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

<em>Ariadne auf Naxos</em>: Santa Fe Opera
03 Aug 2018

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

Ariadne auf Naxos: Santa Fe Opera

A review by James Sohre

Above: Samantha Gossard (Dryade), Meryl Dominguez (Najade), Sarah Tucker (Echo), and Amanda Echalaz (Prima Donna/Ariadne)

Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018

 

The late Mr. Crosby founded the festival, of course, and Ariadne was included in the inaugural line-up. By the time he retired, Maestro had conducted some 567 performances, 171 of them Strauss operas. This new production is the fourth in the work’s history here, and makes a solid case for the opus. From first to last, the cast is peopled with some of the leading practitioners in the field.

Amanda Echalaz is quite a galvanizing presence as Ariadne, her dark-hued, voluminous soprano a mighty force to be reckoned with. This is an instrument of not only immense power, but also possessed of a warm elegance. Ms. Echalaz is capable of pinning you back in your seat one minute with imperious suffering, and tug at your heart the next with exceedingly persuasive pianissimi.

Amanda Echalaz.jpg Amanda Echalaz (Prima Donna/Ariadne). Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018.

Like other notable large voices, the outpouring of rich sound can sometimes supersede the enunciation of every consonant, and an occasional unsteady soft high note betrayed her otherwise sound musical technique. Nonetheless, this was a pleasing and effective role traversal that aspired to sweep all before it.

Liv Redpath was quite an accomplished Zerbinetta, with a virtuosic command of coloratura, a decent sense of comedy, an endearing charisma, and a crystalline tone that proved a winning combination. The slight graininess to her fluty soprano makes it fall very engagingly on the ear, but a generalized stage presence meant that a very conscientiously vocalized Großmächtige Prinzessin fell just the short of the tour de force it can be.

Liv Redpath (Zerbinetta) and Amanda Majeski (Composer).jpgLiv Redpath (Zerbinetta) and Amanda Majeski (Composer). Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018.

Bruce Sledge brought a highly attractive, clarion tenor to the role of Bacchus. Mr. Sledge’s generous, freely produced tone was wedded to a rock solid technique that allow him to assay a very pliant reading of this notoriously difficult sing. I have rarely heard anyone craft such gorgeous, arching, urgent phrases in this part. I hope he paces himself in his career to be around for many years, because this repertoire needs him now.

As the commedia quartet, pride of place must be given to the endearingly personable Harlequin of Jarrett Ott. The young baritone is at a breakthrough moment in his career thanks to various high vis projects, and he gifts this current role with a richly suave baritone, handsome demeanor, lively stage presence, and infectious sense of fun. Strauss gives Harlequin several chances to shine, and shine Jarrett Ott emphatically does.

Commedia 4tet.jpgTerrence Chin-Loy (Brighella), Liv Redpath (Zerbinetta), Anthony Robin Schneider (Truffaldino), Jarrett Ott (Harlequin), and Matthew DiBattista (Scaramuccio). Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018.

Not to be outdone, Anthony Robert Schneider’s mellifluous bass enlivened Truffaldino, Matthew DiBattista’s substantial tenor was a perfect fit for Scaramuccio, and tenor Terence Chin-Loy’s gleaming tone successfully caressed Brighella’s high-flying passages. Together, the four of them were a well-oiled machine, strutting, dancing, cavorting and of course, singing remarkably well. On the distaff side of the “opera” proper, Meryl Dominguez (Najade), Samantha Gossard (Dryade) and Sarah Tucker (Echo) provided consistently alluring singing, whether singly or together.

If anyone owned the Prologue, it was likely veteran Rodney Gilfry, giving a bravura performance as the put upon Music Master. Mr. Gilfry was in fine fettle, his robust baritone rarely sounding better. His commitment and animation dominated his every scene. That is not to diminish the dynamic accomplishment of Amanda Majeski as the earnest, anguished Composer. While I tend to prefer a mezzo in this part, Ms. Majeski’s compelling, penetrating soprano made a fine case for the role. I only wished her interpretation had been a bit less relentless and a mite more nuanced.

Rod Gilfry (Music Master).jpgRod Gilfry (Music Master). Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018.

In a spoken role, Kevin Burdette provided a Masters Class in condescension as the amusingly smug Major-Domo. Brent Michael Smith’s luxurious bass served up solid singing as the Footman, while Jarrett Logan Porter’s warm baritone made for a pleasant turn as the Wigmaker. Lithe and sprightly Brenton Ryan was an animated Dancing Master, and his pointed tenor was deployed with skill and aplomb. Jesse Darden’s assured tenor made the most of his time as the Officer.

Conductor James Gaffigan elicited admirably idiomatic playing from his pit musicians. This is a tricky score, with a reduced orchestration, and Maestro Gaffigan not only crafted soaring ensemble effects with this smallish band, but also drew out the very best solo playing from this talented assemblage. The often prankish, chamber music accompaniment was always wedded seamlessly with the singers. And the gossamer effects at opera’s end were fully realized, and delightfully rendered.

The physical production, while simple, was everything one could wish. Tobias Hoheisel was the accomplished set and costume designer, the former slightly more effective than the latter. The Prologue is set in a shallow, nondescript hallway upstage of which are four doors, three of which are dressing rooms, one of which is a good goof. A long staircase stage left leads to the mansion proper (we are led to believe). So in this Upstairs/Downstairs scenario, these “actors” are definitely in the “downstairs.” The four commedia men are relegated to changing behind a makeshift curtain down left.

Act II (the opera) is a marked shift from reality to fantasy. Mr. Hoheisel has devised a mysterious, upwardly swirling conical structure of an island that somehow evokes a close up Georgia O’Keefe study. The two soaring halves contain a circular playing space that is mysterious, magical and multipurpose. Ariadne’s cave stage left is more a red womb, a sort of stylish oversized Roche-Bobois pedestal chair. The simple addition stage right of a stack of classy wooden pallets, topped with a red upholstered chair balances the high culture realm of the classical opera (cave) and the low culture realm of entertainment (pallets).

Samantha Gossard (Dryade) et al.jpgSamantha Gossard (Dryade), Meryl Dominguez (Najade), Amanda Echalaz (Prima Donna/Ariadne), and Sarah Tucker (Echo). Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera 2018.

Mr. Hoheisels’ costumes, while visually appealing were more puzzling. He seemed to be contrasting a Music Hall look for the commedia troupe against a sleeker concert look for the royals. But then there were the uniforms of the household staff. The period didn’t seem entirely consistent even though it was visually satisfying. Thomas C. Hase designed some highly atmospheric lighting, straightforward in the prologue (complete with practical lanterns), moody and mythical in “the opera.”

Tim Albery directed, as well as providing the effective English translation for the Prologue (and for many stretches of interjections in Act II). While Mr. Albery’s basic traffic management was efficient and sensible, the rich detail often present in his work seemed in short supply. Aside from Jodi Melnick’s clever choreography, the action often seemed stuck in neutral. Most lacking was the realization of the unfolding relationship of Ariadne and Bacchus resulting in a loving unification, which, devoid of any palpable emotional connection, seemed to go for too little.

Happily, we could always simply rejoice that musically, some of the best interpreters around were treating us to a generous helping of vintage Strauss. Mr. Crosby, your legacy lives on.

James Sohre

Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Music Master: Rod Gilfry; Major-Domo: Kevin Burdette; Footman: Brent Michael Smith; Officer: Jesse Darden; Composer: Amanda Majeski; The Tenor/Bacchus: Bruce Sledge; Wigmaker: Jarrett Logan Porter; Zerbinetta: Liv Redpath; Prima Donna/Ariadne: Amanda Echalaz; Dancing Master: Brenton Ryan; Najade: Meryl Dominguez; Dryade: Samantha Gossard; Echo: Sarah Tucker; Harlequin: Jarrett Ott; Truffaldino: Anthony Robert Schneider; Scaramuccio: Matthew DiBattista; Brighella: Terence Chin-Loy; Conductor: James Gaffigan; Director and English Translation: Tim Albery; Set and Costume Design: Tobias Hoheisel; Lighting Design: Thomas C. Hase; Choreography: Jodi Melnick

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):