Monday, 21 November 2016

Edvard Grieg, Peer Gynt - Oper Graz

Premiere performance 19th November

As first part of my intensive pre-christmas weeks I spent a weekend in Graz attending a very special concert that was dedicated to the glorious incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's epic story of Peer Gynt. The wonderful music of Edvard Grieg is supporting the drama of the truly touching plot. Of course the Oper Graz did not perform the full play, but some sort of concert version for a use in combination with the full incidental music. This performance, based on the version created by Alain Perroux, lacked the fantastic intensity of the play, but basically told the story quite well except of a few complications. While the singing parts were cast as usual this version calls only for two different actors, a male actor for the title role and a female one for most other roles that appear during the evening (most notably Solveig, Peer's mother and Anitra). Knowing Ibsen's wonderful drama very well I was a bit disappointed by the delivery of the text. I personally thought it lost the drive that Ibsen's original Version contains. However it is a great idea to such a version at all. I wonder why there are so few performances of the full incidental music with a montage of the text. That is why I am very grateful that the Oper Graz decided to do such a thing.
The whole evening took place under the musical lead of Dirk Kaftan who conducted a very energetic and explosive, but also very touching interpretation. He did a good job to hold the many different parties of the piece together and showed great understanding of Grieg's music. The Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester did its best to follow his lead with elegant and passionate playing. Only sometimes there were some minor inaccuracies which did not affect the overall impression in the end. Also the Chor der Oper Graz gave a very intensive performance with strong accentuated singing and very good Norwegian diction (which is quite tough). Also most of the vocal soloists sang very clearly and it was able to understand most of the Norwegian lyrics (provided that you can understand it of course). Neven Crnić and Martin Simonovski sang the roles of the fence and the thief with their intimidating dark voices. Both succeded to give a strong impression during their really short appearance in the second part. Also the three herdswomen sung by Sieglinde FeldhoferSonja Sarić and Yuan Zhang were beautifully to listen at. All three of them had very pleasing balanced voices with beautiful timbres which blended together marvelously during their short scene. Dshamilja Kaiser as Anitra probably gave the most impressing vocal performance of the evening. With a very seductive dark timbre her beautiful mezzo voice suited the role of the exotic beauty perfectly. With great musicality and erotic radiance she impressed me a lot. The female lead, Solveig, was sung by Tatjana Miyus who also has a gorgeous voice with a lovely light timbre clear like a bell. Except of some top notes that ended up a bit flat she gave a beautiful and touching performance and looked wonderful in her turquoise dress. The male lead, only having one little song, was sung by Dariusz Perczak whose voice sounded very appropriate and well trained. Unfortunately his diction seemed a bit unclear and could have been more elaborated. However he did a decent job and earned his applause.
The two main performers were the two actors for the speaking parts. Famous theatre actress Sunnyi Melles performed the role called "The woman" including the female parts of the play as well as the many small roles that are crossing Peer's way. Melles was probably the most problematic part of the whole evening. Most of the time she seemed as if she had seen her text for the first time ever and spoke in an extremely mannered way most of the time (why on earth would the mountain king have a strange swiss accent??). More than once she stopped the dramatic flow and even switched a scene (by accident I guess). Alltogether I thought that her performance was disappointingly unprepared and did not match the niveau of the evening.
Cornelius Obonya on the other hand did much better in the title role. His recitation and his acting are highly elegant and convincing. The way he uses breaks and the speed of talking are really effective and supported the drama of the plot very well. Personally I though that his Peer was a bit too much of a macho and to little of a simple naive boy who does not do anything bad on purpose. However he did an excellent job and was definitely the right choice for this performance.
Alltogether it was a very enjoyable evening that carried the audience off to the far lands of Norway, the Sahara and other fantastic places. I hope that other houses take those performances at the Oper Graz as an example and are also establishing productions of this wonderful drama with its magnificent music. Therefor I give 8 starts to the Peer Gynt production in Graz.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

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