Festive and other Operatic Fare

Nights at the Opera: Dec. 2009/Jan. 2010

Columns | Oliver Macdonald | December 2009 / January 2010

Now that the Marathon Ring has been run twice in November, it is now time to look forward to some relaxation and to turn our thoughts to the festive season just ahead. The number of shopping days to Christmas is diminishing rapidly and there still remains much to be done. This may need to include planning some opera for both family and indeed for selves!

Top of the pops in operatic festive fare this Christmas time is to be found at the Volksoper from Sunday, Dec. 13 with the early evening (17:00) world premiere of a new pop-opera for children and adults, Antonia und der Reissteufel. Based on the modern fairy tale written by Angelika Messnerhat, this is an opera full of bewitchment, power struggles and liberation through the innocence of children, heavy themes told with energy and humor to music by composer Christian Kolonovits. It is scored for an orchestra including electric guitar and keyboard. The musical styles incorporate opera, pop, rock, swing, march, polka and rap.

The production is by the House Director, Robert Meyer, who projects much of his endless energies into keeping the show full of excitement and buzz. Johanna Arrouas as Antonia and Daniel Schmutzhard as the Reissteufel lead a cast of familiar names. As an advocate of the view that the best way to make opera 21st-century-relevant is to commission contemporary work instead of reconstructions of the old masters, I hope this work proves to be a sell-out.

The Volksoper offers more seasonally festive fare with Max und Moritz, Der Vogelhandler (The Birdman), Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), Hansel und Gretel and La Bohème. Finally there is the Weihnachtskonzert (Christmas Concert) with the ubiquitous Robert Meyer and the whole Ensemble in two performances on Sunday, Dec. 20.

Both the Staatsoper and the Volksoper usher in the New Year with performances of Johann Strauss’s operetta, Die Fledermaus (The Bat). As usual the Staatsoper’s principal festive fare is the beautiful ballet Der Nussknacker. Die Fledermaus comes both as a ballet and opera on different dates in both December and January.

Verdi fans are generously provided for at the Staatsoper through the holiday season with no less than five of his most powerful works to be seen. These are the new production of Macbeth in December; another Shakespearian work, Otello at the end of January; Un Ballo in Maschera (The Masked Ball); Simon Boccanegra and La Forza del Destino, a cornucopia of political lust, jealousies, murders most foul, including drugging, stabbing and smothering to a backcloth of impossible loves, glorious music and unforgettable singing.

Richard Wagner provides similar material on a "longer" scale with Tristan and Isolde. With so many Italian visitors in Vienna, it would be foolhardy to describe one as better than the other, but Liebestod is almost incomparable. Incidentally Puccini joins the ranks of political murder, jealousy etc with the wonderful production of Tosca. The scene of the  tyrannical Scarpia in counterpoint with the assembled massed chorus of holy mother church in glorious celebration of "Te Deum" at the end of the First Act is a stunningly powerful moment in opera. Staatsoper, Dec. 5.

For lighthearted, murder-free evenings there is also much to enjoy. Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, in its marvelous "doll’s house" set, never fails to entertain or to provide moments of the world’s best singers of bel canto. Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) in which Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon thrilled the audience into a frenzied standing ovation for more than 20 minutes in April 2005, and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro are also in this mould. As Mozart was born in Salzburg on Jan. 27, 1756, we can always expect to see some of his operas towards the end of January. This time deleted Don Giovanni, often described as the "most perfect opera" joins Le nozze di Figaro to celebrate the anniversary.

And speaking about anniversaries, 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Austrian composer Joseph Haydn which has been commemorated widely throughout the year. Although operas are not considered his greatest works they have enjoyed mixed success. So in Theater an der Wien the final Haydn presentation is from the middle of his operatic writings. Il Mondo della Luna dates from 1777. As everything with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his Contentus Musicus is worth a visit, this new fully staged production should not be left out.

Edita Gruberova enjoys a great following in Vienna (and, of course, elsewhere too). There is quite a feast for these fans with her appearance as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and as Elvira in I Puritani in the Staatsoper. Additionally, she gives a concert of Bellini, Donizetti and Mozart arias in Theatre an der Wien on Saturday, Dec. 12, to which fans are thronging from far and wide.

There is lots more including a ballet by John Neumeier to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium in Theater an der Wien on Dec. 18, 19, and 20 as well as a host of Christmas choral events in lots of the interesting nooks and crannies of musical Vienna. I hope you can find and enjoy some of them.

I take this opportunity to wish both of my known readers, and all others, the Blessings of Christmas and lots of Happy opera nights in the New Year.

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