Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.



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):