Tuesday 16 September 2014

Franz Schubert, Fierrabras - Salzburger Festspiele

Performance 27th August

My last visit of this year's festival was the rarely performed Schubert opera Fierrabras. Schubert, who might be the king of Lieder, was not really lucky with his operatic works. The bad librettos and the sometimes complicated plots are reasons why Schubert's operas are not really known nowadays. That is really a pity because his music is really great and has dramatic outbursts that I would never have expected by Schubert. His music reminds me of a mixture of Mozart and Weber.
The festival did a great job performing a rarity like that and showed that Schubert's operas are worth being rediscovered. The big problems with the production was the production itself. Peter Stein directed a Production that reminded me of an old bad knight saga for children. The costumes (Annamarie Heinreich) and the staging (Ferdinand Wögerbauer), although beautifully designed, just gave a very cheesy impression and together with Stein's directing some hilarious moments were created where hilarity should not happen.
At least the musical execution was great and showed the charms of the opera composer Schubert. Ingo Metzmacher conducted the Wiener Philharmoniker with great finesse, delicate taste and enough dramatic power. Also the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor convinced me once again with very tasteful singing.
The singers gave a great performance and sang on a very high level. Manuel Walser, a protegé of Brigitte Fassbaender and contestant of the YSP, sang the role of Brutamonte. His baritone is very good and it is incredible how well he conducts it if you think of his young age. He should have had a bigger role than that to show off his talent appropriately. Marie-Claude Chappuis sang the role of Maragond which was also very little for this beautiful voice. She sang a very beautiful duet with Florinda, but had no chance to let us hear her beautiful mezzo more afterwards. The also quite small role of Boland was performed by Peter Kálmán. He also did a good job. Unfortunately at bigger ensemble scenes he had some issues to be heard over the other musicians.
Georg Zeppenfeld also gave a great performance as a very noble and graceful King Karl. His profound bass sounds very elegant and his diction is very exemplary. His portrayal was very convincing and showed a great sense of acting.
Roland (not to change with Boland) was sung by Markus Werba, who has a light voice that seems to be more appropriate for more comedic roles like Papageno or Beckmesser. He surely did a good job but seemed a little bit wrong for a heroic role like that. Nevertheless his voice was able to perform this role without big problems.
Dorothea Röschmann sang Roland's big love and sister of Fierrabras, Florinda. Her voice has grown even bigger and more dramatic since her triumph as Countess Almaviva in 2006. She convinces with a strong lower and middle register which sounds very characteristic and velvet-like. Her dramatic outbursts were really impressive and her phrasing very tasteful. Also her acting is very good and shows a great dramatic feeling.
Eginhard was sung by Benjamin Bernheim, who I never heard of before. His tenor sounds very youthful but already quite heroic which fits this role perfectly. He understood to hold the balance between heroic and light lyric singing. Also the duets with Emma were highlights of the whole performance.
His counterpart was Emma, daughter of King Karl, and was sung by German soprano Julia Kleiter. She has a lovely lyric soprano voice with beautiful phrasing and a great sense of musical form. She did quite well in this role with all its lovely songs, duets and ensemble scenes. The smooth transitions and the clear sound of her voice were really great. She was definitely one of the highlights for me.
Finally the main protagonist, Fierrabras, was performed by Michael Schade, who is known mainly for his Mozart singing. His performance is probably summarized best by one word: vanity. He is quite famous and although his voice has nothing special he seems to think he is the king of all tenors. The moment he comes on stage you can clearly tell that he thinks of himself as the great star of the production which was quite annoying. Anyway his singing was ok and I really mean ok. His sound is, as I said, not really special and has a very nasal timbre. Sometimes he tries to sound more heroic which ends in a very strained sound that does not really help his nasal timbre.
Anyway the whole production gets 8 stars (just because of the musical part) due the bad production and the even worse libretto.

Friday 12 September 2014

Giuseppe Verdi, Il Trovatore - Salzburger Festspiele

Performance 24th August

Lucky as I am, I finally managed to see this years main production of our festival for its last performance: Il Trovatore. Verdi's opera with the crazy and confusing story / libretto, but also with the many famous hits is a huge opus with enormously demanding roles and various difficulties for the producers.
The production of Alvis Hermanis transfers the plot into a museum where the museum guide dream themselves into the plot of the pictures on the walls. What sounds like a cheap copy of a Ben Stiller movie looked very beautiful on stage, but did not really help the complicated story. After a while it was just boring and annoying when the walls with the pictures moved around and showed new perspectives all the time. The costumes of Eva Dessecker were nice but sometimes not really flattering.
Daniele Gatti was conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor acceptable (at least not a disaster like last year's Meistersinger) but not really delicate and thrilling as a Trovatore should be. The orchestra was better than in Rosenkavalier and probably would have been even better with a better conductor. The choir was a highlight of the evening and showed that the Wiener Staatsopernchor can easily compete with other big choirs.
Another big highlight was Diana Haller - a contestant of the Young Singer's Project - as Leonora's confidant Ines. Her mezzo soprano has a very nice timbre and her stamina is on a good way. I had the pleasure to see her in a masterclass with Christa Ludwig at the beginning of the festival where she performed a Hugo Wolf song and showed great musical and dramatic talent.
Riccardo Zanellato as Ferrando had a very big profound voice which allowed him to give a very grim and fierce portrayal of this role. He transmitted great seriousness throughout the whole performance.
Artur Rucinski replaced Placido Domingo as Luna and gave a great performance. He has a very powerful and also very beautiful baritone voice which he conducts very secure and sophisticated. He is way better in this role than Domingo could ever be, because an old tenor is an old tenor and not a baritone. I hope that Domingo retires soon, for his own sake. Taking up new roles is totally immature and does not serve anyone but his ego.
Marie-Nicole Lemieux was a very powerful Azucena and totally fulfilled my expectations. Her lower register is very dark and has a very characteristic sound. Her higher register also shows a good stamina and a nice balance of dramatic and delicate sound. The only criticism I could do is that her final line (Sei vendicata, o Madre) ran a little short during the highnote, but as another critic wrote: noone falls down like Ms: Lemieux.
The role of the Trovatore Manrico was sung by Francesco Meli who I already saw last year in Giovanna d'Arco where I really liked him a lot. Unfortunately he could not do the same in this role. Throughout the whole performance he seemed to be enormously strained. Especially in the high parts of this role he was quite pitchy sometimes. The famous cabaletta during the 3rd act " Di quella pira" was a little disaster. The high notes were totally bad (if he reached the right notes) and you could tell that he feels really insecure and uncomfortable. Maybe this role is too dramatic for him and he should stick to lighter roles.
Anyway the star of the evening, of course, was Anna Netrebko as Leonora. She once again showed that her fame is totally comprehensible. Throughout the last years her voice gained power, depth and dramatic sound. Her stamina and her velvet-like sound make her one of the most beautiful soprano voices of our time. Even during the big orchestral passages her voice was able to be heard without any problems. Even her enormously delicate pianissimi are powerful enough not to be covered by the orchestra. The dynamic range of her voice is really impressive and allows her to show various emotional facets. Her coloraturas are also very impressive if you think of the size of her voice. Of course her coloraturas might not be the best ones but they are better than most I've ever heard. The role of Leonora fits her voice like a glove and she fills the role with great dramatic competence. Her acting is just phenomenal and is more authentic than most other singers. She totally knows how to deliver a role psyche and emotional life. The only thing that I missed was the final high d flat in the final terzet of the first act. I was quite sure that she would give us the pleasure of that note, but obviously she did sing it during this run.
Anyway, the performance was great with small deficits. I give Salzburg's Trovatore 9 stars.