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

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

The Maryland Opera Studio Defies Genre with Fascinating Double-Bill

This past weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presented a double-billed performance of two of Kurt Weill’s less familiar staged works: Zaubernacht (1922) and Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927).

Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall: Focus on Sir Harrison Birtwistle

The Nash Ensemble’s annual contemporary music showcase focused on the work of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer with whom the group has enjoyed a long and close association. Three of the six works by Birtwistle performed here were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, as was Elliott Carter’s Mosaic which, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Study for ‘Metamorphosis’ for solo bassoon, completed a programme was intimate and intricate, somehow both elusive in spirit and richly communicative.

McVicar's Faust returns to the ROH

To lose one Marguerite may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But, with the ROH Gounod’s Faust seemingly heading for ruin, salvation came in the form of an eleventh-hour arrival of a redeeming ‘angel’.

A superb Semele from the English Concert at the Barbican Hall

It’s good to aim high … but be careful what you wish for. Clichéd idioms perhaps, but also wise words which Semele would have been wise to heed.

A performance of Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante by Arcangelo

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

To the Wigmore Hall for an evening of magnificently old-school vocal performance from Ekaterina Semenchuk. It was very much her evening, rather than that of her pianist, Semyon Skigin, though he had his moments, especially earlier on.

Hubert Parry's Judith at the Royal Festival Hall

Caravaggio’s depiction (1598-99) of the climactic moment when the young, beautiful, physically weak Judith seizes the head of Holofernes by the enemy general’s hair and, flinching with distaste, cleaves the neck of the occupying Assyrian with his own sword, evokes Holofernes’ terror with visceral precision - eyes and screaming mouth are wide open - and is shockingly theatrical, the starkly lit figures embraced by blackness.

La Pietà in Rome

Say "La Pietà" and you think immediately of Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà. Just now Roman Oscar-winning film composer Nicola Piovani has asked us to contemplate two additional Pietà’s in Rome, a mother whose son is dead by overdose, and a mother whose son starved to death.

Orfeo ed Euridice in Rome

No wrecked motorcycle (director Harry Kupfer’s 1987 Berlin Orfeo), no wrecked Citroen and black hearse (David Alagna’s 2008 Montpellier Orfée [yes! tenorissimo Roberto Alagna was the Orfée]), no famed ballet company (the Joffrey Ballet) starring in L.A. Opera’s 2018 Orpheus and Eurydice).

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel - a world premiere at English National Opera

Jack the Ripper is as luridly fascinating today as he was over a century ago, so it was no doubt sensationalist of the marketing department of English National Opera to put the Victorian serial killer’s name first and the true subject of Iain Bell’s new opera - his victims, the women of Whitechapel - as something of an after-thought. Font size matters, especially if it’s to sell tickets.

Tosca at the Met


The 1917 Met Tosca production hung around for 50 years, bested by the 1925 San Francisco Opera production that lived to the ripe old age of 92.  The current Met production is just 2 years old but has the feel of something that can live forever.

Drama Queens and Divas at the ROH: Handel's Berenice

A war ‘between love and politics’: so librettist Antonio Salvi summarised the conflict at the heart of Handel’s 1737 opera, Berenice. Well, we’ve had a surfeit of warring politics of late, but there’s been little love lost between opposing factions, and the laughs that director Adele Thomas and her team supply in this satirical and spicy production at the ROH’s stunningly re-designed Linbury Theatre have been in severely short supply.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Samson et Dalila at the Met


It was the final performance of the premiere season of Darko Tresnjak’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Four tenors later. 

The Enchantresse and Dido and Aeneas
in Lyon

Dido and Aeneas, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Tchaikowsky’s L’Enchantresse, the three operas of the Opéra de Lyon’s annual late March festival all tease destiny. But far more striking than the thematic relationship that motivates this 2019 festival is the derivation of these three productions from the world of hyper-refined theater, far flung hyper-refined theater.

The devil shares the good tunes: Chelsea Opera Group's Mefistofele

Every man ‘who burns with a thirst for knowledge and life and with curiosity about the nature of good and evil is Faust ... [everyone] who aspires to the Unknown, to the Ideal, is Faust’.

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

<em>Götterdammerung</em>, Munich Festival Opera
29 Jul 2018

Götterdämmerung in Munich

What I am about to write must be taken with the proviso that I have not seen, this year or any other, the rest of Andreas Kriegenburg’s Munich Ring. Friends tell me that would have made little difference, yet I cannot know for certain.

Götterdammerung, Munich Festival Opera

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Siegfried (Stefan Vinke), Hagen (Hans-Peter König), Brünnhilde (Nina Stemme)

Photo credit: Wilfried Hösl

 

It is also an odd thing, perhaps, to start as well as to end with Götterdämmerung, although that oddness may well be overstated. Wagner’s initial intention was, after all, to write a single drama on the death of Siegfried; after a certain point in the formulation of theRing project, much of what had been written as Siegfrieds Tod remained as Götterdämmerung. Might one even be able to recapture something of that initial intent, relying on the narrations here as they might originally have been conceived? Perhaps - and it is surely no more absurd intrinsically to watch - and to listen to - one of the Ring dramas than it is to one part of the Oresteia . On the other hand, a Götterdämmerung conceived as a one-off - whether in simple terms or as part of a series such as that presented some time ago by Stuttgart, each by a different director, glorying in rather than apologising for disjuncture and incoherence - will perhaps be a different thing from this. Anyway, we have what we have, and I can only speak of what I have seen and heard.

In that respect, I am afraid, this Götterdämmerung proved sorely disappointing - especially, although not only, as staging. Indeed, the apparent vacuity of the staging combined with what seemed a distinctly repertoire approach - yes, I know there will always be constraints upon what a theatre can manage - combined to leave me resolutely unmoved throughout. This did not seem in any sense to be some sort of post-Brechtian strategy, a parallel to where parts at least of Frank Castorf’s now legendary Bayreuth Ring started out - if not, necessarily, always to where they ended up. I distinctly had the impression that what acting we saw had come from a largely excellent cast. Is that at least an implicit criticism of the revival direction? Not necessarily. I know nothing of how what few rehearsals I suspect there were had been organised. I could not help but think, though, that once again Wagner’s wholesale rejection - theoretical and, crucially, practical too - of the ideology and practices of ‘normal’ theatres had once again been vindicated. This, after all, is the final day of a Bühnenfestspiel. At one point, he even wrote of post-revolutionary performances in a temporary theatre on the banks of the Rhine, after which it and the score would be burnt. Did he mean that? At the time, he probably did, just as we mean all sorts of things at the time we might not actually do in practice. Nevertheless, his rejection of everyday practice points us to an important truth concerning his works. As Pierre Boulez, whilst at work on the Ring at Bayreuth, put it: ‘Opera houses are often rather like cafés where, if you sit near enough to the counter, you can hear waiters calling out their orders: “One Carmen! And one Walküre! And one Rigoletto!”’ What was needed, Boulez noted approvingly, ‘was an entirely new musical and theatrical structure, and it was this that he [Wagner] gradually created’. Bayreuth, quite rightly, remains the model; Bayreuth, quite wrongly, remains ignored by the rest of the world.

Munich chorus.jpg Chorus. Photo credit: Wilfried Hösl.

Such unhelpfulness out of the way, what did we have? Details of Kriegenburg’s staging seem to borrow heavily - let us say, pay homage to - from other productions. The multi-level, modern-office-look set is not entirely unlike that for Jürgen Flimm’s (justly forgotten) Bayreuth staging. Brünnhilde arrives at the Gibichung Court with a paper bag over her head, although it is sooner shed than in Richard Jones’s old Covent Garden Ring. I shall not list them all, but they come across here, without much in the way of conceptual apparatus, more as clichés than anything else. Are they ironised, then? Not so far as I could tell. I liked Siegfried’s making his way through a baffling - to him - crowd of consumers, as he entered into the ‘real world’, images from advertising and all. Alas, the idea did not really seem to lead anywhere.

A euro figure (€) is present; perhaps it has been before. First, somewhat bafflingly, it is there as a rocking horse for Gutrune; again, perhaps there is a backstory to that. Then, it seems to do service - not a bad idea, this - as an unclosed ring-like arena for some of the action, although it is not quite clear to me why it does at some times and not at others. Presumably this is the euro as money rather than as emblematic hate-figure for the ‘euroscepticism’ bedevilling Europe in general and my benighted country in particular. (That said, I once had the misfortune to be seated in front of Michael Gove and ‘advisor’, whose job appeared to be to hold Gove’s jacket, at Bayreuth; so who knows?) There also seems to be a sense of Gutrune as particular victim, an intriguing sense, although again it is only intermittently maintained. Doubtless her behaviour earlier on, drunk, hungover, posing for selfies with the vassals, might be ascribed to her exploitation by the male society; here, however, it comes perilously close to being repeated on stage rather than criticised. That she is left on stage at the end, encircled by a group of actors who occasionally come on to ‘represent’ things - the Rhine during Siegfried’s journey, for instance - is clearly supposed to be significant. I could come up with various suggestions why that might be so; I am not at all convinced, however, that any of them would have anything to do with the somewhat confused and confusing action here.

Hagen and Gunther.jpg. Hans-Peter König (Hagen) and Markus Eiche (Gunther). Photo credit: Wilfried Hösl.

Kirill Petrenko led a far from negligible account of the score, which, a few too many orchestral fluffs aside - it nearly always happens in Götterdämmerung, for perfectly obvious reasons - proved alert to the Wagnerian melos. It certainly marked an advance upon the often hesitant work I heard from him in the Ring at Bayreuth. However, ultimately, it often seemed - to me - observed rather than participatory, especially during the Prologue and First Act. The emotional and intellectual involvement I so admired in, for instance, his performances of Tannhäuser and Die Meistersinger here in Munich was not so evident. Perhaps some at least of that dissatisfaction, however, was a matter of the production failing to involve one emotionally at all. The Munich audience certainly seemed more appreciative than I, so perhaps I was just not in the right frame of mind.

Much the same might be said of the singing. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde redeemed itself - as well, perhaps, as the world - in the third act, recovering some of that sovereign command we know, admire, even love, although even here I could not help but reflect how surer her performance at the 2013 Proms under Daniel Barenboim had been. There is nothing wrong with using the prompter; that is what (s)he is there for, as Strauss’s Capriccio M. Taupe might remind us. Stemme’s - and not only Stemme’s - persistent resort thereto, however, especially when words were still sometimes confused, was far from ideal during the first and second acts. Stefan Vinke ploughed through the role of Siegfried, often heroically, sometimes with a little too grit in the voice, yet with nothing too much to worry about. It was not a subtle portrayal, but then, what would a subtle Siegfried be?

Damerau_Stemme_c__Wilfried_Hoesl_5M1A9511 (1).jpgNina Stemme (Brünnhilde) and Okka von der Damerau (Norn). Photo credit: Wilfried Hösl.

Some might have found Hans-Peter König a little too kindly of voice as Hagen; I rather liked the somewhat avuncular persona, with a hint of concealment. Again, there was no doubting his ability to sing the role. Markus Eiche and Anna Gabler were occasionally a little small of voice and, in Eiche’s case, presence as his half-siblings, but there remained much to admire: Gabler’s whole-hearted embrace of that reimagined role, for one thing. Okka von der Damerau made for a wonderfully committed, concerned Waltraute: as so often, the highlight of the first act. John Lundgren’s darkly insidious Alberich left one wanting more, much more. The Rhinemaidens and Norns were, without exception, excellent. I especially loved the contrasting colours - Jennifer Johnson’s contralto-like mezzo in particular - and blend from the latter in the opening scene. If there are downsides to repertory systems, casting from depth as here can prove a distinct advantage. Choral singing was of the highest standard too.

If only the production, insofar as I could tell, had had more to say and more to bring these disparate elements together. Without the modern look, it might often as well have been Robert Lepage or Otto Schenk.

Mark Berry

Richard Wagner, Götterdammerung

Siegfried: Stefan Vinke; Gunther: Markus Eiche; Hagen: Hans-Peter König; Alberich: John Lundgren; Brünnhilde: Nina Stemme; Gutrune, Third Norn: Anna Gabler; Waltraute, First Norn: Okka von der Damerau; Woglinde: Hanna-Elisabeth Müller; Wellgunde: Rachael Wilson; Flosshilde, Second Norn: Jennifer Johnston; Third Norn: Anna Gabler. Director: Andreas Kriegenburg; Revival Director: Georgine Balk; Set Designs: Harald B. Thor; Costumes: Andrea Schraad; Lighting: Stefan Bolliger; Choreography: Zenta Haerter; Dramaturgy: Marion Tiedtke, Olaf A. Schmitt. Bavarian State Opera Chorus and Extra Chorus (chorus master: Sören Eckhoff)/Bavarian State Orchestra/Kirill Petrenko (conductor). Nationaltheater, Munich, Friday 27 July

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):