Showing posts with label Renee Fleming. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Renee Fleming. Show all posts

Monday, December 19, 2016

Rosenkavalier rising: an opera for our times too



Farewell? Renée Fleming as the Marschallin.
Photo: ROH Catherine Ashmore

When Der Rosenkavalier turns into a piece for our own times, you know two things: first, the director has a classic production in the making; secondly, we ourselves are in a lot of trouble.

Robert Carsen's staging at the Royal Opera House sets the action in the year Strauss composed the work, 1911. The empire is imploding in slow motion. Arms dealers are the moneyed arrivistes. Violence simmers under the surface, sometimes explodes. The Field Marshall's palace boasts crimson walls and giant, imperial-era paintings. Outwardly, all is elegance, beauty and shiny show, the Marschallin choosing Klimtesque gowns from a fashion parade and a troupe of "house-trained dogs" drawing oohs and ahhs (especially the bulldog and the borzois); and the silver rose is massive, not only a ton of silver but full of crystal sparkles. It's an artificial rose of the future, set against the living, delicate but doomed red ones the Marschallin cradles and sniffs. For underneath there lurks "degeneracy": a brothel-load of prostitutes in Schiele-like revelations, an Octavian who knows a lot more than he lets on, and sexual danger looming around Sophie from Ochs's troops (Sophie nevertheless startles her father and the importunate Ochs with new-found defiance). The palace reveals doors within doors within doors; every level conceals another.


Matthew Rose as Baron Ochs and Sophie Bevan as Sophie
Photo: ROH Catherine Ashmore


But this is a world on the brink. As the Marschallin delivers her reflections on the passage of time, a shudder of recognition goes through us. She is talking not only about ageing, but about the world itself, about everything that surrounds her. Yes, this is Renée Fleming's likely farewell to London's operatic stage, and yes, the Marschallin is no spring chicken, however fabulous she looks and sounds. The implications are much wider, though. At the end the place disintegrates, showing us the battlefield horrors of World War I - and soldiers aim a gun at a drunken child named Mohammed. The veracity of this imagery hits home so hard that one becomes fearful in earnest for where we are all going now. Remember, historical fiction isn't only about the past; its task is to be about today.

Fleming: glamour itself
Photo: ROH Catherine Ashmore
Big plaudits, then, to Carsen and his designers Paul Steinberg (sets) and Brigitte Reiffenstuel (costumes). The lighting is by Carsen and Peter von Praet.  Musically, too, this performance couldn't be much more memorable if it tried; even if not every singer precisely matches every listener's ideal, the quality of insight, the excellence of the singers and the chemistry between them could scarcely be bettered.

Fleming's Marschallin is the incarnation of olde-worlde glamour. Her voice still has its amber-mellow beauty, if perhaps scaled down from its full glory, and her singing communicates with profundity accentuated by its directness and poise. As Octavian, Alice Coote brings oodles of character to her tone as well as her acting; this lad is awkward and stiff in army uniform, yet abrupt liberation follows in Act III when, dazzling in drag in a brothel, he/she displays a startling understanding of how to tantalise and torment the justifiably muddled Ochs - and whether Octavian has learned all this from the Marschallin or acquired it elsewhere is perhaps a moot point. Sophie Bevan as her namesake sounds warm and golden rather than cool and silver, yet her high notes at the presentation of the rose seem to reach heaven itself.

Matthew Rose's Ochs is no mere bumpkiny boor, but a powerful man out for a good time that doesn't please those around him and tramples - Trumples? - over societal norms with disruptive relish. It's almost impossible not to feel vaguely sorry for him as "Mariandel" delivers him her nasty dose of over-worldly Viennoiserie. Luxury casting for Annina and Valzacchi in the shape of Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke and Helene Schneiderman, as well as Faninal - the many-dimensional voice of Jochen Schmeckenbecher.

The greatest magic of all: Andris Nelsons, red-shirted, open-armed and open-hearted, unleashing the music and letting it fly out of the orchestra's players, hushing the levels for Fleming and allowing  the visual marvels to be cradled in a sensual richesse of sound.

It's hard to believe that this could be Fleming's farewell - but then, there's a lot that's hard to comprehend right now. She may be departing together with our golden age of opera. That's a topic for another time, but reinforces an important message: let's never forget we were lucky enough to have and hear this.

On a lighter note, a special little plaudit for a startling appearance in the onstage band of two characters that apparently reference "Geraldine" and "Josephine" from Some Like It Hot. A very endearing anachronism.

Meanwhile I may get up in the night and stop the clocks.

If you can find a ticket, go and see it. 


Friday, March 02, 2012

Girl Power

Hooray for music's powerful women! 

1. JUDITH WEIR AND EMMA BELL ON MISS FORTUNE


Judith Weir's latest full-length opera is heading for Covent Garden, opening on 12 March, and it's the first opera ever to finish (as far as I'm aware) with the heroine winning the lottery. Emma Bell is in the leading role of Tina, conquering a number of different stratospheres (left, Emma atop "the shape"). I talked to them both about creating what Bregenz Festival director David Pountney called "an opera for an entirely normal audience". See my feature in today's Independent, here.





2. DANIELLE DE NIESE TO STAR IN OPERA OF ANN PATCHETT's BEL CANTO


The Lyric Opera of Chicago has commissioned the young Peruvian composer Jimmy Lopez to write the work, which is scheduled for the 2015-16 season. Ann Patchett's novel describes a terrorist attack in a South American jungle in which a group of opera lovers, politicians and a singer, Roxanne Coss, are taken hostage: over the months, attackers and hostages form unexpected alliances. RENEE FLEMING, Lyric's creative consultant, chose the book as the perfect topic for the opera. The libretto is by playwright Nilo Cruz, the director is Stephen Wadworth and Sir Andrew Davis conducts. And Danni, who's much more than Glyndebourne's fabled Cleopatra, takes the lead as Roxanne. More here.

“It’s about terrorism on one level, but it’s also about what happens when people are forced to live together for a long time, and how art can raise their level of humanity as a group,” Fleming said. “Most of us crave a cathartic emotional experience when we’re at the theater, and I believe Bel Canto has the components to do that... I was struck by Jimmy Lopez's intelligence and the way he understands both the problems in bringing this piece to the stage, but also the possibilities that opera as a medium offers for illuminating a story. For example, the orchestra can accentuate the dramatic situation onstage, but it can also convey the underlying turmoil that one might not see. This is something that many composers miss and that Jimmy understands completely.” 


3. JD TO SPEAK AT CLASSICAL:NEXT


The new classical music trade fair Classical:Next, taking place in Munich from 30 May to 1 June, has announced its initial line-up of events and speakers, and I am happy to report that JD is to be on a panel discussing the future of music journalism, along with BBC Music Magazine editor Oliver Condy and the editor of the German magazine PIANONews, Carsten Durer. Classical:Next is a sister production to WOMEX, and if that event is anything to go by, we want to be there.

4. DON'T FORGET TAZ AND ROX's BIG NIGHT


Tonight at the Anvil, Basingstoke, and tomorrow night at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, the London Mozart Players and TASMIN LITTLE (left) give the world premiere of the complete Four World Seasons by ROXANNA PANUFNIK. Having had a sneak peek for Classical Music magazine, I reckon Vivaldi wouldn't know what's hit him. Rox writes:
"In early 2008, the violinist Tasmin Little rang me to ask whether I’d write a series of short pieces for her, accompanied by chamber orchestra. Considering a world where global concern for climate change and seismic shifts in international political landscapes affect us all, we decided to take Antonio Vivaldi’s much-loved 1725 Four Seasons and give the concept a 21st-century twist, creating an entirely new work with each season (lasting approximately 5 minutes) influenced by a country that has become culturally associated with it."  Spring in Japan, an Indian Summer, Autumn in Albania and a Tibetan Winter form the music in this celebration of music across the world, reflecting the many cultures that descend on London for the 2012 Olympic Games." 


5. JUST FOR THE HECK OF IT, HERE'S DARCEY BUSSELL AS SYLVIA


Ahead of her time, Frederick Ashton's Sylvia was created for Margot Fonteyn in the 1950s. Diana's top nymph is not exactly your typical 1950s ideal housewife. I love the power, joy and freedom in Darcey Bussell's interpretation, filmed at the ROH in 2005. Girl Power if ever we saw it! Roberto Bolle is her lovestruck swain. Enjoy.