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

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

Dear Marie Stopes: a thought-provoking chamber opera

“To remove the misery of slave motherhood and the curse of unwanted children, and to secure that every baby is loved before it is born.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Prince Pao and Haitang falling in love [Photos copyright Jean Louis Fernandez courtesy of the Opéra de Lyon]
23 Jan 2018

The Chalk Circle in Lyon

Not the 14th century Chinese play nor its 1832 French translation, but a 1931 operatic re-creation by Alexander Zemlinsky of a 1925 German translation by “Klabund,” staged just now in Lyon by French stage director Richard Brunel.

The Chalk Circle in Lyon

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Prince Pao and Haitang falling in love

All photos copyright Jean Louis Fernandez courtesy of the Opéra de Lyon

 

Der Kreiderkreis or The Chalk Circle or Le Circle de Craie in French (1931) is the seventh of Zemlinsky’s eight operas (A Florentine Tragedy [1916] is the fifth, The Dwarf [1921] is the sixth, the unfinished Le Roi Candaule is the eighth). This Lyon production is the French premiere of The Chalk Circle.

Zemlinski’s The Chalk Circle is realized in masterful musical strokes, the late Romanticism and its destruction that surrounded Zemlinsky is fully assimilated into a finished style that floats faultlessly from the grotesque to the sublime, through cruelty and hopelessness to generosity and redemption. The.exotic tones of the ancient Orient and the new American world plus extended tracts in the actual spoken language finished the sophisticated soundscape of this tumultuous German political era. It was a unique music that mesmerized the opening night audience.

Director Richard Brunel found this sound world in ephemeral white images that merely suggested architecture. He dressed his actors in colors and periods that spoke to and of the wealth, power and corruption of the early twentieth century and to our current moment and to these early moments of the Chinese twenty-first century as well. He dissolved morality play abstractions into very specific and intense human scenes incorporating a large number of silent actors and even a live horse. The horse was white of course, and as the white snowflakes of the full stage snowstorm it too purified the heroine Haitang in her impossible plight.

5-LeCercleDeCraie3-®JeanlouisFernandez024.pngMa’s number one wife Yu-Pei overhears Haitong’s reunion with her brother Ling and hatches her plot to frame Haitang for infidelity.

The story is simple. A maiden sold into sex slavery is saved first by a villain she then purifies by giving him an heir. Accused of killing this husband by his number one wife she is again saved, now by the emperor of China himself who discerns her purity when she refuses to inflict violence on her child by wrenching it from a circle drawn by chalk. Among the splendidly staged scenes was her initial house of joy encounter with the young noble who later became emperor. It made startling effect indeed as circles of white light moved and bounced in pleasure and innocence.

Director Brunel knows however that such purity and innocence is doomed. He is not duped by the happy morality of the Chinese play. Brunel’s heroine we learn in the split second before final blackout has only imagined this happy ending. This extended delirious love duet with the emperor was but a flash in the moments before she is executed by the forces of an unjust world.

It was a production of purely human dimension executed in exquisite theatrical taste.

The cast, primarily Germanic language singers, was perfection, physically and vocally finding the depths of purity and depravity in the humanity of the characters of this ancient morality play. Conductor Lothar Koenigs created a vibrant presence for Zemlinsky’s score.

10-LeCercleDeCraie3-®JeanlouisFernandez062.pngHaitang (in red) refuses to subject her child to the violence of a physical struggle. The emperor in light tan coat looks on.

Soprano Ilse Eerens beautifully exploited every nuance of emotion felt by Haitang, convincingly traversing Zemlinsky’s quick shifts through fear, resolve, tenderness and ecstasy. Her first love, Prince Pao, the young noble later emperor sung by Stephan Rügamer, was of stentorian tone, her brother Tschang-Ling, sung by baritone Lauri Vasar was, as Haitang, a voice of sweetness and human understanding. Haitang’s husband Ma, a tax collector, sung by bass Martin Winkler was rough and raspy. His divorce lawyer Tchao, sung by baritone Zachary Altman matched the menacing warmth of his lover mezzo soprano Nicola Beller Carbone who as Ma’s number one wife was the opera’s villain. As the judge, Tchou-Tchou, at the murder trail character tenor Stefan Kurt gave terrifying presence to the corruption of power as character singer Paul Kaufman created the shocking depravity of German cabaret as the Chinese house of joy.

The French production team was metteur en scène Richard Brunel; set designer Anouk Dell’Aiera; costumer Benjamin Moreau; lighting designer Christian Pinaud and video by Fabienne Gras.

Michael Milenski


Opéra Nouvel, Lyon, January 20, 2018

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):