Culture Magazine

Opera Review: A Modern German Take on Greek Myth

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Henze's Phaedra Premieres in Philadelphia.

Opera Review: A Modern German Take on Greek Myth

Cage match: A scene from Act Two of Phaedra. 
Photo by Katherine Elliot, © 2011 Opera Company of Philadelphia

This weekend at the Kimmel Center, the Opera Company of Philadelphia concluded its 35th season with Hans Werner Henze's 2007 opera Phaedra, a knotty work steeped in German serialism and Greek myth. The performances, conducted by Corrado Rivaris, mark the work's United States premiere.
The story is based on Euripides' treatment of the Phaedra myth. Phaedra is the wife of Theseus, the Athenian hero best known for slaying the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of Knossos. The opera opens with the death of the beast. Things take a sharply personal turn as Phaedra falls in love with her step-son Hippolyte, an illicit affair that results in disaster and the latter's death.
Henze originally stopped there, but real life led to the creation of a second act. In 2005, the composer was struck with a mysterious illness and fell into a coma for two months. Upon reviving, he worked with librettist Christian Lehnert to provide a second act and create a scenario in which Hippolyte is resurrected and crowned as king of the forests by the goddess Artemis. The final result was a 75-minute opera in two acts, performed here without an intermission.
The score of Phaedra owes much to Richard Strauss' late style and the 12-tone writing of Alban Berg. Henze makes use of a powerful brass and wind sectin in his score, supporting them with an elaborate percussion section and minimal strings. Tuned keyboard instruments are featured alongside "found" sounds, including the recording of a buzz-saw and what might be the first cellular phone ever used in an opera. Unusual amplification of instruments like the harp provide dense, otherworldly textures, a fitting background to the fantastical plot.
This work proved potent in performance. Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford (Flosshilde in the Met's new Das Rheingold) brought physical and vocal athleticism to the title role. Heroic tenor William Burden was compelling as the dead-then-resurrected Hippolyte, the object of his step-mom's obsession. The hunt goddess Artemis was subject to some gender-bending, with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo singing the part. Mr. Costanzo's performance combined impressive vocal gyrations with a fierce dramatic heart. Finally, Elizabeth Reiter was impressive in the small role of Aphrodite, singing her duet with Phaedra to Hippolyte as he was trapped in a cage.
If Phaedra sounds like heady, pretentious stuff, it is. But it also the latest in a long operatic tradition of putting fresh spins on familiar mythology, one that stretches from Monteverdi's Orfeo, through the operas of Handel, Haydn and Mozart to the late stage works of Richard Strauss (Daphne and Das Liebe der Danaë.) At this late state in his career, the octegenarian Henze makes his case as an important composer of opera, a visionary whose work can still compel and thrill the adventurous listener.

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • How Different Kinds of Bread Affect Blood Sugar Levels, Compared to Teaspoons...

    Different Kinds Bread Affect Blood Sugar Levels, Compared Teaspoons

    Think whole-grain bread is a good choice? Could it help you control your blood sugar? Not necessarily. If you look at the graph above (made by the eminent Dr.... Read more

    4 hours, 11 minutes ago by   Dietdoctor
    DIET & WEIGHT, HEALTH, HEALTHY LIVING, MEDICINE
  • Monday Musings.

    Monday Musings.

    Ugh, someone give me an IV of coffee, would ya?! This weekend was super busy but thankfully, it was well spent with my people. Since we’re moving (did you... Read more

    5 hours, 18 minutes ago by   Thesamanthashow
    LIFESTYLE, SELF EXPRESSION
  • Summer Summertime Essentials

    Summer Summertime Essentials

    Summer is here, and boy did it slam us here in DC. Less than a week ago I was shivering in a coat and today it's 85 degrees. While I transitioned my wardrobe... Read more

    5 hours, 30 minutes ago by   Wardrobeoxygen
    FASHION, SELF EXPRESSION, SHOPPING
  • Auronya College Aims To Answer The Unknown Future With Education 4.0

    Auronya College Aims Answer Unknown Future With Education

    ,Auronya College aims to break the barriers to imbibe revolutionary means of providing global standard education to the youth. It is an amalgamation of modern... Read more

    6 hours, 21 minutes ago by   Jaideep Khanduja
    DIARIES, SELF EXPRESSION
  • Oriflame The ONE Lip Sensation Vinyl Gel Lipstick Review, Swatches & Price India

    Oriflame Sensation Vinyl Lipstick Review, Swatches Price India

    Oriflame has recently launched some luscious and beautiful lipstick gels under ‘The ONE’ range. Yes, it’s a perfect combo of lips gloss+lipstick! Read more

    6 hours, 30 minutes ago by   Jayshreebhagat
    HAIR & BEAUTY
  • Brand24 – The Social Listening Tool You Need Today

    Brand24 Social Listening Tool Need Today

    Brand24 -A Social Listening Tool Brand24 is a social listening tool I learned about over on the Quora network. Not only does Brand24 monitor your social mention... Read more

    6 hours, 32 minutes ago by   Lisa
    SELF EXPRESSION, SOCIAL MEDIA, TECH
  • Easy Protein Noodle Lasagna

    Easy Protein Noodle Lasagna

    Meal plansGet lots of weekly low-carb meal plans, complete with shopping lists and everything, with our premium meal planner tool (free trial).... Read more

    7 hours, 4 minutes ago by   Dietdoctor
    DIET & WEIGHT, HEALTH, HEALTHY LIVING, MEDICINE