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

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

27 Jan 2019

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

From the House of the Dead in Lyon

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Karoly Szemeredy here as the bearded Orthodox pope (later he is Shishkov), Stefan Margita as Luka (far right in red) [All photos copyright Stofleth, courtesy of the Opéra de Lyon]

 

These seven performances at the Opéra de Lyon wrap up the run of the Warlikowski production of From the House of the Dead that started last spring at London’s Covent Garden and continued in the fall at the Brussel’s Monnaie. Veteran bass Willard White has remained the prisoner Goriantchikov, Warlikowski’s protagonist for the full run as has Czech tenor Stefan Margita (San Francisco Opera’s Loge) as the prisoner Luka. Both artists are veterans of the 2007 Patrice Chéreau Aix Festival production also seen at the Metropolitan Opera in 2009.

Note that spellings of the Russian names have been Anglicized for this review.

It is ironic that black, “veteran” (the critical adjective for the past 20 years) bass White is both Chéreau and Warlikowski’s choice for the only prisoner to be freed from the horrors of modern penal servitude. For Chéreau it was a release from a physically detailed world of drudgery and degradation and suffering, for Warlikowski the prisoner’s release is a metaphorical death, the abandonment of a vibrant, intense, and principled world in which wounded human souls can truly soar. Warlikowski with conductor Pérez find, finally, the essence of Janacek’s most forgiving line “a divine spark (a soul) shines in every being” and it was an emotionally and intellectually thrilling, in fact mesmerizing conclusion to this evening of unrelenting brutality.

Warlikowski inaugurates his From the House of the Dead with a video of the late French philosopher Michel Foucault musing about justice and the police. He speaks over Janacek’s introductory music, the intense pace of concept and the inflection of the French is exponentially enlivened by Janacek’s already boiling motives. Janacek then drives a commanding musical climax to which the video expands the monumental gates of a soaring castle — and it is a prison!

Dead_Lyon3.pngWillard White as Goryantchikov (far left), Nicky Spence as the Fat Prisonor with Ladislav Elgr as Shuratov (center)

A basketball court is revealed, a black player (a “pro” equivalent) dribbles and shoots a basket, among the prisoners who enter are four break-dancing acrobats (of the various skin tones that populate Western prisons) who project an unbridled spirit of freedom in their movement and in their energy, a canny take on the wildness of the Janacek score. A fight breaks out, the basketball player is wounded. We understand that the basketball player is Dostoevsky’s taunted eagle as we know that an eagle is a visual epithet of freedom.

The player will remain in a wheelchair until the final moments of the opera when he stands, shoots the ball and misses, then he takes it to the rack. Blackout.

Dead_Lyon2.pngUnnamed South African gangster (video), Willard White as Goryantchikov, Pascal Charbonneau as the wounded Alyeya

Warlikowski separates the acts of the opera with a video from American film director Teboho Edkins’ Gangster Backstage in which a black South African gangster (a real gangster) muses during the musical silences about death, knowing that he wishes a legacy and that legacy might be, he imagines, saving a small boy from danger. We know now why the prisoner Goriantchikov (Willard White) will teach the young prisoner Alyeya to read and write, his legacy and gift to the spirited, truly human world that he must leave. And why he is the opera’s protagonist though he has very little to say or sing.

Warlikowski’s frenetic intellectual and physical world is deeply embedded into the continuum of Janacek’s sonic world, a world in which stories are told — Luka who stabbed the abusive commander of his prison, Skuratov who shot the rich man his mistress married, Shapkin who robbed a rich man and was tortured, and finally Shishkov who murdered his wife because she dishonored him.

Finally, more than the merely recounted violence, Shishkov elevates Janacek’s narrative opera to action — Shishkov resolutely murders Luka who he has learned is the man who had falsely denounced his new wife as unchaste. Janacek’s continuum hammers Shishkov’s revenge and his remorse, and the bravado and regret of the other raconteurs. Shishkov’s action is finally release. Violence and brutality redeemed. And Janacek drives the pathos ever deeper in the Old Prisoner’s epithet of the dead Luka, “he too had a mother.”

That Warlikowski’s plays (Kedril and Don Juan and The Lovely Miller’s Wife) within Janacek’s play added gratuitous grotesquery and violence to his prison world can be attributed to blind, probably necessary adherence to the dictums of “regietheater.” Unfortunately these attributes also became boring, detracting from the honest, effective intellectualism of the Warlikowski concept.

Lyon’s Opéra Nouvel (named after it’s architect, Jean Nouvel) offers a very present, very bright acoustic. The Opéra de Lyon’s fine orchestra was well rehearsed and poised to deliver. Conductor Pérez, new to the production, was able to exploit (to the hilt) the quite detailed urgencies of the Janacek’s orchestral continuum, giving Warlikowski a musical force to well support the overwhelming physical and intellectual energy emanating from the stage.

From which there had been no escape. That final basket was deeply felt liberation.

Much of the sterling cast survives from the Covent Garden premiere, including the Luka of Stefan Margita and the Skuratov of Ladislav Elgr. Karoly Szemeredy was new to the production as a truly riveting Shishkov (he was Warlikowski’s Captain in last summer’s The Bassarids at Salzburg), as was the Shapkin of Dmitry Golovnin.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Alexandre Petrovitch Goryantchikov: Sir Willard White; Alieïa: Pascal Charbonneau; Filka Morosov (Louka Kouzmitch): Stefan Margita; Le grand forçat (prisoner): Nicky Spence; Le petit forçat / Le forçat cuistot / Tchekounov: Ivan Ludlow; Le commandant: Alexander Vassiliev; Le vieux forçat: Graham Clark; Skouratov: Ladislav Elgr; Le Forçat ivre: Jeffrey Lloyd‑Roberts; Le forçat jouant: Don Juan et le Brahmane / Le forçat forgeron: Ales Jenis; Un jeune Forçat: Grégoire Mour; Une prostitiuée: Natascha Petrinsky; Kedril: John Graham-Hall; Chapkine: Dmitry Golovnin; Chichkov / Le pope: Karoly Szemeredy; Tcherevine / Une voix de la steppe: Alexander Gelah; Un garde: Brian Bruce; Un garde: Antoine Saint-Espès. Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra de Lyon. Conductor: Alejo Pérez: Mise en scène: Krzysztof Warlikowski; Décors et costumes: Malgorzata Szczęśniak; Lumières: Felice Ross; Chorégraphie: Claude Bardouil; Vidéo: Denis Guéguin; Dramaturgie Christian Longchamp. Opéra Nouvel, Lyon, France, January 23, 2019.

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):