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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

15 Sep 2017

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!

Elektra at the San Francisco Opera

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Christine Goerke as Elektra, Adrianne Pieczonka as Chrysothemis [All photos copyright Cory Weaver courtesy of San Franciscod Opera]

 

Among the accomplishments of the Gockley era was music director Nicola Luisotti's refinement of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. And perhaps in no other opera can the glories of this superb orchestra shine forth more brilliantly than in Elektra, the Strauss score demanding myriads of colors and masses of volumes to tell its very ugly story.

It is very beautiful music, but unlike bel canto that can tell ugly stories too, Strauss modernism finds its beauty in sonically colorful hues that intensify the human spirit in its most dreadful conflicts (bel canto revels in the voices it uses to overpower conflict). All this Strauss orchestral magnificence was indeed present for this Elektra!

On stage was British stage director Keith Warner’s staging, a co-production with Prague’s National Theatre where the production debuted last year, and with the Karlsruhe (Germany) opera. It is a rarity these days to find a high concept European-style production on the War Memorial stage.

Elektra_SFO2.pngMuseum with interpolated bedroom, living room and kitchen of surrogate family

Director Warner set up his concept in the a vista (open-to-view) stage while the audience was finding its way to its seats and reading the program booklet. Those of us who didn’t pay much attention to the open stage and to what we assumed was an over-used Brechtian convention (meaninglessly used in the 2009 Salome as example) had some catching up to do once the opera started. We had no idea that the evening had begun before it began.

But we correctly assumed that the girl dressed all in black was Elektra. Little by little it became clear that the setting was not just a museum but actually an antiquities museum, and the girl dressed in black was going to relive a domestic drama (mother kills the girl’s father), its actors confused between ghosts of antiquity and the actual members of a modern family.

Thus it became a sort of soap-opera docudrama of the Strauss opera that we either enjoyed sorting out, most evidently did, or we did not (I didn’t). Director Warner was so involved creating his concept in a myriad of detail that the idées fixes — the obsessions — of Elektra, Klytemnestra, and Orest simply evaporated into his orgy of storytelling.

In fact Mr. Warner’s Elektra re-creation was so vividly explained that for me it overpowered the splendors emanating from the pit and eviscerated the opera’s usual punch.

The Elektra bar has been set really high in recent productions around the world. San Francisco Opera’s Elektra, American soprano Christine Goerke, kept pace. She is in prime form vocally, and showed herself well capable of withstanding Elektra’s extended vocal tortures with appealing musicianship. If from time to time you wished for a bigger sound you got it when Strauss demanded it. On stage she gamely and convincingly fulfilled director Warner’s idea of a family’s black sheep child in dramatic soprano wolf’s clothing.

Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka is the world’s reigning Chrysothemis. Her voice was of innocent sweetness until she became overwhelmed with Elektra’s demands and then it soared proudly over the hugest orchestral climaxes. She too convincingly and unflinchingly embodied director Warner’s character, complete with little girl mannerisms while hugging her teddy bear.

Elektra_SFO3.pngThe five Maidservants

The five maidservants of the opera’s beginning were splendidly sung once they were allowed on stage (initially they were off-stage, their sound uncomfortably muffled, so that director Warner could make his point that the ghosts of the museum were to come alive).

The balance of the cast was a mixed bag. Stephanie Blithe was to have been the Klytemnestra but she cancelled. Her replacement, Michaela Martens was over-parted in the company of Mmes. Goerke and Pieczonka, as were the Orest of Alfred Walker and the Aegisth of Robert Brubaker.

Young Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási gave convincing body to the Strauss orchestral score. Note that Mr. Warner’s staging was effected in San Francisco by Anja Kühnhold of the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Elektra: Christine Goerke; Klytemnestra: Michaela Martens; Chrysothemis: Adrianne Pieczonka; Orest: Alfred Walker; Aegisth: Robert Brubaker; Tutor of Orest: Anthony Reed; Fifth Maidservant: Rhoslyn Jones; The Overseer: Alexandra Loutsion; Maidservant 1: Jill Grove; Maidservant 2: Laura Krumm; Maidservant 3: Nicole Birkland; Maidservant 4: Sarah Cambidge; Klytemnestra’s Trainbearer: Amina Edris; An Old Servant: Bojan Kneževiċ; A Young Servant: Kyle van Schoonhoven; Klytemnestra's Confidante: Erin Neff. San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Conductor: Henrik Nánási; Original Director: Keith Warner; Revival Director: Anja Kühnhold; Set Designer: Boris Kudlička; Costume Designer: Kaspar Glarner; Lighting Designer: John Bishop; Video Designer: Bartek Macias. War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, September 13, 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):