Monday, 30 June 2014

Richard Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten - Oper Leipzig

Performance 28th June

My second opera in Leipzig this weekend was Strauss' and Hofmannsthals's opus magnum: Die Frau ohne Schatten. The new production got cheering reviews for the premiere performance and in my opinion they could have been even more enthusiastic!
The production of Balázs Kovalik (set: Heike Scheele, costumes: Sebastian Ellrich) was okay but a little bit too cheesy for me (maybe because of all the Sissi hommages). Anyway it surely wasn't a bad production and it served the plot quite well.
Ulf Schirmer achieved to make the Gewandhausrorchester play the piece with a huge bandwith of different colors and sounds. His conducting shows that he has an amazing musical mind and is able to see the musical content beyond the score. The orchestra had some small issues with the score but performed the enormoulsy difficult piece very solidly and without major deficits. Every single passage from the big orgiastic outbreaks to the intimate chamber music-like parts was just rousing and exciting.
But the main highlight were the singers of that evening.
Der Geisterbote was sung by Jürgen Kurth who performed it neither bad nor good but okay. Paula Rummel, who already sang the night before as Drolla in Die Feen, confirmed that her soprano has the power and beauty to sing the role of the guard of the temple (Hüter der Schwelle des Tempels). Another singer from the night before was Eun Yee You who sang the falcon and proved that her voice just didn't fit the role of Lora. This role (which is way less dramatic than Lora) fitted her way better and showed her very beautiful clear soprano voice.
Barak's three brothers were sung by Jonathan Michie, Sejong Chang and Dan Karlström. All three of them sang those unthankful roles very well. Sebastian Fuchsberger, a tenor with a very youthful beautiful timbre, sang the appearance of the youngling.
As Kaiser Burkhard Fritz did a marvellous performance and sang this very difficult role very adequately. His strong voice had not covering problems and he showed no fear of the many high notes in this role. His performance was very dramatic and solid. His monologue during in the second act was enormously intense and he made a very professional impression.
Thomas J. Mayer already performed at the Salzburg festival's production (although he sang the spirit messenger and not Barak). Nevertheless he performed the role of Barak almost perfectly without any major deficits. His vocal performance reminds me very much of Walter Berry's interpretation of the same role. His singing is really delicate and he gave a really touching and inspiring performance.
His wife, the Färberin, was sung by soprano Jennifer Wilson, who I was really looking forward to see. She already had success with roles like Brünnhilde, Isolde and Turandot and ravishes with a very powerful and easygoing soprano. This evening she showed this power quite well although I expected a little bit more. She surely did a very good job, but I assumed to be more satisfied by her singing. I have to admit that Christa Ludwig's interpretation of this role is kind of stuck in my head so maybe this is the problem. Nevertheless I have to say that her performance was really good and convincing. Especially her third act solo scene was full of powerful and intimate moments.
A big highlight of the performance was internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Doris Soffel as the evil nurse. Her signature role shows off her amazing dramatic abilities and acting skills. Altough some of the top notes might not be perfect anymore her performance is so incredibly convincing that those shaky notes fit in the character perfectly. During some points she showed that she's still capable of rocking the stage with her singing. Especially during her "Her zu mir" during the second act's finale she held the final note (which, after all, is a high b-flat) for an almost infinite eternity.
But the real star of the evening clearly was Simone Schneider as the empress. Her voice is just a phenomenon. She is able to sing with an incredible power throughout all registers with seasmless transitions between them (you can barely hear a transition at all). Her high register is clear as glass and still has a very pleasing warm timbre. Her lower registers have a very interesting dark timbre with a very warm and beautiful tone. The power of her lower register would make one think that she's a mezzo and can surely compete with singers of this fach. Moreover her musical and linguistic articulation are just incredible. I never heard the high d of the entry scene with such clarity and elegance. Ms. Schneider surely is born to sing the role of the empress and justifiably got a big applause storm.
All in all the whole performance was just breathtaking and showed that the Oper Leipzig can compete with the big houses in Munich and Vienna (maybe even surpassed them). The quality of the production (especially the singers and the musical interpretation) is just beyond a countryside opera house and is in the same league as the Salzburg festival, the MET or any other big opera house / festival.
The performance of Frau ohne Schatten gets rightful 9 stars.

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