certainly not a matter of league tables, but I can certainly say, hand on heart, that I have never heard the opera better conducted or played. This was at the very least a musical performance to set alongside those by Christoph von Dohnányi and Semyon Bychkov at Covent Garden, and superior to any of the others I have heard. Petrenko’s ear for Strauss’s complex orchestral polyphony is second to none, not only amongst any conductor alive but any I know from recorded performances.

The similarities and differences between Strauss and Schoenberg — you will have to forgive me for having the latter very much on my mind at the moment — are as complex as their music ‘in itself’. There is, though, something here which, ironically, given Strauss’s reported remarks on Schoenberg’s score, brings Strauss closer than one might expect to the Five Orchestral Pieces, op.16. Alma Mahler just could not help herself in telling Schoenberg that Strauss had said Schoenberg would be ‘better off shovelling snow’ than ‘scribbling on manuscript paper’. (What is less often reported is that he recommended the younger composer for the Mahler Foundation grant in any case. Schoenberg, unsurprisingly, never forgave him; when asked the following year for a fiftieth-birthday tribute, he responded angrily: ‘He is no longer of the slightest artistic interest to me, and whatever I may once have learned from him, may God be thanked, [I had] misunderstood.’) Petrenko is a very fine Schoenberg conductor; indeed, it was in Erwartung at Covent Garden that I first heard him. The interplay between colour, line, harmony, every changing parameter was such that I could not help but think I was hearing Strauss with somewhat Schoenbergian ears — and that was not entirely to be attributed to my own present preoccupations. The Bavarian State Orchestra was at least equally responsible: in every respect worthy of the most exalted comparisons, past or present. I do not think I have ever heard the solo cello part played with greater tenderness and yet with such a sense of where, motivically and harmonically, it is heading. Nor have I heard the full orchestra sound more thrillingly present and yet more transparent. It was not only seeing the glass harmonica in one of the boxes overlooking the pit that meant I could hear it so well.

LM0A5268.pngRicarda Merbeth (Die Kaiserin), Burkhard Fritz (Der Kaiser), Kinderstatisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper

Vocal performances were almost equally magnificent. Burkhard Fritz greatly impressed in Berlin earlier this year, and did so again here: quite tireless and perfectly capable of riding Strauss’s orchestral wave. The Emperor is, perhaps, the best role in which I have heard of him. Ricarda Merbeth was more than his equal as his consort: as tenderly moving as, when required, imperious. She truly drew one into her particular drama, as did the Dyer and his Wife, even, as mentioned above, the Nurse. Elena Pankratova and Wolfgang Koch were also in previous casts I had seen, London and Berlin respectively. Fine though their performances had been then, Petrenko’s conducting seemed to incite them to still greater things in Munich. (The more I consider Zubin Mehta in Berlin, the more uncomprehending his conducting seems by comparison.) Theirs was at root a human, commonplace relationship, exalted by particular musico-dramatic circumstance and by musical performance into something transformative, in a sense that both Strauss and Hofmannsthal might have acknowledged. The sadness both felt could be perceived in their faces, their body language, but still more in the alchemy of stage, words, and music that is opera at its greatest — and which, with the best will in the world, a lesser composer such as Schreker could never have summoned. To her trademark malevolence in the role, Michael Schuster was here fully enabled to offer a poignancy one rarely sees and hears in the Nurse. Sebastian Heleck’s Spirit Messenger was perhaps first among equals — intelligent, deeply musical singing — amongst the ‘smaller’ roles, but there was no weak link here. Choral singing and acting were equally outstanding. Likewise those roles played by non-singing actors: the Apparition of a Youth here our first among equals, sporting an excellent line in gigolo contempt when collecting his earnings for unachieved attempted seduction from the Nurse. As had been the case in the previous night’s performance, the dramatic whole was greater than the sum of its parts — just not quite in the same way. Now how about a Moses und Aron

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Nurse: Michaela Schuster; Spirit Messenger: Sebastian Holececk; Emperor: Burkhard Fritz; Empress: Ricarda Merbeth; Voice of the Falcon, Guardian of the Threshold of the Temple: Elsa Benoit; The One-Eyed: Tim Kuypers; The One-Armed: Christian Rieger; The Hunchback, Apparition of a Youth: Dean Power; Dyer’s Wife: Elena Pankratova; Barak: Wolfgang Koch; Serving Maids: Elsa Benoit, Paula Iancic, Rachael Wilson; Voices of Unborn Children: Elsa Benoit, Paula Iancic, Alla El-Khashem, Rachael Wilson, Okka von der Damerau; Voices of Night-Watchmen: Johannes Kammler, Sean Michael Plumb, Milan Siljanov. Director: Krzysztof Warlikowski; Designs: Malgorzata Szczęśniak; Lighting: Felice Ross; Video: Denis Guéguin; Video Animation: Kamil Polak; Abendspielleitung: Georgine Balk; Dramaturge: Miron Hakenbeck; Children’s Chorus (chorus master: Stellario Fagone) and Chorus (chorus master: Sören Eckhoff) of the Bavarian State Opera/Bavarian State Opera/Kirill Petrenko (conductor). Nationaltheater, Munich, Wednesday 5 July 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):