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

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.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

30 Sep 2018

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Salome Kammer

Photo credit: Christoph Hellhake

 

The final scene of Strauss’s Salome almost touches the edges of this musical form; indeed, this scene is often performed outside its opera in concert so one might be persuaded this is where the twentieth century monodrama evolves into its own genre. Erwartung, Schoenberg’s epochal psychological musical drama from 1909, goes very much further than Strauss, however: It’s openly Expressionist, deeply psychoanalytical, ambiguous in its narrative, terrifying in its musical language and flickers between dream and nightmare.

The link between these two concerts given by the Philharmonia Orchestra was not in the slightest tenuous; indeed, a lot conjoined the music rather than distinctly separated it. Although almost a century of music exists between Erwartung and the two works by Zender and Manoury - written respectively in 2001 and 2004 - one was drawn back into the past - no matter how obliquely - even if the musical language often felt distinctly more advanced. Hans Zender’s Cabaret Voltaire, for example, uses a text by the Dadaesque poet Hugo Ball: The text itself is almost meaningless, a complete inversion of language, though as you listen to it occasionally you’re struck by its Germanic tone: “großgiga m’pfa habla horem”. There is a linguistic geometry to much of poetry; the entirely original vocabulary, the use of repetition, the combination of consonants or vowels in close proximity to one another (“bschigi bschigi” or “a-o-auma”) are themselves music. Hearing Zender’s Cabaret Voltaire was not unlike reading, or listening to, James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.

Zender’s music, on the other hand, is distinctly ascetic, even spiky. Scored for a small chamber ensemble, this is music that coalesces around the consonantal hardness of the text; a cello or violin bow screeches or scratches against a string, a trombone is muted. The voice itself is treated in virtuosic terms - and it clearly requires a soloist calibrated to sing outside the standard operatic repertoire. Salome Kammer was simply breath-taking to listen to: The vocal acrobatics, the range and breadth of her dynamics, the sense that she has lived with this text were obvious. Only once in the entire work does Zender really plummet the depths of human emotions - in ‘Todenklage’ - and here the intensity and darkness of Kammer’s voice, as well as the soloists from the Philharmonia, really excelled in changing the atmosphere of the work.

I think Philippe Manoury’s Blackout is rather closer to Schoenberg’s Erwartung, both in its narrative and musical language. It tells the story of a woman who gets in a lift which then gets stuck during a power cut. As she waits in the darkness, her mind is forced into an emotional state of memory and dream. Manoury tells the story in real time over a period of twenty minutes - so, we get the rapid speed of the escalation of the lift contrasted with the slow-motion depiction of the narrator’s state of mind. Daniela Langer’s French text could be said to have its origins in Walter Grauman’s 1964 psychological thriller, Lady in a Cage, though the way she has written the text in prose-form suggests a nod towards the monodramas of Samuel Beckett.

Manoury writes for a slightly larger ensemble than Zender does but the expressionism is still there in spades. The febrile string writing, underscored by nervousness in the woodwind, dig deep into the psychological darkness of a mind in dream-mode. The music feels like elastic at times - it pulls between tempos that are fast and slow, and this is somewhat reflected in the narration of the text. A crackled recording of Ella Fitzgerald interjects. I don’t think this music requires the contralto Hilary Summers to use the full range of her quite remarkable voice, but she is never strained by the demands the music makes on her either. I found some of her French a little on the prosaic side, but she successfully navigated the internal psychology of the narrator’s mind to beautiful effect.

credit_Minna_Hatinen_Finnish_National_Opera_and_Ballet-1-2 (4).jpg Esa-Pekka Salonen. Photo Credit: Minna Hatinen.

The Philharmonia Orchestra’s opening concert of their autumn season, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, placed Schoenberg’s Erwartung in the middle of their programme. Schoenberg has always played to Salonen’s strengths, and so it did here. He treats this work as one of the great pillars of Modernism and there is much in his conducting of it that brings out the psychosis, lamentation and darkness of this monodrama. The fluidity he brings to the score, over its half-hour span, is quite remarkable - the contours of the music are almost unbroken, even if the trajectory of the narration never is. The changes in tempo and meter are so perfectly judged you almost feel as if this is a musical form of linguistic stream-of-consciousness. There is, however, one powerful impression one is left with in a Salonen performance of this work, and it’s a somewhat ironic one. Erwartung is a towering affirmation of Expressionism, but Salonen draws playing of incredible beauty from the Philharmonia Orchestra it seems to stand in opposition to the work’s more powerful emotive strands. I’ve rarely heard such refined woodwind playing as we got here - but this has long been a hallmark of this orchestra. It wasn’t necessarily out of place, but this came close to bordering on Romanticism.

It was left to the soloist - the outstanding Angela Denoke (replacing at short notice Camilla Nyland) - to raise this performance to the quite exceptional. Denoke brings despair, fear, madness and complete immersion into the psychological confusion the narrative demands. Her timbre resonates with darkness and ambiguity, but get to the upper range of her voice and the angst is shattering. One of the difficulties of a concert performance of this piece is it can sometimes lack the dramatic element it needs - Denoke, however, is consumed on stage in front of an orchestra using the colours of her voice to convey the moonlit streets, dense woodland or meadows and paths. The voice is entirely an expression of what Schoenberg termed his “Angst-dream”.

I’m not sure the rest of the Philharmonia’s concert was quite as memorable. “Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March” from Götterdämmerung, if notable for some superlative brass playing (especially a quartet of splendid Wagner tubas) avoided the pitfall of being overly lugubrious but sacrificed some of the music’s clarity of orchestration - I missed the transparency in the harps (pretty much inaudible), and the woodwind phrasing wasn’t plaintive enough, though I think much of this was due to the orchestral balance being somewhat overwrought. It did, nevertheless, feel cohesively dramatic. I think the best - and probably the worst - one can say about Salonen’s Bruckner Sixth Symphony was that it was utterly unique. If the opening of the first movement barely touched on Bruckner’s Majestoso tempo, Salonen’s intention was to take the rest of it at a sprightly allegro. Even if the playing was largely razor-sharp rhythms weren’t, and string bowing was notably messy. Oddly, the Adagio was taken in tempo and it was a highpoint of the performance (Tom Blomfield’s oboe solo being exquisite). The Scherzo achieved a neat symmetry of balance - with a fluid Trio section - but come the Finale the performance fell out of tempo again. The coda was undeniable exciting, but this was an extraordinarily mysterious Bruckner Sixth in almost every sense.

Marc Bridle

Hans Zender: Cabaret Voltaire for voice and ensemble (UK premiere) - Salome Kammer (vocal artist); Philippe Manoury: Blackout - Monodrama for contralto and ensemble (UK premiere) - Hilary Summers (contralto), Philharmonia Orchestra soloists, Pierre-André Valade (conductor)

Purcell Room, London; 27th September 2018.

Wagner, Schoenberg, Bruckner - Angela Denoka (soprano), Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor)

Royal Festival Hall, London; 27th September 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):