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

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Klaus Florian Vogt (Tannhäuser) [Photo © Wilfried Hösl]
11 Jul 2017

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Tannhäuser at Munich

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Klaus Florian Vogt (Tannhäuser)

Photos © Wilfried Hösl

 

We thereby run the risk of becoming ultimately almost as conventional as those we think we have left behind. I shall happily admit that I have been wrong, should I see this staging again, crack the code — if code there be — and find greater enlightenment than I did on this occasion. As it stands, however, I found myself somewhat disappointed by a staging that seemed to pale beside Castellucci’s fascinating Paris Moses und Aron — to which there were perhaps a few too many visual resemblances for comfort, let alone provocation — or indeed to what I know of his other theatrical work. That Castellucci has thought intelligently about Tannhäuser is clear from an interview in the programme; I wish, though, that there were more of a sign, at least to me, that such thoughts had made their way into the staging. There were times, I am afraid, when this production, for all its stylised, internationalised ‘beauty’, veered close to the merely boring.

LM0A1891.pngOpernballett der Bayerischen Staatsoper

The setting is almost brazenly non-specific. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, especially when Wagner himself treads the line between myth and ‘historical’ drama. An air of mystery, even of mystification, concerning where we are, who these people may be, is in many respects welcome; not everything need be set in a present-day or time-of-composition warzone. The sinister quality of strange rituals is palpable. Is there perhaps a hint of ISIS or some such in the cult-like environment of the world beyond the Venusberg? Perhaps, but it all begins to look a little too much like the world we had seen in Moses and, more to the point, so what (without anything more on which to go)? Is there not a hint of Wieland Wagner without the content — he himself has often been accused of having, for ideological reasons, divested his grandfather’s dramas of much of their content — and in the achingly fashionable, yet vacuous, scenic language of the modern corporate art installation? Unlike many operagoers I am not, I hope, one to roll my eyes at the mere mention of interpretative — or non-interpretative — dance, but does the beautifully choreographed movement do anything more than, well, be beautiful? Is that the point? It may well be, but at some point, might it not be argued, or at least demonstrated? Or am I again missing the point, hidebound by my own, doubtless Teutonic or even Socratic preconceptions? Designers — Castellucci is to an extent his own — have their tics, of course, their house styles; but what is the idea, even the Idea, shrouded, often literally, by the undeniable style?

LM0A3288.pngAnja Harteros (Elisabeth)

Great play — great scenic play, at least — is made of the kinship between the harp of the Minnesänger and the crossbow of the warrior. It is an interesting idea, not least in this most dualistic — at times, catastrophically if fascinatingly so, in dramaturgical terms — of Wagner’s operas. (In Tristan, even, there is more mediation than here, and it is of course infinitely more accomplished not only than Tannhäuser but than most other human drama in giving the appearance of reconciliation even when ‘reality’, whatever that may be, belies that appearance.) Alas, it never really progresses beyond a few striking visual signs, whereas an explanation, not necessarily didactic, of the relationship between art and war, love and death, is surely invited here. Even the ugliness of the fatty mound that is the Venusberg and its outgrowing creatures — the decay of boredom, satiation, and so forth, I presume — is so ‘beautifully’ stylised as to lose its dualistic edge. Or did it never have that edge in the perfect place? Lacan is clearly going round and round here, but is anything more than that happening? Again, is that the point? The second act has a great deal of slow business with people almost losing themselves in curtains; well, not a great deal, just much repetition of a little business, really. There is something intriguing about whether that mysterious thing is, flailing, writhing, maybe writing, in the central box, on which the singers’ principal concepts are inscribed; at the same time, there is a little, however inadvertent, of a Dr Who monster to it too.

I have no idea why the tombs in the third act are inscribed ‘Anja’ and ‘Klaus’ rather than ‘Elisabeth’ and ‘Heinrich’; whatever metatheatrical point may have been made quite eluded me. Likewise the passing of increasingly absurd increments of time, signalled in an o-so-‘beautiful’ typeface: from one second, to endless milliards of milliards of years. Meanwhile corpses rot — beautifully, tastefully, needless to say. The actual singers look on and occasionally move around. Eternity, perhaps, although it never actually reaches that state? Is that, again, the point? Is there a role for history after all? I certainly hope so, in this most Hegelian of composers, but I am afraid I had simply ceased to care. Having opened by saying how different Castellucci’s aesthetic was from what we tend to see in opera, I have to admit that the results, if not the intent behind them, were in some respects not so very different from Sasha Waltz’s explicitly balletic production (verging on non-production) for the Berlin State Opera. As I said above, I should be delighted to be proved, even to prove myself, wrong; none of us is infallible. I did so over Frank Castorf’s Bayreuth Ring. Perhaps I simply need to immerse myself more in Castellucci’s way of thinking; or perhaps this was not his finest hour. Time will tell.

We need await no passing of time to reach some sort of critical judgement on the musical side of things: never less than good, in some cases quite outstanding. I do not think Tannhäuser is really the role for Klaus Florian Vogt; Lohengrin is. And yet, the unearthly, almost pre-pubescent (on steroids) beauty of the voice can bring fruitful contradictions of its own, intentional or no. What if Tannhäuser is just an overgrown choirboy after all? Vogt certainly has the stamina for the role, and can sings its notes — even if he relied a little too much, especially during the first act, on the prompter, whose sibillants were almost as audible as Vogt’s own. Anja Harteros gave an excellent performance, although I could not help but think that this was perhaps not quite the role for her. She seemed almost as if she would have been happier singing Verdi; at any rate, she gave the impression of trying to play a ‘character’, which Elisabeth is perhaps not, at least in a straightforward sense. Whatever Tannhäuser may involve, it is not straightforwardly a world of psychological realism. Christian Gerhaher’s Wolfram was at least as beautifully sung as any I have heard from him (which is saying quite something indeed). It was not just beautiful though; there was an edge, an anger even, suppressed or otherwise, which had the character, such as he is, become more rounded, more interesting than I can recall. Elena Pankratova’s Venus was finely, even movingly, sung, her reappearance in the third act from on high (unseen) quite magical. Georg Zeppenfeld’s Margrave and Dean Power’s Walther von der Wogelweide also stood out, making the most of their roles without exaggeration. Choral singing, once again, was quite outstanding, a tribute both to members of the chorus and to Soren Eckhoff, their chorus master.

Last but certainly not least: Kirill Petrenko’s direction of the outstanding (once again!) Bavarian State Orchestra, whose depth and variety of tone are truly second to none. Petrenko’s way with the score is anything but conventional, without ever so much of a hint of being ‘different’ for the sake of it. If my preference, lazy or otherwise, is for the more overtly symphonic line a conductor such as Daniel Barenboim brings to this music, Petrenko’s insistence upon the individuality of ‘numbers’ — which to all intents and purposes they are, or at least can be — within the score reaps its own, explicitly musico-historical rewards. He has clearly thought about each section, however defined, and how it might characterise it — and, moreover, is able to do so. The Overture, for instance, began in surprisingly Mendelssohnian fashion, blossoming, expanding into something more, as if to suggest Wagner finding his way from roots he may or may not have wished to acknowledge. In the second act, Wagner’s antecendents in French opera, not least Meyerbeer, came very much to the fore, without loss to a greater sense of the whole. The third act was more truly ‘symphonic’; here, one felt, the Wagner of the music dramas proper had arrived. Fascinating, instructive, provocative in the best sense: more so, alas, than what I was able to glean from Castellucci.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia: Georg Zeppenfeld; Tannhäuser: Klaus Florian Vogt; Wolfram von Eschenbach: Christian Gerhaher; Walther von der Vogelweide: Dean Power; Biterolf: Peter Lobert; Heinrich der Schreiber: Ulrich Reß; Reinmar von Zweter: Ralf Lukas; Elisabeth: Anja Harteros; Venus: Elena Pankratova; Shepherd Boy: Elsa Benoit; Four Pages: Members of the Tölz Boys’ Choir. Director, Designer: Romeo Castellucci; Choreographer: Cindy van Acker; Assistant Director: Silvia Costa; Dramaturgy: Piersandra di Matteo, Malte Krasting; Video Design and Lighting Assistance: Marco Giusti. Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera (chorus master: Sören Eckhoff)/Bavarian State Orchestra/Kirill Petrenko (conductor). Nationaltheater, Munich, Sunday 9 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):