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

12 Jul 2019

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Grandeur et Décadence de la Ville de Mahagonny at the Aix Festival

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Karita Mattila as Begbick, Nikolai Schukoff as Jim, Annette Dasch as Jenny [All photos copyright Pascal Victor / Artcompress, courtesy of the Aix Festival]

 

Stage director Ivo van Hove worked on a wide open, bare sound stage. This was not opera. It was no-where. That was exactly the point, and that is where Fatty, Moses and the widow Begbick built their city Mahagonny to satisfy their greed and our lust.

All this greed and lust were in-your-face — this the orchestra insisted. The maestro gave a loud, very loud, clinical and chiselled reading of the Kurt Weill score from the get-go, making it very clear that it is highly sophisticated, brilliant music, and that it is confrontational.

Mr. van Hove’s staging was confrontational, On the bare stage was a projection screen serving as the glass plate of a microscope under which we would study the faces and the souls of the hordes of men who came to Mahagonny to forget their dreary lives and to indulge their vices and their pleasures. Then came the whores from Alabama and four lumberjacks from Alaska, a bit lost in the visual cacophony of the teeming world.

It was a chaotic stage, but the videographer singled out the faces of our a few of the arrivals while Kurt Weill singled out their voices — Jenny the whore, Jim Mahoney the sensitive, soul searching lumberjack who goes a bit crazy, and his three buddies, Jack the glutton, Joe the boxer and Bill the miser. If their voices were at first nearly lost in the melee, that’s because they were in fact in a melee.

Little by little their projected faces bared their souls to us as their voices grew stronger. The maestro did not indulge the easy rhythms of the Kurt Weill’s jazz, rag time and folk influences. It was musically obvious there was a lot of tough stuff to come.

Jim, the lumberjack, got a bit maudlin and then he got bored. There came a hurricane (three giant fans and a wounded citizen suffering melodramatically on the screen), and Jim had his revelation, and the hordes (well, the thirty men of the Pygmalion Chorus and fifteen supernumeraries) shouted it in our faces. Black out.

Mahagonny_Aix2.pngThe stage and the screen. Peixin Chen as Joe, Sean Panikkar as Jack (head down), Thomas Oliemans as Bill at the all-you-can-eat table, with the Pygmalion Chorus

The lid was off — total liberty to totally satisfy any of your cravings, and to get whatever you want. If you can pay for it. A stage was needed to play out the demises of Jack the glutton and Joe the boxer, so one was constructed stage right. There was simulated humping against its back wall, and at the same time we saw very graphic humping projected on the screen, the whore ’s face directly in our face.

Austrian tenor Nikolai Schukoff was Jim Mahoney, the ring leader of it all. Mr. Schukoff is a very charismatic performer, easily projecting a sexuality to be satisfied, but willing to show a softer side and maybe yearn for a better, truer life. Tenor Schukoff is a big performer and easily found the force needed to bust things wide open in Mahagonny (Mr. Schukoff is both a Don Jose and a Siegmund on major stages).

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is the epitome of didactic, Epic Theater. These days social commentary wears thin on the opera (or any) stage. As the citizens of Mahagonny were wearying of its corruption we too were wearying. Bertold Brecht maybe was as well, so he added a bit of witty, heavy irony— the Mahagonny inhabitants dream of a new, better city, Bénarès, better known these days as Varanasi, the Hindu city of death. Director van Hove obliged by projecting onto the screen hazy, smokey images of this city of ritualistic cremation as seen from the Ganges.

Mahagonny_Aix3.pngNikolai Schukoff as Jim, Anette Dasch as Jenny in the final duet. Jim's friend Bill (Thomas Oliemans) is at the far right.

In the penultimate scene van Hove brought, finally, our total focus and our held back sympathy onto Jim Mahoney when Jim delays his death as long as he can in a long, moving and hopeless monologue, and then makes his farewell to Jenny in a beautiful, tender duet. Here there were no screen projections, there was no microscope. Here was, finally, real human emotion to for us to feel, not to judge.

The fall of the city of Mahagonny was of the scenic magnitude to equal the gigantic musical efforts emanating from the pit. There was smoke and fire, there was thunder and lightning, more smoke and fire raged from the pit. It was the destruction of Valhalla you have always wanted to see but never got. You have had to settle for Wagner’s pale by comparison account of such cataclysmic destruction.

It was no-holds-barred casting: Karita Mattila as the widow Begbick, Sir Willard White as Moses, Alan Oke as Fatty. The Jenny was German soprano Annette Dasch (a Donna Elvira on major stages) though in this staging Jenny was not given a dominant presence, nor did the staging on the wide open stage provide an acoustic shell to project her voice. The three lumberjacks were of consummate charm and fine voice: Sean Panikkar as Jack, Thomas Allemans as Bill, and Peixin Chen as Joe.

The six prostitutes were gutsy and lusty, very willing to play their parts: Kristina Bitenc, Cathy-Di Zhang, Thembinkosi Magagula, Maria Novella Malfatti, Leonie Van Rheden and Veerle Sanders.

I saw the second of four performances on July 9, 2019.

Michael Milenski


Production information:

The Philharmonia Orchestra and the Pygmalion Chorus. Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mese en scène Ivo van Hove, Scenery and lighting: Jan Versweyveld, Costumes: An d’Huga; Video: Tai Yarden

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):