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

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

Down in flames: Berlioz's Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz's Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

23 Sep 2017

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.

The Wake World at Opera Philadelphia

A review by James Sohre

Above: Maeve Höglund as Lola [All photos copyright Dominic M. Mercier, courtesy of Opera Philadelphia]

 

This world premiere of a spellbinding new one-act opera was inspired by Aleister Crowley's fairy tale of the same name. Crowley was a larger-than-life British persona, a prolific poet, recreational drug user, magician, bisexual, and founder of his own cultist religion. The company chose to present the work in the long Annenberg Hall of the Barnes Foundation, a massively important collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern masterpieces.

Dr. Albert C. Barnes was an American chemist, art collector, educator, and writer.
After growing up in a rough and tumble Philly neighborhood, Barnes earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, amassing his fortune by co-developing Argyrol, a silver nitrate antiseptic. Along the way, he managed to procure one of the world's finest collections of late 19th- and early 20th-century art and create the Barnes Foundation, an educational institution dedicated to promoting the appreciation of fine art and horticulture.

While a student at Curtis, composerHertzberg spent a good deal of time at the Institute, and sensed a link between Barnes’ logic of eccentric groupings and mystical symbols on display in his “palace of art,” and Crowley’s elusive visionary tale of Lola and her chaotic, surreal quest to meet and wed her Fairy Prince on the way to a transcendent awakening.

The audience was allowed ample time before the show to experience the stunning collection and begin to absorb a mystique that characterizes the puzzling arrangement of the sequence of images. About 30 minutes prior to the performance, your peripheral vision catches a creature passing through the gallery. Then another. Some are in colorful unitards with skullcaps and faces painted to match. Others might be a fairy princess, a prince, two cranky old clowns. All of them float silently among us, gazing at and being inspired by the art. They become part of the exhibition itself and equally worthy of scrutiny and admiration, thanks to the fanciful costumes designed by the Terese Wadden.

WakeWorld_OT4.pngMan of the Blue House (bass-baritone James Osby Gwathney, Jr.)

Eventually the creatures lead us to the great room where we assemble, mostly standing all around a very long runway of elevated platforms. This is the stage proper but much more is in store. The creatures are silently walking, no, gliding among us. And then. . .WHAM! A crashing whack of the bass drum ricochets through the room like a gunshot. And if that didn’t make us perk up. . .WHAM! Another. And another. And then with a wordless layering of vocal sounds, chants, organ like intonements, the cast among us began a musical journey that was an unparalleled delight.

Director R.B. Schlather has realized this otherworldly rite of passage as miraculously executed immersive theatre. In the ritual opening as the voices threaten to reach Nirvana, we “get” that we are encouraged to move around the room as the opera unfolds and a parade begins around the runway like pilgrims at Mecca. When the action begins at one end of the platform and surges to the center, viewers surge with it, not only changing the dynamic of the relationship between “audience” and “actor,” but also the spatial relationship of the audience itself.

I have never seen this sort of interplay work so well, engaging without being demanding, spontaneous yet rehearsed within an inch of its life. Since there is no scenery other than the assembled cast and audience, Jax Messenger’s minimal lighting design contributed some beautiful effects, not least of which was the surprising, almost blinding back light effect that comes from an unexpected place at a crucial dramatic moment. David Zimmerman’s spot on make-up and wig design beautifully complemented Ms. Wadden’s costumes.

The central role of Lola is a big, complicated sing and soprano Maeve Höglund was triumphant. Ms. Höglund has a solid technique wedded to a rich, alluring soprano that can climb the heights with an easy sheen. She is called upon to execute extreme emotional states, and whether hurling out angular accusations, or musing introspectively, her responsive instrument was a joy to hear. It does not hurt that she is also pretty as a princess and utterly at ease in her stage demeanor.

WakeWorld_OT2.pngThe Fairy Prince (mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb), Lola (soprano Maeve Höglund)

In the trouser role of the Fairy Prince, Rihab Chaieb matched her co-star strength for strength. Her smoky, beguiling mezzo was poised and pliant, and she cut an exotic, authoritative figure as the swaggering royal. Ms. Chaieb is a first rate musician who ably met the considerable musical demands set out for her, including an easy sensuality in her caressing manner with any number of loving, arched phrases.

Soprano Jessica Beebe made the most of her solo time as Luna/Hecate, regaling us with ample tonal beauty and shimmering delivery. George Rose Somerville was totally invested into his garrulous portrayal of Morbus, and John David Miles hectored with conviction as Pestilitas. The sirens Parthenope (soprano Rebecca Myers), Ligeia (soprano Veronica Chapman-Smith), and Leucosia (mezzo-soprano Joanna Gates) intertwined their polished voices with radiant beauty. James Osby Gwathney, Jr.’s well-modulated bass-baritone made a substantial impression as Man of the Blue House. As the collective ensemble, Palace of Names, the Opera Philadelphia Chorus was superb, offering dramatic commitment as well as ravishing vocalizing.

Holding all of this together was the masterful conductor Elizabeth Braden. The musical execution was faultless, no mean feat with her forces spread across a sixty foot runway and throughout the audience. Maestra Braden found just the right balance between her exceptional instrumentalists and the vocal forces, and made a compelling case for Mr. Hertzberg’s evocative score. There are hints of Debussy, echoes of Strauss, reminiscences of Penderecki, but at the end of the day his is a unique style, and he writes gratefully and inventively for the voice.

But The Wake World not only sings, it soars. Mysterious. Challenging. Moody. Risky. Enriching. What an inspiring night in the theatre.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

The Wake World
Music and Libretto by David Hertzberg

Lola: Maeve Höglund; Fairy Prince: Rihab Chaieb; Parthenope: Rebecca Myers; Ligeia: Veronica Chapman-Smith; Leucosia: Joanna Gates; Luna/Hecate: Jessica Beebe; Morbus: George Rose Somerville; Pestilitas: John David Miles; Giant/BoneMan/Man in the Azure Coat/Man of the Blue House: James Osby Gwathney, Jr.; Palace of Names: Opera Philadeplhia Chorus; Conductor: Elizabeth Braden; Director: R.B. Schlather; Costume Design: Terese Wadden; Lighting Design: Jax Messenger; Wig and Make-up Design: David Zimmerman

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):