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

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

Orlando in San Francisco

George Frederic Handel was both victim and survivor of the San Francisco Opera’s Orlando seen last night on the War Memorial stage.

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

Don Giovanni at Garsington Opera

A violent splash of black paint triggers the D minor chord which initiates the Overture. The subsequent A major dominant is a startling slash of red. There follows much artistic swishing and swirling by Don Giovanni-cum-Jackson Pollock. The down-at-heel artist’s assistant, Leporello, assists his Master, gleefully spraying carmine oil paint from a paint-gun. A ‘lady in red’ joins in, graffiti-ing ‘WOMAN’ across the canvas. The Master and the Woman slip through a crimson-black aperture; the frame wobbles.

A brilliant The Bartered Bride to open Garsington's 2019 30th anniversary season

Is it love or money that brings one happiness? The village mayor and marriage broker, Kecal, has passionate faith in the banknotes, while the young beloveds, Mařenka and Jeník, put their own money on true love.

A reverent Gluck double bill by Classical Opera

In staging this Gluck double bill for Classical Opera, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, director John Wilkie took a reverent approach to classical allegory.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Time Stands Still: L'Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

Christina Pluhar would presumably irritate the Brexit Party: she delights in crossing borders and boundaries. Mediterraneo, the programme that she recorded and performed with L’Arpeggiata in 2013, journeyed through the ‘olive frontier’ - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain, southern Italy - mixing the sultry folk melodies of Greece, Spain and Italy with the formal repetitions of Baroque instrumental structures, and added a dash of the shady timbres and rhythmic litheness of jazz.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

n, Hanna Schwarz as Pique Dame [All photos copyright Ruth Walz, courtesy of the SBrandon Jovanovich as Hermanalzburg Festival]
16 Aug 2018

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Pique Dame at the Salzburg Festival

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Brandon Jovanovich as Hermann, Hanna Schwarz as Pique Dame [All photos copyright Ruth Walz, courtesy of the Salzburg Festival]

 

There were ghosts present — Jansons’ teacher Herbert von Karajan who influenced the design of the Grosses Festspielhaus to favor the Vienna Philharmonic, and Neuenfel’s artistic ancestors — Salzburg Festival founder Max Reinhardt and the surrealist poet/sculptor, Max Ernst — who formed Mr. Neuenfels to be an enfant terrible of a more recent German opera world.

No longer of an age to be thought of as enfant terrible Neuenfels nevertheless is true to form. He did create a truly surreal Pique Dame, its action frozen into multiple tableaux, tableaux that oozed the luxe of Czarist Russia, the austerity of death, the naïveté of love, the joy of sunlight, the frustration of waiting, the anxiety of searching, and so on.

Fixating on the specific mood and atmosphere of each number of Pique Dame (it is very much an old style numbers opera) the heavy pathos of Tchaikovsky’s tormented, obsessed lovers is overlooked, pushed aside to paint the moments of the story. We were no longer able to connect a flow of feeling, thus we were left with no sympathy for Hermann or for Liza. We did have a huge sense of their world.

PiqueDame_Salzburg2.pngBrandon Jovanovich as Hermann, Eugenia Muraveva as Liza

These atmospheres were gloriously, indeed sumptuously created in Von Karajan’s very present orchestra pit, conductor Jansons urging every possible color from the Vienna Philharmonic, its solo players and its sections creating their unique Vienna tonal world. It was this orchestra beyond compare that riveted us for the multitude of scenes that exposed the soul of the tormented composer Tchaikovsky far more than it involved us in Pushkin’s tale.

Conductor Jansons considers this opera one of the ten finest in the repertory. Though most of us would not agree we surely must appreciate his respect for the piece and for this surely once-in-a-lifetime reading.

The stage setting and costumes were huge in keeping with this orchestral magnitude. Huge gray tufted walls were set upon a black floor laden with conveyor belts used to move fixed battalions of choristers on and off the stage and to allow Hermann to remain stationary while walking, as examples. A proscenium was built into the back wall through which smaller stages were thrust forward for the pastoral performance and as a hospital room the death of the countess. As well the gray surround walls served as a screen for huge projections of storms, city streets and, of course the triumphant face of the pique dame as the production’s final image.

Each chorus number, and there are many, was specifically costumed. There were possibly one hundred choristers, dressed first as fantastically breasted Mother Gooses, keepers of the possibly 50 children chorus who arrived in cages. The choristers became bathers, then donned rain gear when the weather changed, wore party dress for the engagement scene, skeleton costumes, elaborately bustled black dresses, and the men in tuxedos for the final card game.

It was extravagant, overpowering, expensive costuming.

If the elaborate costuming of the choruses illustrated the various exotic tableaux, the principles remained rather plainly and simply dressed in their anguish. Lisa was in simple, contemporary black and white attire, the Pique Dame wore a bizarre short-shirted, pink and green concoction, clothing she shed as she slowly died.

Hermann, the obsessed gambler, masterfully enacted by American tenor Brandon Jovanovich, was from beginning to end a toy soldier in an unbuttoned red uniform. Beautifully sung through the tortured twistings of his obsessive love of Liza and his obsessive quest of the Pique Dame’s three cards (not to discount the oblique, obsessive goals of the production) he was indeed an operatic soldier of impressive magnitude.

PiqueDame_Salzburg3.pngThe death of Hermann, plus all named male characters

Mr. Jovanovich’s heated performance was in contrast to the distant involvement of Russian soprano Eugenia Muraveva as Liza. Mlle. Muraveva is an excellent singer of elegant presence and great reserve. Both Tchaikovsky’s Liza, and last summer’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (that befell her when Nina Stemme fell ill) are well beyond her histrionic range.

The Countess aka Pique Dame was portrayed by 75 year-old, once mezzo Hanna Schwarz who brought little old lady confusion to this role usually taken by old divas of important presence. Mme. Schwartz delivered her death aria in a thin, dying voice, pathetic rather than moving, a performance well in keeping with the emotional void generated by the Neuenfels production.

The more direct and satisfying performances came from Russian male voiced imports — baritone Igor Golovatenko as Liza’s intended Prince Yeletsky, baritone Vladislav Sulimsky as Count Tomsky, bass Stanislavsky Trofimov as Surin, tenor Pavel Petrov as Chaplitsky, bass Gleb Peryazev as Narumov, and tenor Alexander Kravets as Chekalinski.

Equally impressive were the Russian female voices that completed the cast, Oksana Volkova as Polina, Margarita Nekrasova as the governess, Vasilisa Berzhanskaya as Mascha, and Yulia Suleimanova as Prilepa.

Michael Milenski


Production information:

Sets: Christian Schmidt; Costumes: Reinhard von der Thannen; Lights: Stefan Billiger

Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, August 13, 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):