First nights at the opera
It was a good week for new opera -- at least, there was an awful lot of it.
In Munich, Peter Eötvös's "Die Tragödie des Teufels" opened at the Bavarian State Opera, winning praise from Shirley Apthorp in the Financial Times and much fainter praise from George Loomis in the New York Times. The Süddeutsche Zeitung called it "mild, colorful, and above all puzzling and in the spirit of the times."
Last week, Opera Boston presented the world premiere of "Madame White Snake," an opera by Zhou Long. Jeremy Eichler, in the Boston Globe, was disappointed, not least because of the overblown libretto by Cerise Lim Jacobs, though he liked parts of the score. The Bostonist offered a review with a lot of description and attitude, but with little sense of what the music was like or whether the piece was any good.
(read more after the jump)
On Sunday, Aribert Reimann, one of Germany's leading composers (though his work has never gained much of a foothold in the U.S.), had a smashing success with the world premiere of his ninth opera "Medea" at the Vienna State Opera; the ovation, according to Manuel Brug's review in Die Welt, lasted for 26 minutes. Reinhard J. Brembeck, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, called Reimann "a specialist" called in "when the job is to get a traditional public excited about something modern." The reviews were generally raves (the Austrian paper Die Presse compared the opera to Mozart). The only write-up I found in English so far, from Agence France Presse, doesn't convey much beyond the bare facts.
And Monday saw the premiere of Kaija Saariaho's "Emilie" in Lyon. Saariaho is a major composer whose "L'amour de loin" was, by new-opera standards, a huge success at and after its premiere at the Salzburg festival in 2000. I found even that static when I saw it in Santa Fe, and "Adriana Mater" (also at Santa Fe) even more so. Now, it seems, Saariaho has fastened on the monodrama as her vehicle of choice. In his review of "Emile," a one-woman opera written for Karita Mattila, Andrew Clark, in his review in the Financial Times, neglects to mention one other dramatic, or not very dramatic, stage work of Saariaho's, "La passion de Simone," which I saw at its premiere in 2006, and found just as underwhelming as he found "Emilie." Saariaho does, however, write wonderful music; and Die Presse liked the piece considerably more than the Financial Times did.
The good news, though, is that there are so many new mainstage works. It's true that there are always more opera premieres in Europe than in America (one benefit of government subsidies), but even a couple of German papers observed what a healthy time it appears to be for new work. Together with the list I compiled of all the new operas going on in the United States in the coming months, it's a positive sign. Of course, hardly any of these pieces will be performed again after their initial productions.
Edited to add: Speaking of Reimann's "Medea": The Metropolitan Opera has just announced that Marlis Petersen, whose performance in the title role has been singled out for particular praise, will be replacing Natalie Dessay as Ophelie for the first six performances of Hamlet, starting on March 16. The last two performances are listed as TBA.
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