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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

06 May 2019

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.

Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, directed by Calixto Bieito

A review by Andrew Moravcsik

Above: Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

Photos courtesy of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

 

Nearly four decades later, Reimann’s opera has become a modern classic. It now seems to me both easily accessible and deeply moving; thus, I welcomed a chance to attend the second of three performances at this year’s Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. As is often the case with modern operas, even established ones, about 5% of the seats were empty, while another 5% of the audience slipped out at intermission. Those who remained, however, rewarded the performers enthusiastically—and were themselves rewarded when the 83-year old composer himself took a bow. It is a sign of how times have changed when elderly Florentines leave such a performance enthusing “bella, bellissima!”

This production reassembles the conductor, sets, stage team, and most of the cast of a 2016 run in Paris. Danish baritone Bo Skovhus owns the title role these days. (You can view his interpretation, in slightly fresher voice compared to what I heard in Firenze, on this DVD from Arthaus Musik DVD of a 2014 Staatsoper Hamburg performance.) His approach to the role is clear, forceful, well-enunciated and projects a coherent character. It is, of course, always unfair to compare any singer to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau—especially in this case, since Reimann wrote Lear expressly for him. Yet doing so highlights a critical difference in emphasis. Fischer-Dieskau approaches the part with the Lieder singer’s understatement and subtlety, thereby underscoring the traditional view that Shakespeare’s Lear is an old man, tired and infirm at the start and dead at the end. This interpretation also made the most of the singer’s own advancing age: it was the last operatic part Fischer-Dieskau would record. In 1982, I remember being surprised that his aging voice, never the largest, sounded so small in the theater.

Lear_5.png

Skovhus, by contrast, is a large man who radiates good health—not to mention possessing some impressive pecs, which he displays for most of the show. He also prefers to use his resonant voice at forte. Thus, when bad things befall him on stage, he tends to comes across as a well-meaning Hollywood superhero temporarily laid low. One feels little of the human frailty and loneliness so central to Shakespeare’s Lear and particularly emphasized in Reimann’s opera, which purposefully drops “King” from the title to stress that he is an everyman. Watching Skovhus in this role, his musical mastery somehow never quite dislodges my expectation that he will somehow prevail in the final reel.

Two of the three daughters did not appear in the Paris cast. Spanish soprano Ángeles Blancas Gulin brings a powerful and steely tone to the role of Gonderil. The fact she seems so monochromatically brash may lie partially in the way Reimann wrote the role. Two Swedish sopranos, Agneta Eigenholz and Erika Sunnegårdh, add much. Eigenholz possesses a pretty and well-focused voice, though perhaps could do more to project Cordelia’s own painful self-realizations in the penultimate scene—Várady being the unfair comparison here. Sunnegårdh misses some chances to make more of the wild coloratura Reimann uses to express Regan’s hysteria: to judge by tapes, her voice has grown heavier since Paris three years ago.

British counter-tenor Andrew Watts portrays Edgar (aka Tom) with subtle inflection and a fully rounded sound, if occasionally wavering diction. Young Turkish Baritone Levent Bakirci, trained in Philadelphia and working his way up in the German system, cuts a dashing—if oddly young and good-looking—character as Gloucester, and sings with precision and a clear sound, particularly at the top of the voice. This is a singer to watch. German actor Ernst Alisch plays the speaking-singing role of the fool with astonishing vividness, subtlety and power—not least since he is 79 years old. Kor-Jan Dusseljee, Frode Olsen, Derek Welton and Michael Colton round out the cast, all singing in the full-throated manner this production treats as the norm.

Lear_3.png

Reimann’s thick and complex score demands much of both conductor and orchestra. Fabio Luisi, the musical director of the Maggio Musicale, conducts—today less than 24 hours after leading a demanding orchestral program of Schubert and Mahler. Luisi’s approach is clear and detailed, and he drew excellent playing out of the orchestra—even if the tone sometimes seems to lack the full measure of delicacy, transparency and voicing, qualities one normally associates with Luisi. Some of this may be due to Firenze’s relatively new opera house, the acoustics of which I am still getting to know, or perhaps the orchestra, which otherwise responded brilliantly.

Calixto Bieito has achieved controversial celebrity in the opera world with a “throw everything at the wall and the s--- will stick” approach to stage direction. Here, uncharacteristically, he restrains himself during the first third of the work: a closed, narrow and essentially unchanging set amplifies the sound and invites the audience to trace intimate links among characters. At some point, however, Bieito begins to throw in assorted post-modern clichés: a slowly deconstructing set that diffuses the sound, Luis Buñuel-style projections of farm animals and eyeballs, disrespect for the “fourth wall,” a bloody half-suicide unmentioned by Shakespeare, some dominatrix play with neckties, and a full-frontal nude male of prodigious endowment. At the end, true to cliché, Lear does not die but sits quivering in mute madness.

Little of this illuminates Shakespeare’s text. If Bieito’s focus on sex and barnyards is meant to underscore humanity’s animalistic side, as one assumes, why do the shenanigans on stage began just at the moment when both Shakespeare’s play and Reimann’s music turn back inexorably toward the uniquely human quality at the center of the play, namely the ability to feel profound regret? Madness, rather than death, at the end similarly makes little sense in context.

This type of directorial self-indulgence tends to come from individuals with little ear for music—and correspondingly little confidence in its ability to carry the drama. For most of the second act, therefore, I gave up on Bieito. I sat back, closed my eyes and wondered at the compositional mastery underlying this marvelous score, which incrementally tightens the musical focus and raises the existential stakes up to the very last second, when Reimann’s music magically dissolves into nothingness.

Andrew Moravcsik

Aribert Reimann: Lear

König Lear - Bo Skovhus, König von Frankreich - Frode Olsen, Herzog von Cornwall - Michael Colvin, Graf von Kent - Kor-Jan Dusseljee, Graf von Gloster - Levent Bakirci, Edgar - Andrew Watts, Edmund - Andreas Conrad, Goneril - Angeles Blancas Gulin, Regan - Erika Sunnegårdh, Narr - Ernst Alisch; Director - Calixto Bieito, Conductor - Fabio Luisi, Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; Saturday, 5 May 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):