Sunday, 18 June 2017

Richard Strauss, Arabella - Oper Leipzig

Performance 16th June

Everyone who reads my blog knows that Leipzig has always been a regular destination for me due to the intensive Strauss and Wagner programming here and also because of their casting choices. After almost 3 1/2 years I am happy that it is also part of my last big trip as reviewer visiting the Strauss weekend with three Strauss operas in a row starting with his lyrical comedy, Arabella.
The production by Jan Schmidt-Garre combines elegance and plain simplicity. The focus of his works is bringing out the relations and emotions of the different characters which works out really well. The puzzle-like stage (Heike Scheele) is changing almost constantly and creates an insecure undecisive atmosphere which suits the story perfectly. I especially liked the elegant and beautiful costumes by Thomas Kaiser which gave the evening some noble radiance.
Ulf Schirmer conducted the performance and showed a clean score full of details. He knows the music very well, but unfortunately he has this utterly annoying tendency to let the orchestra be too loud. That caused some problems that evening and left some singers almost unheard. The Gewandhausorchester, though playing the score really wonderfully, simply covered the singers most of the times when they should rather be in the background. Certain moments like the love duet in act 2 (Und du wirst mein Gebieter) simply cannot unfold their magic when the music is too loud which was the case for most of the evening.
Most of the small roles were cast very well with a great spectrum of voices. Paul McNamara, Jürgen Kurth and Sejong Chang convinced as the three elegant and jealous Counts Elemer, Dominik and Lamoral. Katja Pieweck gave a solid performance during her short scene as Kartenaufschlägerin and Diana Tomsche enchanted the audience as stratospheric Fiakermilli.
Jan-Hendrik Rooterin as Waldner was unfortunately rather weak and had serious issues to be heard at all. He played the role very convincing, but it was really hard to hear him, especially when someone else was singing too. Same is valid for Renate Behle as Adelaide. Some notes were breaking through the orchestra without problems, but much of her singing did not succeed to do so.
As Matteo we heard Markus Francke who gave a solid performance with a youthful bright tenor voice. He was very convincing in his role and showed great acting talent as well as a deep understanding of the character. His top could sound easier everynow and then, but alltogether he gave a pleasing performance.
Olena Tokar also sang the role of Zdenka with great passion and devotion. Her full and strong soprano easily soars over the orchestra and has a beautiful timbre. She gave a lovely performance even though I was hoping for more light clarity in her timbre which is quite important for Strauss roles like this one. If her top notes only had this special Straussian silvery tone she would be a perfect cast.
Thomas J. Mayer is an experienced Mandryka who knows the tricky parts of the role and knows how get through it without problems. He is probably one of the leading singers for this part at the moment and it was a pleasure to hear him in it again. His strong and warm baritone voice has the necessary power and stamina to fight the wall of sound that Schirmer sends from the orchestra pit and he is really convincing as Mandryka.
Last, but not least, the role of Arabella was sung by Betsy Horne who has a wonderful full-bodied voice that combines a beautiful timbre with the flexibility and ability to fill the Straussian parlando style with life. I think her voice has the perfect colour for this role, but she has to work on her top which strikes me rather unreliable. There is a distinct break between middle and upper register which needs a more even transition so that she can let the top notes float with more ease.
Alltogether it was a solid performance with some lovely moments. If only the loudness did not affect the overall impression that much... 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

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