Despite my allegiance to Wagner, it’s worth mentioning this year’s other bicentennial birthday boy, Giuseppe Verdi, who turned 200 this week. I won’t mislead here: I’m familiar enough with Verdi and his music but he’s not a strong personal interest of mine outside of work. I do enjoy his music, but I don’t want to write some insincere, longwinded post just because it’s 2013. Simply an anecdote or two and a few words.
Verdi’s Il Trovatore was the first opera I saw performed live by a professional company. While on a family vacation in London in 2004, I queued up at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden the morning of a performance and scored a last-minute cheap seat. The fact that Il Trovatore – or anything by Verdi – was on the docket was almost peripheral. I came to opera relatively “late” – approximately a year before this trip – and decided that while in London I’d try to see something at Covent Garden. I’d visited the city years before but lacked the interest at that time. That one of opera’s biggest composers was on the bill was simply a bonus. I went alone as I often do to concerts and had a lovely time. The performance was solid, and I was pleasantly surprised in Act II upon recognizing the “Anvil Chorus.” That, coupled with the pretty traditional production, made for a delightful first time for me. (Though, I must admit that I found the plot to be a little much…)
This past summer I saw Verdi’s rarely-performed ninth opera Attila at another historic theater: Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. Unlike my experience at Covent Garden, I knew the opera beforehand. Also unlike London, this modern production was by Peter Konwitschny – pure Regietheater (director’s theater). The cast and orchestra gave a superb performance, and I absolutely loved the production. Konwitschny respected Verdi’s material without taking himself too seriously. I certainly hope the production gets a video release. That performance really made an impression on me and I’ve since wanted to actively seek out more Verdi.
[It’s worth noting that I saw Attila less than a week after attending an excellent performance of another rare opera, Rienzi, in Bayreuth, written by another birthday boy…]
Although I’ve made my bicentennial preference clear in posts throughout this year, a nod to Verdi is definitely in order. After all, Il Trovatore got my foot in the operatic door, and for that I’m grateful.
I recently returned from my annual month-long course in Austria. It was another great program and I saw some great performances.
As mentioned before, the program is based in Bregenz, Austria, home of the Bregenzer Festspiele. I teach a music appreciation course focusing on opera, and as part of the program I take the students to both of the festival’s operas. This year featured Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte on the renowned floating stage and the posthumous world premiere of André Tchaikowsky‘s The Merchant of Venice. Die Zauberflöte was, as expected, pure spectacle, though it was well performed. (What else is there to expect when the Queen of the Night wears a crystal-encrusted gown with the help of Swarovski?) Tchaikowsky’s almost Berg-ian setting of Shakespeare’s Merchant was rather compelling. The official reviews have been mixed to positive, but I enjoyed it. The audience at the premiere was somewhat lukewarm, but I was told that subsequent performances were enthusiastically received.
Festival aside, I also took the group to see Verdi’s Attila at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. This little-performed work was staged for Verdi’s bicentennial. Although it was far from a traditional staging, as it was featured a new production by renowned director Peter Konwitschny. Known for his association with the Regietheater movement, he directed a surprising and lovely production that was both entertaining and artistically satisfying. For example, Attila and his Huns were lost boys with wooden spoons and fur pelts, and the closing (supposedly serious) quartet portrayed the characters as senior citizens on the verge of comical deaths. While it’s not a scientific measurement, all but one of my students – many of whom hadn’t previously attended an opera – enjoyed the production. In fact, many of the students credited the production with their enjoying the opera overall. From what I could tell, the rest of the audience was in general agreement.
The crown jewel was my pilgrimage to Bayreuth to see the bicentenary production of Rienzi under the baton of renowned Wagnerian Christian Thielemann. The fact that one of the “orphans” was fully staged in Bayreuth is news alone, even if it didn’t take place in Wagner’s Festspielhaus. Nonetheless, it was under the banner of the annual Bayreuth Festival. And the audience’s excitement over Wagner, Bayreuth, and seeing a rarely-performed work fully staged under the direction of the Bayreuth Festival’s unofficial music director was palpable. Needless to say, this experience deserves its own post. (But doesn’t everything regarding the old wizard?)
It was a nice operatic assortment: Classical, Romantic (both Verdi and Wagner), and contemporary. I’m glad the students were able the productions (minus Wagner), as it was a great assortment both musically and visually.
What’s more, I’m glad to be home and getting back into the usual routine. Keep an eye out not only for new posts but also possibly a new release or two on the horizon.