Spring Opera Season

Nights at the Opera: May 2010

Columns | Oliver Macdonald | May 2010

Looking back at April we can recall a month of star-studded belcanto and other performances at the Staatsoper; a brilliant premiere of a scintillating production of Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges in the Volksoper on the 17th, followed two days later by that of the new production of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischutz  in Theater an der Wien.

Following two Easter performances of Wagner’s Parsifal, for which feast the current production contains minimal relevance, when compared with the previous one by August Everding, the star excitement began with performances of La Boheme with Anna Netrebko as Mimi. As with her Violetta, her vocal beauty combined with her extraordinary dramatic sensitivity in the frailer moments of illness and death were absolutely spellbinding and many a male hand was furtively flicking flies away from troubled eyes by the end.

I shall never forget seeing and hearing a young Luciano Pavarotti singing Rodolfo in Dublin in 1963.  To this, I must now add the voice and performance of Piotr Beczala as Rodolfo opposite Anna Netrebko. Beczala/Netrebko as Pavarotti/Freni successors?  Perhaps. Why not?  Later in the month Beczala sang the tenor part in an outstandingly memorable performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the W. Phil and the Musikverein choir under a favourite conductor, Christian Thielemann.

The great belcanto pairing of Florez and Dessay led a great cast, as they have done so often before, in Bellini’s La Sonnambula.  In Bellini’s other opera, I Puritani,  Netrebko had to cancel her appearances as Lady Elvira.  Desiree Rancatore stepped into the breech and was awarded great applause by an appreciative audience.

Two other very worthy team  performances were from  Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto, Patrizia Ciofi as his daughter, Gilda and Giuseppe Gipali, making his house debut as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto; and from Vesselina Kasarova, Ramon Vargas and Adrian Erod in Massenet’s Werther which brought April to a close.

For me the stars of the month were Natalie Dessay and Patrizia Ciofi, whose singing health was obviously below par in their respective final performances. They very bravely refused to cave in  and gave of their best to delighted and hugely supportive audiences.  And Natalie Dessay was further rewarded when to her and the audience’s great surprise, her final bow was interrupted when the curtains suddenly opened to reveal the cast and chorus assembled on stage with the Director, Ioan Holender, Dr. Georg Springer and the French Ambassador for a ceremony in which she was awarded the title of Kammersangerin, (KS).

At the Volksoper there will be three more opportunities in May to see the wonderful production of Prokofiev’s Die Liebe zu den drei Orangen  (The Love for Three Oranges).  Beautifully staged and costumed to appropriate excesses, the key to enjoying this potpourri of pantomime and fairytale is to remember Hamlet and "the play is the thing".  The word is theatre, the suspension of disbelief, the possibility of the impossible, the magic of sorcerers and witches and most importantly the ability to accept that in certain circumstances you may find beautiful princesses when you cut open oranges. If you have difficulties with these basics, presented with music and singing you may not be able to enjoy this opera as much as one should.  The premiere was accompanied by a very clever bit of sponsor marketing by Campari.

The Volksoper published its preview for the season 2010-2011 on Apr. 23.  Its programme of operetta, opera, musicals, ballet and special events such as concerts, programmes for families and children and a range of innovative soirees is covered in 302 performances of which 114 are opera performances.  In short, the Volksoper will present 15 operas in the next season. There are three new productions: Rusalka by Dvorak with premiere on Oct. 23; Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor) by Nikolai which opens on Dec. 18; and a double bill from Puccini, Der Mantel (il Tabarro/ The Cloak) and Gianni Schicchi which begin on Feb. 26, 2011.  In addition to his already wide-ranging activites on and off the stage the House Director, Robert Meyer is producing the two Puccini operas.  Four revivals and eight operas from the current repertoire, including several firm favorites such as Carmen, Rigoletto, Tosca and La Traviata, complete the operatic part of the programme for the next season.

Sometime earlier, Theater an der Wien presented their programme for the next Season. This is a very exciting programme which continues the policy of presenting more specialist and less well-known operas than the other two big houses. The challenging programme includes nine fully- staged operas and five more in concert presentation. The programme includes the first European performance of Il Postino (2010) by Daniel Catan.  The cast is to be led by Placido Domingo. Then there is Kurt Weill’s Die sieben Todsuenden (1933) (The Seven Deadly Sins), a sung ballet with prologue and seven scenes with a cast led by Angelika Kirchschlager.  Cecelia Bartoli will sing Handel’s Semele (1744).  Heidi Brunner, Diana Damrau, Anne Schwanewilms and Johan Botha  are to be found in the cast of Ariadne auf Naxos (1916) along with ORF RSO conducted by Bertrand de Billy.  Elsewhere Anne Sophie von Otter, Maxim Mironov and Luca Pisaroni are in Castor et Pollux.  Danielle de Niese will sing Rodelinda with countertenor Bejun Mehta and Kurt Streit. Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts his Concentus Musicus Wien. A great favourite, Deborah Polaski, will sing Madame de Croissy in Poulenc’s Dialogue des Carmelites (1957).  And there is a lot more!

Back to May 2010. For a selection of operas to see this month see Events page 25.  The drama of the month surrounds Carmen for which tickets are rumoured to have changed hands for up to €3000. The original plan of Garanca, Netrebko, and Villazon with Mariss Jansons in the pit is in tatters, with all but Netrebko having to be replaced due to cancellations and one has to ask is it finished yet?  The good news is that we may still have a memorable Carmen with the replacement  conductor and cast members.

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