The Legendary Edita Gruberova – Plus: Hindemith, Haydn and Richard Strauss

Nights at the Opera: Nov. 2010

Now that the clocks have gone back and darkness descends ever earlier, it’s cheering to know that a feast of opera awaits us in all four opera houses in Vienna. Just a small number of those scheduled for November can be found in the Events pages.

Not that October wasn’t festive or exciting. There were no less than five premieres to be enjoyed and celebrated. Three of these were in the Staatsoper: two operas; one staged, the other in concert form; and a new ballet programme. Much of the anticipatory excitement centred on the new team of Director, Dominique Meyer and Musical Director, Franz Welser-Most. Both of the operas were outstanding successes. In the first, a concertante presentation of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia with the great belcanto tragedienne, Edita Gruberova in the title role, the five performances were met by thunderous, prolonged applause on each occasion.

Banners and photos were draped over the front of the boxes and the gallery. Chanting fans cried E-di-ta!, E-di-ta! until she reappeared for the umpteenth time. The last performance was particularly memorable. Michele Pertusi as Don Alfonso was impressive, but it was the friends, Gennaro (Jose Bros) and Maffio (Laura Polverelli), who caught fire on the last night as they began the second Act. By the end the whole theatre exploded into enraptured applause and a standing ovation for E-DI-TA, who is celebrating an extraordinary 40 years at the State Opera.

The second premiere was a much riskier affair, a little-known work, Cardillac, by Paul Hindemith, dating from 1926. Franz Welser-Most conducted the production by Sven-Eric Bechtoff with staging and costumes by team Glittenberg. Add the  strong cast led by Juha Uusitalo and Juliane Banse and the result was triumphal. The success is in the sum of its parts, that meshed into a very pleasing whole. Rarely in recent times has applause been so evenly distributed between the orchestra, singers and the production team. So the new hands at the helm can be well pleased. Unfortunately, there is no further opportunity to see these works again this season.

The same has to be said for Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. There were six performances of a new production by Harry Kupfer of this comic opera in Theater an der Wien in October. It was visually astonishing, set in an aircraft hanger with a spacecraft dominating the set. But there were also servants in powdered wigs and a large silver suitcase that opens up to be a bright pink stage dressing room, large enough for two, if only very cosily.

Ariadne is all about preparing an opera and a play to be ready in a very short time and then with both rolled into – usually in two parts, with a prologue for the preparations and one act for the presentation and an interval between the two, but not with Mr Kupfer. We are brought into the urgency of it all as the prologue and the act roll into one. The costumes and stage activity are marvellous. The singing is great and Bertrand de Billy was reunited with the ORF RSO in the pit. Even the end has a twist as Ariadne goes off with Harlequin and Zerbinetta is left with Bacchus.

On the other hand there are still chances to see Antonin Dvorak’s  Rusalka in the Volksoper, where the title role is shared by Kristiane Kaiser and Caroline Melzer. While on the subject of the Volksoper, don’t miss an opportunity to see Operetts –  a sort of Monty Python meets the Three Tenors. It is two hours of side-splitting humour with three worthy tenors and a poker-faced pianist. Performances are all too rare but there is one in January and one in May next year.

In November, Theater an der Wien is also presenting Mozart’s comic opera, La finta giardiana (The Bogus Gardener) in a new production by David Alden. Another premiere! Gardens are great places for meetings and confusion (vide The Marriage of Figaro), the emotions of emerging relationships with all the associated conflicts until everything gets cleared up. In this opera – last seen in Vienna in October 2004 in a production by Elaine Tyler-Hall at the Wiener Kammeroper – the teenaged Mozart managed to sort out the affairs of no less than three couples.

The Kammeroper starts its season with seven performances in November of Joseph Haydn’s once very popular opera L’isola disabitate, shades of The Tale and strange surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner by Daniel Defoe (1719). This most unlikely story line needs to be left unchallenged for the full enjoyment of Haydn’s beautiful music. (See the review by Cynthia Peck, p17).

The top three at the Staatsoper in November (if you can’t see all eight operas on offer) are probably:

Handel’s Alcina, which appears for the first time ever in this opera house on November 14th.  And it is the first time in this millennium that a guest orchestra performs in the house.  Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre provide the music in their inimitable style.  Anja Harteros leads the cast as Alcina.  Yet another premiere to be enjoyed.

And then there is Rigoletto with Ramon Vargas as the Duke of Mantua, Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the jester, Rigoletto and Patrizia Ciofi as his daughter Gilda.  A great cast. And Medea by Aribert Reimann, that had its world premiere here on Feb. 28 of this year.  The performance of Marlis Petersen as the tragic medea can never be seen too often.

And I must remind you that now is the time to book for performances at Christmas or in the New Year.

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