MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Refugees and Opera

Joshua Barone recently reported for the New York Times on a new production at Bavarian Staatsoper for part of its youth program that was “written for refugees, children of immigrants and born-and-raised Bavarians.”
The piece draws on Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto, among other sources. “Theater about the refugee crisis has proliferated in Germany since migration into the country reached its peak in 2016,” writes Barone. “But rarely has the hot-button issue … entered the realm of opera, much less children’s opera.”

Actually, the Zuflucht Kultur Association has been engaging with these issues for several years, offering productions of Mozart’s Zaide, Così, and Idomeneo (which traveled to the Lucerne Festival last summer), Carmen, Orfeo, and, most recently, Don Carlos.

Here’s a radio interview (in German) with mezzo Cornelia Lanz, one of the association’s producer-performers, on their Orfeo production.

Filed under: directors, music news, opera

Lohengrin Stream from Bayreuth

If you missed the live stream last Wednesday (25 July, the traditional opening day of the Bayreuther Festspiele), through the magic of VPN you can still view a recording of the complete performance on BR-Klassik here. Apparently it’s still available to view until 31 December.

This staging by Yuval Sharon is a genuinely historic production. This is the first time an American has directed at Bayreuth. It also marks the achievement of a complete “cycle”: Christian Thielemann, 59, has now conducted all ten canonical Wagner operas at Bayreuth. And one of the production’s especially powerful elements is the portrayal of Ortrud — Wagner’s most fascinating villain? — in her return to the Green Hill after a long hiatus.

David Allen’s review for the New York Times is particularly astute:

[Sharon] is the closest thing that American opera has to a genuine avant-gardist. … This is a story, in the director’s mind, not about Elsa’s tragic failure to keep her faith, but about Lohengrin’s unreasonable demands, about the hypocrisy of his — and, therefore, modernity’s — inability to live up to his own vision for society. And who will make that hypocrisy clear, challenge it, overcome it? The women.

Christian Wildhagen, writing for the NZZ, was less swayed by the young American. He observes:

Doch dass die offenbar tiefschürfend reflektierte, mit allerlei Romantik und Farbensymbolik angereicherte Szenerie und das über weite Strecken biedere, ermüdend oft auf die Zentralperspektive fixierte Stehtheater im weiten Bühnenrund sinnstiftend (und nicht bloss illustrierend) ineinandergriffen – davon kann auch hier keine Rede sein.

The indispensable perlentaucher.de rounds up some of the German critical press here.

Filed under: Bayreuth Festival, directors, Wagner, Yuval Sharon

Götterdämmerung Caps Triumph of SFO Ring

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Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Here’s the final installment of my coverage for Musical America of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary Ring cycle.

SAN FRANCISCO—If Siegfried highlights Zambello’s ability to tease out vital, three-dimensional characters from a deceptively simple surface, Götterdämmerung shows her clarifying the most complex component of the entire cycle–an installment which introduces an entire generation of characters new to the Ring–with a gripping theatrical momentum. The night/day dichotomy of the Prologue aptly summed up the diametrical viewpoints of this staging…

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Ring review: Part 1

Ring review: Part 2

Ring review: Part 3

Filed under: directors, Musical America, review, Ring cycle, Runnicles, Wagner

San Francisco Opera Reforges Its Ring

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Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde and Greer Grimsley as Wotan in Wagner’s “Die Walküre.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Here’s Part 1 of my review for Musical America of San Francisco Opera’s Ring, directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Donald Runnicles:

SAN FRANCISCO—One sure gauge of a successful Ring production is when it consistently leads you to a liminal state: to a kind of hovering between rapt focus on the moment and deliberation about what it all implies. Over the course of San Francisco Opera’s Ring, I found myself taking that threshold for granted, encouraged to ponder the connections, musical and dramatic, that are essential for Wagner’s project to make its desired impact.

continue [behind MA’s paywall]

Filed under: directors, Musical America, review, Ring cycle, San Francisco Opera, Wagner

Bye Bye Beethoven

Last night at Zellerbach Hall, Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s remarkable staged concert,Bye Bye Beethoven, opened the Berkeley edition of the programs she just curated for the 2018 Ojai Festival. One of the most creative deconstructions I’ve seen in a while, one that really achieves what it sets out to do: to shake us out of the stupor of the safe concert routine and show us what we’ve been missing.

According to Kopatchinskaja, “the concert routine around the world is so absurd,” continually replaying the same icons “with not very much imagination relevant to our time.” Bye Bye Beethoven dramatizes her concern “about petrified traditions. I don’t think Beethoven would be happy to know that in the future his music would take so much space.”

It’s not iconoclasm—ultimately, a Puritan approach—but rather a wittily inventive transformation of perceptions that motivates Bye Bye Beethoven.

This is the kind of work being done all the time in the visual arts, in poetry, in fiction, in film. Why can’t we have more of it in concert life?

Filed under: Cal Performances, directors, Patricia Kopatchinskaja

Musical America’s Artist of the Month: Louisa Proske

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Louisa Proske; photo by Russ Rowland

Congratulations are in order for the talented and brilliantly original director Louisa Proske, this month’s featured Artist of the Month at Musical America:

Only a week is left before tech rehearsals start for Heartbeat Opera’s fourth
annual spring festival, but Louisa Proske remains intently focused on our
conversation….

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Filed under: directors, Musical America, profile

Opera Omaha’s Inaugural ONE Festival Proves Up to Its Ambitions

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Proving Up by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek, directed by James Darrah, with John Moore, Talise Trevigne, Michael Slattery, Cree Carrico, Abigail Nims, Andrew Harris, and Sam Shapiro; photo (c) Emily Hardman

My coverage of the inaugural ONE Festival at Opera Omaha is now live on Musical America. (I’m afraid there’s a paywall.)

I devoted Part 1 to the world premiere of Proving Up, the brilliant new opera by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek in James Darrah’s staging:

Part 1

Part 2

Filed under: American opera, directors, Musical America, new opera, Opea Omaha, review

Don Giovanni as Comedy


In his staging of Don Giovanni for Komische Oper Berlin (dating from 2014), Herbert Fritsch wants us to forget all about the mythology of the “demonic” that has been larded onto Mozart’s second collaboration with Da Ponte.

Put aside the heavy-weather, “D minor” brooding that E.T.A. Hoffmann emphasized, thus turning Mozart into a proto-Romantic. Forget about the Faustian echoes, the existential “aesthetic sphere” of Søren Kirkegaard, etc. etc.

Fritsch and his team zero in on Don Giovanni as above all a dramma giocoso, indeed an opera buffa, its roots in the commedia dell’arte made conspicuous. Veering far from the dangerous immoralist we tend to encounter, Günter Papendell portrays the Don as a hilarious combination of clown, matador, and vaudeville showman. Wearing a Joker-smeared smile throughout and detachable blond rug, he plays stadium-rock air guitar to accompany his mandolin serenade and disappears into Hell with his index finger pointing up, followed by a black-out. No choral epilogue, no moral to the story (sung in Sabrina Zwach’s very clever German translation).

By that point, the wonderful KOB orchestra — led by Ivo Hentschel with high energy that didn’t stint on flecks of lovely color — had the entire auditorium resounding with Mozart’s terrifying D minor. Yet it felt exhilaratingly fresh and theatrical, not the same old inevitable pattern.

Whatever criticisms one may have of Fritsch’s choices, he doesn’t “deny” or “contradict” the music — in fact, gestures showed great sensitivity to every detail of Mozart’s score — but is determined to wipe away the clichés. An interesting choice that initially baffled me but then seemed to work: the Overture is displaced until after the opening scene, breaking out like a commentary on what has just happened.

I thoroughly enjoyed this cast, especially Evan Hughes’s lanky, cheeky, self-pitying Leporello, the dynamic between Alma Sadé and Samuli Taskinen as Zerlina and Masetto, the dramatic force of Vera-Lotte Böcker’s splendid Donna Anna, and Karolina Gumos’s absurdly conflicted Elvira. (In a neat visual pun, she’s trapped in a twisting ruffle that turns her violently yellow dress into a giant question mark — “wtf???”)

The cartoonish shtick and artifice were indeed greatly enhanced by Victoria Behr’s colorful costumes and Fritsch’s own simple set of black-and-white lace design hangings in continual motion. The chorus of townspeople inched and lurched about the stage like zombies.

The aesthetic perspective here occasionally reminded me of those moments in Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous stagings where things are pushed to such a comic extreme that there’s room for unexpected reactions to emerge: especially in Don Ottavio’s two arias, rendered with heart-stopping lyricism by Adrian Stooper. The emotional dissonance is theatrically gripping, and Fritsch shows an unwavering conviction that opera is a form of theater.

Filed under: directors, Komische Oper Berlin, Mozart

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered: Alcina Casts Surprising Spells in Santa Fe

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Elsa van den Heever (Alcina) © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2017

My review of Santa Fe Opera’s Alcina for Bachtrack:

George Bernard Shaw crystallised longstanding biases when he declared that Handel’s operas were “only stage concerts for shewing off the technical skill of the singers”. David Alden, a longstanding maverick director and hero of Regie-philes, made his reputation in part through his striking interpretations of Handel. If anything, his production of Alcina, which he first staged at the Opéra National de Bordeaux in 2012 (with many of the same singers), pushes too far in the opposite direction to the theatrically static fossil of Shaw’s stereotype.

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Filed under: directors, Handel, review, Santa Fe Opera

Faust, Sort of…

This is Frank Castorf, aafter all. Yes, a weird way to spend Easter weekend…

“In ihren scharfen Zügen hat sich endlich auch das Weibliche vom ewig Weiblichen befreit. Weshalb am Ende, wenn die Männer infantilisiert kapitulieren, eben auch nicht ein ewig Weibliches Erlösung bringt, sondern eine Varieté-Tänzerin dafür sorgt, dass der Laden irgendwie weiter läuft.”  (Die Welt)

Filed under: Berlin, directors, Goethe, Volksbühne

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