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.

Richard Wagner, Die Feen - Oper Leipzig

Performance 27th June

Last weekend I undertook another trip to Leipzig to see two beautiful operas in one of the best opera houses in Europe. Yes, I would definitely say that the Oper Leipzig is on the way to be an opera house of international ranking! But more of that later...
The performance of Wagner's early opera Die Feen was a revival of the last season when it was played for Wagner's 200th anniversary. The production by the team Barbe & Doucet (production: Renaud Doucet, set & costumes: André Barbe) is very colorful (almost too much) and plays with the interesting idea of transferring the plot in another dimension. A family father hears the oper Die Feen in the radio (LIVE from the opera Leipzig) and while he's sitting there and listening, he becomes a part of the plot as the main protagonist Arindal. The whole idea might not be everyone's sake but is quite funny and well elaborated. This interpretation of the work helps to overcome the opera's dramatic weaknesses.
Musically Die Feen is influenced by the great early works of German opera like Der Freischütz, Fidelio and so on. One can clearly hear the influences of Weber, Beethoven and Marschner although Wagner's own style is already perceivable.
Matthias Foremny conducts the famous Gewandhausorchester with great elan and an interpretation that shows all those influences with much elegance and musical intelligence. The orchestra plays very well with only minor impurities and accompanies the singers very beautifully.
The two fairies Zemina and Farzana, who try to get Ada back to fairy land, were sung by Magdalena Hinterdobler and Jean Broekhuizen. Both sang very nicely and did a marvellous performance together. Eun Yee You and Paula Rummel interpreted Lora (Arindal's sister) and Drolla (Lora's maid). While Paula Rummel was a lovely comedic Drolla with strong voice, Eun Yee You had serious problems with the role of Lora which was way to heavy for the quite light soprano voice. She lacked the needed stamina and was unfortunately covered very easily by the orchestra.
Mathias Hausmann, Milcho Borovinov and Ferdinand von Bothmer did a good job as Morald, Gernot and Gunther (Arindal's followers). All three of them were very convincing and showed no problems with their roles.
But now to the main protagonists: As Arindal the young danish tenor David Danholt got new into the production and filled the role with a very pleasing beautiful tenor voice with a youthful but dramatic timbre. His voice could have been a little more powerful but his performance was very good anyway. A small deficit was his one dimensional acting which could be more believable.
Once again the big highlight of the evening was Christiane Libor as Ada. Her voice suits the vocal requirements perfectly and delivers the dramatic indications of the later Wagner as well as the agility of the Italian influences with all the coloraturas, runs and scales. From her cavatina during the first act until the dramatic climax of the second act her voice mixes dramatic power with sheer beauty of the tone. Her incredible technique enables her to perform the most delicate pianos as well as dramatic outbreaks with enormous power.
I am very happy that I took the chance to hear this final performance in Leipzig and give the performance 8 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Richard Strauss, Orchesterkonzert IV - Richard Strauss Festival

19th June

Yesterday the last performance of the Richard Strauss Festival in Garmisch-Partenkirchen took place and included an amazing cast. The programm featured Strauss' Don Juan, the famous duet of Arabella and Zdenka from Arabella, the final Aria of the composer from Ariadne auf Naxos, Salome's dance and finally some scenes from Der Rosenkavalier.
The Bamberger Symphoniker, conducted by Karl-Heinz Steffens, gave an intensive performance with only a few small inaccuracies (barely identifiable for the normal audience) that didn't bother the overall impression. Something that bothered me personally more was the tempi that seemed a little bit fast (although it was not a big problem).
The concert was hosted by the festival's director, the legendary Brigitte Fassbaender, who did the whole presentation with in rhyme (which was incredibly entertaining and hilarious). The performers included Christiane Libor, Anja-Nina Bahrmann, Michelle Breedt, Carole Wilson and Franz Hawlata.
The roles of Zdenka and Sophie were performed by Anja Nina Bahrmann who's voice is a very beautiful instrument with considerable strength. She can be heard over the orchestra throughout every register and has a very clear upper register while the deeper registers possess a darker timbre. One might wish her voice to sound more pure and angelic but she did a good job anyway.
Michelle Breedt sang the composer before she performed an exceptional Octavian. Interestingly she wasn't that convincing as composer. Her voice is very expressive and possesses a very clear upper register for a mezzo. Her Octavian was clearly one of the highlights of this evening. Not just because of her amazing musical interpretation but also due to her incredible acting skills that were really stunning. Every single movement in her gesturing and her facial expressions seemed enormously authentic and convincing.
Also Carole Wilson showed comedic talent as Rosenkavalier's Annina, which she performed very well. Unfortunately her appearance was only very short so she didn't really have the chance to give a stronger impression.
The only male performer of the evening, Franz Hawlata, showed why all big opera houses book him as Ochs with an impeccable rendition of the second act finale of the Rosenkavalier. His acting and his viennese dialect are very convincing and match with his solid bass voice.
The highlight of the evening was without doubt the soprano Christiane Libor who sang Arabella and the Marschallin. Her stamina is enormously impressing and still her voice sounds fresh andis capable of singing lyric phrases with outstanding beauty of the tone. Also her diction is exemplary which goes with hand in hand with her amazing dramatic expression. Her Arabella was dreamy and longing, her Marschallin melancholic and graceful. Without any doubt, Ms. Libor is one of the best singers of the German repertory at the moment. Her incredibly strong and beautiful voice can even compete with singers of the past like Regine Crespin, Gundula Janowitz or even Jessye Norman.
So finally the concert is surely one of my highlights so far due to the perfect vocal performance and the exciting programme. The Strauss Festival Garmisch-Partenkirchen satisfies with quality, intelligent programme and the spirit of Strauss' adopted home.
The concert receives 9 stars out of 10.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Richard Wagner, Die Walküre - Linzer Musiktheater

Performance 14th June

After the start of the RING with Rheingold Linz continues with the second evening of Wagner's opus magnum: Die Walküre.
Maybe the best known one of the for operas, Walküre features 3 acts of incredible music including the first act's scenes with the human silblings Siegmund and Sieglinde, the ride of the Valkyries and the fire magic in the 3rd act.
The production of Uwe Eric Laufenberg  (staging: Gisbert Jäkel, costumes: Antje Sternberg) shows a very reasonable and understandable interpretation of the plot which is transferred into the German countryside. It features Wotan as military commander and Sieglinde as waitress in a tavern. The aestetics of the set are satisfactory and support the plot adequately. During the ride of the valkyries a horse does some circles on the stage while the riding valkyrie is throwing around corpse parts. The production might not be the most sophisticated one but pleases with a nice overall impression.
Dennis Russell Davies conducts the Bruckner Orchester Linz with a very academic almost boring attitude and keeps the volume-level quite low (unfortunately also during the big outbreaks without singing). His conducting is not totally bad but leaves more dramatic excitement and dynamical contrast to be desired. The orchestral part sounds like driving a car with tightened breaks.
The vocal ensemble is good but not more. Most solists are able to perform the roles solidly but make the impression that they're not totally in their element. In total the singers are quite good for a production of a "small" opera company and delivered a solid performance.
Michael Bedjai sings a Siegmund who is able to prove himself against the big orchestra but is also able to sing lyric passages. His "Wälse"-shouts in the first act are long and strong and show enormous dramatic potential. A little deficit are his partly too strong portamenti which can be annoying on time.
Sonja Gornik also gives a good performance as Siegmund's sister Sieglinde. She knows how to use her strong and pure soprano in a very smart and convincing way. Only the sound sometimes seems a little bit slim (although her stamina is good) and could be a little bit warmer and velvet-like. She delivers the tragic figure of Sieglinde very appropriatly and gives a shy but emphatic portrait of the role.
Dominik Nekel is a good Hunding who has a good deep register that could be a little bit darker. Nevertheless he sang the role very convincing and showed good acting skills.
The production's Wotan, Gerd Grochowski, has a strong bariton voice with a very clear upper register and sings the role without any difficulties. His articulation leaves no wishes and the timbre reminds of a lighter version of Hans Hotter. Weather Wotan is angry, desperate or happy, Grochowski always finds the appropriate sound for the different situations and portrays the god very adequately.
Fricka, sung by Karen Robertson, is confronted with problems that already appeared in the performances of Rheingold. Robertson's voice lacks the necessary stamina although her interpretation shows very smart dramatic abilities. If her voice was just a little stronger with a darker timbre she would be a astonishing Fricka. Nevertheless her portrait is steady and not too bad.
Elena Nebera, the woman of the evening, gives an acceptable performance as Brünnhilde although she had serious text issues which gave a blurry impression. Her voice has a good upper register and a very dark (almost mezzo-like) lower and middle register. Unfortunately she makes the impression that she doesn't know exactly what she is singing. Her acting skills are quite one dimensional and not really convincing. Moreover the musical articulation could be more exciting and more precise.
The valkyries feature some very impressing and some less impressing singers but give an overall good performance in the end.
Finally the production is recommendable as long as you're not expecting a 1st class performance. It might have some small deficits but doesn't show big shortcomings.
I would give the production steady 6 stars out of 10.

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