Time to Celebrate Some More

Nights at the Opera: Feb, 2012

Although the celebrations of Christmas and the New Year have slipped by, there is still much to celebrate, at least in the world of opera. On the first of February we celebrate the midpoint of the season when we can review the operas enjoyed to date and look forward to what is to come. We can also notice a “stretch” in the evenings, new buds on the trees and snowdrops bursting into flower.

Winter in Vienna could be unbearably long, grey, cold and depressing but for the local antidote: the bright, colourful warmth of the Viennese Ball Season. The centrepoint of this winter-long gaiety is the Opera Ball, which takes place this year on the 16th of February. It is followed by two special performances of Mozart’s The Magic Flute for children on the next day. These are closed performances, but they are among the most magical in the whole season. Most of the children (from age six or seven) know the story and a lot of the music. Some are prepared to help the singers and even to practice their own coloratura along with the Queen of the Night. There is a wonderful integration of musicians, singers and the children who contribute so much to this happy celebration of the magic of opera.

The next celebration is the return of two outstanding singers whose careers were interrupted by illnesses a few years ago. Spanish baritone, Carlos Alvarez, who was unforgettable in everything he has sung, including several comic roles such as Figaro, Ford (Falstaff) and Sulpice (La Fille du Regiment) since I first heard him as Rodrigo in Don Carlo in 2001, returns now to sing Escamillo in the beautiful Franco Zefirelli production of Carmen. Merde!

I think that the first time I saw the young Mexican tenor, Rolando Villazon was in a performance of Rodolfo in La Bohème at the Bregenz festival in 2002. Like many, I remember his Vienna debut as Romeo in March 2005 and the excitement this new voice provoked at the time. Exactly one month later he and Anna Netrebko started a run as the leads in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, which rank among the greatest performances of the time and led to a very successful stage partnership until illness stopped him singing.

On that night, his performance of Nemorino’s aria “Una furtive Lagrima” was greeted with calls for an encore. Encores were not allowed in the Vienna State Opera, at least not since Pavarotti repeated the same aria many years before. Villazon and conductor Alfred Eschwe exchanged glances. They were positive.  The calls became more insistent. Now, as at the Roman Arenas of old, the eyes were on the Emperor’s box (House Director, Ioan Hollender). He discreetly nodded his assent and a new name was added to the short list of the greatest singers at the Staatsoper.

At the end, the performances were greeted with a standing ovation, which lasted almost twenty-five minutes. Supernovas were born and the rest is history. This month Rolando Villazon returns to sing Nemorino once more. Toi, toi, toi!

There is much to celebrate in reviewing the first half of the season. Theater an der Wien has presented one world premiere (Gogol) and three other new productions as well as no less than seven operas in concert presentation.  That alone is more opera than many people see in a whole year.

The Volksoper presented a very successful new production of Richard Strauß’s Salome in October, recalling that in Vienna the opera was first staged there in 1910, as the censor thought it was too immoral for the Hofoper (The Court Opera).

A new Traviata was one of three premieres at the Staatsoper. A number of innovative solo concerts by singers and musicians alike were also presented.

Now going forward…

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