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

Bampton Classical Opera: Bride & Gloom at St John's Smith Square

Last week the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that in the UK the number of women getting married has fallen below 50%.

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.

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):