The Ring: Wagner's Genius, Through the Prism of Our Time

Monday, September 10, 2012
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Gotterdammerung at the Met
A scene from Wagner's Götterdämmerung with Jay Hunter Morris (on boat) as Siegfried, Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gutrune, Iain Paterson as Gunther, and Hans-Peter König as Hagen.
(Courtesy of Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Richard Wagner's masterpiece, The Ring of the Nibelung, comes to WGBH in a stunning production by Robert Lepage at the Metropolitan Opera.

The complete four-opera cycle is accompanied by a documentary that takes you behind the scenes of an unprecedented theatrical achievement.

In 1876, Richard Wagner realized one of the most improbable and ambitious dreams any artist could have: his 16-hour, four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen was performed for the first time at the purpose-built opera house in Bayreuth, Germany. There is no real precedent. Wagner wrote the story, the words, and the music. He envisioned the staging, and so unique was his vision that an instrument had to be invented to realize his ideal sound.

It only makes sense, then, that The Ring would inspire some of the most ambitious opera productions in every age since. Robert Lepage's production for the Metropolitan Opera may be the most ambitious yet. Its set rivals Bayreuth itself for audacity of vision, to the degree that the Met was required to reinforce its stage just to support it.

Join us for this unique production of The Ring, with acclaimed performances by Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde, Bryn Terfel as Wotan, and Eric Owens as Alberich.

Video Previews and Schedule (all on WGBH 2 except where noted):

Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold)
Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 9pm
Sunday, Sept. 16, at 12am

In the first opera of the cycle, Alberich steals gold from the Rhine River and forges a ring that gives its holder immense power. Wotan, king of the gods, steals it, but Alberich's curse on the ring sets off a series of events that leads eventually to Wotan's destruction.

With Starring Wendy Bryn Harmer (Freia), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Patricia Bardon (Erda), Richard Croft (Loge), Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Eric Owens (Alberich), Franz-Josef Selig (Fasolt), and Hans-Peter König (Fafner); conducted by James Levine

Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)
Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 9pm

As Siegmund finds shelter in the strangely familiar arms of Sieglinde, Wotan’s daughter, Brünnhilde, intervenes on behalf of the hero. Brünnhilde thus forces her father to choose between his love for his favorite daughter and his duty to his wife, Fricka. Wotan takes away Brünnhilde’s godlike powers and puts her to sleep on a mountaintop, surrounded by a ring of magic fire that can only be crossed by the bravest of heroes.

With Deborah Voigt (Brünnhilde), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Jonas Kaufmann (Siegmund), Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Hans-Peter König (Hunding); conducted by James Levine


Thursday, Sept. 13, at 9pm

The hero Siegfried grows up in the wilderness, puts together the broken pieces of the sword Nothung, and uses it to slay the fearsome dragon Fafner, taking the ring for himself. To fulfill his destiny, he must overcome Wotan, now disguised as the Wanderer and cross through the magic fire to awaken his true love, Brünnhilde.

With Deborah Voigt (Brünnhilde), Patricia Bardon (Erda), Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried), Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Bryn Terfel (The Wanderer), Eric Owens (Alberich); conducted by Fabio Luisi

Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods)
Friday, Sept. 14, at 9pm

Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s love is torn apart by the curse of the ring. A trio of scheming humans separates the two heroes in a desperate attempt to steal the ring for themselves. Their villainous plan fails, but they succeed in murdering Siegfried. Heartbroken, Brünnhilde takes the ring and leaps into the hero’s funeral pyre, causing a global cataclysm and the twilight of the gods.

With Deborah Voigt (Brünnhilde), Wendy Bryn Harmer (Gutrune), Waltraud Meier (Waltraute), Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried), Iain Paterson (Gunther), Eric Owens (Alberich), Hans-Peter König (Hagen); conducted by Fabio Luisi

Wagner's Dream
Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 2am
Thursday, Sept. 13, at 2:30am (WGBX 44)
Saturday, Sept. 15, at 3am
Monday, Sept. 17, at 3am

Film maker Susan Froemke traces the story of Robert Lepage's production of The Ring for the Metropolitan Opera, from General Manager Peter Gelb's request for the production, through the conception of the staging, to the execution of the massive machinery required for the cycle, in a story nearly as dramatic as The Ring itself.


Boston Lyric Opera's The Inspector

Monday, April 23, 2012
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Massenet's Tribute to Venice

Friday, April 6, 2012
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Charles Gounod: Venise    Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor; Graham Johnson, piano
                                        Hyperion 66112

Jules Massenet: Souvenir de Venise
            Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor; Graham Johnson, piano
                                        Hyperion 66112
Reynaldo Hahn: Venezia: Chansons en Dialecte Vénitien (Songs in the Venetian Dialect)
    Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor; Graham Johnson, piano
    with Felicity Lott, soprano and Richard Jackson, baritone
                                        Hyperion 66112

Love for Sale, in Massenet's 'Manon'

Friday, April 6, 2012
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Host Lisa Simeone presents Manon from the Bastille Opera in Paris, Sunday night at 6:30pm on Classical New England.

A scene from Massenet's 'Manon' (Courtesy of Bastille Opera)

Natalie Dessay (soprano) … Manon
Giuseppe Filianoti (tenor) ... Des Grieux
Franck Ferrari (baritone) …. Lescaut
Paul Gay (bass-baritone) .. Count Des Grieux
Luca Lombardo (tenor) ….. Guillot
André Heyboer (baritone) ... Bretigny
Olivia Doray (soprano) … Pousette
Carol Garcia (mezzo-soprano) …. Javotte
Alisa Kolosova (mezzo-soprano) … Rosette

Paris National Opera Orchestra and Chorus Evelino Pidò, conducto
Generally, opera is considered a serious art form. By contrast, composer Jules Massenet has been described as a lightweight -- and at times, it's easy to hear why. Even his wildly popular Manon, an opera with a deadly serious story, has plenty of froth.

But it's not only in the supposedly lofty world of opera that we find astonishingly successful composers with lightweight reputations. For another, we can look closer to home, at a legendary figure of American musical theater: Cole Porter.

Porter was a true Broadway genius, a brilliant lyricist and a first-rate composer -- the creator of dozens of hit songs and shows. Was Porter a "lightweight"? Sure, plenty of his best-known songs sound that way: "You're the Top" and "It's De-Lovely" don't pack much emotional wallop. Yet Porter did have a serious side. His classic song "Love for Sale" conjures up the gritty, workaday side of prostitution. The subject matter and its sophisticated, even disturbing tone are hardly the work of a lightweight songwriter.

Getting back to opera, the two-sided nature we hear in Cole Porter's familiar songs and shows can also be found in Massenet's Manon, an opera which touches on the same dramatic territory as Porter's "Love for Sale."

As the opera open's, it's title character is an innocent 15-year-old -- a kid whose amorous "inclinations" have prompted her mom and dad to ship her off to a convent. At first, that seems a bit harsh. By the time the opera is over, we might wonder if her parents were prescient.

During her journey, Manon falls for a well-meaning young man of modest means, who adores her. Before long, though, it's clear that Manon has a taste for opulence as well as romance -- and that she's not above cavorting with rich men she doesn't love in exchange for a luxurious lifestyle. Despite the frothy spots, Massenet's opera doesn't pull any punches, and he gave it all the complex, emotionally powerful music it needs to drive home some pointedly unsavory realities.

On this edition of World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Manon from the Bastille Opera in Paris, starring soprano Natalie Dessay as Manon and tenor Giuseppe Filianoti as Des Grieux, in a production led by conductor Evelino Pidò.

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It Must Have Been Fate: Verdi's 'La Forza del Destino'

Friday, March 23, 2012
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Host Lisa Simeone presents La Forza del Destino in a production by the Paris National Opera, Sunday night at 6:30pm on Classical New England.

A scene from Verdi's La Forza del Destino, from Paris National Opera
Violeta Urmana (soprano) … Lenora
Marcelo Alvarez (tenor) … Alvaro
Vladimir Stoyanov (baritone) … Carlo
Mario Luperi (bass) … Calatrava
Nadia Krasteva (mezzo-soprano) … Preziosilla
Nicola Alaimo (baritone)... Melitone
Kwangchul Youn (bass)… Father Superior
Mario Luperi … Calatrava

Paris National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Philippe Jordan, conductor
When puzzling events happen in life -- things that simply can't be explained, or at least can't be explained simply -- people often put them down to fate. It's as though ascribing our troubles to fate somehow relieves us of the need to understand them.

But what is fate, really? At best it's a difficult concept to grasp, much less explain in words. That may be why so many evocations of fate can be heard in music, a medium in which words are strictly optional.

The most iconic musical tribute to fate may or may not have been intentional: It's uncertain whether Beethoven actually considered the opening notes of his Fifth Symphony to be "fate knocking at the door," as they've often been described. But other examples are more obvious, and they come in a wide range of music: from Fatum," a portentous tone poem by Tchaikovsky, to the heavy metal tune "Fates Warning" by Iron Maiden.

Naturally, there are also plenty of operas that dwell on fate, though few do it so dramatically as Verdi's La Forza del Destino -- The Force of Destiny.

Verdi composed the opera to end an extended hiatus from music -- a three year span in which he wrote no new operas and actually told friends that he was no longer a composer. The commission that brought him back to the opera house came from the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg. After considering a number of subjects for a new opera, Verdi chose a Spanish play called La fuerza del sino -- The Power of Fate. It was adapted by librettist Francesco Maria Piave, who also worked with Verdi on several other operas, including Macbeth and Rigoletto.

As for the story itself, it's surely appropriate for an operatic exploration of fate: Like so many real life events that are attributed to fate, the goings on in the opera are hard to explain in any other way. The result is a drama that can leave even diehard Verdi lovers shaking their heads. Its story can be as confounding as the music is compelling, with a plot in which a single, unfortunate happenstance drives characters to lifetimes of incomprehensible behavior. There's one character who travels the world, braving war and desolation, in an obsessive quest to murder his own sister.

Still, like fate itself, the power of Verdi's score for the opera is undeniable. The music transforms a thorny story line into one of the most compelling of all his operas.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents La Forza del Destino in a production by the Paris National Opera. The stars are soprano Violeta Urmana as Leonora, tenor Marcelo Alvarez as her beloved Alvaro and baritone Vladimir Stoyanov as Carlo, who for a moment is Alvaro's ally, but soon becomes his most deadly enemy. The performance, from the Bastille Opera, is led by conductor Philippe Jordan.

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About Host Lisa Simeone

Simple Feelings, Powerful Drama: Puccini's 'La Boheme'

Friday, March 16, 2012
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Host Lisa Simeone presents Puccini's La Boheme in a production from the Maggio Musicale in Florence, Italy, Sunday night at 6:30pm on Classical New England.

"A scene from "Puccini's La Boheme"
(Courtesy of Maggio Musicale)
Carmela Remigio (soprano) ... Mimi
Achiles Machado (tenor) … Rodolfo
Alessandra Antonucci (soprano)… Musetta
Stefano Antonucci (baritone) … Marcello
Simone Del Savio (baritone) ... Schaunard
Marco Vinco (bass) … Colline
Andrea Cortese (bass) ... Benoit/Alcindoro

Maggio Musicale Orchestra and Chorus
Carlo Montanaro, conductor
For a long time -- centuries, actually -- opera was dominated by larger-than-life characters: kings and queens, gods and goddesses, mythic figures with power over life and death. The challenge for composers and librettists was to give these legendary characters common feelings -- to put little sorrows in great souls -- so the ordinary humans who bought opera tickets could identify with the on stage dramas.

But as opera became a more and more popular form of entertainment, that changed. Composers turned to stories about simpler, more realistic characters, creating a whole new set of challenges in the process -- and nobody new that better than Giacomo Puccini.

Puccini once said that his success came from putting "great sorrows in little souls." His operas tell us that at some point in their lives, people everywhere, in all walks of life, endure the same trials: love and envy, loss and heartbreak. That's especially true in La Boheme, a story set among struggling artists in the Latin Quarter of Paris.

Boheme is a drama of everyday events and common people. The characters are familiar, maybe even routine. The same is true of many other Puccini operas, which is one reason the composer has always had his detractors. Certain critics have analyzed Puccini's music, and his stories, and concluded that his operas are too easily enjoyable -- and maybe not intellectual enough to justify Puccini's great success. And it would be easy to argue that composers such as Mozart, Verdi and Wagner all produced operas far more complex and innovative than Puccini's -- great operas that work on so many levels that they both invite analysis, and defy it. By comparison, some say, Puccini's dramas seem overly simple and straightforward.

But that conclusion itself may also be too simple. Regardless of his methods, Puccini mastered the unique and mystifying synthesis of music, drama and stagecraft that only opera can deliver, and with powerful results. His enduring, popular dramas are graced by appealing and believable characters whose feelings are portrayed so deeply and so vividly that, as we look on, their emotions soon become ours as well, and their heartbreaks seem as wrenching as our own.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Puccini's La Boheme in a production from the Maggio Musicale in Florence, Italy. The stars are soprano Carmela Remigio and tenor Achiles Machado as the lovers Mimi and Rodolfo, in a performance led by conductor Carlo Montanaro.

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