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 Performances

Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Barbican

Two great operas come from the year 1911 - Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Bela Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Both are masterpieces, but they are very different kinds of operas and experienced quite asymmetric performance histories.

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, London - Rattle, O'Neill, Gerhaher

By pairing Mahler Das Lied von der Erde (Simon O'Neill, Christian Gerhaher) with Strauss Metamorphosen, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra were making a truly powerful statement. The Barbican performance last night was no ordinary concert. This performance was extraordinary because it carried a message.

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Vasily Petrenko [Photo by Mark McNulty]
19 Dec 2017

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Vasily Petrenko [Photo by Mark McNulty]

 

Rimsky-Korsakov’s last opera, which premiered in 1909, after his death, is a thinly veiled parody of tyrannical stupidity and callousness. Its composition, to a libretto by Vladimir Belski based on Pushkin, was prompted by the Russian Revolution of 1905. The bird of the title is a magic animal given by an Astrologer to Tsar Dodon to warn him of impending enemy attacks. Aleksandra Kubas-Kruk crowed beautifully as the Golden Cockerel, mostly from the balcony, her soprano slightly heavier than is usual in the role. Fearing hostility from Shemakha, Dodon sends his army eastward, led by his two doltish sons, who slay each other by mistake. The war ends when the Queen of Shemakha seduces Dodon and they get married. Then the Astrologer claims her as his price for the cockerel, and both he and the Tsar meet a sticky end. As if to soften the satirical edge, the Astrologer is resurrected to reassure the audience that they’ve just witnessed an illusion, and that only he and the Queen are real. This simple tale unfolds on a colorful orchestral tapestry, where the kingdom of blundering Dodon is contrasted with the tantalizing exoticism of Shemakha. Vasily Petrenko rendered the score like a master painter, as vivid in the delicate tracery of arpeggiated accompaniment as in the brass-heavy, showy parades. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic responded to his sure-footed leadership by performing at their virtuosic best. There were superlative solos, including the recurring Astrologer’s bell motif and the satin ribbon of the Queen’s theme on the clarinet and fellow woodwinds. The prominent brass acquitted themselves with honors, but so did every other section.

Selfish Dodon, incompetent and indifferent towards his people, is an unsparing caricature of Tsar Nicolas II. But Rimsky-Korsakov also parodies the stylistic devices of the Mighty Handful, the five composers, including him, who collaborated to create a distinctly Russian musical language. Dodon’s self-absorbed monologue, the pompous military marches and the risible lamentations echo their serious counterparts in operas such as Boris Godunov. Veteran bass Maxim Mikhailov, singing, like the rest of the cast, from memory, was dramatically very persuasive. Vocally, however, he lacked freshness and volume and the orchestra frequently submerged him. Dodon’s howling for his dead sons, underscored by the chorus, was inaudible. Volume was also a problem for bass Oleg Tsibulko, whose General Polkan remained tethered to the stage. Housekeeper Amelfa does little more than plump pillows and prepare nightcaps, but Yulia Mennibaeva made her a contoured, vocally alluring character, a far cry from a hooty aging servant. Mennibaeva is billed as a mezzo-soprano, which would explain why her lowest notes in this contralto role were not seamlessly stitched to the rest of her voice. Tenor Viktor Antipenko, unswerving and trumpet-like, sang Tsarevich Gvidon. Andrei Bondarenko, starting out with a fidgety top, but then settling to produce a beautifully poised baritone, was Tsarevich Afron. With voices like these, it’s a shame the princes don’t survive beyond the first act, even though their stupidity is beyond belief.

The long encounter in Act 2 between Dodon and the heartless Queen of Shemakha is a bewitching example of Russian orientalism. Rimsky-Korsakov has fun with the orgiastic abandon of “foreign” rhythms in the vein of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. When the Queen forces Dodon to dance, he shambles clumsily while the music eggs him on with a punishing accellerando. There is little irony, however, in the Queen’s enticing songs, with their chromatic cascades and sparkling orchestral hues. Venera Gimadieva, who has sung the role on the opera stage, has everything it requires. Her soprano is pure silver, with a downy middle range, employed to devastating effect during her description of her naked body. Poor Dodon is defenceless against such weaponry. With her clear, full top notes and fluid coloratura, Gimadieva was spectacular in the opera’s hit aria, the “Hymn to the Sun”. It is striking that, after so many send-ups, the people grieve for their Tsar with a magnificent choral lament. Although their praise for him is ludicrous, the composer sympathizes with the nation and refrains from ridicule. With this touching final chorus the Netherlands Radio Choir topped a glowing, round-toned performance marked by subtle role differentiation. The women’s slave chorus was an aesthetic highlight. The Astrologer is a role for a tenor who can soar comfortably above the staff. Barry Banks did so outstandingly, up to the fearful high E natural in Act 3. He sang with plenty of panache, bracketing this frequently magical performance with a fittingly strong prologue and epilogue.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Tsar Dodon: Maxim Mikhailov, bass; Tsarevich Gvidon: Viktor Antipenko, tenor; Tsarevich Afron: Andrei Bondarenko, baritone; General Polkan: Oleg Tsibulko, bass; Amelfa, a housekeeper: Yulia Mennibaeva, mezzo-soprano; Astrologer: Barry Banks, tenor; Tsaritsa of Shemakha: Venera Gimadieva, soprano; Golden Cockerel: Aleksandra Kubas-Kruk, soprano; First Boyar, Alan Belk, tenor; Second Boyar, Lars Terray, bass. Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Vasily Petrenko. Heard at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on Saturday, 16 December 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):