Opera in Europe Makes a Comeback

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

Back in March, when most of the world went into lockdown, music organizations around the globe made the difficult decision of cancelling the remainder of their 2019/2020 seasons. Some cancelled or postponed all live performances until January 2021 for safety and budgetary reasons, leaving thousands of musicians, stagehands, set builders, technicians and others unemployed until further notice. While North America is still relatively silent, operatically speaking, European companies have found creative ways to bring live opera back to their audiences. 

In Germany, the Deutsche Oper Berlin came up with what was probably the most creative and bizarre way to bring opera back safely to a live public: Wagner’s ​Das Rheingold​ was performed, fully staged, in an outdoor parking lot. An hour was shaved off the usual two-and-a-half-hour performance time and 12 singers, along with 22 socially distanced musicians, performed Jonathan Dove’s 1990 reduced arrangement. Amplification was required for the orchestra but not for the singers, who benefited from what is, apparently, a good acoustic for the voice. This was the first operatic performance to be given in front of a public in Germany since the theaters closed. Eight hundred tickets were made available and within 12 minutes the whole run was sold out.  

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In Austria, the Salzburg Festival, one of Europe’s poshest musical events, celebrated its 100th anniversary with a scaled-down program of 90 performances. Performances were presented in front of socially distanced, half-capacity audiences who were required to wear masks until seated in the hall. However, there was no social distancing on stage. The musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic, as well as the singers and actors, were regularly tested and got their results within a few hours. Strauss’s ​Elektra,​ staged by ​Krzysztof Warlikowski​, opened the festival, followed by ​Così fan tutte​ as well as a number of recitals including a Liederabend with Matthias Goerne and Jan Lisiecki. ​Hugo von Hofmannsthal​’s 1911 play, ​Jedermann​, was also performed. No major Covid-related incidents have been reported.

Photo: Javier del Real

The Teatro Real in Madrid took a different approach. While the city has been particularly affected by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, a fully staged production of Verdi’s ​La Traviata​ had a run of 27 performances throughout the month of July with an all-star cast, including Lisette Oropesa and Marina Rebeka, sharing the role of Violetta, and Michael Fabiano and Matthew Polenzani as alternating Alfredos. The work had long been scheduled and the opera house was determined to present it in full, complete with orchestra and chorus, albeit before a reduced and socially distanced audience. Every singer on stage, chorus members included, was meant to stay ​within a roughly two-metre square, starkly marked on the stage floor, until one of them around him or her had cleared out. Solo scenes and duets allowed for more freedom around the stage but there was no touching allowed. The performances were such a success that Oropesa encored her last aria, “Addio del passato,” making her the first woman to perform a “bis” in the history of the Spanish opera house.  

With a second wave potentially​ ​on the horizon in Europe, it’s difficult to know precisely what will happen during the fall, or the coming year for that matter. Some major institutions, including the Royal Opera House in London and the Opéra National de Paris, have no live performances scheduled until the New Year. 

Others, like the Teatro alla Scala, will go on with modified seasons. Italy’s most prestigious theatre will open its fall season with the ​Verdi Requiem​, a symbolic choice given the fact that Lombardy, the region in which Milan finds itself, has had a high death toll. Music director Riccardo Chailly will conduct and the soloists will be Krassimira Stoyanova, Elina Garanča, Francesco Meli and René Pape. The company will also present two operas in concert: ​La Traviata​ conducted by Zubin Mehta and ​Aida​ conducted by Riccardo Chailly, as well as a fully-staged La Bohème,​ using the old Zeffirelli production, a ballet gala along with a run of Giselle​. Also scheduled are a number of recitals given by stars such as Anna Netrebko, Jonas Kaufmann, Placido Domingo, Simon Keenlyside, Erwin Schrott, Marina Rebeka, Sabine Devieilhe, Maurizio Pollini and Daniel Barenboim. A number of additional events, including a children’s version of ​La Cenerentola given by the Teatro alla Scala Academy, will be presented before the new season, which traditionally opens on Dec. 7, takes place.  

Here’s hoping that North American companies find ways to bring live opera back to its audience sooner rather than later.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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