Today's Birthdays in Music: April 12 (Caballé, Holst)
Get to know a Danish male of middle years and he will eventually let down the guard of self-deprecation and false modesty to confide on the subject of the absolute necessity of his country’s regional role: “
The opera is set in 1723 and based on a simple story of forlorn love winning out in the end. Nielsen’s pre-Lenten frolic is brimful of marvelous music and song best delivered at a high rate of buffa. Stage director Kasper Bech Holten decided to override traditional staging to produce a modern-dress madcap spectacle. In doing so, much of the charm – and menace – of the text is wasted. References to, “Coachmen and horses; arranged marriage and thrashing the servants,” really lose any meaning in the context of a swinging-sixties setting without any vestige of class struggle. But with an enthusiastic cast and motivated audience, Holten gets away with it – up to a point.
The tone is set during the overture. A quartet of tumbling acrobats takes the stage in front of the curtain. Funny stuff, but not quite as amusing when they return in the third act to monopolize the dance numbers. The male leads, Leander (Nils Jørgen Riis), and his manservant, Hendrik (Johan Reuter), are duly propelled through the curtain which, when raised, reveals them to be pinned to the wall. Danes can sing well when vertically suspended (a ruse to present an overhead view of Leander’s sleeping chamber) and they go on to demonstrate equal facility while shaving and showering. The rest of Act I is just as unconventionally brilliant but this level of inspiration is not sustained. Act II is built on a bad idea and the final act is turned inside-out by Holten with too much time spent standing around gaping at acrobats. The director’s premise from the start was to have the characters wear the carnival masks (masks of probity?) all of the time. When they turn up for the pseudo-psychedelic ball in Act III, the masks are solemnly collected and the entire cast assumes the persona that they have dreamed of and are costumed accordingly. This development should permit Leander to identify his true love (as the girl selected by his family) forty minutes earlier than he does. It is by no means a bad performance but the opera is better than what we get here after the first act.
Michael Schønwandt directs a splendid account of the score. The musical performance is no doubt reinforced by the frequency with which video director Thorlief Hoppe drops into the pit for random shots of the players and conductor. The DVD offers worthwhile extra features and Dacapo provides first-class booklet notes.
More Nielsen from Dacapo: Admirers of the music of Carl Nielsen should also check out the economically priced Dacapo 3-DVD box of his symphonies performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under Michael Schønwandt (2110403-05). The third disc contains The Light and Darkness: On Carl Nielsen’s Life and Music by Karl Aage Rasmussen. The documentary reveals the surprisingly turbulent life of this lovable composer and the astonishing extent of his works.
Production et mise en scène : Dieter Dorn
Do you believe in magic? Can you venture into alchemy beyond the irrational idea that an herbal concoction can unleash suppressed emotions to entwine lovers in a deadly destiny? Are you ready for an enchanting illustration of the Schopenhauerian philosophy of, “Die to live,” as presented in the most extreme example of the musical language of Richard Wagner? If inclined to the affirmative on these points then you will absolutely need to have this DVD set of the August 2007 production of Tristan und Isolde from the Glyndebourne Festival. It is nothing less than a collective act of sorcery delivering a definitive performance and a paradigm of the divine craft exposing opera as the ultimate art.
Wagner on DVD has been arriving in waves. Just over a year ago, we were inundated with rival versions of Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. Late in 2007, DG released a 1983
The wizard-in-chief for this mighty achievement is Nikolaus Lenhoff. He employs a single set to represent shipboard, courtyard and castle in succeeding acts. The scenery consists of an enormous, stepped vertical vortex (designer Roland Aeschlimann refers to it as, “A spiral nebula.”). Lenhoff dresses the stage in light for dramatic effect and in symbiosis with the music. The LPO is in razor-sharp form and Jiřỉ Bělohlávek establishes his Wagnerian credentials in the prelude. He proceeds through the score, which stretches tonality to the limit, with consummate skill. Hearing the orchestra at work makes one realize that only Wagner, musical genius and internationally recognized expert in blatant desire and the exploitation of human weakness could have created this opera. His conception of internalized drama and intimacy verging on eroticism generates a force to penetrate the subconscious when performed as well as it is here.
Tristan is a difficult opera to cast and Glyndebourne has been fortunate here. The American tenor, Robert Gambill studied for years in
This performance dispenses stage magic in generous proportion and enthralls throughout. It can be confidently recommended as a first choice for the work on DVD. Its surpassing quality would also make it a suitable entry point for collectors new to Wagner. The set runs to three discs but includes two hours of useful extra features including a fine documentary by Reiner E. Moritz entitled, Can I Hear the Light?.
Please let us have more Wagner from Glyndebourne!
Nina Stemme at Large: Nina Stemme can be heard opposite Plácido Domingo in the EMI audio recording of Tristan und Isolde. She is also on view as another, and more vulnerable eponymous heroine in a