From NY Times
Music Review | ‘Die Ägyptische Helena’
That Face of Beauty, the Chaos It Creates
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
If a concert pianist wants to champion an overlooked work, all he needs to do is to program it on a recital tour. But if a leading soprano wants to perform a challenging role in a little-known opera, she needs an entire opera company to mount the work, with all the money, time and risk such a commitment entails.
When that artist is the dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt, and the company is the Metropolitan Opera, which has hugely benefited from Ms. Voigt’s services since her 1991 debut, it makes sense for the company to accommodate the prima donna.
On Thursday Ms. Voigt fulfilled a long-held desire to sing the title role in Richard Strauss’s seldom-staged 1928 opera, “Die Ägyptische Helena,” at the Met, the company’s first production of the work since seven performances in the 1928-29 season. Reading through commentaries on the opera, it is hard to find an unqualified endorsement of this Strauss work, which followed “Intermezzo” and preceded “Arabella.”
Strauss’ Helen finds a regal voice
BY JUSTIN DAVIDSON
March 17, 2007
For almost 80 years, Richard Strauss’ “The Egyptian Helen” has lurked at the edge of the repertoire like orbiting space debris, unloved and out of mind since its American premiere in 1928. And yet it contains a heroic title role: Helen, whose charms triggered the Trojan War, who barely steps offstage to catch her breath and who opens the second act with one of those blissful, post-coital arias of which Strauss was the absolute master. Helen has just been waiting for the right soprano to come and resurrect her. Now Deborah Voigt has.
The Metropolitan Opera would never have mounted this work but for Voigt, and while she got a vehicle out of the deal (and the tiny Garsington Opera company in England got a shot of Stateside attention for having originated David Fielding’s mod production), the Met’s audience wound up with a bizarrely beautiful opera that survived its exile in style.
NEW YORK (AP) — It was tough enough in antiquity to be a sorceress, let alone the planet’s most beautiful woman. In the postmodern world, you have to compete for attention with directors, too.
Strauss’ ‘Die Aegyptische Helena’ (‘The Egyptian Helen’) returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday night for the first time since 1928 in a vocal triumph for sopranos Deborah Voigt and Diana Damrau. The surrealistic production by David Fielding, however, was too much to absorb in one sitting, filled with symbolism from start (Poseidon running across the stage with a suitcase) to finish (a Greek temple surrounded by a wedding band on the closing scrim).
The Met’s 2007 staging of “Die Agyptische Helena” (The Egyptian Helen) is only its second production ever of Richard Strauss’ rare 1928 opera, which disappeared from the repertory the year after the composer wrote it with frequent collaborator-librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. This has always been considered a troubled work, and anyone who has seen a few dozen Broadway tuners can spot the all-too-familiar problem: great music, incomprehensible book. For his Met debut, director-designer David Fielding could hardly have chosen a less felicitous project. Suffice to say that Helen of Troy has claimed yet another victim.
March 16 (Bloomberg) — I had high hopes for an opera prominently featuring a singing mussel with all-seeing powers. Even in the fanciful land of opera, where dragons, toads and kettles sing and dance, the mussel is unique.
Thank Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal who created what they called Die Alles Wissende Muschel and placed her center stage at the opening of “Egyptian Helen’ (“Die Aegyptische Helena’), a piece first heard in 1928. The mussel sings mezzo and according to the stage directions occupies a tripod in a palace overlooking the ocean. That gives her a good view over some lesser-known events connected to the Trojan War.
Last night, a new production opened at New York’s Metropolitan Opera featuring Deborah Voigt as Helen of Troy, Torsten Kerl and Michael Hendrick as husband Menelaus (both making their Met debuts), Jill Grove as Mussel, Diana Damrau as a sorcerous princess named Aithra, a number of entertaining, wild-haired elves, and several male characters I could not keep straight. Who was the guy in the red suit and matching red head? The problem isn’t the mussel. It’s the rest of the piece.