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

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!

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.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from Les Troyens [Photo © Vincent Pontet / OnP]
18 Feb 2019

Down in flames: Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Hector Berlioz: Les Troyens. Philippe Jordan (conductor) Opéra national de Paris, Stéphanie d'Oustrac, Stéphane Dégout, Brandon Jovanovich, Ekaterina Sementchuk, Véronique Gens, Paata Burchuladze, Thomas Dear, Aude Extrémo, Cyrille Dubois, Michèle Losier, Christian van Horn. Livestreamed on arte tv. 1st February 2019.

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Scene from Les Troyens [Photo © Vincent Pontet / OnP]

 

Anyone can trot out superficial clichés about so-called modern productions, but it's far more important to understand why a production works, or doesn't. The starting point as always is the opera, and the ideas behind it.

Berlioz captured the expansive, extravagant spirit of his time. France was resurgent, colonizing Africa and Asia, obliterating the defeat of Napoleon with new confidence. Paris was being rebuilt on a grand scale. Yet Berlioz, never a shrinking violet, intuited the hubris that comes with imperial glory. Les Troyens is flamboyant, but its backdrop is catastrophe. Empires are annihilated, nations forced into exile. Berlioz's orchestration reflects this turbulence, with blazing highs and apocalyptic darkness. Though Didon and Enée enjoy an interlude of heady bliss, their happiness is doomed. That idea of glory cursed by hubris remains powerfully potent today - perhaps even more so now, given what's happening in the world. Perhaps audiences don't want to be reminded about war in Syria (and Lebanon, where Tyre was) and of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the Mediterranean, many escaping from the area that was Carthage. Fair enough. There's no more reason that a production should be set in period costume. In any case, Berlioz wasn't doing history enactment, and the audiences of his time were conditioned to the past as allegory, Classical Antiquity rather than Antiquity Realism. Berlioz's music was audacious, possibly the most advanced and adventurous of its time. Shock and awe were part of his aesthetic. Les Troyens doesn't have to be pretty - cosiness is decidedly not its message - but at least it should engage the mind.

Dmitri Tcherniakov productions don't generally appeal to me because he tends to decorate rather than engage with what ideas might be in an opera. His Glinka Ruslan and Lyudmila for the Bolshoi was as inert as a Fabergé egg, (read more here), his Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk for ENO put Shostakovich on mute (more here), his La Traviata for La Scala died in the womb (here) and his Rimsky-Korsakov's Invisible City of Kitezh missed the magic so fundamental to the opera (please read Amsterdam's invisible, risible Kitezh here). But I loved his Bizet Carmen at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2017. The drama in Carmen isn't the kitsch surface so much as the way the characters act out their motivations to extremes. Thus Carmen as transaction analysis is not only feasible, but full of insight. Perhaps Tcherniakov was trying to recap that Carmen with Les Troyens, but frankly, he needs to work with a good dramaturge.

Losier (Ascagne) etc.jpgMichèle Losier (Ascagne), Brandon Jovanovich (Énée), Stéphanie d'Oustrac (Cassandre), Véronique Gens (Hécube), Stéphane Dégout (Chorèbe) Photo credit: Vincent Pontet.

Tcherniakov sets the Troy part of Les Troyens as a fairly typical tin-pot dictatorship, which is not wrong in principle, but there is a lot more to Berlioz's Troy than this. Cassandre is the central character, not Priam and his court, and she is cursed because she can prophesy the future. Stéphanie d'Oustrac was stunning, stealing the show by her vocal presence and instinctive feel for creating character. I was riveted : she's a force of nature. But all Tcherniakov had to offer her was a yellow suit , standing out from the blue shades around her, and when the Greeks burst in they hardly seem to figure. Anyone who didn't get the Horse in David McVicar's Les Troyens for the Royal Opera House should be forced to watch Tcherniakov til they squirm. There is no reason to assume, like the Trojans and Tcherniakov do, that the impending disaster is all in Cassandre's mind.

D'Oustrac's Cassandre was matched by Stéphane Degout's equally impressive Chorèbe, sung with such depth and conviction that he made the role come alive, so vivid and human: what a pity that Chorèbe has to die in the First Act ! Luxury casting: d'Oustrac and Dégout interacted so well, and with such verve that their performance would be memorable on its own terms.

Pontet Les T Paris.jpg Photo credit: Vincent Pontet.

Carthage here is an anonymous office space, which worked fine in Tcherniakov's Carmen, because it evoked the displaced ennui behind the desperation of Carmen and her companions. But as the libretto makes clear, Didon's Carthage is a happy place, where people have built constructive lives. Didon is a much loved success : she's given others asylum, she's not "in" an asylum, needing help. Unless you think that being kind to refugees is madness. Had the performances of Brandon Jovanovich and Ekaterina Sementchuk been on the same level as D'Oustrac and Dégout, one might forgive the banal staging. Jovanovich and Sementchuk weren't bad, but didn't quite rise to the heights, either. A rather depressing Royal Hunt and Storm, saved by Jordan's incisive conducting, splendidly luminous in the love scene, and demonic in the storm. So rewarding, in fact, you could enjoy this Les Troyens as an orchestral exercise.

Very well cast lesser roles - Véronique Gens as Hécube and Paata Burchulzade as Priam, who can still create character, Thomas Dear as The Ghost of Hector, Aude Extrémo as Anna, Cyrille Dubois as Iopas,Michèle Losier as a very fetching Ascagne, Christian van Horn as Narbal. At the end D'Oustrac, Dégout, Gens, Burchulzade and Dear return as ghosts, raising the staging from the grave. With this conductor, this orchestra and most of this cast, this Les Troyens could have been brilliant, but let's hope we won't have to wait another 30 years for a better production. This staging might be fine in some provincial house, but Paris is not the place for it.

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):