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 Reviews

Unusual and beautiful: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė with the Kremerata Baltica, in this new release from Deutsche Grammophon.

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Diana Damrau sings Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder on Erato

“How weary we are of wandering/Is this perhaps death?” These closing words of ‘Im Abendrot’, the last of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, and the composer’s own valedictory work, now seem unusually poignant since they stand as an epitaph to Mariss Jansons’s final Strauss recording.

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 3 & 4 from Hyperion

Latest in the highly acclaimed Hyperion series of Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies, Symphonies no 3 and 4, with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in late 2018 after a series of live performances.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Thomanerchor and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

This Accentus release of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, recorded live on 15/16th December 2018 at St. Thomas’s Church Leipzig, takes the listener ‘back to Bach’, so to speak.

Retrospect Opera's new recording of Ethel Smyth's Fête Galante

Writing in April 1923 in The Bookman, of which he was editor, about Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate (1913-14) - the most frequently performed of the composer’s own operas during her lifetime - Rodney Bennett reflected on the principal reasons for the general neglect of Smyth’s music in her native land.

A compelling new recording of Bruckner's early Requiem

The death of his friend and mentor Franz Seiler, notary at the St Florian monastery to which he had returned as a teaching assistant in 1845, was the immediate circumstance which led the 24-year-old Anton Bruckner to compose his first large-scale sacred work: the Requiem in D minor for soloists, choir, organ continuo and orchestra, which he completed on 14th March 1849.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

Emmerich Kálmán: Ein Herbstmanöver

Brilliant Emmerich Kálmán’s Ein Herbstmanöver from the Stadttheater, Giessen in 2018, conducted by Michael Hofstetter now on Oehms Classics, in a performing version by Balázs Kovalik.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

27 Aug 2017

Lear at the Salzburg Festival

Undaunted by the bloody majesty of this 1606 Shakespeare tragedy, German composer Aribert Reimann embraced the challenge back in the cold-war era (1970’s). Its Munich premiere was in 1978, a Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production that then traveled to San Francisco in 1981. Of the Munich cast only Helga Dernesch as Goneril appeared in San Francisco.

Lear at the Salzburg Festival

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Gerald Finley as Lear, Anna Prohaska as the ghost of Cordelia at the death of Lear [All photos copyright by the Salzburger Festspiele / Thomas Aurin]

 

There remain in my mind indelible images from the San Francisco performances. Ponnelle used a stage wide, brush-filled heath against a black void (an antique, under-stage hydraulic system was revived to vary heights of this floor). The storm raged with the bare pipes of the fly system in chaotic motion. And the rages of Mme. Dernesch’s Goneril remain a vivid memory as well. I know of no other productions of the Reimann Lear in the U.S.

In San Francisco it was sung in English, though this was before supertitles came into general use. Without a clear text in front of you the prodigious subtleties of the Reimann score were (dare-we-say) vaguely felt rather than dramatically understood.

Thus this Salzburg Festival revival of Reimann’s cold-war masterpiece, now with subtitles in both German and English, was a musical and dramatic revelation. It is a nearly precise reading of Shakespeare’s play, but in musical terms, and those chosen by composer Reimann are bleak and brutal and ugly. Like Zimmermann’s famed Die Soldaten (1965) Lear throbs with threat, fear and remorse. It is unrelenting, and there is no salvation.

Both operas respond mightily to Germany’s position as the epicenter of the cold-war, and to its enduring guilt for the two twentieth century world-wars.

Now we are in the twenty-first century, and most of us decline to bear the guilt of our fathers. Reimann’s Lear can now finally exist on purely artistic terms. It is a magnificent orchestral score that takes us on a journey into a human hell, an experience we can bear only with the protection of high art. It is not for the faint of heart, or art for that matter.

And for the Salzburg Lear there is no place more accommodating than Salzburg’s old riding school, the Felsenreitschule, its massive galleries carved into the solid cliff of granite that is the backdrop for this space now used as a theater. For Lear there is no more fitting orchestra than the magnificent forces of the Vienna Philharmonic, including a side gallery stuffed with massive additional percussion.

Lear_Salzburg2.png
Michael Maertens as the Fool (speaking role) with Lear's knights (chorus and supers)

No longer considered a parochially German experience, it was staged by Australian theater and film director Simon Stone. Like Ponnelle in Munich the action occurred on a single platform, first it was a heath of fresh flowers, then it became a pure white slab with a pool of blood. It was staged as theater in the round, several hundred people sitting below the empty galleries behind the platform.

There followed one coup de theatre after another — the flowered heath was ruthlessly torn out by Lear’s knights; rain poured down for the duration of the storm; Mickey Mouse appeared on the stage; spectators behind the platform were torn out of their seats and thrown into the pool of blood; the hundreds of spectators sitting behind the platform, suddenly symbolic victims of war, were brutally driven out of the theater; a full-stage surround of white film cloth dropped to create a massive, heroic hospital space for Lear and Cordelia’s death.

I don’t think I’ve given too much away (and spoiled it for anyone) as it was a site specific event, surely impossible to re-produce elsewhere.

Lear_Salzburg3.png
Lauri Vasar as the Duke of Glouchester in Mickey Mouse head cover

Cleveland Symphony conductor Franz Welser-Mõst urged and controlled rhythmic and harmonic contortions that flowed and over-flowed with ultimate Shakespeare’s cruelty. The stage resources equalled the pit resources in this production of massive size and daunting complexity.

Canadian born, British baritone Gerald Finley suffered willingly and mightily in a somewhat small scale, very sympathetic, human portrayal of Lear, Dresden Opera’s Evelyn Herlitzius again proved herself a singing actress of surpassing power as Goneril (she was Patrice Chéreau’s Elektra at the Aix Festival). Estonian baritone showed himself as an accomplished dancer in his vivid portrayal of the blinded Glouchester, and German counter-tenor Kai Wessel made great effect as Glouchester’s son Edgar, the tragedy’s only survivor.

The Salzburg Festival was obviously committed to making this an important theatrical and musical event. The assembled cast achieved this goal dramatically and vocally, and the production team arrived at its theatrical brilliance with amazing technical finesse.

Michael Milenski


August 22, 2017. Cast and production information above


Gerald Finley: König Lear; Evelyn Herlitzius: Goneril; Gun-Brit Barkmin: Regan; Anna Prohaska: Cordelia; Lauri Vasar: Graf von Gloster; Kai Wessel: Edgar; Charles Workman: Edmund; Michael Maertens: Narr; Matthias Klink: Graf von Kent; Derek Welton: Herzog von Albany; Michael Colvin: Herzog von Cornwall; Tilmann Rönnebeck: König von Frankreich; Franz Gruber: Bedienter; Volker Wahl: Ritter.
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Weiner Philharmoniker.
 Franz Welser-Möst: Musikalische Leitung; 
Simon Stone: Regie
; Bob Cousins: Bühne
; Mel Page: Kostüme
; Nick Schlieper: Licht; 
Christian Arseni: Dramaturgie. Felsenreitschule, Salzburg, August 23, 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):