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

Bampton Classical Opera: Bride & Gloom at St John's Smith Square

Last week the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that in the UK the number of women getting married has fallen below 50%.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written - 1968 - a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protestors, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

12 Sep 2019

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 68: Wagner Night, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Marc Albrecht

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Christine Goerke (soprano)

Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

 

From the outset, with the treacherous horn writing in Weber’s overture to Der Freischütz, one got the impression that this was an RPO on magnificent form. It wasn’t just the precision of the playing; it was the tone and attention to dynamics as well. What was perhaps less convincing was Albrecht’s view of the overture which seemed much more Wagnerian than it is. The music is dark, downright sinister in places, but the ‘Wolf’s Glen’ themes are a tad stormier than we got here. Albrecht conjured such lugubrious playing from the strings there wasn’t too much room for the music to glitter; those heavy-handed closing bars felt oddly misplaced.

There was nothing heavy-handed about Forest Murmurs from Siegfried . Ravishingly played, almost as transparent in its textures as you might hear in a performance of Siegfried Idyll, everything sounded right. The divided writing for the strings was so carefully drawn out; but so too was the music for woodwind, with birdcalls that quivered around the fluttering wings of the strings. If Albrecht had been a touch reticent at drawing the nature perspective into the overture of Der Freischütz , Forest Murmurs dazzled with rustic charm.

Franck’s Le chasseur maudit (‘The Accursed Huntsman’) bears more than a few similarities to the Weber which began this concert: The hunting theme, the supernatural, the sinister demons, even the music which edges towards the sinister and gloomy in places. But this is also music which seems overwhelmingly religious in parts; bells toll, and there is a hymnal melody which accompanies sections of the score. Again, the playing was exceptionally fine; passing exchanges between the strings and woodwind that suggested the galloping of the hunt, thundering trombones which roared through the orchestra like demons, beautiful string tremolos that splintered and speckled, brass which refracted with a blazing brightness.

The second half was entirely devoted to Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, beginning with the interlude linking the Prologue to the first act, the love duet, ‘Zu neun Taten, teurer Helde’, Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, Death and Funeral March and, finally, Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene. It’s often struck me when listening to Wagner taken out of the opera how fragmented and disjointed it sounds from the point of view of tension - that was rarely the case here. Incomplete it may have been, but it felt entirely convincing. Rarely has ‘Dawn’ opened in a concert performance with such a vermillion glow of sunrise; it felt genuinely luminous, with cellos rising through the orchestra as if awakening from a dark sky. Those magnificent RPO horns - the leitmotif of Siegfried himself - were heroic and pristine.

Stephen Gould tenor.jpgStephen Gould (tenor). Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

Christine Goerke’s very first line - ‘Zu neuen Taten’ - as she sings for him to go forth on new ventures rather begged the question of role reversal here. The voice is magnificently rich, so broad and dark in its tone, you wondered if her Siegfried, Stephen Gould, could ever be the heroic journeyman on his quest; the answer is he couldn’t. Likewise, if this is a love that burns with fire - ‘Brünnhilde brennt dann ewig hellig dir en der Brust’ - it never entirely felt one which was convincingly reciprocated. It wasn’t that Goerke sang as if she was detached from Gould’s Siegfried, rather that she was so daunting and fearsome you weren’t persuaded by it all. So much of the libretto here seemed entirely descriptive of Goerke’s assumption of Brünnhilde: fearless, powerful, stormy, raging - all emerging with effortless, even terrifying, strength from a voice that easily strode above an orchestra at full tilt. As the duet ends, the sheer chill factor of both singers’ ‘Heil! Heil!’ served to emphasise the size of one voice against the comparative meekness of the other.

Back to the orchestra again, and we got a beautifully phrased Rhine Journey, a gloriously graphic picture of the flowing river, before Gould gave an outstanding performance of Siegfried’s death scene. Where he had seemed remote in the Love Duet, the intensity he brought to his death was affecting. If you had wondered where the passion for his Brünnhilde might have been in the duet’s ‘Heil, strahlende Liebe!’ the answer was given in his inwardness and tenderness in the death scene’s ‘Ach, Dieses Auge’. The link to such a towering and brutal Death and March was quite astonishing: trenchant strings in unison like pallbearers, timpani that weren’t just menacing, but with a gravity that felt more terrifying than usual. It was enough to stiffen the sinews.

I’m not sure what happened with the transition between the end of March and the beginning of the Immolation Scene, but conductor and orchestra briefly drifted apart. Goerke doesn’t take this music as fiery as some sopranos; in fact, it’s such a slow burn, the tension she brings to it is unmistakably one that flickers, ignites and then blazes like an inferno. Some might find her voice, which is more bronze than golden, to lack sufficient colour - but this is all of a part with her embracing a Brünnhilde who would rather take her tone from the braying, yet velvety, tubas in the orchestra, rather than the steely horns. You hear betrayal in this voice, a desolation and dolefulness which often isn’t apparent in a more penetrating voice. It left an unforgettable impression, as did most of this concert. This was a Wagner evening which felt entirely Teutonic - a not inconsiderable achievement.

Marc Bridle

Christine Goerke (soprano), Stephen Gould (tenor), Marc Albrecht (conductor) Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Royal Albert Hall, London; Monday 9th September 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):