Thursday 8 February 2007

From this month's Opera Magazine

Gleaning's from the February edition of Opera


Nicholas Payne points out that in the 50 years that he has been listening to opera the repertoire has double in time scale (200 years to 400 years) so what’s going to happen in the next 50 years we wonder. Much of the expansion has been helped by the link between the theatre and the recording industry; Payne points out the contemporary opera production is no where near as intimately linked to video and dvd. Perhaps this harnessing of 21st century technology is the way forward, somehow.

Gerard Mortier, however, believes that the repertoire is closed and will not expand. Instead opera performance is being exported (to America, to China etc).

Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi (Sovintendente, Teatro San Carlo, Naples) feels that the audience’s problem with contemporary opera performances arises from lack of attention given to musical training and to lack of research on the theatrical side. More creative investment is needed to renew the catalogue.

Aviel Cahn (Opera Director, Stadttheatre Bern) comments that people are becoming progressively less culturally educated, which means that education is becoming increasingly important in theatres. Menno Feenstra (Opera Director, Royal Theatre, Stockholm) suggests that the vibrancy of European opera theatre is because each opera house does its own thing.

In Seville the young conductor Pedro Halffter is both the music director and the artistic director, which means that he has a remarkable control of the direction of the theatre. But in Valencia the new Palau de les Arts, designed by Caltrava, has had a set back – a mobile stage collapsed. There are also acoustic problems and almost 80% of its (large) budget comes from public money – everyone will be watching their future with interest.

I see that Nicholas Joel is going to take over from Gerard Mortier at the Paris Opera, now that should be an interesting change. Also the David McVicar production of Der Rosenkavalier which ha been gaining plaudits at Scottish Opera is transposing itself to the London Coliseum next season. Thank goodness, this means we’re seeing the back of the Jonathan Miller updated production.

Also at ENO next season, David Alden is doing a new Peter Grimes with Stuart Skelton, Amanda Roocroft and Gerard Finley – good cast, not sure about the production though. Christopher Hogwood and Angelika Kirschlager are touring Handel’s Arianna in Creta in May 2009, something to look (very far) forward to.

There has been much talk of Domingo doing the baritone role in Simon Boccanegra but I note that he’s appearing, with Susan Graham, in a new production of Iphigenie en Tauride in November at the Met. I presume he’s singing the baritone part as I can hardly imagine him singing the high-lying tenor part.

And the Simon Rattle/Magdalena Kozena road show goes one, they are doing Chabrier’s Etoile in Berlin in 2008. Almost worth a trip.


Mortier comments that Wagner has too many word and that you could easily cut the Ring and it would be even better; brave words, I wish more people would consider it. He praises Amin Malhouf’s librettos for Saariaho, which leave space for the music; something that many contemporary librettists forget.

In London, the Royal Academy Opera did Lully’s Dardanus in a sort of French – better to have done it in superb French or comprehensible English. But these are both tricky options with a polyglot cast. But evidently Geraldine Farrar prided herself on being able to perform Gounod’s Faust in the language of the host country, be it French, German or Italian – now who can do that nowadays.

Over at the Royal College they did Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea updated to the 1930’s, not the most obvious. It worked, evidently because Paul Curran’s direction of the young singers was so good. Wish that were the case with all clever stagings. But there were solecisms. Both Nerone and Ottone were sung by men, an octave below. With Nerone, tenor Nathan Vale had to snog Lurcanio (to show his polysexuality presumably) and having a woman in the role just would not have given that frisson I presume. Hugh Canning felt that having a tenor Nerone was acceptable but a baritone Ottone not; I have to disagree, I hate the final duet being sung by soprano and tenor, it needs 2 equal voices. Again the issue of language came up, this time the poor diction. And again Canning wished that it was in the vernacular.

No wonder that singers diction is poor if their student performances omit the vernacular and teach poor French and Italian. Ho hum. Still, there are good signs, RNCM did a Cunning Little Vixen in comprehensible English.

Still on the subject of diction, the Russian performances of The Ring in Wales seem to have been very vague as to language, Michael Kennedy wondered whether they were singing some of it in Welsh!


Mortier is dubious about stadium opera, not believing that anyone would make the jump from this to real performances of opera – a pop music enthusiast of his wanted to try an opera, ‘the one with the fat soprano and the elephants’.

Hugh Canning was in Paris and caught Les Troyens at the Opera, where Mortier had imported Wernicke’s Salzburg production. Its worrying that Canning comments that Sylvain Cambreling’s conducting was such that he could understand why French critics find Les Troyens boring. Les Troyens was also on show in Strasbourg, where they opted for a mainly Franco-phone cast.

Still in France, Canning caught Patrice Cherau’s oddly low-key and humourless Cosi and commented getting Marie McLaughlin’s usually irrepressible Despina to keep a straight face throughout is an achievement of sorts.

Over in the Chatelet, Pedro Almodovar’s favourite actress Rossy de Palma was appearing in an operetta, despite not singing or speaking French!

Canning, lucky soul, also saw the new Giulio Cesare at the Theatre des Champs Elysees, directed by Irina Brook. Heavily cut, but with Rosemary Joshua, Alice Coote and Andreas Scholl; Canning comments that compared to this one David McVicar’s Glyndebourne production seemed a model of hair shirted austerity. Perhaps Canning was not so lucky after all. He points out that Handel’s current ubiquity (popularity?) means that there is a shortage of directors sympathetic to opera seria.

Handel, of a sort was on show at the Neukollner Oper in Berlin. Here the piece was cut down to 2 hours (with no interval). Barry Emslie thought that some of the performance even sound like Handel – oh joy! Evidently the Staatsoper in Stuttgart has offered Purcell, Handel, Keiser and Gluck in recent seasons but Horst Koegler is dubious about the vocal standards.

Over in Greece, the Opera North production of Falla’s La Vida Breve re-surfaced with Anne Sophie Duprels (Grange Park’s Thais) in the lead.

Calixto Bieto has surfaced in Italy, in Bologna. Max Loppert finds his work insensitive to the text (words and music), which I think is pretty true no matter how exciting his productions. Evidently the new production of Stravinsky’s Rakes Progress took place on a set like a bouncy castle, which collapsed as all their air was let out of it during the grave yard seen. Something I’d like to have seen, even if it had little to do with Stravinsky, Auden and Kallman’s opera.

The infamous La Scala Aida, the one Alagna walked out of, turns out to be a Zeffirelli spectacular; one of the grandest spectacles that Andrew Clark has seen with iconography reminiscent of 1960’s Hollywood. Clark felt that Zeffirelli’s show was ’no more than a reflection on stage of the money seated in the stalls, an operatic tradition with a 300 year pedigree’

In Rekyavik there was a new opera by Karolina Eiriksdottir, which sounds fascinating. In it, tenor Eyolfur Eyolfsson is called upon to sing counter-tenor as well, something he does well. I’m not sure how well this bodes for the opera’s future life but it’s a piece I’d like to see.

Another new opera, this time in Thailand, caused a stir in the press as it was supposed to depict the death of a king on stage, albeit a mythological one. Robert Markow postulates that it is the only work to be written which includes Wagner tubas and a harpsichord.

James C. Taylor mentions an unintended queerness in Posa’s death scene in the Los Angeles Don Carlos. I’m not sure about the unintended bit as, despite the resolutely heterosexual plot, the relationship between the two men has always seemed rather homo-erotic. Over in New York, Johan Botha garnered plaudits for his account of the title role in the opera, even projecting romantic urgency - something that does not always come easily to large tenors.

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