World Report: Reviews of Opera ... Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, United Kingdom

By Clemens Gruber, and others | Opera Canada, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

World Report: Reviews of Opera ... Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, United Kingdom


Clemens Gruber, and others, Opera Canada


AUSTRIA

VIENNA

VERDI'S I VESPRI SICILIANI WAS REVIVED BY THE Vienna Staatsoper after a break of 120 years. The production was highly praised by some but severely criticized by others. The excellent singing was a definite asset. Carol Vaness shone in the role of the duchess Elena, John Botha gave a notable debut as Arrigo, Renato Bruson sang Montfort with aplomb and Ferrucio Furlanetto portrayed an almost noble Procida. Conductor Roberto Abbado worked unobtrusively but always had the orchestra under control.

However, all the superb performers suffered from completely colorless staging. Herbert Wernicke filled the stage with a gigantic staircase on which all the action took place. Considering the mass of people moving around the stage, it was a marvel that nobody stumbled and fell.

ONE OF THE MOST EAGERLY AWAITED NEW productions at the Vienna Staatsoper this season was Richard Wagner's grand tragic opera Rienzi, der Letze der Tribunen, not seen in Vienna for over 63 years.

Unfortunately, much of this Euro-trash production by David Pountney (with sets by Robert Israel and costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca) was so painfully embarrassing to watch that issues of interpretation or relevancy seemed hardly to matter. From the opening, the production evolved into a grand celebration of kitsch. At the climax of the celebration, for instance, scores of cherubic little girls, all in matching school uniforms with floral wreaths on their heads, filed onto the stage, each clutching two little flags emblazoned with the letter R and proceeded to "entertain" us with what looked liked a semaphoric exercise. The piece de resistance, however, was the appearance of the German contingent--a group of happy Bavarians--who paid homage to Rienzi with a series of gifts that they placed reverentially on the steps of his throne: including a large beer stein, an enormous golden pretzel and an accordion.

Vocally the evening was a modest success. In the performance I attended, Margareta Hintermeier sang the trouser role of Adriano for the first time at the State Opera. She has a large voice and sang full-throttle through much of the evening. Her big solo scene was sung with passion and intensity, if not subtlety. Soprano Nancy Gustafson, in the rather innocuous role of Rienzi's sister Irene, sang with distinction; Walter Fink was a sinister Steffano Colonna; Peter Weber an adequate Paolo Orsini.

Tenor Siegfried Jerusalem (Rienzi) had been plagued with vocal problems throughout this run and seemed to survive the performance I attended on sheer willpower. The role, which is both lengthy and vocally demanding, clearly revealed how much his voice has declined in both beauty of sound and power. While his current vocal condition is the cause for some concern, the savageness of the boos that greeted his solo curtain call cannot be condoned.

Conductor Ernst Dunshirn proved to be an insensitive replacement for Zubin Mehta (who conducted the premiere and earlier performances). He started loudly and ended even more so, drowning out most of singers along the way.

Such was the critical acclaim of the Staatsoper's new production of Richard Strauss's rarely performed comedy Die Schweigsame Frau last season that it was chosen to open the current season, starring Canadian tenor Michael Schade and the remarkable French coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay as the young lovers, Henry and Aminta. Although I saw the second cast, it is easy to see why this production was such a hit.

The production was designed and directed by Marco Arturo Marelli with costumes by Dagmar Niefind-Marelli. The simple unit set--a lighthouse with a staircase circling its interior, sparsely furnished with a few chairs and a collection of large model ships--was appropriate for the home of Sir Morosus, a retired seaman. As for the direction, it was brilliant, and went a long way in confirming the theatrical legitimacy of the opera. …

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