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

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

23 Jun 2018

Götterdämmerung in San Francisco

The truly tragic moments of this long history rich in humanity behind us we embark on the sordid tale of the Lord of the Gibichungs’s marriage to Brünnhilde and the cowardly murder of Siegfried, to arrive at some sort of conclusion where Brünnhilde sacrifices herself to somehow empower women. Or something.

Gotterdammerung in San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Alberich appearing to Hagen in a dream [All photos copyright Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

 

The Zambello Ring is big, and particularly Götterdämmerung is huge. There is a lot of video — Wagner’s musical interludes are always fully illustrated. Some of this surprisingly successful video was newly created for this revival by S. Katy Tucker, earlier created videos were by Jan Hartley.

There is a lot of architecture — abandoned warehouse buildings of some post-industrial era, monumental civic structures, crumbling elevated cement roadways, there are tons of plastic bottles that litter a dried up river bed. In this re-mounting of the 2011 San Francisco Ring the sets designed by Michael Yeargan have become fully absorbed into the telling of the saga, and fully achieve Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwert where words and music are one with sight, an achievement to be savored as it is indeed rare.

The Donald Runnicles Ring is big, well exploiting the full resources of the eighty-nine players of the admirable San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Seated on the left side of the theater the magnitude of sound flowed gloriously across the expanse of the theater to fully absorb me into its myriad of leitmotivic detail and massive ensemble. The Wagnerian Rhine, its reality and its myth, was fully present in the Runnicles reading.

The signature image of the Götterdämmerung is the massive computer mother board and the three norns who plug and replug cables until one snaps in the famous orchestral clap and we enter the pitiful world of the Gibichungs (FYI fourth century Burgandians) whose leader is the unmarried Gunter, his sister Gutrune is also unmarried. Alberich’s son Hagen manipulates these two weak creatures into disastrous marriages to further his goal of becoming lord of the ring and possessor of the massive hoard of gold.

Gotterdammerung_SF3.pngHagen kills Siegfried. The Ring production costume designer is Catherine Zuber.

San Francisco Opera’s house bass Andrea Silvestrelli sang Hagen. Mr. Silvestrelli’s extraordinary height plus his dark, rough and powerful voice gave a strong presence to this cunning personnage who cruelly orchestrates the marital disasters. Though you might wish for more elegance of sound and subtlety of character, Mr. Silverstrelli certainly did the job, playing the role to the hilt.

San Francisco Opera house baritone Brian Mulligan sang Gunter. Mr. Mulligan possesses a very beautiful, Italianate voice without supplying a persuasive presence. This worked for establishing a certain character for Gunter though you might have wished for a less lyric voice and a more forward personality. Mr. Mulligan did succeed in making Gunter pathetic, evoking my reluctant sympathies for such a weakness.

We first encountered mezzo soprano Jamie Barton as a contemptuous Fricka. In Götterdämmerung she sings Waltraute, Brünnhilde’s valkyrie sister who comes to Brünnhilde to beg her to return the ring to the Rhine, to break its curse and perhaps save the gods. It is our last reference to Wotan before his annihilation in the opera’s last moments. Unfortunately Mlle. Barton was unable to achieve the angst and the gravitas that might have moved Brünnhilde to save her father. The complexity of the pathos of this scene were lost in its pallid reading.

Gotterdammerung_SF2.pngSiegfried and his two brides. Gutrune (right) sung by Melissa Citro

Soprano Iréne Theorin perservered through it all. In firm Brünnhilde character she ferociously denounced her marriage to Gunter, and together with Hagan and Gunter she swore revenge on Siegfried, this spectacular marriage scene set in the monumental architecture of the Gibichung Hall. She remained in equal vocal radiance for her immolation. Tenor Daniel Brenna’s Siegfried perservered through it all to make, finally, his scene with the Rhine maidens one of the memorable moments of the entire Ring. Maestro Runnicles brought earth shattering pathos to Siegfried’s death, freezing for eternity the complex emotions of this climactic moment.

After much sublime poetry over sixteen or so hours of one of the finest Rings I have ever seen, the immolation of Brünnhilde and the gods of Valhalla was strangely prosaic. Inexplicably, or maybe as victimized sisters Gutrune, Siegfried’s wife, stood by Brünnhilde’s during the valkerie's invocation to the ravens (unseen) to fly to Valhalla. The female chorus joined the Rhine maidens and Gutrune on stage for Brünnhilde’s horseless immolation. The radiant calm of the Ring’s final music was captured by the Rhine maidens energetically swirling great swathes of gold cloth.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Brunnhilde: Irene Thorin; Siegfried: Daniel Brenna; Gunther: Brian Mulligan; Hagen: Andrea Silvestrelli; Waltraute: Jamie Barton; Gutrune: Melissa Citro; Alberich: Falk Struckmann; First Norn: Ronnita Miller; Second Norn: Jamie Barton; Third Norn: Sarah Cambidge; Woglinde: Stacey Tappan; Wellgunde: Lauren McNeese; Flosshilde: Renée Tatum. Chorus and orchestra of the San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Donald Runnicles; Production/Stage Director: Francesca Zambello; Associate Director: Laurie Feldman; Choreographer: Denni Sayers; Set Designer: Michael Yeargan; Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber; Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough; Projections: Jan Hartley. War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, June 17, 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):