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

A lukewarm performance of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette from the LSO and Tilson Thomas

A double celebration was the occasion for a packed house at the Barbican: the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth, alongside Michael Tilson Thomas’s fifty-year association with the London Symphony Orchestra.

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As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

18 Oct 2019

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Zauberland at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Julia Bullock

Photo credit: Patrick Berger

 

‘[A] fragment, like a small work of art, has to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world and be complete in itself like a hedgehog, wrote Friedrich Schlegel (Athenaeumsfragment 206). For Schlegel, the fragment is ‘complete in itself’ but remains ‘incomplete’: in its opposition to other fragments within the ‘surrounding world’, it reveals the world to be a ‘chaotic universality’ of antagonistic elements.

Like Schlegel’s hedgehog, the individual songs of Dichterliebe are broken pieces, complete in themselves but implying a larger whole, one which they can never represent. The song-cycle epitomises the negative dialectic of early Romantic poetry which emphasises possibility rather than closure and strives, in Novalis’s words, to ‘represent the Unrepresentable’. The Romantic ‘Self’, too, is fragmentary, never fully ‘knowable’. And, from these ‘gaps’ arises our longing to see and know, a desire that can never be fulfilled but that we strive to achieve through art.

One might see Schumann’s music as the poetry of the fragmented Romantic Self. Piano and voice are autonomous and interdependent; symbiotic entities seeking the elusive Other. The poems which form Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo similarly eschew coherence. The text does not present a linear narrative, but rather is a self-reflective network of repeating images - birds and flowers, stars and angels - associated with love. A sort of dream sequence of suggestion.

So, in some ways the decision by Bernard Foccroulle and Martin Crimp to view Schumann’s omission of four of his settings of the twenty poems from Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo when he published Dichterliebe in 1844 - another ‘gap’ - as an invitation to ‘intervene … and finally to extend’ is a logical one. Zauberland begins by presenting the sixteen poems of Dichterliebe, with a single ‘intervention’, and then takes the piano postlude to Schumann’s final song as a starting point from which to continue the self-reflective discourse through a new cycle by Foccroulle which sets poems by Crimp.

It’s a venture which works best at a musical level. After all, Schumann’s cycle begins falteringly with a melody that seems to have begun playing elsewhere, before we hear a sound. And often the songs seem to dissolve, tonality and text unresolved, only to emerge from the silence and continue their searching in the following song. Foccroulle’s initial translucent piano textures and gestures of rippling limpidity sit comfortably alongside Schumann’s inconclusive and harmonically ambiguous utterings. And if Foccroulle’s language grows progressively more discordant and aggressive, finding its own voice as its canvas expands, then that seems fitting, and a natural response to the unfolding text.

Zauberland 5 © Patrick Berger.jpg Photo credit: Patrick Berger.

The impact made by the performance of Zauberland in the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House was in no small part owing to the superb performances of soprano Julia Bullock and, especially, pianist Cédric Tiberghien. Bullock seemed more at home with Foccroulle’s more extrovert vocal idiom, but sang Schumann’s songs with integrity of feeling, capturing their increasing darkness. In Tiberghien’s hands, the piano’s cascading teardrops were hauntingly beautiful, conveying at the start of the cycle the delicate wistfulness of remembered happiness, capturing the cold bitterness which creeps in almost imperceptibly, and etching the ambiguous rhythmic gestures with wonderful clarity.

Crimp’s text, and its dramatic interpretation by director Katie Mitchell, were less successful. The dreams and fairy tales which pervade the later poems of Heine’s cycle - when we enter Zauberland where green trees sing melodies from the beginning of time and vague shapes rise up, a strange dancing chorus, out of the earth - seem to have provided Crimp and Foccroulle with their point of departure. Zauberland presents the journey of a young woman, five months pregnant, who has been forced to leave Syria and who arrives at a European border checkpoint, hoping to enter Germany - to her, a ‘magic world’ of security peace. Having left her husband and family behind in Aleppo, she settles in Cologne where she gives birth and then resumes her career as a professional opera singer. On the eve of her husband’s death she has a dream in which her concert performance of Schumann’s Dichterliebe becomes mixed up with her traumatic journey from Syria and her life in Aleppo before the war.

At least, that’s what the programme tells me. I would have gleaned little of this from Mitchell’s staging, which began in the manner of a formal lieder recital, pianist and singer the only presences on the soft-lit stage. Then, men in suits entered, in profile. As the drama unfolded, they undressed and redressed the singer; pushed or carried on, and off again, chairs, tables, lamps, trees, garden furniture; made shadows dance and flicker on the singer’s face. A woman in a bridal dress danced by, as the men used their mobile ’phones to take photographs. Later, glass boxes containing dolls lying in contorted positions were wheeled in, and off again.

Julia Bullock.jpgJulia Bullock. Photo credit: Patrick Berger.

I had no clear idea who these personages were: at times Crimp’s text gave clues as to location or action, and one might identify a border guard or medic. But, who was the girl in the wedding dress? The singer’s daughter, or the singer herself? “Heine - Kraus - rhymer - what does it mean? Why are these gentlemen in my dream?” the singer asks. Quite. Mitchell’s repetition of gesture had none of the haunting melancholy of Schumann’s echoes. It was just dull. And, Crimp may have stayed true to the spirit of Heine’s imagery, with its ironic parodying of Romantic medievalism, but lines such as “‘Girls,’ she says ‘have flowers names - heart - rhymes with pain.’” or “Today I’m trading nightingales for dollar bills - each brown bird sold brings me closer to escape” are no match for Heine’s hothouse of roses and lilies, or his magic garden where the nightingales are singing and the moonlight is shimmering - “es singen die Nachtigallen,/ es flimmert der Mondenschein”.

Novalis wrote of literary narratives that, like nature itself, are without coherence and work instead by means of association, like dreams, and whose effect is like music. Dichterliebe embodies this aesthetic of fragmentation and survived Zauberland’s attempt to fill in the gaps.

Claire Seymour

Zauberland : Music - Robert Schumann and Bernard Foccroulle, Text - Martin Crimp and Heinrich Heine

Soprano - Julia Bullock, Piano - Cédric Tiberghien, Actors - Natasha Kafka, David Rawlins, Raphael Zari, Ben Clifford; Director - Katie Mitchell, Lighting designer - James Farncombe, Set and costume designer - Chloe Lamford.

Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London; Tuesday 15th October 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):