Summer Operas and the New Season
Nights at the Opera: Sep. 2012
Although September is the herald of autumn, it is also the time of new beginnings, of first days at a whole range of new experiences. So it is a sort of springtime too, full of freshness and new growth. The three big opera houses start the season with exciting new programmes and new artists: singers, conductors and producers. To this we add the re-opening of the fourth house, the Kammeroper, in a new role with productions beginning in October.
Breaking tradition, Theater an der Wien remained open this summer with Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) in July and Rossini’s La Donna del Lago (The Lady of the Lake from Sir Walter Scott) in August. Both were quite remarkable. The Offenbach opera was a continuation of the March production, but with Marlis Petersen singing not only Stella, but the three roles of Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta.
The last time I saw La Donna del Lago in Austria was in an orthodox production in Salzburg in 2002. Some 20 of the stories of Sir Walter Scott have become operas, particularly popular with the bel canto composers Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini, as the misty highlands of Scotland had (and still have) a strong romantic appeal.
In this production, a straw poll of the audience revealed that all thought that the Lady (Elena) fulfilled her dreams by marrying the stranger, the disguised King (James V of Scotland). In reality, the King’s role in the opera was to marry her to Malcolm, her sweetheart.
The real-life James married the daughter of the King of France, was soon widowed, remarried, and had a surviving daughter, Mary (who became Mary, Queen of Scots), as well as nine or ten illegitimate children, before he died in 1542, aged 30. So don’t believe everything you see in the opera.
One of the highlights of the summer festivals was the production of Das Labyrinth in Salzburg. For once, the librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, is much more renowned than the composer. Schikaneder wrote the charming text for Mozart’s last opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute).
Not so well known is that Schikaneder, encouraged by its success, wrote a sequel for which Peter von Winter composed the music. Initially, Das Labyrinth enjoyed great success before virtually disappearing. Its return, in honor of the bicentenary of Schikaneder’s death was a delight to behold.
Most of the characters are still about, much of the tuneful music is familiar, and the Papageno family has expanded considerably. The appearance of the King of Paphos and his sidekick, Sithos, added another new dimension.
And so to September. The very scale of presentation is enough to place Vienna in position as the world leader in opera. Add the theatrical, musical, and vocal quality, and all quickly confirm that Vienna is the operatic Valhalla. There are 15 operas being performed in the three houses in this month alone. There are eight in the Staatsoper. Of these, three are being performed only this month in the new ten-month season (see Opera Events on p.24 of TVR Sept. 2012).
The Volksoper includes four operas in its programme of opera, operetta, musicals, ballet, and other special items. Incidentally, the triple ballet performance, including Carmina Burana, was one of the most successful of all the shows in Vienna last season. There are three operas at Theater an der Wien, all with specific points of interest: a very early opera, a concertante performance and a chamber opera.
What is the common bond in all this? It is simply the tireless pursuit of cultural excellence. And that is what makes opera in Vienna so special.