Highlights in November

Nights At The Opera

Columns | Oliver Macdonald | November 2008

Ismael Jordi as Afredo Germout and Roxama Briban as Violetta Valery (Photo: Dimo Dimov)

The most obvious feature of November in the two principal opera houses in Vienna is the number of ballet performances on the programme. There are no less than 15 this month, 12 in the Staatsoper and three in the Volksoper.  Up to 2006 the Vienna State Opera and the Volksoper had separate ballet companies. Since they joined forces, Vienna seems to be all the better for the union.

In the Staatsoper, there are four performances each of three ballets: Die Bajadere (the Bayaderes) with all the magic of India; more performances of Mayerling, (which had its premiere last month) with music by Franz Liszt; and Onegin, based on the beautiful poem drama by Alexander Pushkin set to music by Tchaikovsky. Please consult programmes for dates and times.

The Christmastide in ballet terms means The Nutcracker (Der Nussknacker).  This year the Volksoper steals a march on the big house with a premiere on Nov. 23 and a second performance on the 29. The word is that some exciting new characters may be making an appearance in this new production. Both houses will have performances in December. The 15th ballet night is on Sunday 16, when those rascals Max and Moritz are up to their prankish antics again.

For once the operatic highlight of the moment is not in any of our four houses but may be playing in a cinema near you.  Possibly the best loved opera of all time, La Boheme reappears on the silver screen in a 2008 film by Robert Dornhelm  with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon as the  ill-fated lovers, Mimi and  Rodolpho. [see Vienna Review May 2008, www.viennnareview.net] Other faces familiar to Viennese operagoers include Boaz Daniel and Adrian Erod.  A cameo role of Alcindoro, the skinflint sugar daddy is played with great gusto by none other than Vienna State Opera director Ioan Holender.  Not Oscar winning stuff, perhaps, but he was certainly having a lot of fun. The music, conducted by Bertrand de Billy, and the singing is glorious. The popcorn and chatter, inevitable in cinemas, are less attractive, but the film is not to be missed.  Unfortunately there will not be a DVD in time for Christmas.

The first new production of the season at the Staatsoper, Gounod’s Faust, met with mixed fortunes. The orchestra and the mass choruses were beautifully conducted by Maestro de Billy and most warmly received on the occasions when I was there. The abstract staging is less satisfactory. Should Faust, agonising in his study, be represented by a bare stage with a hole in a curtain through which Mephistopheles can suddenly appear? Moveable rectangular frames did the rest except for an imposing organ in the appropriate scene when Margarete struggles between God and the Devil. Angela Gheorghiu missed a couple of performances, including the last, due to illness, but Alexandra Reinprecht stepped bravely into the breech with great success, particularly on the last night when her final scene was truly triumphant.

Adrian Erod as Valentin was particlarly winning. I have always admired the clarity of his baritone diction in whatever language he sings, so I felt vindicated when after that last performance, I overheard some members of the audience asking him from which part of France he hailed.  They were from Paris. Bravo Monsieur Erod!  Alas, one sour note: Roberto Alagna who sang Faust was loudly boohed at the end of that last performance.  He was certainly not at his best; he was probably struggling with a bug and might have cried off at the last minute, but didn’t and gave it his best effort.  The boohing was most unfair. If we don’t like the performance we can withhold applause. The artist will get the message.

Comparisons are frequently made between La Boheme and La Traviata and whether Pucini’s tragic love story is bettered by Verdi’s or not.  Sometimes the principal criterion is sadness, i.e. which makes you cry the more.  I suggest that a closer comparison can be made between La Traviata and Tosca. Both are tragic, and both heroines are victims and both die. Both operas feature three main characters, a pair of lovers and an older man and while not identical, centre on a triangle of relationships.  There is a good opportunity to make the comparison this month in the Volksoper.  The new production of Tosca can be seen on Nov. 4 and 20 and La Traviata on Nov. 9 and 13.

November is also the time to book ahead for December and especially for seats during the holiday time.

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