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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

© Adam Fuss / Xavier Hufkens Gallery
03 Oct 2018

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above © Adam Fuss / Xavier Hufkens Gallery

 

It is thus ideally suited to Romeo Castellucci's intelligent, literate approach, with multiple layers of symbols, not all of which might be obvious at first, but become more rewarding with each viewing. His sets are elegant but don't operate on appearance alone. Castellucci is a director for those who care enough about opera to make an effort to penetrate beyond the surface. Those who want opera to be "pretty" can be content, but they'll miss out on the real depths. Please read more about three of his recent productions Salzburg Salomé, Munich Tannhäuser, and Henze's The Raft of the Medusa. Like composers, and conductors and artistes, good directors have a vocabulary of their own : the more you experience, the more patterns emerge.

Castellucci's approach to Die Zauberflöte is illuminating on many levels, a term which has more meaning in this case than usual, since illumination is a concept at the core of Freemason beliefs. Freemasons are "The Sons of Light", light meaning enlightenment, self-awareness and understanding an individual's place in a community. Members undergo rites of initiation, facing challenges as they rise within the hierarchy. Until very recently, secrecy was also part of the Freemason ethos, further emphasising the concept that wisdom comes not as an automatic right for everyone, but only to those who make the effort to seek it out. Elitist perhaps, but that kind of elitism is no bad thing.

Thus the Overture is played over a dark set where a man faces a single line of light and tries to grasp it. Other men appear, in strange non-human regalia, with a sheet of coloured cloth. It's evidently a reference to something, though one I don't get, which is part of the fascination of Castellucci productions : you don't need to know everything first time round, which in itself is the beginning of wisdom. The darkness remains, but now is backdrop to props and costumes of lustrous whiteness: singers and actors move like dolls in an elegant music box, seen through a haze of fine gauze. Rococo elaboration against classical formality. For more detail about the set design, as beautiful as icing on a wedding cake, please see HERE. The singers move in symmetrical patterns, suggesting at once the intricate layers in the plot and the idea that the characters’ fates are controlled by forces beyond their control. The moon, the sun, the movement of planets in the universe and the traverse of time. Lots of feathers, too, evoking nature and the birds, and Papageno (Georg Nigl) whose job it is to trap and kill. In Die Zauberflöte the Queen of the Night (Sabine Devieilhe) pits her wits against Sarastro (Gábor Betz) and his confrères. Men versus women, an undercurrent that runs through the piece, which Castellucci, with his appreciation of the "Eternal Feminine", knows how to develop.

Thus the interlude between the first and second acts, separating the silvery night from golden day. At first, the impersonal "song" of machines : three women are seen using breast pumps. Real women, who lactate. the contrast between this intimate act of selfless nurturance and the hollow drone of the machine makes a point. As the real music starts the milk is poured into a long tube - the tube which represented light right at the beginning. This makes sense connected to Sarastro's aria "O Isis und Osiris" which follows, which is an invocation to protect those starting out on their journey ahead. Castellucci then inserts spoken dialogue which also should not shock, since dialogue is part of the Singspiele tradition. Women and men on two sides of the same stage, costumed as anonymous androgynes. As they tell of the challenges they have faced in their lives, they become individual, with personalities and backgrounds. Compelling testimonies about coming to terms with blindness and disfigurement. Many of these speakers are in fact real people, not actors, and they've faced challenges most of us may (hopefully) never meet. So anyone in the audience who can't face these brutal truths therefore fails the challenges placed before them. "We have passed through the Night. We are very close to freedom". So don't anyone dare knock this scene or sneer at their courage, and Castellucci's decision to let them speak. The reason the dialogue is in English is, I think, because the speakers come from different countries, but are united by experience - another concept important to this drama.

More gold - more "light"- but androgyny still prevails, since enlightenment is not yet achieved. Georg Nigl's robust Papageno provides comic relief, of a sort, but the silvery tomes that accompany his song suggest the silvery tones of the night. For much the same reason, the Three Knaben represent immaturity. They have the innocence of birds, for they have not experienced challenge. Tamino (Ed Lyon) and Pamina (Sophie Kärthauser) will, however, grow up in the course of the time as they face their destiny. Different couples - professional singers and amateur speakers - are seen interacting together, coming to "know" each other and themselves. More symmetry still, and almost painful vulnerability. A blind woman lets herself be touched, respectfully, by men whose hands are maimed : she has learned to trust, not to judge. Would that more audience dared the same ! Then another surprise - the Narrator (Dietrich Henschel) speaks He finds himself alone. "I am not myself, but still myself. I have crossed another horizon", he says "But I have you, silvery light, victorious over fire". He calls out the individual names of the non-professional speakers, who surround him, some of whom are burns victims. "You are the truth for me - you re-assure me". Thus the bird-like freedom and innocence of the Papageno-Papagena duet that follows and the joyous ensemble, where all are united, women and men, Night and Day, mortals and (possibly) immortals. "Heil sei die Geweihten! Ihr dräget durch Nacht!.....Es siegt die Stärke und Krönet zum Lohn die Schönheit und Weisheit mit ewiger Kron". A fine cast all round, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, worthy of the challenges of this visionary yet powerfully human production. Those who can cope with challenge can catch it here on arte.tv.

Anne Ozorio

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):