Verdi’s Otello

Verdi has transformed Shakespeare’s play into an operatic masterpiece, inspired by the characters, respecting the original plot, but alchemising Shakespeare’s rare metal into a musical drama on a different level. And because Verdi’s orchestration can point up, add to, the musical drama enacted on stage, the opera is surprisingly economical, with no surplus scenes.
There’s no overture, but Verdi’s tempestuous orchestration depicting Otello’s ship caught in a storm from Venice, is ominous:’a dark spirit is in the ether.’ The chorus are on tremendous form, as is Vienna State Opera Orchestra under Dan Ettinger.
The minimalist staging (directed by Christine Mielitz), based on a white cube illuminated platform, subtly veils steel- mesh panels for the intimate scenes. The costumes are unfussy, vaguely modern, the sets unproblematic, not distracting. The drama and colour is on stage.
The first surprise is the ‘Iago’ character, dominant from the opening, and in Verdi, more explicit as to his reasons for plotting against Otello. Jago is out for revenge, passed over by Cassio who’s promoted to Captain. Against expectations it is superstar Dmitri Hvorostovsky cursing the thick-lipped Moor. ‘The world of a woman is untrustworthy.’ Jago , the soldier’s man, is a mysoginist, always manipulating women. Although Jago pretends to love Otello, he despises the Moor who demoted him. Hvorostovsky is swaggeringly confident, good looking with long white -platinum hair, dressed in a dark leather coat over black outfit. Verdi’s Jago, unlike Shakespeare’s more abstruse character, openly declares to Rodrigo, ‘If I were the Moor I would be on my guard against Jago.’
We see Cassio (Marian Talaba) swigging from a bottle side stage . He sings of Desdemona as the power of the island, and yet so modest. Jago knows that if Cassio gets drunk he loses it. So Jago rabble-rouses the soldiers to drink , stirs up Rodrigo against Cassio-‘the quarrel to spoil Otello’s first night of love.’ (‘Put down your swords’, thunders Otello; and demotes Cassio.)
Otello (José Cura) is the second surprise- grey-haired, white beard, the older man. A Shakesperean Othello would be negro -an opportunity for under-used black talent- as surely in the elitist opera world. But Cura wins on merit -a moving, disturbing portrayal, magnificently sung. (And, sorry, must a north African be black?) He’s dressed in distressed long black leather, in his first scene with Desdemona. To a long cello solo , Otello sings how, in the black night, his raging heart is subdued; Desdemona (Anja Harteros) of how many hardships preceded their great love. Harteros is a powerful soprano, endearing as Desdemona . Tall, noble, unaffected, dressed in a long , white satin gown, she has a purity of tone, her virtuoso soprano in reserve.
Cura and Harteros are natural, truly complementary. She listened with bliss to his tales of woe, with terror his battles. ‘You loved me for my suffering; I loved you for your compassion.’ In their duet, their loving relationship seems more developed than in Shakespeare. Presciently, ‘his bliss is so great he might never be this happy again.’ Desdemona, centre stage in white, stands over him, soothes his head. Cura’s all in black. These two are very convincingly in love.
Which makes Jago’s treachery all the greater, Jago knowing Otello lives only for her. Jago conspires to advise the now demoted Cassio to persuade Desdemona to intercede for him with Otello. But while Cassio is talking to Desdemona, Jago incites Otello’s jealousy.
Verdi’s aria for Jago is masterful, modern in its psychological insight into the villain’s motives. Jago from the baseness of an atom, was born wretched, sings defiantly, ‘I am a villain because I am a man and feel the primeval in me.’ And darkly ‘existentialist’, believes man is the plaything of fate, from the cradle to the grave. After so much mockery comes death! And then…Heaven is a myth. It’s a Machiavellian agenda, shockingly modern. Hvorostovsky glowers triumphantly.
So, observing Desdemona and Cassio talking, ‘My lord, did Cassio know Desdemona before you married’, Jago asks Otello. – ‘Are you my echo, putting thoughts in my head?'(Otello) Yet, Jago, implanting these insinuations, has the chutzpah to advise Otello, ‘Beware, my lord of jealousy! It is a dark hydra- it poisons with its venom.’ First the investigation, the proof, insists Otello, Cura’s rich tenor.
Desdemona, ‘an honest soul, fails to see deception’ (sing a heavenly choir). Is she too good to be true? So Verdi has children singing- perhaps ironically- Desdemona is ‘like a sacred image they adore’. Yet Desdemona -the epitomy of innocence- unwittingly promotes Cassio’s cause seeking Otello’s pardon. ‘Not now.’-‘Why so irritable.’ What troubles him?’ So Desdemona, guiless, isn’t guiltless. Harteros’s portrayal is all too human, rather than saintly.
In one of the opera’s great ensembles, on opposite sides of the stage, Jago is persuading his wife Emilia to steal a handkerchief from Desdemona, her mistress. Meanwhile Desdemona is trying to soothe Otello. We hear fragments of dialogue, ironically in contrapunct: ‘Suspicion is worse than the crime itself.’ Otello, brooding, wants to be left alone. ( In his aria, sings darkly, this spells the end of Otello’s glory; but wants proof.)
Hvorostovsky, in Act 2’s dream scene, is a highlight. Reacting to Otello’s insistence of proof of Cassio: ‘the terrible deed is always hidden.’ Otello listens intently as Jago relates how he heard Cassio calling out Desdemona’s name in his sleep. ‘Sweet Desdemona, we must hide our love…’ is sung exquisitely, passionately by Hvorostovsky. And ‘I curse the fate that gave you to the Moor’, sung from the heart, as if Hvorostovsky’s Jago is expressing his own feelings. (He is!) The dream faded, finally, Jago’s coup-de-grace, Desdemona’s handkerchief.‘This was the handkerchief in Cassio’s hands.’ Otello’s blood turns to ice: this land shall soon unearth a thunderbolt, Otello swears by the god of vengeance. The scene is a triumph for Hvorostovsky and Cura.
Otello’s interrogation of Desdemona (Act3) is another a high point. The stage is a cage effect, the white square platform -suggesting the marital bed- has a meshed guard in front. Harteros greets him: May God give you joy. He, give me your ivory hand . ‘As yet it bears no traces of pain or age. And with this same hand she gave her heart to him.’ But while he asks her for her handkerchief, she, innocently, wants to speak of Cassio. ‘It was embroidered by a sorceress. Have you lost it?’ Then she, with supreme irony,’You are playing a game with me to distract me from Cassio.’-‘Tell me who you are.’- ‘The faithful wife of Otello.’ Harteros is on her knees, head slumped. He is stalking the cage like a prisoner. She, heartrendingly, ‘behold the first tears (that grief has ever wrung from me.’ He accuses her as a common whore. She’s cowered, shrunken. Then will apologise to her. Still she’s the common whore who is Otello’s wife. She fights him off as she exits. He’s left sobbing painfully. These exchanges (Boito’s libretto) ,shockingly modern, could be from ‘Scenes from a Marriage’. Then Otello’s aria- Cara sitting behind the meshed-wire cage, ‘But you have robbed me of the illusion that nourished my soul.’
Desdemona’s two arias The Willow Song and Ave Maria are sung by Harteros with great feeling. To an exotic oboe, she requests Emilia lay out her wedding outfit; sings of how a girl once sang, wept with bitter tears, the gloomy willow will be her bridal garland. Then ‘He was born for glory, I was born for love’; and to love him to die. Harteros in white- the guilty Emilia (Monika Bominek) hooded in black -soars ‘Oh, Emilia!’. Harteros’s soprano is tempered with an affecting simplicity, singing Ave Maria. Pray for the sinner, the innocent. Pray for those who bear abuse, suffer tragic fates. Pray for us always, even in the hour of death. Harteros is on a deserted stage, kneeling, a figure of suffering. For once no applause was possible.
Dan Ettinger’s double-basses prepare us as Otello approaches her veiled bed- a dark presence violating this spiritual purity . Cura, swarthy in black , cold measured restraint, like a serial killer, ‘If you remember any sin, now’s the time to atone…’ But she insists, she doesn’t love Cassio. The veil collapses. The strangling is very, horribly real.(Emilia arrives announcing Casio has killed Rodrigo. Casio lives.) She dies blameless. Cura, over the body laid out, ‘how pale, silent, beautiful you are: born under an evil star, Desdemona died.’ There is absolute silence in the House. A bassoon bleats mournfully; Otello craves one more kiss before dying. With tenderness and compassion, Verdi expresses the fragility of being human. P.R.20.09.2013
Photos: José Cura (Otello) and Anja Harteros (Desdemona); Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Jago); Anja Harteros (Desdemona); Dmitri Hvorostovsky headline
(c) Wiener Staasoper/ Michael Pӧhn

Carmen at Vienna State Opera

The credentials are impressive- Rinat Shaham as Carmen, Roberto Alagna, no less, as Don José; and stage designed by the legendary Italian film producer Franco Zefirelli. And Vienna State Opera Orchestra (and Chorus), Bizet’s exotic score, with its authentic Spanish influences. But somehow the spark is missing. That score, conducted by Dan Ettinger, doesn’t quite ignite on this epic set.
Peeling stone ramparts, canopied roof, rotting rafters, (Seville’s) market stalls selling fruit and vegetables – traditional period costumes -the stage could be out of a mid- 19th Century painting. As Michaela (searching for her fiancee Don José) soprano Anita Hartig, with plaited brunette hair, in a simple white apron dress, sounds exquisite, but too good to be true as the ‘pretty bird’ ribalded by the soldiers. The street children playing soldiers -Oh, Misérables!- as in a Victorian musical, sing much too innocently. The set, however, is rather colourless, bland- men in sand-coloured suits, matching soldiers’ uniforms khaki – girls in pastel, rainbow -effect, frocks. Are these the dangerous workers in a cigarette factory? They sing angelically in this idyll.
Carmen, however, (Rinat Shaham), wears a purple and black dress, her lower petticoat cerise, her long jet-black hair hanging provocatively. And she’s barefoot, salaciously introducing herself to the men with a Habanera, singing ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle.’
Don José (Roberto Alagna), sits on the side, symbolically fingering his rosary beads- not even looking- while Carmen is being hoisted up by her male admirers. Shaham is languid, sensual. (One man in a white suit is on his knees to her.) Certainly the gypsy, her rich mezzo not yet splitting high notes. She turns to José- Alagna in army jacket, white holster, black boots. He seems perplexed, transformed, picks up her billet-doux, the flower she’s thrown.
By contrast, Micaela (mother’s choice) and Jose, reunited , are rapturous together. But Hartig looks over-plain, like a milk-maid; but she sings movingly, with a classical purity, of his home, reminding him of his family duties. This music is altogether different- in the French operatic tradition- to the exotic Spanish rhythms and harmonies for Carmen, suggesting transgressive sexual danger. The ‘straight’ French music for Micaela represents moral courage, defending family values. Thus the different styles underline José’s moral conflict.
Alagna (just turned 50) looks twenty years younger- fit for soldiering; and his richly sonorous tenor- still ripe and fruity- is superb in duet with Hartig.’There is no one more virtuous: he’ll marry her.’
Cut to the cigarette factory girls fighting- the fight well choreographed- Carmen distinguishable in lilac tones. Don José restrains Carmen, her ‘Tra la la’ mocking, picking up her skirts provocatively. ‘She’ll keep his secret’; insists she’s not to blame for the knife fight. Alagna, his auburn hair now red under the spotlight, tries to tie her up . She resists demurely; and tugs on the chain as if to coax him on. Defiantly feisty, Shaham sings, ‘My heart is free.’ Carmen has a dozen suitors, but not to her liking. ‘Will you keep your promise and love me?’ Alagna responds with passionate body language, he will. (The arresting officer charges Don José to guard her. Carmen escapes.)
Act 2 at Lillas Pastia’s, Carmen and the gypsies’ hangout, opens to a spectacular Spanish gypsy dance sequence. The stage backed by steep rocky stairs, Escamillo descends to perform his Toreador song, boasting of his powers. (Bizet intended it to be vulgar.) Laurent Naouri, a deep baritone, (perhaps needing a lighter tone), is lithely handsome dressed in black embroidered waistcoat, white trousers; Carmen, her eyes glued, trips him passing by. Naouri re-enacts moves from the bullfight: beh ind him the other toreadors are waving their capes. Escamillo has girls all around him- but Carmen hooks him on a sustained note. He visits her table; they flirt speaking in French. Shaham’s face is radiant, transfixed as the bullfighters exit.
Yet Don José is the soldier imprisoned for abetting her escape. Now released, Carmen dances for him to castanets and pizzicato strings, Shaham luring Alagna with incredibly suggestive hip movements. Trumpet in the background, bugles approaching- in contrapunct to the castanets- illustrate his conflicting loyalties, José summoned back to quarters. Alagna is superb, rebutting Carmen’s taunts. Don’t poke fun at me! No woman has bewitched him so completely. She mocks him: that’s how much he loves me, (the ‘fate’ motif heard on cor anglais.) In José’s aria, Alagna movingly sings of the flower he’d kept (La fleur que tu m’avais jetée ) she’d thrown at him. Although it withered, for hours he breathed in the scent. And Alagna, increasingly powerfully, how he regretted his profanity, but had one wish only, to see her again. ‘All you have to do is look at me and I’m yours.’ Alagna is peerless in French romantic roles: a highlight.
‘No you don’t love me. But if you really loved me, you’d follow me… Là-bas dans le montagne. He resists, can’t listen to her – desertion is dishonour. But fate intervenes: smugglers disarm José’s commanding officer.)
Rocky cave, snow falling in (Act 3’s ) smuggler’s lair. Carmen has read her fate in the cards. ‘C’est destiné .’ (Shaham’s gypsy friends seem too genteel- lacking menace?) ‘Death! First me. Then him.’ Carmen’s aria is surprisingly moving in its sombre darkness. Shaham intimates a tragic side to Carmen hitherto unseen- stark, introspective, against the exuberant, extrovert ‘Carmen’ character.
Micaela, who’s come to ‘rescue’ José from Carmen, in her aria pretends to be strong, but, inside she’s all alone dying of fear . Superlatively sung by Anita Hartig, she will wait to see the woman who made an outlaw of her lover; but won’t fear her. Hartig sustains absolutely terrific top notes . Micaela’s heartrending aria is an unexpected treasure. Sung powerfully on a gloomy, dark stage, Hartig was enthousiastically applauded.
It is apt that, in the fight between the rivals José and Escamillo -Escamillo saved from José’s wrath – José is provoked in the argument as ‘a soldier who deserted, but Carmen is never in love for long!’ And, presciently, ‘but if if you take a gypsy girl, you have to pay with the knife.’
The stage for Carmen’s wedding, with house facades either side, is a street scene outside the bullring -ladies in white frocks and brollies, orange vendors and flower stalls. It’s the big Hollywood cinemascope spectacular. Escamillo is in full toreador regalia, accompanied by Carmen. Shaham wears an oriental-design satin dress with white lace headpiece, but scarlet lipstick.
Alone with Carmen centre stage, Alagna, his hair disheveled, appears in a black cape, his white smock shirt untidily open. The full croon: he’s not threatening, but begging. –‘C’est fini.’– ‘There’s still time. He can save her; and him with her.’ She knows he will kill her, but won’t give in to him.
Alagna holds her; falls hopelessly to his knees begging, sobbing. She’s haughty, (Shaham) raising her head in disdain.- ‘So you no longer love me.’ José is increasingly desperate, begs her not to leave him. Carmen will never give in: born free, she will remain free. Now Shaham hits those high notes. ‘Kill me or let me go!’ Alagna now with his shirt wide open, maybe over-indulgent, too melodramatic. After the final clinch, he appears, his shirt bloodied, (her blood). The triumphantly banal Toreador refrain heard background, as the dramatic ‘Fate’ theme finally prevails. The ending -marred by Alagna’s histrionics- left me underwhelmed. P.R. 18.09.13

Photos: Rinat Shaham (Carmen); Roberto Alagna (Don José) and Rinat Shaham (Carmen); Roberto Alagna (Don José)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Pöhn
I’m indebted to Gerald Larner’s CBSO (2005) programme notes.

La Traviata revisited

After my experience of the premier production of Vienna State Opera’s chaotic post-modern Verdi La Traviata, I wasn’t relishing another. But noticing Simon Keenlyside billed as (Giorgio) Germont, maybe the singing might redeem it. Well, and how! Forget all those crazy sets. Forget the distracting play within a play, rehearsing ‘La Traviata’- hopeless to follow if you’re not conversant with Verdi’s opera, or the 19th century context- a ‘courtesan’, the young aristocrat besotted by her who sacrifices all for love, the patriarchal father who persuades her to give him up. Yet she (Violetta), already ‘reformed’, had devoted herself in vain to Alfredo, a ruinous waster. And, alienated, Violetta, like Dumas’ ‘The Lady of the Camelias’, is doomed by that 19th century disease ‘consumption’- to die isolated, unecessarily in poverty.
This Violetta, Marina Rebeka, is bewitching -her appeal overwhelming -conveying a joie-de-vivre, gaiety, but also fragility. And the voice is enthralling. And this Alfredo, Massimo Giordano, endowed with a God-given tenor, fervently embodies the hot-blooded Romantic figure. Together they have a natural empathy, bubbling exuberance.
In Rebeka’s first appearance- staged as if she’s auditioning- Rebeka’s exciting, feisty, swigging back a bottle: like a Carmen, dangerously sexual. ‘You will kill yourelf: must take of yourself’, sings Alfredo. Giordano in his first aria un di felice, eterea , singing of ‘a love that is the heartbeat of the universe, mysterious, sublime,’ Giordano hits all the right notes. Rebeka’s Violetta, is teasingly beguiling, their duet superlatively rendered. Rebeka’s coloratura is breathtaking- the audience could hardly wait to applaud. Giordano’s Alfredo is ardent, impassioned, the reckless young man in love. ‘Tell me again you love me’:’How happy I am’. Adio. (We couldn’t ask for more.) Then the drinking song, Libiamo evoking exotic Paris : they’re all out on the town, the city is full of nightlife . Does it matter that this is a dowdy rehearsal room, like a grim village hall, bareboards, utility chairs? Vienna State Opera Chorus- authentically Italian- would be inspiring on a railway platform. Wow!
Violetta now alone, Rebeka is impressive in her aria singing of how no man has ever inflamed her before. His words go straight to her head: perhaps it’s he, her lonely soul has awaited. Then, ‘a love that is the heart of the universe’, echoing Alfredo, their tune. Rebeka has such warmth: a light supple but powerful soprano. And she really does hit the top notes. The party girl, she’s ‘forever free to seek out new delights’; and she’s dancing. In the background we hear ‘felice..’, Giordano’s voice backstage strong enough to carry. Rebeka holding the stage is simply fabulous- unaffected, but such a powerful range. Wonderful singing!
Alfredo, opening Act 2 admits how shameful he’s been, when Annina announces Violetta had to sell her horses and carriage to fashion his extravagant lifestyle. Yet Germont blames Violetta. Simon Keenlyside- most impressive of Verdi baritones -arrives at Violetta’s. He slurs Violetta: ‘You live luxuriously-that puzzles a lot of people.’ She wishes to sell all her posessions, he suggests, to escape from her past. Germont subtly pressurises her : if Alfredo doesn’t break it off, she’ll ruin his beautiful daughter’s engagement. ‘I am to leave him forever?’-‘It must be so’, their duet to a stabbing string accompaniment. ‘Oh, this punishmant is so cruel I would rather die!’- Germont’s response -‘a great sacrifice, but she is young, and with time…’ is cruelly cynical. But Germont’s smooth rhetoric, is emphasised by Keeenlyside’s mellifluous baritone: and Keenlyside’s appeal, dressed in a pastel designer three- piece suit, looking like an Italian heart throb.
Rebeka is tender, heartbreaking , in Violetta’s poignant response, ‘Although God has forgiven me; Man shows no mercy’. She bids Alfredo farewell, to love her as much she loves him; and Germont to tell his daughter ‘a wretched woman makes this sacrifice before she dies.’ She pleads ‘What shall I do?’, then Marina, plaintive, self-effacing, ‘Embrace me like a daughter, it will give me strength.’
Alfredo is seen reading his father’s letter, reminding him of his home and family responsibilities. Yet Verdi himself married a ‘singer’, fought petty bourgeois morality lifelong. So Germont’s singing ‘And God has brougth me here’, referring to ‘the voice of honour’, reeks of hypocrisy. Keenlyside’s aria, however, powerfully delivered, received enormous applause. Keenlyside grabs his wayward son by the lapels. He will not reproach Alfredo: ‘Let us forget the past.’ Patriarchy has prevailed. The dangerous woman expurged, Afredo now sings of revenge.
I was prepared to forget Jean-Francois Sivadier’s ‘play-within-a-play’ until the Ball scene. ‘We are gypsies come afar’ is like walking in on a rehearsal for Chorus Line. (‘Let us draw a veil on the past, what’s done is done’ is surely ironic.) But the introduction of the Spanish matadors is sensational, with soloists from Vienna State ballet. There’s sustained rhythmic timing from the orchestral accompaniment, a bouncing vitality injected throughout by conductor Marco Armiliato.
Alfredo, Giordano in a long waistcoat, looking like a beatnik, now rolls up his white shirt sleeves for the crunch. Violetta appears with the Baron Douphoil. She insists she ordered the Baron to accompany her. Alfredo defying the Baron, almost throttles Violetta in his fury. (‘Douphoil, so you love him!’) Giordano- impassioned, riveting -now addresses the Ball guests: ‘Do you know what she did? She sacrificed all her belongings. I was a coward’ Now he wishes to repay her. And he throws notes at her -his winnings- like confetti. Violetta , humiliated, and ill, collapses in shock. Germont horrified rebukes Alfredo’ a man who insults a woman deserves contempt. Where is my son?’ There are mixed voices, the Chorus of guests chant ‘We suffer your pain Violetta’, Violetta that Alfredo cannot comprehend her love. Oh, what suffering! (Marina stumbles to her feet.)
Rebeka is exceptional in the harrowing 3rd Act. Violetta, in her party dress, is undressed by Annina. Weak and in agonising pain, she sinks into her chair, to Verdi’s thin string accompaniment, tearing, minimalist orchestration. A doctor, a friend, comforts her, but ‘the consumption will take her in hours’. She sings, her body suffers, but her soul is at peace. Rebeka actually reads out Germont’s letter -Take care of yourself; then sings ‘Farewell happy dreams of the past…’ Her wonderful aria loses nothing in its familiarity, because Marina sings with such purity and simplicity -the soprano stripped of belcanto virtuoso affectation. The audience couldn’t clap.
Rebeka’s face lights up as Alfredo arrives. She’s standing front of stage, renewed. They’re embracing regardless; she slumps in his arms. They’ll leave Paris (he sings) and go through life together, a bright future. Rebeka echoes his heady sentiment: she’ll be well again. Rebeka stretches out her arms- still in this reverie, she wants to go out. ‘But if your returning cannot save me, nothing in the world can…’ To die so young when she has suffered so much.
The ironic refrain of carnival outside accelerates, Verdi increasing the pathos of the scene. ‘Take this picture of me’ is sung by Rebeka with unselfconcious emotion; she insists he give it to the young woman he must marry. In Verdi’s ensemble, Germont sings, I will never stop weeping for you; Alfredo, Let me die with you; Violetta, Give her my portrait.
The achievment of this magnificent trio was to avoid the sentimentality of ‘Victorian’ melodrama: to justify Verdi’s magnificent musical drama (Piave’s libretto) -transcending cliche- by giving it their all. And Armiliato’s conducting fired Vienna State Opera Orchestra (and Chorus) feeling the pulse of Verdi’s complex score, relishing one glorious tune after another. Verdi’s operas can withstand radically alienating staging, with performers this committed. PR.12.09.2013
Photos: Massimo Giordano (Alfredo) Alexandra Kurzak (Violetta); Simon Keenlyside (Giorgio Germont) and Alexandra Kurzak (Violetta); Alexandra Kurzak and Donna Ellen (Annina)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
Unfortunately photos of Marina Rebeka as Violetta in the 12th September cast were not available.

Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde

Last year I heard an exemplary concert performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde -Andris Nelsons conducting the CBSO, (including Stephen Gould as Tristan). But there is no comparison to a staged performance, Wagner’s operas being conceived as Gesamtkunstwerk , total music theatre. And, CBSO notwithstanding, Vienna State Opera orchestra, under Frans Welser-Mӧst would have been inspired by the events on stage- that electric charge of live theatre! I’ve heard wonderful Wagner playing here – they’ve performed The Ring thrice in the last 4 years- but Vienna Staatsoper surpassed themselves.
The success of Vienna’s new production also owes to David McVicar’s highly effective staging. A ghostly hulk floats forward in the overture (Vorspiel), revealing the carcass of a ship from some antiquity. Seamen, like slaves, perform ritualised rowing movements front of stage. In Act 2 there’s a mast, like 1930’s RKO Radio Pictures -or is it a phallic transmitter?- dominating the rocky beach beneath. At the moment of their orgasmic union, brilliant white daylight is cast as King Mark’s men invade the stage.
And Peter Seiffert (Tristan) and Nina Stemme (Isolde) are equal to their roles. Wagner demands not only the most powerful singers, but also great actors. As in the dramatic climax to Act 1: Love in death. Isolde drinks the poison draft she offers to Tristan, who had murdered her husband. But Isolde’s maid knowingly switched the phial for a love potion. They run into each other’s arms uninhibitedly, thinking they’re dying -rekindling the passion since they first met (when Isolde had saved the wounded Tristan, but could have killed him.) As the love potion takes effect, the two lovers unleashed, Sieffert and Stemme abandoned to passion, as if they’re drunk on love. Not only does their singing reach ecstatic highs, they both enact their long suppressed passion as if both were in love for the first time. They are not beautiful, but embracing tenderly, they inspire the feeling of what it is to be in love. It was overwhelmingly moving; I was fighting back my own emotion.
My second visit, the last of the season, with Linda Watson as Isolde, offered a better view of the Act 2 stage, dominated by the tower, with concentric saturn-like rings- torches on each side -resembling a huge phallic symbol. The set is bathed in a moonlight silver. ‘Put out the light!’ Heavenly delirium! Mine and yours. ‘Tristan mine: Isolde eternally yours!’ Day and night are symbols. Tristan sings of the ‘malicious day’. How could Isolde be his in the radiance of day? ‘Heilige Dӓmmerung!’ (holy twilight). Let day give way to death. Their love, could death ever stifle it? Seiffert is supreme, singing with matchless intensity.
‘But how can Tristan die for love, if his love never dies?’ Isolde interjects, ‘But our love is called Tristan und (and) Isolde, is it not?’- Then (Tristan) we would die to be forever united, as one, living only for the night. Isolde sings the refrain, ‘forever to be as one’, and the two in unison, ‘given only to each other’ to Wagner’s ever-surging climax. Finally, Tristan, ‘Must I awake. Each day gives way to death!'(Oh! einige Nacht, süsse Nacht!’).
The stage is now swamped by soldiers, King Mark’s men, who take up position, with Tristan and Isolde front stage. It’s superlatively staged – a barren rocky beach, the soldiers menacing in fierce medieval battledress. And Wagner, in a coup-de theatre, has timed Mark’s arrival- he’s supposed to be marrying Isolde, escorted by his loyal henchman Tristan- at the very moment of their exalted ecstasy. Coitus interruptus? No, not physically, but their spiritual love maybe even greater.
King Mark (Stephen Milling) sings at length of his betrayal by Tristan, the loyalest of the loyal – to emphasise how this former hero has been sunk by love. A tragic hero, (perhaps like Macbeth) fallen from grace, Tristan’s betrayal is an act of high treason. Tristan is awakened to the brutal realities of the day, the stage brilliantly lit, as soldiers take up assault positions.
Act 3, the set like a Cornish cove, a rocky terrain, a red sun overhead- David McVicar’s production is a triumph. A horn solo, like primeval bird song, is all we hear against this desolation. Returned to his lands, but Tristan is in another world, the vast realm of universal night. Kurwenal (Jochen Schmeckenbecher, a fine baritone) tries to wake his master, his hero. Sieffert, slumped in an armchair, all in black -dying of his wounds- is aroused by the announcement of a ship carrying Isolde. Tristan curses the day and the light. (An oboe introduction, spare strings , evoke desolation.) Isolde kommt, Isolde nӓht!’ Seiffert, a very physical actor, comes to life, his face glowing. This most expressive, authentic of tenors, projects his vocal virtuosity onto another level. The light, when does it go out? Night is for lovers; love is in death. Oh, treue Isolde! Somehow, he’s standing. Kurwenal, do you see it?- No, (to a mournful cor anglais), there is no ship.
Seiffert now on his knees, a dark figure, centre stage- pouring out his woes. ‘To yearn and to die !’ What balm can bring relief; he distilled the poison from his father’s grief (his mother died giving him birth.) Seiffert is tremendous- ranting to the heavens like a King Lear, his silver hair like a raging lion. Furchtbares Trink, he curses the love potion- now poison- waiting for Isolde’s no-show. In vain. He rises, and finally collapses, as Isolde’s ship is sighted.
Isolde has come to die with him. But she’s too late – Zu spӓt, trotziger Mann!– (obstinate man). She can’t complain to him. Will he not take pity on her suffering guilt, just one more time? Death and damnation! The arrival of a second ship, with King Mark. Isolde, with the slain Tristan, they’re lying together centre stage. In the closing Liebestod Isolde sweeps off into the night. Unbewusst, hӧchste Lust. The train from Stemme’s red gown is the only colour against the stony grey background. Isolde sings of Liebestod, Oh, death, to sink into utmost oblivion.
Seiffert’s is a titanic performance, but endearing in its vulnerable humanity. These lovers are all too fallibly human, unlike The Ring’s gods of nordic folklore. Stemme proved that ‘as Isolde, she is currently peerless, a supreme actress, with what it takes to overcome the vocal demands of this great role.’
Linda Watson replaced (30th June) the advertised Isolde at very short notice. Watson is a formidable Wagnerian performer, and impressed audiences as (Thielemann’s) Brunnhilde in Vienna’s 2011 Ring cycle. Watson, both vocally and enacting Isolde, met the extreme demands of the role in the first two Acts. Her rapport with Seiffert was remarkable, also the symbiosis of their body language. But, Linda Watson wasn’t quite up to the closing Liebestod. She didn’t have the power of a Nina Stemme, as my Viennese neighbour put it rather unkindly. Stemme whom I did hear (26th June) was indeed phenomenal. And Stemme sang all performances from the (13) June premiere, arriving in Vienna with a worldwide reputation as Isolde. But Watson, in fairness, wasn’t even pre- advertised, and the role requires both legendary vocal power and stamina.
(30 June 2013) PR
Photos: Peter Seiffert (Tristan) and Nina Stemme (Isolde); Peter Seiffert (Tristan); Nina Stemme (Isolde)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Pӧhn

Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet

Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette at Vienna State Opera has everything to offer as opera performance. Placido Domingo, an operatic legend, here the conductor, inspired incisive, but passionate playing. Of a solid ensemble, the title roles are excellent and ideally matched. Piotr Beczala is a world renowned tenor, and Sonya Yoncheva is already being hailed as ‘a new star in the operatic firmament’ (Kurier), praised for her beautiful timbre, perfect register, radiant high notes.
The staging is spectacular, (Jurgen Flimm’s production) looks good from the opening Prologue, with the Choir facing us in red, relating the sad tale, with silver coffins left of stage. The Capulets Ball, well choreographed, is staged as modern fancy dress, predominantly red and black outfits, with flash cameras going off ON STAGE (not off), and a bank of hi-tech lighting. Juliette (Yoncheva) makes a sensational entrance , discarding her trailing white cloak to reveal a slinky black one-piece- as she flicks her remote control to start the firework display.
It’s got the lot. The problem, for me, is Gounod’s music: from the Overture, sometimes syrupy and unctuous, rhetorical, bombastic. Like Victorian 19th Century art, gilded but over-decorative, as biedermeier furniture. Like over- indulging on a torte, layers of cream, over-sweet.
So Mercutio’s dream, a pre-sentiment- in Shakespeare the brilliant Queen Mab speech- all sounds very sedate in Gounod’s rich 19th century heavy sauce. No mercurial lightness.
Just look at that! A radiant beauty, divine treasure. Never bedore has he, Romeo, known such beauty, (observes Romeo of Juliette). Piotr Beczala lays it on thick. It’s not inappropriate that Domingo is the conductor. He, Beczala, belongs in that stable of thoroughbreds.
Juliette, in her aria, dreams of marriage: declaims ‘Let my soul have its springtime’, wishes to live in the enthralling dream that envelopes her. The stage resembles a sundial in blue light, floating down a sea of red petals, covering the stage floor. She’s dancing alone with the masked figure, in red frock coat, now her lover. The search-lights in the background are like a rock concert’s . Their duet, however, is in the grand French opera tradition. Pleasant though it is, it’s somehow unmemorable, a little over-sweet. Beczala and Yoncheva , however, are a couple. Tybalt (Dimitrios Flemotomus) in a claret suit- a red-hot talent- recognises, and sees off, Romeo the enemy Montague. ‘So that is Romeo!’ realises Juliette.
Romeo sings, bemoans, ‘What anguish!’ Be patient, he’s cautioned.(The scene cleverly fades out, with the ball ensemble centre stage, as Juliette is being dressed for bed.)
Super staging (Patrick Woodroffe): the star-spangled night is suggested by micro-red dots and blue spotlights for the sky. Juliette lies on a white crescent, splattered with paintbox colours. (Romeo, oh night shelter me !). Romeo sees the light from a window: sings how love has conquered him completely. ‘Sun arise to let the stars and firmament fade away.’ It’s not Shakespeare. Nor ‘She loosens a lock of her hair …how beautiful she is.’ (Not my translation!)
However faithful Gounod and Halevy (libretto) may have tried to be to Shakespeare, the poetry- if there is any – is in the music. Romeo’s aria, superbly delivered by Piotr Beczala, was well applauded.
Juliette, sitting on the crescent (her window) : if he could see her blushes he’d know the colour of her heart. But now she believes him, and will trust her honour to him. The night’s indiscreet veil has revealed her secret.- He pledges his word, by God. They clinch. Beczala and Yonsheva are wonderful together, both completely identified with their roles. While (ballroom) couples are close- dancing main stage, she promises her life to him. (Effectively staged, the Capulets- alerted to the Montagues in their grounds- are brandishing baseball bats.)
Act 3 (after the interval) opens with Friar Laurent’s ‘secret’ wedding. It’s not for us to criticise the adaptation of a play into a musical medium. But Gounod had to marry his lovers early. No pre-nuptial sex, given the all-powerful Catholic Church in 19th century France. So it’s typical of Gounod’s opera to devote an inordinate time to this long (and boring) ceremony. Yet in Shakespeare, it was a simple affair, Friar Lawrence being an ‘alternative’ preacher or faithhealer?
The high drama of Mercutio’s, then Tybalt’s death, comes after. The action is very well handled. The Capulets, in camel coats and red scarves are provoked by Mercutio. (How dare this clown disturb them?). Romeo’s in a black biker jacket, his mob blue-scarved. Tybalt’s ‘the mod’ in a DB bronze two-tone suit.Tybalt removes his jacket, fanning it like a matador. Mercutio falls, but fatally wounded. ‘Tybalt, you are the only coward here,’ challenges Romeo. Beczala, both vocally and dramatically, is superlative.
Now, tremendously staged, on the left lies Tybalt front stage, ranks of Capulets behind- with Mercutio right stage, the stage divided between the respective clans. The Doge (Prince) arrives leading dignitaries. His nephew Tybalt was killed by Romeo. Justice! Here Gounod makes the humanist message for conciliation, which in Shakespeare (and Berlioz) closes for emphasis. ‘More blood can nothing extinguish. Will nothing stop you?’ Law decrees the death penalty, but he exiles Romeo. (Romeo sings of his unjust fate: hope, blood and tears.)
So now to Romeo and Juliette, in bed and married. Thus, in this depiction, their love making can be uninhibited. (Oh bridal night, this night of love.) Their body language is synchronised, Beczala and Yoncheva have a certain chemistry. ‘The lark already heralds the dawn, but he still hears the nightingale, love’s beckoner.’ They are locked together, they tumble, rolling almost into the pit. It’s a moving scene, very sensual and very powerful. Yoncheva’s ‘Farewell, I’m yours, entrust him to heaven’ especially moving.
Incongruously, the Nurse exclaims, ‘Juliette, thank goodness your husband has left!’ But, it was Tybalt’s last wish she marry the husband of his choice, friend and kinsman Paris. So Juliette’s only a pawn in this patriarchy. Juliette complains to Father Laurent, the situation is his fault, in obeying him to get married. She casts off her wedding outfit. Laurent (Dan Dumitrescu, very warm and sympathetic) persuades her to drink a potion so she’ll appear dead- then flee with her husband.
Juliette’s aria anguishes over whether to drink the potion: imagines seeing Tybalt’s ghost. And what if Romeo were to wake before her? Yoncheva enraptures, captivates, especially in pianissimo, with enormous power in reserve for astonishingly high notes.
‘C’est la scene’-Romeo goes straight to the grave. (We adroitly bypass Shakespeare’s plot complications.) So unbeknown, seeing her laid out, he drinks the poison to join her. ‘Our fathers have hearts of stone,’ bewails Romeo. Now the set is black and white, just a few bright spotlights in the firmament. They’re both dying, laid out front of stage, reach out touching, then interlocked. They rise, the heavens open up with the ‘stars’ parting. Thus Gounod gives precedence to the ‘romance’ of French grand opera- over the moral of conciliation. Romeo and Juliette had to be sacrificed for the warring parties to settle family feuds. But the Doge’s message (‘Oh, day of sadness -you come too late’) is buried in Gounod’s 3rd Act.
However, the Vienna audience, were too busy cheering the performances of Beczala and Yoncheva, who took their applause together, hugging each other. As opera experience this was unforgettable. Domingo’s conducting motivated bravura playing and singing from Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus. But for me it’s rather vacuous, Gounod’s well-crafted music is superficial, overpadded- like the furniture of the period. PR. 25.06.2013
Photos: Piotr Beczala (Romeo) and Sonya Yoncheva (Juliette); Sonya Yoncheva (Juliette); Piotr Beczala (Romeo); featured image Sonya Yoncheva
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Pohn

Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (Volksoper)

Handsomely staged, Vienna Volksoper’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte actually looks better than Vienna State Opera’s. Do the sets matter when Mozart’s opera is so familiar? Yes! if the opera is to make sense of the confusing and fantastical plot that can descend into pantomine. But Mozart’s last opera, composed concurrently with the Requiem – is both comic and serious. Sarastro’s religious order might be an allegory for a masonic order (to which Mozart allegedly belonged) ; but the opera rather represents good prevailing over the (evil) magic exercised by the ‘Queen of the Night.’ And Mozart/Schickaneder’s Die Zauberflöte celebrates the dawning of Enlightenment, and perhaps, premiered in 1791, even a new political order.
Vienna Volksoper’s Magic Flute (directed by Helmuth Lohner) is effectively set in the 19th Century. There’s none of the post-modern switching between ‘period’ and contemporary . Or the anarchic disorientation of, say, Peter Stein’s WNO 1990s production set on a Los Angeles beach. And, from the Overture , a high musical standard is ensured by the refined orchestral sound ( Volksoper Orchestra ably conducted by Alfred Eschwe), with quality woodwind playing: mellow, mature strings with real depth.
Even the opening ‘dragon’ scene, usually embarrassing, works – cast in twighlight gloom, with the scary monster serpent disappearing into a cavity centre stage. The Queen’s ‘Three Ladies’, who loom over the prostrate man, in Victorian ruffled gowns and bonnets, are perhaps too elegant . Tamino awoke (JunHo You) sings with a terrible German accent. Papageno, in a grey suit and hat – looks every bit the Victorian natural scientist, here birdwatcher. Klemens Sander is an excellent baritone. But is he a little too serious for this impish role?
The problem is the ‘eastern’ Tamino and the traditional I9th century naturalist -authentic Wienerwald– doesn’t make sense. Papageno, in the opera, is the social outsider, not Prince Tamino. The Three Ladies reappear in grungy taffeta gowns, gothic, spiked up hairdos- all black, rather vampiric. Papageno, beaten up, Tamino is enticed by a picture of Tamina (the Queen’s kidnapped daughter.) Tamina’s picture is projected onto the backstage- cleverly done. (We’re looking forward to seeing her.) Tamino’s Mein Herz aria shows JunHo You’s tenor impressive, but not distinctive.
The Queen of the Night (Beate Ritter) rises out of the centre-stage circular platform, in black with extended hairpiece. Such an exquisite light soprano, but the innocent quality is rather inappropriate. High pitched, fragile? Does she know what she’s singing, (a tale of sworn revenge?) Ritter, revealing a glittering turquoise skirt, achieves a superb, bird-like pitch, offering the magic flute and bells for Tamino and Papageno’s protection.
In the first Act , set as if in a cave, Pamina is first seen in a white gown, trapped (by Monostatus) like a butterfly in a net. Papageno brings Pamina the news that she’s to be freed. Their famous duet, filled with happiness, is about the power of love. As good-natured Papageno, complaining he needs a wife, Klemens Sander seems too mature, and authorative. Andrea Bogner’s soprano is only pleasant.
But if the cast is ordinary, or mis-cast, Vienna Volksoper’s sets (Johan Engels) are spectacularly effective. The portal to the Temple, in gold , has inscribed in huge letters Weisheit, Natur, Vernunft (Wisdom, Nature, Reason)- virtually slogans for an Enlightenment manifesto. Sarastro (bass Andreas Daum) in a white waistcoat, donning a cloak with gold lining, is like the Professor of an academic establishment. Daum’s is a deep, tremendous bass- obviously a seasoned performer. Sarastro’s wiseman has moral authority, but Daum’s affable character is not physically fearsome.
Again well staged, Tamino’s on his knees, as the door to the Temple opens up, at first to reveal a petrified forest scene. An orange cluft, opening back of stage, represents Enlightenment, through which Sarastro and his priests emerge. In the Act 1 climax, Tamino’s led before the Assembly, the lovers meeting for the first time, Andrea Bogner’s Pamina’s lightweight floundering is simply not up to the part. Tamino sounds under-nourished. But the staging is beautiful: ranks of priest -like figures in orange striped gowns, centre-stage Sarastro, in white suit and magic cloak, like Prospero, the lovers to be ritually separated, on either side.
Also impressive is the inner temple opening Act 2, a circular chamber, with seated black-suited men with top hats and donning honorary stripes. In the centre, the throne is rather a pedestal housing a huge telescope. So an observatory , as if this were a scientific academy. Thus the staging anticipates 19th century industrial/scientific advances.
By contrast the Three Ladies in shimmering black dresses, with top hats and white bows -like hostesses in a sex club – look dangerous, (tempting Tamino and Papageno not to trust Sarastro.) And, in this polarisation of good and evil, night and day, Monostatos tries to kiss the sleeping Pamina. But disturbed by the Queen of the Night. She tells her daughter about the cosmic secret -the inner circles of the sun- Pamina’s father gave to Sarastro’s initiates. Now she wants to avenge herself, and offers Pamina a dagger to kill Sarastro.
The Queen appears, ascending through a circular stage, backed by a crescent moon, Beate Ritter in emerald turquoise with a horn -like headpiece. But Ritter’s soprano is too thin. She hits the right notes, like an exotic bird rather than a sorceress. She’s not really threatening, hers rather a voice to bewonder.(Pamina, nevertheless, is collapsed center stage in fear). And (Jeffrey Treganza’s) thin built, white-shirted, Monostatos – who tries to rape her- shouldn’t he be monstrous, if not physically?
Bogner’s Pamina is also disappointing in her key scenes. When she approaches Tamino -‘Are you sad?’- he’s sworn (as Papageno) not to speak. The audience laughed. (Bogner’s soprano struggled uncomfortably.) But Tamino’s silence, her imagined rejection, are grounds for Pamina’s attempted suicide.
Later, Pamina enters in a white gown , brandishing a knife. She’s prevented by the three Knaben (Vienna Boys Choir): absolutely enchanting. Their singing was enough to stop her; even to inspire Bogner to sing better.
Again, outstanding set, two winged messengers like statues guarding the sacred portals, are the backdrop for the wonderful duet between Tamino and Pamina, sworn to each other’s love, led by the Zauberflöte. Superb flute accompaniment, but routinely sung.
In the comic sub-plot, Papagena , who in brown rags had the audience in stitches, sheds her disguise and emerges, pink- haired, in shocking rose-pink satin. And proceeds to a striptease down to her satin bloomers. Johanna Arrouas was deservedly well applauded.
So the sets rather upstage the performers . The staging, especially in the closing scenes, dramatically points up the underlying thematic. First, in a pink cloud, emerge the Queen, Ladies and conspirators- the huge dark sphere, crescent moon as backdrop. To a crack of thunder, they are dispersed , sinking into the abyss centre stage. The Enlightenment is represented by Sarastro and his followers, who enter from the back of a circular stage done out in gold, reflected through mirrors side stage. They, the priests(Volksoper Chorus) face us, the whole stage lit up like a radiant sun, with the cast lined up front of stage. Thus ‘Enlightenment’ reason prevails over dark, reactionary, mystical forces. PR. 22.06.2013 ö
Photos (c) Dimo Dimov/Volksoper Wien
Birgid Steinberger (Pamina), Jennifer O’loughlin (Queen of the Night); Karl Huml (Sarastro) ; Birgid Steinberger and Three Knaben from Vienna Boys Choir.
Unfortunately photos for the June 2013 performance cast were not available.

Roberto Alagna as Werther

Jules Massenet’s Werther is the quintessential 19th Century ‘Romantic’ figure. He’s the ‘outsider’, aroused by feelings of Nature; and in love with the idealised, unattainable woman. Like Tannhauser, in love with an impossible ideal, a love doomed to be disappointed. Werther visits his widowed friend Amman; has fallen in love with Charlotte his eldest daughter. But Charlotte is driven by a sense of duty to look after her young siblings; and is bethrothed to Albert, whom she swore to her dying mother to marry. It’s a ‘Victorian’ weepie- so gloomy it was (first) rejected by Paris Opera. And Werther first premiered in Vienna (in German) in 1892.
The melancholy of Massenet’s score; a veiled curtain with reflections of trees in a pool, opening to a woodland scene, a huge oak tree with a (tree-house) platform. The idyll is spoilt by noisy children, some in swimwear with beachballs, playing with modern toys; and tacky garden furniture out of a DIY. It’s modern, 1950s/60s: are they really singing Christmas songs in July? Bespectacled Amman, their father, in a double-breasted suit, is indeed ‘looking far ahead’. One of his friends, in denim and trainers, drops a beer bottle in a crate. (Another wears a leather biker jacket.) Yet Werther, in his first aria, enthuses poetically about Nature, Werther being based on Goethe’s short novel. Roberto Alagna, in a navy blue suit, open necked shirt- reflecting the ‘Victorians’ idealisation of children -sings ‘Dear children- so much better than I.’ (Not this lot!)
Musically, it doesn’t get much better than this Vienna State Opera production (directed by Andrei Serban.) Alagna, richly sonorous, the ideal lyrical tenor, with brilliance, refinement and empathy, wafts, Is he awake or dreaming: everything is like paradise. Charlotte (Vesselina Kasarova), on a tree balcony overhead, is listening unobserved. Albert (Tae-Joong Yang) appears in a red-indian headdress -a joke to play on the children . Sophie (Daniela Fally), the eldest, is sworn to secrecy.
In their first duet, Charlotte insists to the impassioned Werther, ‘you know nothing of me’; he, that he ‘knows her soul’. Werther, demanding to see her again- (his professions of love interrupted by Albert’s arrival)- pleads, ‘Be true to your promise, or I shall die!’
Their next scene, meeting (Act 2) is tremendous, the synergy between Alagna and Kasarova all the more remarkable as Kasarova had to replace Elena Garanca at very short notice. To a setting of autumn leaves, time passes quickly, Werther sings. ‘But have I made of this quiet charming girl one who has no regrets?’ Her rejoinder, ‘When a woman has the most proper man beside her’. He, Alagna impassioned, sings regretfully, ‘Another man is her husband: his entire life is reduced to nothing but a romantic prayer’. And poignantly, ‘If only it were him… she must love me.’ (Behind them a couple are passionately embracing on the overhead platform.)
Months after the wedding, and Albert appears to have forgiven his rival. But Charlotte and Werther left alone, Werther renews his protestations of love. In their duet, Kasarova wears a dove -grey tailored costume. ‘Albert loves me and I am his wife’, she persists. Albert loves you, and, emotionally, who will not love you, Charlotte sings of Werther. Is there no woman here who you could love? ‘Fate has separated us forever. Go away!’ But Werther persists relentlessly, it is not in his power to forget. His only wish is for her happiness. But she rejects him , and forbids him to see her again until Christmas time.
In Charlotte’s Act 3 aria, it’s Christmas day, and Charlotte is reading his letters, realising how much she loves him. In a room with a 1950s TV set, ‘G- Plan’ armchairs, Xmas tree in the corner, Kasarova is lying on a bed, rear of stage. She’s wearing a sleeveless black dress, her black tights showing. Werther! Who would have thought he’d occupy this place in her heart? (Since he’s gone, her thoughts are filled with him.) Kasarova is a superbly expressive soprano and powerful actress. Movingly, she reads his letters time and time again, with delight but sadness. Should destroy them, but can’t. (He writes from his small room. He thinks nostalgically of the children ‘when they were around us.’) She reads his letters, Kararova singing as if she knows them by heart: ‘If I don’t appear, don’t reproach me, weep for me.’ She’s joined by Sophie (Daniela Fally). Are you unhappy?- Sometimes, she’s troubled by a welling emotion. Sophie reminds her, sings of the joy of laughter. And Kasarova, with great feeling,’the tears that we weep, fallback into one’s soul.’
And typical of French 19th Century opera (from Gounod) appeals to God to resolve the conflict between duty and her passions. Her resistance is failing! She prays. At which point Werther returns. Alagna, tussled, in a light coat, enters, looks desolated. ‘Yes, he’d rather die than not see her again; meant to flee but he’s here.’ The house is still the same as when he left it?
And now, a high point of the opera, Werther remembers the verses of Ossian, which Alagna sings impassionedly, with noble phrasing, ‘Why awaken me, o breath of spring…’ Alagna sings with soaring emotion ‘and yet the storms are close’, orchestral accompaniment surging to Massenet’s sublime melody. The enormous applause from the audience was deserved- but seemed untimely, interrupting the rapt concentration of the scene.
Werther and Charlotte’s duet, high drama, hits an emotional peak.’Why try to hide it?’ She trembles.’Kiss me’, he begs, ‘for the first time.’ He reproaches her withdrawal.’You love me!’ Resisting, she pleads,’Save me Lord, have pity, have pity.’ He repeats, ‘I love you’, she ‘have pity’: then, in his arms, ‘forgive me!’ The audience, responding to the high emotional charge, try to applaud, as if at a revivalist meeting. He leaves her. She pursues him up the staircase, suggesting ,perhaps, a dream sequence.
Albert returns- letters scattered, reads Werther’s letter, (Tae-Joong Yong is a refined baritone, convincingly blonde -haired). “I’m going on a long journey- lend me your pistols.” Charlotte exclaims,’God, do not let me arrive too late!’
The orchestral entreacte before Act 4 was passionately played by Vienna State Opera orchestra under Bertrand de Billy. The stage curtain with a projected cloudy landscape was sensationally evocative.
Centre stage there’s a bed, lying a bloodied figure, (around which) white sheets covering representing snow. Werther lies with a gaping wound in his chest. ‘Pardonnez-moi’, sings Alagna feintly (to Charlotte). As he dies, he can tell her- Charlotte at his bedside- that he adores her. She sings of an ‘unbreakable chain that links them.’ She will at last return his kiss. In the distance- those children better heard than seen- sing the Christmas carol they rehearsed in summer.
Bertrand de Billy conducted Vienna State Opera orchestra (and chorus) with such passion to convince them they were a French orchestra. Their magnificent playing was powerful enough to convert me, a sceptic, to Massenet’s music. Alagna and Kasarova took all their curtain calls together. Theirs was a magical musical partnership, and especially tonight for Kasarova, (no disappointing last -minute replacement), who made the role her own. P.R. 30.04.2013
Photos: Roberto Alagna (Werther) ; Roberto Alagna (Werther) and Elina Garanca (Charlotte): as also for title photo
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Pöhn

The Czarda’s Princess

Emmerich Kalman ranks with Franz Lehar as the greatest figure in operetta. And Die Csardasfurstin is his masterpiece. Operetta? Operetta, before you turn your noses up, is the source of the Hollywood musical. Operetta’s demise in the 1930s coincided with the influx of central European refugees -many Jewish – to America’s west coast. (Writers, composers and musicians driven out by the Nazis included Kalman and Korngold, many setting up artists’ colonies in Hollywood.) And operetta is the forerunner of the modern musical, from Sondheim to Lloyd-Webber, its derivatives still packing Broadway and West End.
The Czarda’s Princess (Vienna Volksoper) opens in a night club in Budapest where cabaret singer Sylva is giving a farewell performance . She’s off to America. She sings proudly of her Transylvanian mountains. ‘Vaudeville singers don’t take love too seriously’, sings red-haired Martina Dorak, leading a neatly choreographed dance number. Sylva is feisty, the modern woman. ‘That’s the way I am.’ Later, in a Hungarian number with gypsy rhythms, repeatedly proclaims, ‘she’s a devil of a woman: beware of giving your heart to a vaudeville girl’.
The Sylva character is a fabulous entertainer- The Czarda’s Princess light relief to the gloom of the first World War, when first performed in 1915. So The Czarda’s Princess’s dance routine (ending Act 1) and closing number is entitled ‘Dance as if there’s no tomorrow. There’s only one today.’ Sylva is a survivor – her cabaret artiste is a mascot figure like World War 2’s Marlene Dietrich.
In Sylva’s defiance of social conventions, Kalman’s operetta is also very ‘modern’. Sylva has two suitors Boni (Jeffrey Treganza) and Edwin (Alexander Pinderak). Theirs is a friendly menage-a-trois. But Edwin’s relationship is embarrassing his aristocratic family. So Edwin’s engagement to Stasi is hurriedly announced. Prince Lippert (Peter Matic), Edwin’s father, will pay off Sylva: money talks.
The Czarda’s Princess rather anticipates 1920s amorality, and the swopping couples of Noel Coward (Private Lives). In Kalman’s comedy, Boni takes Sylva to a party, posing as her husband so Sylva can see Edwin for the last time. There, Boni reignites an old affair with Stasi. In a star duet, Boni and Stasi sing ‘Let’s be like swallows’. Anita Golz’s Stasi is a very good soprano, Treganza’s Boni a light tenor, lacking range, but compensating as a fine dancer. Boni’s number has the racy lyric, ‘A man can’t coo over one mate’. And they repeat, ‘Like swallows build ourselves a nest’, and ‘if you like you’ll make me fly away.’ An invitation for free love, surely outrageously immoral for the (dying) Hapsburg Empire.
But this is already the modern world of cars and telephone. When (Act 2), Edwin stalls announcing his so-called engagement to Stasi, he ‘s actually awaiting a long distance call from Sylva. And in the final reconciliation, Boni will telephone Stasi to prove she loves him, not Edwin. (She says yes!)
At the end of the darker second Act- at the ball, after Edwin and Sylva are finally re-united- there’s a dramatic scene when the guests seem to close in on ‘the outsider’, the declasse Sylva, whose cover is blown. She’s exposed as a vaudeville artiste, and subjected to the men’s ribald taunts and innuendo.
However, in the delicious irony of Kalman’s very modern morality, Prince Lippert, Edwin’s father, has eventually to accede to his son’s marriage to Sylva. He finds out his own wife, the Princess, had been his best friend’s (Feri) mistress for years. And prior to their marriage, she, the Princess (Maria Happel), had been a most famous cabaret singer. The Prince goes pale. He married a diva! But they walk out, backs to the audience, arm- in- arm. ‘Das ist die Liebe’ (That’s love), as The Czarda’s Princess’s famous number goes.
It’s Kalman’s marvelous score that will keep (his operetta) being performed. There are famous show stoppers: Act 1 (Edwin and Sylva’s duet),’Lovely girls are all around, but when a man’s in love, he only has eyes for one’. Then, after Edwin’s engagement, Sylva’s aria, ‘We vaudeville girls don’t fall in love; and the vengeful the ‘devil woman’ will sieze the moment: Magyar rhythms, gorgeous melody! But it was the Act 3 Hungarian Fiddler number in the Viennese cafe that brought the house down. ‘Play a gypsy song- something from the soul’ opens to a fantastic clarinet intro from the quartet on stage. Boni, Sylva and Feri (Kurt Schreibmayer) performed a traditional Hungarian dance routine to great applause.
If the cast was adequate, some of the leads (Treganza’s Boni) vocally underpowered, they compensated with charisma. Alexander Pinderak’s Edwin a pleasant tenor, Martina Dorak’s Sylva, fiery, vivacious, lacked vocal range.
Vienna Volksoper Orchestra under Guido Mancusi, excelled, especially the wind soloists -oboe and flutes, the exotically idiomatic Hungarian clarinets and horns; and in the rhythmic instrumentation for the gypsy numbers. And the orchestral entreactes show Kalman’s music, quaint, old-fashioned, sumptuous, has real quality.
The let-down was the sets: opening with a flimsy but adequate art deco proscenium, upholstered panels and curtains, faux metallic pillars; worse, Act 2, brilliant green palm trees, obviously plastic; much better, the third Act night club, with Mucha-styled murals, and red-themed cafe furniture.
In the closing spectacle ‘You only live once’, the two couples open up a stage full of waltzing couples – Vienna State Ballet dancers, classy and well choreographed throughout.
Kalman’s melodies grow on you! They’re familiar because they’ve been repeatedly played for nearly a hundred years. And, in spite of an unexceptional production (Robert Herzl), Vienna Volksoper, Monday night, was almost full, the audience very enthousiastically appreciative. This is classic Viennese operetta. There’s a lot of witty dialogue, but now at Volksoper, English sub-titles overhead. P.R. 29.04.2013
Photos: Jeffrey Treganza (Count Boni) and Ingeborg Schopf (Sylva); Anita Gotz (Stasi) and Jeffrey Treganza; Kurt Shreibmayer (Feri), Ingeborg Schopf and Jeffrey Treganza
(c) Dimo Dimov/ Volksoper Wien . Photos of Martina Dorak as Sylva were unavailable.

Eugen Onegin/ Hvorostovsky and Netrebko at Vienna State Opera

This had to be the operatic event of the year: Eugen Onegin sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky, leading a largely Russian cast, with Anna Netrebko as Tatyana. And wunderkind Andris Nelsons, passionate about Tchaikovsky, conducted Vienna State Opera and Chorus. The minimalist sets are passable, unobtrusive, decorative, rather than provocative, like the constantly falling synthetic snow.
Opening scene, the widowed Larina and her childhood friend sing about disappointed hopes, how their habits and customs substitute for failed happiness. (Larina’s was an ‘arranged’ marriage -she felt alienated but accepted her fate). Larina has two daughters, the lively, outgoing Olga (Alisa Kolosova), and the reserved, bookish Tatyana (Anna Netrebko), Olga being engaged to the impassioned young poet Lenski (Dmitry Korchak). The peace of this sleepy, provincial landed estate -at harvest time- is exploded by the visit of Lenski’s friend, the sophisticated, city bred Onegin (Hvorostovsky), a free spirit, who defies their conventions; and with tragic consequences. He’s restless, subject to melancholy, always ‘bored’. Boredom –l’ennui, as in Baudelaire, a sickness of the soul- is the defining sentiment; and to which Tatanya is also prone. (This, the 1890s was the time of aestheticism- late ‘Victorian’ artists, and writers’ reaction against narrow-minded , bourgeois conventionalism- inhibiting freethought, spiritual enlightenment and happiness.) And Onegin defies social convention.
We first see Tatyana lying languidly on a bench, Netrebko exuding sensuality in a low-cut patterned dress. While Olga effuses, at least her man loves her. (Behind them, men in blue outfits do acrobatics- Cossack jumps: sensational, but is it necessary? ) Olga (Kolosova) in a bright red blouse, long, poppy-patterned skirt, sings she’s without a care; and -tying up her sister’s long hair- of when young love is happy. Tatyana, however, sings passionately, of how the poor suffer.
Lenski and Onegin bound in. The ‘foursome’ on Onegin’s first visit is well choreographed. Korchak’s Lenski is dark haired, good-looking; Hvorostovsky’s Onegin, with long silver hair, has an insolent, boyish swagger. Lenski loves Olga with ‘the mad soul of a poet’. Olga and Lenski sing, their love is ‘eternal’; Lenski, his soul will burn in love. Meanwhile the elegance and social superiority of Onegin deeply impresses Tatyana . Hvorostovsky’s baritone has tremendous depth and grace. In their duet he sings movingly of his father: asks Tatyana, ‘when you’re in the garden, what do you dream?’ He’s the hero of her romantic novels come alive. Netrebko’s Tatyana is exquisitely sung, but not quite convincing as the ‘innocent’.
Tatyana sits (in a white silk smock) on an illuminated futon: can’t sleep. She’s bored, will speak with her Amma. (What should we talk about? She’s already old. How did she get married? It was God’s will.) ‘You look unwell , my child.’ She’s not sick! She’s in love! Leave me! Give me pen and paper.
Tatyana (in the letter scene) tosses and turns, discards her fur bed cover. Netrebko has to kneel at an absurdly low table, her ‘desk’. (Formidable soprano, yes, but, sorry, she’s no great actress.) How to begin? She’s lost. She’s incapable of overcoming her emotions. Whatever happens will: she’ll confess to him. She’s found a ‘soul mate’- would give her heart to no one else. Her whole being has changed. His voice resonates in her soul. Between demonstrative gestures, Netrebko returns to that ridiculously low table of books.’Who are you really, an angel of mercy or a seducer? Cast away my doubts’. She’s alone, no one understands her. Netrebko hits all the right notes, but it didn’t move me. She throws up her hands- sweeps away her books. It’s rather contrived, juvenile, going through the motions. There’s a long pause for her applause , as if end of Act.
Hvorostovsky -against a background of girls throwing snowballs- asks why has she bared her soul. She has awakened feelings in him, but he loves her ‘like a brother’, wants only a respectful relationship. How agonising! He’d choose no other, but happiness is alien to him. Their marriage would be a torment- and all those years lost! He can’t change his ways. Oh! has he disappointed her youthful fantasies? Hvorostovsky suits Onegin’s dashing dandy: arrogant, conceited, and very well sung. ‘She’ll learn to get over it.’ Meeting Tatyana, Onegin’s reply deflates, disappoints, humiliates.
Act 2 (Tatyana’s house ball) it’s party time – a night club, as if around an ice rink, with suspended neon strips. Ridiculous somersaults; some are crawling; now they are waltzing (Tchaikovsky’s famous Polonaise). Netrebko is in a short, tight white dress- watch that figure, darling! Onegin, visiting at Lenski’s invitation- extravagantly mannered- repeatedly dances with Olga, flattering her coquettishness, and enraging Lenski’s jealousy before the guests. How cruel she (Olga) is to him. ‘They’ve only chatted’ insists Onegin’. Lenski, to Onegin, ‘You’re no longer my friend; I despise you’. Hvorostovsky’s Onegin, laughingly takes him in hand, his ‘We’ve done nothing wrong’ is nevertheless, patronising. But Lenski feels insulted, falls on his knees to Olga’s mother, remembering his family visits.
‘Life is no novel; friendship is empty. Men’s blood is hot,’ sings Lenski bitterly. He loves Olga, whom he compares to an angel. Lenski’s nostalgic aria, as if anticipating his cruel fate, is a highlight. ‘Where have they gone, the golden years of his youth? What will the next day bring?’ But everything is pre-determined by a higher order. He knows his fate: the world will forget this young poet. Ah, Olga, he, her husband, loved her. Then, to a mournful horn accompaniment, the refrain, where have the years disappeared. In this wonderful aria, comparable to Verdi, Korchak’s superb tenor won deservedly huge applause. Couldn’t they peacefully separate? But the fatal duel, though unwished, is irreversible.
In (Act 3) Fate determines Onegin will meet Tatyana, Onegin invited to his friend Gremin’s Ball. Hvorostovsky, in glamorous deejay, rather sexy laddish movements, sings of his boredom, of aimless years. Life was a joke. He’s returned. Is that really Tatyana? (Netrebko is wrapped in expensive furs.) Onegin is taken aback, by Gremin’s introduction to Tatyana: his wife, married for years.
Gremin (Sorin Coliban’s rich bass) sings lyrically of love experienced by every generation. He loves Tatyana immeasurably: she’s ‘like a ray of sunshine in the rain’.
Netrebko trails a gold-brocaded gown, with a black fur collar. Her hair is now coiffed, short. Is that the same Tatyana? They’ve ‘already met once.’
Hvorostovsky proclaims, in his aria, ‘No doubt! He’s in love.’ Love was his downfall. Hvorostovsky, imp-like, almost laughs to the audience.
Writing his letter to Tatyana, Hvorostovsky is in bright red, the stage dark, blacked-out. At their arranged meeting, Onegin sings, ‘Oh, what misery’, Hvorostovsky, now in black, to arouse her passion once again, gets on is knees. ‘Enough! Get up!’ She must be open with him. Tatyana- Netrebko commanding, very impressive- was ‘younger then, and more beautiful’. For him, loving a woman was nothing new. ‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ Her man (Gremin) was wounded in the war. The scandal..! She hands him his letter back.
Ironically, Onegin asks, if she knows what it’s like to be in love.’ He weeps. Does she? Then their duet,’Happiness was possible, then.’ She melts. They repeatedly sing the refrain ‘Happiness was possible…’ But Fate is already decided. ‘Leave now!’ Then she retracts, ‘don’t leave!’ Onegin thinks he’s heard the Tatyana of old. Their love is a gift from heaven, chosen by fate; she can’t reject him. She pushes herself away. Now for him, the shame of repudiation. Onegin bemoans, how pitiless, wretched.
Netrebko was -as my neighbour put it- ‘too cool’, best as the mature Tatyana. Hvrostovsky, ideal as the extrovert Onegin, but perhaps the melancholy was lacking. Kurchak was outstanding as Lenski. Nelsons’ conducting inspired Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus in Tchaikovsky’s impassioned, glorious score.
Photos: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Onegin) and Anna Netrebko (Tatyana); Anna Netrebko (Tatyana); Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Onegin); Anna Netrebko (Tatyana)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Poehn

Aida at Vienna State Opera

Nicolas Joel’s spectacular production of Verdi’s Aida has been wowing audiences at Vienna State Opera since 1984. The monumentally extravagant sets are probably no longer affordable at a time of cuts; and historically authentic reproductions, now unfashionable, replaced by minimalism. So this revival is a rare treat. But the opera isn’t just about spectacle, although commissioned and premiered in Cairo (1871). Verdi’s genius was to use the set of Aida to juxtapose intimate moments against vast crowd scenes : the protagonists’ loves are in conflict with their public duty.
So the opera begins (and ends) with pianissimo music, Act 1 beginning with Radames famous aria thus forgrounding the love interest. The army Captain Radames is at the centre of a love triangle: loved by both Amneris, King’s daughter, and the slave Aida. And like a Shakesperean tragic hero – Othello, Macbeth are also Verdi operas – a valiant man is dissipated, brought down by a fatal weakness. Radames cannot help loving Aida, who will be his downfall. Radames, in his opening aria, dreams of honour, and fame, and of Aida. Jorge de Leon, to a cello accompaniment, sings splendidly of the heavenly Aida, how he wishes to bring her to the blue skies of her native land. Ramades is a role demanding constant changes between the dramatic and lyrical (right up to the death scene): a tremendous vocal spectrum. De Leon hits thrilling high notes.
Amneris, (Olga Borodina, a very impressive mezzo), madly in love with Ramades, sings of rare joy: enviable the woman who can kindle such passion. She hears of his dream to be Commander: but was the dream not of something else ? She intuits, someone; her suspicions aroused when Ramades sees Aida. The trio (Aida, Amneris, Radames) immediately forefronts the love triangle. Amneris is seen with Aida (Kristin Lewis) , who’s always treated her as a sister rather than a slave.
Radames wants to know why Aida is crying: she’s ‘heard the cries of war’. But Aida’s tears give her away. She weeps for her beloved country. Now the spectacular entrance of the soldiers. The King (Janusz Monarcha) announces Egypt is invaded by the Ethiopians. The Chorus sing, ‘Let war and death be our battle cry!’; and celebrate Radames as Commander. Magnificent crowd scenes; Vienna State Opera chorus always excel in Verdi.
Aida, however, alone- in her key aria,’For whom do I weep’- sings of her dilemma. She is in the country of the foreigner. Her Radames is about to fight against her own people led by her father Amonasro. Kristin Lewis is short, dark- skinned , wearing a red and gold outfit, her ‘afro’ hair crowned by a gold head piece. Then, on her knees, she wishes Ramades death: yet loves him. What anguish; she cannot speak the words ‘father’ or ‘lover’. Kristin Lewis is truly moving -inspired casting. But then Lewis has sung the role of Aida internationally countless times: although her first time in Vienna, now her home. And, first night, she earned a tremendous ovation.
Act 2 ,featuring the confrontation between Amneris and Aida, opens to a sensational set – gold-headed maidens like swans, with Amneris being dressed to celebrate the Egyptians’ victory. Olga Borodina has considerable presence, and in her aria ‘My love come and intoxicate me; make me happy’ longingly anticipates Radames. But she’s tormented by uncertainty: must know if Aida is her rival. She will unlock her secret. In their duet, Amneris empathises with Aida’s grief: offers Aida, far from home, everything to make her happy. ‘Tell me your secret: is there a brave warrior amongst your defeated people?’ Then, the bombshell: ‘Radames was killed by your people’…’You love him. Look at me!’
Lewis’ Aida is now centre stage.’You keep lying! You love him ! The daughter of the Pharoahs is your rival’. Then Amneris (Borodina) retracts, has pity for Aida – wretched, let your heart break.’This love will be your death.’ Amneris will be celebrating on the victory march: she, Aida, will lie in the dust. Aida, alone, pleads, ‘Oh gods have pity on my sufferings’- Lewis outstanding.

But in the victory march (Act 2, scene 1), the Chorus (and such a chorus!) sing ‘Glory to Egypt and Isis, and to the King, all in gold, carried on high by bearers. The fabulous spectacle is truly breathtaking; but this is the public show. The heart of the opera is in the love-torn protagonists. A ballet is performed centre stage -the women made up in gold, virtually nude, the men, black-skinned, in gold and black outfits, gold headgear- the Egyptian Court side stage.
So ‘Come brave warrior!’ Radames, offered a wreath of victory, is saluted by the King as Egypt’s saviour. The King ‘will grant him any wish’. But which, ironically, Ramades cannot reveal: his secret, Aida, the slave girl. Ramades requests the prisoners be brought before them.
In a key scene – a characteristic Verdian moment – Aida sees her father , King Amonasro, (white-haired Markus Marquardt),who begs her not to betray him. Amonasro, concealing his identity, pleads the King’s clemency for the Ethiopian captives. ‘Today this is our fate : tomorrow it might be yours’- Verdi’s (often repeated) humane message. The Chorus of soldiers demands ‘destroy them’ -singing in counterpoint to the slaves, centre stage, pleading leniency. Radames asks for the freedom of the prisoners; only Aida and her father remain as hostages.
And now, to the jubilation of the crowds, the King offers Ramades his daughter in marriage. Both the crowd’s and Amneris raised hopes are bitterly ironic, given the private truth.
Fathers and daughters divided between patriarchal loyalty and opposing lovers. A Verdian theme. The King- prior to Amneris’ marriage to Radames- tells her Isis reads into the heart of mortals: their secret wishes. Amneris- wonderfully sung by Borodina- prays Radames will love her with all his heart. Meanwhile, Lewis’s Aida, shrouded in black, awaits Radames. Her aria, to an oboe introduction, laments ‘O fatherland, I shall never see you again’-a familiar motif in Verdi- the skies and breezes of the land of her youth. Lewis reaches powerful high notes. Her father, Amonasro will prise her from her lover- reminding her of her loyalty to him and her country. Father, have pity, she pleads.’You call yourself my daughter! The dead will curse you.’ What a price for her to pay.
When at last reunited with Radames Aida is ambivalent. She reminds him he’s bethrothed to another, of his vow. Is he not afraid of Amneris’ power? Then, let them flee. Aida asks him to go to a foreign land.- But how can he forget his fatherland, the country where he won fame?- Now she taunts him, he doesn’t love her, unless he’s prepared for exile. He accepts: they’ll be united in her fatherland.
Amonasro has been listening in. She’s betrayed Radames. Amonasro offers him a throne, but Radames realises he’s betrayed his country. The trio is powerfully rendered. Radames gives himself up to the guards, for revealing the Egyptians’ plans.
Thus the tragic hero has sunk to his nemesis.’Traitors must die!’. Yet Amneris, in her aria, still loves him ; if he loved her she would save him. But Radames would rather die than never see Aida again. ‘For her, I betrayed my fatherland and honour’– de Leon powerful, with terrific delivery on high notes- ‘May Aida know I died for her’. He has no fear of his people’s anger: he’s lost. Amneris, in her aria, blames herself, desperately pleads Radames’ innocence. In counterpoint the Choir chant, he betrayed his fatherland.
In the finale- Aida secreted into Radames’ tomb- Aida /Radames duet attests to the self-delusion of love. She’s too lovely to die. (The angel of death will open heaven..) They’re buried alive, but intoxicated in their passion. They’re defiant, staring out (of their stone bunker).The opera ends as it began with pianissimo strings; private happiness sacrificed to war. Vienna State Opera orchestra and choir, conducted authoratively by veteran Pinchas Steinberg, justified a fine cast. And those sets! PR 12.03.2013
Photos: Kristin Lewis (Aida); Jorge de Leon (Radames); Olga Borodina (Amneris); Janusch Monarcha (King); Kristin Lewis and Markus Marquardt (Amonasro)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Pöhn