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

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.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

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!

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

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.

Giovanni Simon Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

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.

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):