Although there are a few green shoots – like Saturday, June 12 when a handful of artists including Gerald Finley will perform behind the scenes at the Royal Opera House (Aussies can catch it online June 13) – the majority of opera houses continue to put out busy streaming schedules. One of the most prolific is the Vienna State Opera, and the next week is a doozy. I also wanted to advocate for one of classical music’s great bugaboos – good old Arnold Schoenberg. Coming up are two streamed stagings that could win him a few converts. And finally, Samuel Barber’s Vanessa received stunning notices last year at Glyndebourne, and here it is popping up online.
Vienna’s venerable State Opera prides itself on regular annual audience stats nudging 99 percent capacity thanks to the national love of the art form and an ability to attract the crème de la crème of conductors, directors and singers. They also have remarkable archives and a rich history of productions filmed for release on DVD. Like the Met in New York, throughout the COVID-19 crisis Vienna has been streaming an opera a day, each of which remains available for 24 hours so Australian audiences can still watch at a civilised hour. Throughout the pandemic they have offered their regular online subscription for free, so all you have to do is fill in a simple registration at www.staatsoperlive.com.
Over the next ten days the crop is a particularly fertile one, and many of the streams now offer an interval filled by a bonus live concert in which a star singer (like Camilla Nylund or Juan Diego Flórez) entertains you for 45 minutes.
Try La Fanciulla del West on Friday, June 12 (4 pm in Austria, that’s midnight AEST so best caught sometime Saturday in Australia). With its gloriously imaginative and colourful score, Puccini’s “Wild West” opera is still on my most underrated list and this 2015 production boasts an unbeatable cast by today’s standards: Nina Stemme sings saloon girl Minnie with Jonas Kaufmann as the dashing, duplicitous Dick Johnson and Tomasz Konieczny as the jealous sheriff Jack Rance. Doodah doodah day, as they say!
Same time on Saturday, June 13 you can catch Prokofiev’s The Gambler in a rerun from 2017 conducted by our very own Simone Young. Or hang on a few days and watch a pair of masterpieces care of Leoš Janáček. On Tuesday, June 16 they stream The Makropoulos Case, the composer’s fascinating and fantastical operatic whodunnit about a woman who turns out to be 400 years old. This classic staging by director Peter Stein was recorded in 2015, is conducted by the brilliant Jakub Hrůša, and stars Laura Aikin as the tormented and tormenting Emilia Marty. And if it’s a more romantic mood you’re in, try Thursday, June 18 and a staging from 2017 of Káta Kabanová. Based on Ostrovsky’s play The Storm, it’s a passionate tale of misplaced love and eventual tragedy full of strong characters and Janáček’s quirky melodies. Angela Denoke is a fine Káta with Misha Didyk as her lover Boris, Leonardo Navarro as her spineless husband Tichon, and Jane Henschel as her monstrous mother-in-law Kabanicha.
That’s a lot of must-sees, and if you wait until Monday, June 22 you can catch another masterly rarity, Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, conducted by Semyon Bychkov with Ferruccio Furlanetto as the bombastic Prince Ivan Khovansky.
The live recitals, by the way, are at Vienna’s 7:30pm and timed to interrupt the opera streams.
The leader of the Second Viennese School has a justifiable reputation for innovation and rigorous theory, especially when it comes to the infamous twelve-tone method. But unlike some of his tone-row-spinning followers there is always something compelling about Schoenberg’s ability to keep his system secondary to the music’s actual purpose.
Nowhere is that more in evidence than in his late great opera Moses und Aron. A well-trodden tale of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and their endless inability to keep their minds on God’s commandments, trust Barrie Kosky to get it right by turning it into a parable of humanity’s never-ending search for answers and a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. With almost 200 performers on the Komische Oper Berlin stage and a massive orchestra conducted by Russian maestro Vladimir Jurowski the cast includes Robert Hayward as Moses (famously a speaking role to root the character in a kind of tongue-tied authority). John Daszak (last seen in Sydney in Opera Australia’s Wozzeck) is his more fluent brother Aaron who here also gets to perform an impressively accomplished array of magic tricks. With not one but three choirs to worship that Golden Calf – I’m told they had 100 rehearsals, and you can tell – and a dramatis personae that includes “voice from the burning bush, 70 elders, beggars, several elderly persons, 12 tribal leaders, other naked persons, dancers and supernumeraries of all kinds,” what’s not to like! The show is on demand via OperaVision for three months from June 13
And if twelve-tone is a step too far, why not try Pierre Audi’s audacious staging of Schoenberg’s late-Romatic choral blockbuster Gurre-Lieder for Dutch National Opera. Lush, lyrical, and of gargantuan proportions, the work was never intended for the operatic stage, but you’d not know it in this visually sumptuous, intellectually stimulating, and quite simply breath-taking production. The story tells the Danish legend of King Waldemar who curses God after his paramour is murdered by his vengeful queen and is subsequently doomed to lead his men every night on a terrifying wild nocturnal hunt. Marc Albrecht conducts with Burkhard Fritz as the King Waldemar, Catherine Naglestad as his doomed beloved Tove, and Anna Larsson as a funereally winged wood dove. With 120 players in the orchestra and 120 onstage, this is another not-to-be-missed event. Aussies can catch it here from Monday June 15 until June 21.
Samuel Barber’s Vanessa has had a chequered history. Applauded at its Pulitzer-winning Met debut in 1958, Europe didn’t take to its heart-on-sleeve romanticisms and Ibsen-esque storyline and it rapidly disappeared from view. Credit then to Glyndebourne for giving it every chance to shine in Keith Warner’s handsome looking production that offers more than a nod to Hitchcock.
Set in an unspecified “northern clime”, Gian Carlo Menotti’s highly-strung libretto concerns three generations of women bottled up in an emotionally haunted manse. Vanessa has been waiting 20 years for the return of her lover, Anatol. When his son arrives instead (also called Anatol), she quickly transfers her attentions to the feckless young man who jumps at his father’s cast off, but not until he’s seduced Vanessa’s sexually emergent niece Erika. Meanwhile, Vanessa’s mother, the Old Baroness, shuffles round the house refusing to speak to anyone who isn’t true to their own ideals (by which she means Vanessa, but subsequently applies to the hapless Erika as well). It’s all very Chekhovian, and Warner’s staging matches Barber’s highly attractive and frequently melodic score cheek by jowl.
Emma Bell’s Vanessa is well sung, her powerful soprano soaring over the fine orchestral playing of the London Philharmonic under the guidance of Jakub Hruša. Virginie Verrez’s Erika is the star of the show, her voice clear and strong, her acting well-modulated. Edgaras Montvidas is a lyrical Anatol while Rosalind Plowright’s persuasive Baroness and Donnie Ray Albert’s poignant old doctor offer strong support.
It’s available from Monday, June 15 until June 21.