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 Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

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):