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

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom 46: Sir Simon Rattle conducts the LSO Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Schoenberg’s <em>Gurrelieder</em>
21 Aug 2017

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Prom 46: Sir Simon Rattle conducts the LSO Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Sir Simon Rattle conducts the massed forces of the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus, Orfeó Català and the London Symphony Orchestra, in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder at the BBC Proms

Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

 

No wonder tickets almost sold out as soon as they went on sale. Everyone in town seemed to be there. Thomas Quasthoff sat in the coffee shop, holding court with friends and fans. Simon Rattle got cheered when he came in sight on the stage, still in street clothes, by Prommers who were already seated half an hour early.

Gurrelieder is a spectacular so extravagant that, for maximum effect, it needs to be experienced in a performing space where the vast forces can let rip in all their glory. Rattle has conducted it many times in many places, but there's nothing like the Royal Albert Hall for sensational presence, so he was able to unleash the full forces of Gurrelieder without inhibition. For Gurrelieder is meant to be overwhelming, Waldemar defies God, who wreaks cosmic vengeance. He and his men are doomed to spend eternity riding through the night in a hunt. The peasants (here a single symbolic figure) are terrified by the supernatural, but Klaus-Narr, being a Fool, can recognise the ghosts for what they are - cosmic forces, and the demonic power of Nature.

Gurrelieder starts with a rhapsodic prelude, string lines swelling and heaving, harps adding warmth, woodwinds delicate, naturalistic touches. The reference is probably Siegfried's Journey down the Rhine, for Waldemar is about to embark on a journey of destiny. Like Siegfried, Waldemar spends his innocence hunting in the woods, where Tove is concealed. Hence the Wood Dove, like the Wood Dove in Siegfried, an all-seeing avatar. Dense forests, in Germanic culture, symbolise powerful, though sinister, primeval forces. The subconscious, source of creativity and danger.

Gurrelieder is song symphony of Wagnerian proportions. Simon O'Neill, being a very experienced Wagnerian, brought dramatic authority to the role. Waldemar is no Tristan but a king who thinks he can throw curses at God. If anything, he's a Flying Dutchman, doomed to sail the seas forever. O'Neill's Waldemar is an embattled soul, tormented and defiant, instinctively understanding the part. Waldemar is not a Romantic Hero, but a man cursed, struggling against Fate. Thus the roles of Waldemar and Tove, though well written musically, aren't particularly well developed in terms of psychological complexity. For Schoenberg, they are figures in a landscape, who will become incorporated into Nature and nature legend around them. Nonetheless, Eva-Maria Westbroek created Tove with great vocal depth, and Karen Cargill sang the Wood Dove, a bird of darker portent than Siegfried's wood dove.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts Eva-Maria Westbroek with the London Symphony Orchestra.jpg Sir Simon Rattle conducts Eva-Maria Westbroek with the London Symphony Orchestra. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.

Schoenberg was only twenty-six when he wrote what was to become the First Part of Gurrelieder, but in the interim, he developed a highly original identity. In Part Two, the harps still sing, but the sweeping strings are broken by fearsome chords which replicate the word "Herrgott! Herrgott!" which O'Neill sang with intense flourish. Note the text, carefully. Waldemar accepts his fate, but frames it as a creative destiny. He chides God. "Das heisst Tyran, nicht Herrscher sein!". Like any earthly king, God needs Fools to keep him in order. Thus the significance of Klaus-Narr and of the Narrator, both figures who can see beyond events and guess significance. In the years between the time Schoenberg began writing Gurrelieder and completing it, he developed a distinct creative identity. The true artist, as innovator, will often be alone, even vilified, but artistic integrity is paramount. thus "Lass mich, Herr, die Kappe deines Hofnarrn tragen!".

The peasant (Christopher Purves) is horrified by the sight of Waldemar's Ghost Riders in the sky (complete with echoes of hunting horn). His response is to hide, pray and bolt his door "noch Stahl und Stein, so kann mir nichts Böses zum Haus Herein!" "Holla!" to all that. The men's voices in the choirs sing a wild, rhythmic chorus, alternating explosive force with singing of hushed subtlety. O'Neill sang Waldemar's "Mit Toves Stimme" so it rang out as an anthem: the love that keeps Waldemar singing is like the inspiration an artists needs to create.

Thomas Quasthoff performs in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.jpgThomas Quasthoff performs in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.

The music that introduces Klaus-Narr is quirky but pointed, The Fool (Peter Hoare) is himself a ghost, serving his dead King in the same way that his king serves the God who doomed him. Hoare let the lines curl round his tongue, spitting them out in line with the odd angular rhythms in the music. Waldemar will not be cowed. Trumpets call, and hunting horns. Waldemar's still a huntsman and fighter who will barge his way into Heaven. The huge chords in the orchestra return, but fade away, for dawn is about to break. The Men's voices sang in dramatic hush as Waldemar's men sank back into the grave. Rattle and the LSO created a haunting orchestral Prelude, settingb the tone for the entry of the Narrator (Thomas Quasthoff). Brooding somnolemce, eddies of quirky sound, like will o' the wisps illuminating darkness. In many ways, the part is the heart and soul of the piece, for it's written as Sprechstimme, neither song nor speech, a device which Schoenberg was to make distinctively his own. This section is extraordinary, so unusual and so powerful that it leaves the listener stunned. Quasthoff did the Narrator (and the Peasant) with Rattle in Berlin in 2000. Though he's long ceased singing, he can still act, and speak the part with a singer's ear for song. It's quite a part. I will never forget hearing Hans Hotter do it way back in 1994, when he was already in his eighties. And then the chorus exploded in that glorious "Seht die Sonne!"

This Prom was recorded for repeat online broadcast, and filmed for TV broadcast on September 3rd (BBC TV 4).

Anne Ozorio

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):