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 Performances

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

Earlier this month I reported from the Macerata Opera Festival – a largely Italian affair frequented by few foreigners. One week later I attended the 40th anniversary gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, about 100 km north in the same region of Le Marche and a prominent stop on the international circuit. One one hears much English, French, German and Japanese, and the printed program features a long list of non-Italian financial sponsors.

Bel Canto Beauty at St George's Hanover Square: Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda

A merciless and neurotic ruler, whose right to govern is ambiguous and disputed. A dignified Queen whose star is setting, as her husband’s heart burns with new love and her lady-in-waiting betrays her. A courtier whose devotion to the Queen, his first love, is undimmed and destined to push both towards a tragic end. No, not Donizetti’s Anna Bolena but Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda, written three years later, in 1833, for Venice’s La Fenice.

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):