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Tagged with 'opera'

Work of the Week – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s penultimate dramatic composition was as ambitious as its exceedingly long title suggests. From 15 May, Dutch National Opera Amsterdam’s production of The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya, conducted by Marc Albrecht, will be available to watch on OperaVision. Director Dmitri Tcherniakov, who was also the stage designer for the production, created a visual language that is both realistic yet magical, and which was highly acclaimed by the international press. 

The four-act opera is set in the mythical city of Kitezh and is likely to be inspired by a thirteenth century duchy at the Volga River. Legend has it the city disappeared while under siege by enemy forces. Rimsky-Korsakov combined this Russian version of the Atlantis myth with a retelling of the invasion of the Mongol army  during the thirteenth century.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya - “A Russian Atlantis”

This war is the backdrop for a love story between the virtuous farmer’s daughter Fevroniya and the Duke of Vsevolod. Their marriage is prevented by the assault of the enemies during which Vsevolod is killed. In her grief, Fevroniya prays for help for the people of Kitezh and a golden fog surrounds the city rendering it invisible to the invaders. Ultimately, Fevroniya also dies but the spirit of her fiancé brings her back to the hidden city where the opera culminates in a Wagnerian ascension of the loving couple. 

Prior to the opera’s premiere, Rimsky-Korsakov faced his own personal Kitezh when in 1905, as riots against the Tsar spread throughout Russia, he supported protesting students and was suspended from his professorship. Only when public opinion shifted in his favor and he was reinstated could the first production of The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya find its way to the stage. 
Marc Albrecht, conducting the ambitious and beautifully sounding Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest, was not only able to form an arc of tension over three long and unshortened acts  of the masterfully crafted score. He also miraculously balanced the epic inner act and the lyric framing acts in a way that the action on the stage and in the pit came to perfect harmony. The production, subsequently to be shown in Paris, Barcelona and Milan is an ambassador for the huge masterwork by Rimsky-Korsakov which hopefully leads to a general revival of his operas. - Uwe Schweikert (review in ‘Opernwelt’)

The production, which is also available on DVD and Blu-ray, will be available to stream on OperaVision until August. The performance material is available from M.P. Belaieff publishers, exclusively distributed by Schott Music. 

photo: Dutch National Opera / Monika Rittershaus

Work of the Week – Krzysztof Penderecki: The Devils of Loudun

Composer Krzysztof Penderecki passed away recently at his home in Poland, aged 86. As a tribute to the legacy left by one of the world’s foremost composers, Hamburg State Opera have made their original production of Penderecki’s The Devils of Loudun available to stream on demand for free from 13 April. This world premiere production from 1969 is part of a series of videos from the era of the legendary intendant Rolf Liebermann that the theatre is offering during its present shutdown. It was directed by Konrad Swinarski with costume and stage design by Lidia and Jerzy Skarzynski, and conducted by Henryk Czyz.

The opera is set in the small French town of Loudun, a showplace for sensational occurrences in 1633-34 that were extensively documented and gained renown around Europe, regarded with a mix of fervent repulsion and voyeurism. Urbain Grandier, the village priest of Loudun, was accused in 1633 of having bewitched the nuns, above all Prioress Jeanne of the newly founded Ursuline-Cloister. Under torture he admitted to regretting his lapsed lifestyle and having had relationships with two women – one of whom expected a child from him – but refused steadfastly to confess to his “Devil’s Work” despite “proofs” of the same. In the summer of 1634 he was burned at the stake. For years afterwards the obsessions of the nuns occupied doctors and exorcists, the events ending only as Cardinal Richelieu withdrew his financial support of the cloister.

Krzysztof Penderecki: The Devils of Loudun – an opera about tolerance


The trial against Urban Grandier was included in François de Pitaval’s collection of famous criminal cases. This source, along with the autobiographical recollections of Prioress Jeanne from 1644, and two reports of the trial from 1634 and 1693, were used by Aldous Huxley in 1952 as the basis for his non-fiction novel, The Devils of Loudun. Eight years later John Whiting dramatised Huxley’s writings, and this was the starting point for Penderecki’s libretto (translated into German by Erich Fried). 
For Penderecki, The Devils of Loudun is a work about tolerance and intolerance. Grandier was the victim of political intrigue, where even Jeanne was not really his enemy, but a victim of religious-political fanatics; her erotic neuroses exaggerated by Richelieu’s handiwork into a necessary possession by the Devil. – Wolfram Schwinger 

This world premiere production will be available on Hamburg State Opera’s streaming service until 27 April.

Work of the Week – Hans Werner Henze: The Bassarids

With almost every opera house and concert hall around the world closed, we focus this week on a recent production of Hans Werner Henze´s opera The Bassarids, currently available for free on the online platform OperaVision. Reviews of Barrie Kosky´s staging and Vladimir Jurowski´s musical direction were splendid so this is a fantastic opportunity to explore the depths of this opera, considered a pinnacle of not only Henze´s dramatic output but of the entire mid-century classicism in opera.

The libretto for The Bassarids, written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, is based on Euripides’ Bacchae; it tells the story of Pentheus, the new ruler of Thebes, banning the cult of Dionysus before being unwittingly drawn into the revelry by Dionysus himself, disguised as a stranger. Pentheus is eventually killed by his own mother, who has mistaken him for a wild animal, before Dionysus reveals his true identity and demands adoration from the Thebans for his revenge against the tyrant. The one-act opera’s large instrumentation and sophisticated libretto make The Bassarids an ambitious project. With Dionysus and Pentheus embodying two extremes of human existence, there is great potential for reference to the present day.

Today I consider The Bassarids, which I now understand to a far greater degree and hold much dearer than when I was composing the work, to be my most important music theatre work. It is […] still relevant for us, but specifically addresses questions associated with the years around 1968: what is freedom and what is bondage? What is repression, what is revolt and what is revolution? This is all in fact demonstrated, insinuated and suggested by Euripides. The multiplicity and richness of relationships, the tangible sensual relationships between the ancient civilisation of this Archaic period and our time are captured in Auden’s text; Euripides is transposed into our time in a manner which could not have been better achieved with the best possible stage production of the original Greek play, as we are constantly reminded of our distance from a different, long-gone civilisation. – Hans Werner Henze

The video will be available to stream on demand until 13 April and a final performance of the Komische Oper Berlin production is scheduled for 26 June.

photo: © Komische Oper Berlin / Monika Rittershaus

Work of the Week – Christian Jost: Egmont

Christian Jost’s opera Egmont premieres at Theater an der Wien on 17 February conducted by Michael Boder. The work was commissioned by the theatre for 2020 in celebration of Beethoven’s 250 Anniversary. Keith Warner has created the production for the premiere.

Egmont is based on the play of the same name by Goethe, a work to which Beethoven famously wrote incidental music. The libretto for Jost’s Egmont was adapted from the play in collaboration with Christoph Klimke for a cast of six characters and addresses both topical issues and conflicts. In the original, Prince Egmont of Gaure is portrayed to be an advocate for freedom, peace, and justice – themes that resonated strongly with Beethoven throughout his life. However, these ideas are sometimes approached from an altered perspective in the opera, which explores how society may be manipulated, and what can happen when a system falls short of its own moral and ideological values.

Christian Jost – Egmont: freedom, peace, and justice

My opera reveals a different side of Beethoven: extracts from his famous letter ‘to the immortal beloved’. The ubiquitous six-voice chorus leads us into the interior of the figures and behind the masks of their social functions in a fragile, chiseled vocal texture. – Christian Jost

Egmont will run at the Theater an der Wien until 26 February with the German premiere of the opera set to take place at Theater Bielefeld during the 2020/21 season. On 30 March, another of Jost’s operas, Voyage vers l’espoir (Reise der Hoffnung), will open in its world premiere production at the Gran Théâtre de Genève.

Work of the Week – Gerald Barry: Alice’s Adventures Under Ground

On 3 February, the world premiere staging of Gerald Barry’s opera Alice’s Adventures Under Ground opens on the main stage of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden conducted by Thomas Adès and directed by Antony McDonald. Composed between 2013-15 on a joint commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Barbican Centre in London, and Britten Sinfonia.

Barry’s sixth opera to date, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground followed on the immense success of The Importance of Being Earnest, which since its premiere in 2011 has been performed all over the world and has been heralded as a masterpiece of modern opera. Alice is based on both of Lewis Carroll’s famous books, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass in a libretto created by the composer. Like its predecessor Earnest, Barry strips the stories to their bones, cramming them into 55 minutes of bold music and surreal, laugh-out-loud comedy.

Gerald Barry – Alice’s Adventures Under Ground: a surreal and funny story

The book is very dramatic, and is an ideal vehicle for divas, male or female. It’s tremendous material for showing off – it takes these unbelievable things for granted, viewing them as normal. – Gerald Barry

Alice will be performed twice a day by a double cast on 4, 6, 8, and 9 February. The co-production with Netherlands Opera and Irish National Opera will be seen in Amsterdam and Ireland in future seasons. Also this spring, on 4 March at St Giles’ Cripplegate, the BBC Singers will present a portrait concert of Barry’s choral works and his new Cello Concerto will receive its world premiere by Tatjana Vassiljeva and RTÉ Concert Orchestra at Music for Galway’s Cellissimo Festival on 29 April.

Work of the Week – Anno Schreier: Der Zauberer von Oz

On 8 December Anno Schreier’s Der Zauberer von Oz will receive its world premiere at the Theater Aachen. Christopher Ward will conduct the cast and orchestra in director Ute M. Engelhardt’s new production. Schreier’s family-orientated ‘magicopera’, liberally sets the famous story initially told in Lyman Frank Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and popularised by the 1939 film adaptation.
Dorothy is caught in tornado that blows her from Kansas to the fantastical land of Oz. Meeting friends along the way, Der Zauberer von Oz follows Dorothy as she begins a journey to find the wizard who will help her to return home. Just as Dorothy is met by a series of unexpected events during her journey to the Emerald City, Schreier’s score is full of many different musical styles including baroque, country, and reggae.

Anno Schreier – Der Zauberer von Oz: A magician takes his audience on a wonderful journey
If I had to describe myself with one of the characters, I would describe myself first of all as the cowardly lion who cannot trust his own strength at the beginning of a new project. Later, I would select Dorothy who searches for allies and is able to confront witches and the Hammer-Heads. In my role of composer, I also attempt to be a wizard who takes his audience on a wonderful journey. – Anno Schreier

Der Zauberer von Oz runs at Theater Aachen until March 2020.

Work of the Week – Chaya Czernowin: Heart Chamber

The world premiere of Chaya Czernowin’s opera, Heart Chamber, for Deutsche Oper Berlin takes place on 15 November conducted by Johannes Kalitzke. The production, which has been directed by Claus Guth, is realised by a small cast of soloists consisting of Patrizia Ciofi, Noa Frenkel, Dietrich Henschel, and Terry Wey.

Czernowin has described her Deutsche Oper commission as a ‘chain of connected situations, dreams and nodal moments’ together expressing only a hint of a story. Heart Chamber is rather, as it is subtitled, ‘an enquiry about love’. The opera asks questions about what happens when we fall in love and changes love can bring, exploring love both as a desire for closeness as well as the wish for independence or as a need to overcome loneliness through an emotional bond.
This project is a departure to a new, subtle world. None of her pieces are easy to sing, but the work each one requires is worth it! She has a microscopic view on music, for example, she explores the transition of speaking and singing in tiny steps. She also understands the breathing in and out as tones. – Noa Frenkel

There will be five performances of the opera in total, with the last night of the production taking place on 6 December. Following the performances in Berlin, a DVD of the production is scheduled to be released. Also in Berlin this November, Ensemble ilinx perform Czernowin’s Lovesong and the evocatively titled, Ayre: Towed through plumes, thicket, asphalt, sawdust and hazardous air I shall not forget the sound of on 24 at the Universität der Künste Berlin.

Photo: Chaya Czernowin & Christopher McIntosh

Work of the Week – Richard Strauss: Die ägyptische Helena

Richard Strauss’ opera Die ägyptische Helena received its world premiere in 1923 in Dresden. This year on 9 December, a new production of the opera will open at La Scala in Milan, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst and directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf.
The libretto for Strauss’ opera was created by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, with whom the composer had collaborated previously on a number of works. The libretto for the first act was completed quickly, but disagreements between the two led to delays in the work’s completion.

Richard Strauss – Die ägyptische Helena: Recollection and oblivion

The story centres around the sorceress Aithra’ discovery of the plot by Menalas, the King of Sparta, to kill his wife, Helena, over her infidelity during the Trojan War. Aithra seeks to prevent the murder by giving the couple a potion that makes them both susceptible to suggestion. She then assures Menelas that his wife was actually safe in Egypt and that, when the Trojans had initially abducted Helena, the gods had intervened and replaced her with a phantom.
The processes of the soul by which this reconciliation had been caused are the content of Hofmannsthal’s poetry, and they offered the musician the most grateful task. Richard Strauss

There will be a total of six performances of Die ägyptische Helena in Milan during November, with the final night taking place on the 23rd. Strauss’ operas Der Rosenkavalier and Salome also receive performances during November, at the Staatstheater Wiesbaden and Staatsoper Berlin respectively.

Photo: Marcus Lieberenz

Work of the Week – Hannah Lash: Desire

On Wednesday and Thursday 16-17 October, Miller Theatre presents the world premiere performances of Hannah Lash’s chamber opera, Desire. The production is conducted by Daniela Candillari, directed by Rachel Dickstein, and features the JACK Quartet.
Desire is an opera about the artists' journey navigating both inspiration and doubt. The piece takes the form of a metaphor, set in a magical garden where flowers miraculously can be unearthed by the main character, an artist, and just as quickly die and turn to ash if the conviction of the artist is shaken.
We watch while the artist finds herself, finds trust in herself, struggling with her relationships to both doubt and inspiration, finally building both out of her world as she becomes wholly self-reliant. Hannah Lash

On November 14 and 16, the Naples Philharmonic gives the world premiere of Hannah Lash’s Double Concerto for piano and harp, featuring Jeremy Denk and Hannah Lash as soloists.

Work of the Week – Rodion Shchedrin: Lolita

Rodion Shchedrin’s opera Lolita opens at the Estates Theatre in Prague on 3 October in what will be the opera’s first Czech production. The new production will be directed by Sláva Daubnerová and conducted by Sergey Neller. Following the first night there will be eight more performances in Prague until 10 January 2020.

The opera, which takes its title from the famous novel by Vladimir Nabokov, is Shchedrin’s fifth stage work inspired by Russian literature. Shchedrin himself compiled the opera’s libretto from the novel using music and dramaturgy to navigate the various layers of motivations that exist between the characters.

Rodion Shechdrin – Lolita: Opera inspired by Russian literature


Lolita follows Humbert Humbert who upon meeting 12-year-old Dolores develops a infatuation with her and gives her the nickname Lolita. In order to get  closer to Lolita, Humbert marries the girl’s mother, but when she dies shortly afterwards he embarks on an increasingly fraught relationship with the girl. Their relationship eventually ends and three years later Humbert meets Lolita again, now married to another man and expecting a baby. Lolita reveals to Humbert that when she left him she stayed with a friend of her mother’s, a playwright named Quilty, who tried to make her perform in his erotic films. Enraged by Lolita’s confession, Humbert finds Quilty and murders him before allowing himself to be arrested by the police.
To only repeat what others already did before will be boring for the listener. You have to hold the listener, give them something new and fresh. That is a very difficult task but that should be the goal in ideal circumstances for everyone dedicating oneself to composing. – Rodion Shchedrin

Audiences will have further opportunities to hear Shchedrin’s music this year, including performances of Two Tangos by Albéniz with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Centre Concert Hall, Washington DC on 7 and 9 November, as well as Beethovens Heiligenstädter Testament in Berlin on 28 November with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.

Foto: Royal Opera Stockholm
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