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

31 Jul 2019

Munich Opera Festival: La fanciulla del West

Many Puccini cognoscenti will speak of La fanciulla del West as Puccini’s finest opera - or at least his most musically interesting. In the latter case, I think I can hear what they mean, even if I do not agree. I continue to struggle, with the former claim, although this performance at the Munich Opera Festival made the most convincing case I have yet heard for the work. Its virtues were predominantly musical, in keeping with the work’s general valuation.

Munich Opera Festival: La fanciulla del West

A review by Mark Berry

Above: John Lundgren and Anja Kampe

 

Whether in the pit or on stage, we were in hands far better, far more musical, than ‘safe’. One would have to travel far and wide to hear superior orchestral playing in Puccini, or indeed anything else, than from the Bavarian State Orchestra - and even then, one might well fail. Its lengthy experience in Wagner truly paid off, the composer’s renewed - not that it ever really vanishes - fascination with Tristan und Isolde there for all to hear: not just as superficial similarity, but as something more generative. For that and much else, the incisive, comprehending conducting of James Gaffigan deserves high praise indeed. Equally apparent here, especially in darker passages, was the related yet distinct haunting of Pelléas et Mélisande and, more broadly, Debussy’s music. It was Allemonde above all, though, that seemed to inspire the (apparent) workings of fate. Gaffigan captured to a tee the ‘American’, almost Gershwin-like character of the opening bars, proving himself - and the orchestra - distinguished guides to all of the score’s twists, turns, and transformations in between.

The principal trio of singers proved equally distinguished, unquestionably Wagnerian guides to the work’s course. Anja Kampe was, thank goodness, no goodie-two-shoes Minnie. In a more flesh-and-blood portrayal than I recall, this was a conflicted woman with, yes, much good in her, but also a beating heart that could take her to places unsafe, unwise, maybe even unwarranted. More than once, I was put in mind of her Kundry ( with Daniel Barenboim, in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s magnificent production ). I seem endlessly to repeat myself when it comes to performances from Brandon Jovanovich. I am certainly not prepared, however, to vary just for the sake of variation. His performance as Dick Johnson was everything we have come to expect from this intelligent, committed artist, as dramatically powerful as it was verbally acute, as sweet-toned as it was virile. John Lundgren’s Jack Rance was just as impressive: dark, malign, but also comprehensible, no cardboard-cut-out villain. From a fine supporting cast, I should single out Tim Kuypers’s Sonora. I do not think it is just the human agency of the role that has me do so; Kuypers made one feel there was considerably more to it than that.

Andreas Dresen’s production of La fanciulla del West premiered in March this year. (The opera’s first Munich outing, intriguingly, came in 1934, the city by then well and truly the Hauptstadt der Bewegung .) It does not do anything especially interesting with the work, but nor is it unthinkingly ‘traditional’, for want of a better word. A darker setting - literally, as well as metaphorically - is provided for the action, perhaps most notably for the first act at the Polka Bar. Mathias Fischer-Dieskau’s set designs, Sabine Greuning’s costumes, and Michael Bauer’s lighting are very much part of this. There were times when I wished for something more probing, more critical, but at least Dresen steers well clear of the folkloric. For my reservations remain concerning the work itself, more precisely its dramaturgy, and I cannot help but wonder whether a director might fruitfully contribute something more here.

Some are doubtless more important than others. One can get worked up about the racism. It is well-nigh impossible for a thinking person in 2019 not at least to cringe. But I am not sure that it especially helps, unless one childishly rejects all art of the past on the grounds that it is not of the present. Perhaps, though, something more might be done to address the issue. It certainly is not here - but then, alas, Puccini tends more than any other opera composer of stature to suffer from a lack of critical stagings. The somewhat sprawling nature of the first act perhaps invites greater intervention than we found here.

It is the close, however, that seems most urgently to invite a more critical stance. If I find the happy ending unconvincing - Puccini is surely better dealing with tragedy, and that includes the hollowest of victories in Turandot - then that must, at least in part, pay tribute to the expectations the composer has set up and indeed to his playing with them. I wish Dresen had donea little more with the possibility of undermining that ending. Jack’s fumbling reach for his gun is at best half-hearted; then the curtain comes down, separating Minnie and Dick from the rest. Nor do I think the score escapes charges of sentimentality here. No matter: it is what it is, and perhaps one day I shall come to appreciate it as many others clearly do. For now, the magnificently vile sadism of Turandot will continue to work its magic. Puccini’s wish for a ‘second Bohème, only stronger, bolder, and more spacious,’ seems to me unrealised. Fanciulla is perhaps bolder, if only in aspiration; it is certainly more spacious, if not to its benefit; it is hardly stronger. There was no doubting, however, the strength of these musical performances; in many respects, that was enough for now.

Mark Berry

Giacomo Puccini: La fanciulla del West

Minnie - Anja Kampe, Dick Johnson - Brandon Jovanovich, Jack Rance - John Lundgren, Nick - Kevin Connors, Sonora - Tim Kuypers, Trin - Manuel Günther, Sid - Alexander Milev, Bello - Justin Austin, Harry - Galeano Salas, Joe - Freddie De Tommaso, Happy - Christian Rieger, Jim Larkens - Norman Garrett, Ashby - Bálint Szabó, Wowkle - Noa Beinart, Billy Jackrabbit - Oleg Davydov, Jake Wallace - Sean Michael Plumb, Jose Castro - Oğucan Yilmaz, Pony Express Rider - Ulrich Reß; Director - Andreas Dresen, Conductor - James Gaffigan, Set Designs - Mathias Fischer-Dieskau, Costumes - Sabine Greunig, Lighting - Michael Bauer, Dramaturgy - Rainer Karlitschek/Lukas Leipfinger, Bavarian State Opera Chorus, Bavarian State Orchestra.

Nationaltheater, Munich; Friday 26th July 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):