Tuesday 28 July 2015

Franz Schubert, Lazarus - Salzburger Festspiele, Felsenreitschule

Performance 24th July

The first concert I attended at the Salzburg festival was part of the Ouverture spirituelle and featured two most interesting fragments by Schubert. First the famous "Unfinished" symphony and the also unfinished "Lazarus".
The concert was conducted by Ingo Metzmacher who is a master of colorful intellectual interpretations. He made all the different colors and shades of darkness from the gloomy score of Lazarus to hearable and managed to give a most pleasurable performance. The Camerata Salzburg seemed to have some issues to fulfill all his requirements and seemed not totally harmoniously. Especially during the beginning of Lazarus there obviously were some serious issues because Metzmacher stopped the performance after the first few minutes and started everything again leaving the audience quite surprised.
The symphony was performed very interesting with a magnificent dynamic range that really impressed me a lot. The dramatic flow of the first movements was just ravishing and left me breathless while the second movement seemed to be not as exact as the other one.
After the second start also Lazarus went off very well and the orchestra managed to follow Metzmacher's instructions without any issues. The Bachchor Salzburg gave a wonderful performance during the few choral passages and sounded very spiritual and pious. The soprano solo during the second part sung by Bachchor member Anna Hempel who sang her part very well with a very beautiful and delicate voice.
The role of Simon was performed by Thomas E. Bauer who seemed a little bit mannered from time to time. Also I sometimes thought his voice could be a little broader, but anyway I had a fine overall impression.
Sophie Karthäuser gave a very bright and light Jemina with a clear upper register and a very soubrette-like timbre. She performed her small scene during the first part very well.
Werner Güra sang the role of Nathanael and convinced with a very delicate and soft tenor voice. His portrayal was very touching and the role suited his noble voice perfectly. Especially during the delicate parts he was really impressing.
As Martha we heard German soprano Christiane Libor, who was a pleasing contrast to the light sopranos. Her Wagner-proven voice convinces with great balance between powerful stamina and delicate pianissimi. It is such a pity that the work stops during her exciting aria of the second part.
Lazarus' other sister, Maria, was performed by Marlis Petersen who also has a very light but clear soprano voice. Her timbre is not as light as Karthäuser's but still is very clear and beautiful. Her aria during the first part was sung very beautifully and made a great impression.
Last but not least Maximilian Schmitt sang the title role of Lazarus with a very noble and youthful tenor voice. His portrayal of the dying protagonist was very touching and he managed to really deliver the drama of his character.
So in the end I can say that the performance was some kind of strange and sublime at once. Nevertheless it was a pleasure to hear those interesting pieces in the matching ambiente of the Felsenreitschule (rock riding school). Salzburg's Lazarus gets 8 stars.

Friday 17 July 2015

NEWS - The Operatic Musicologist on Facebook

Since yesterday evening we have our own page on Facebook. Find new information and like the page to get a little update from time to time. We will announce upcoming visits, new writers and other stuff everynow and then, so keep informed.
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Sunday 12 July 2015

Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Tiroler Festspiele Erl (Passionsspielhaus)

Premiere performance 11th July

After the impressing Tristan I also attended the second premiere of this year's festival in Erl. The production, again leaded by Gustav Kuhn has a staging concept made by Jaafar Chalabi and costumes by Lenka Radecky. As ususal in Erl the production was quite minimalistic and especially the staging was very simple with only few accents onstage. The costumes changed between historic ones and business style costumes (the basic idea of the production is to take off old things and make place for the new). The wooden scenery was changed depending on the needs of the scene and looked very beautifully. As well did the costumes. The whole stage direction showed many small details and focused on the comic aspects of the opera. Kuhn showed that he knows the opera and its requirements very well and built up a lovely production.
His musical interpretation also was excellently and the orchestra (Orchester der Tiroler Festspiele Erl) gave a virtuos performance throughout the whole evening. The typical counterpoints of this opera were excellently performed by conductor and orchestra and showed how professional they work together.
The choir (Chorakademie der Tiroler Festspiele Erl) also gave a wonderful performance with the several very important choir passages. Especially during the third act the choir showed how to perform the "Festwiese".
Also the Meistersinger themselves were quite enjoyable with lovely voices and delightful acting: Giorgio Valenta as Kunz Vogelsang, Michael Doumas as Hans Foltz, Raphael Sigling as Hans Schwarz, Ulfried Haselsteiner as Ulrich Eißlinger, Nicola Ziccardi as Herman Ortel, Markus Herzog as Augustin Moser, Wolfram Wittekind as Balthasar Zorn and Frederik Baldus as Konrad Nachtigall.
Michael Mrosek, who sang Kurwenal the night before, gave a funny and lovely Fritz Kothner and Adam Horváth a noble Nachtwächter.
Magdalene, who was sung by Anna Lucia Nardi, was a little bit weak and seemed to have issues not to be covered by the orchestra. Iure Ciobanu on the other hand had a very powerful tenor voice and sung a brilliant David with gentle timbre and great phrasing.
Giovanni Battista Parodi's Veit Pogner was solid but also a little bit boring. His voice definitely suited the role but his interpretation could have been a little bit more exciting.
In the role of Beckmesser James Roser gave a excellent performance with a slim baritone voice which he definitely knew how to use. His portrayal of this very malignant character was just thrilling and very convincing. His performance was surely one of the best of the evening.
Ferdinand von Bothmer sang a very light Stolzing with great ease in his upper register. However his voice could have been a little stronger for there was a great difference of power between David and Walter. Unfortunately not to von Bothmer's advantage. Anyway, he gave a fine and solid performance.
Joo-Anne Bitter is the perfect Eva with her very beautiful voice which has a strong and clear timbre. In the beginning she seemed to be a little nervous but after a while her voice gained power, stamina and appeal. I could not imagine a better Eva for her voice just suited the role perfectly. Also her acting was very convincing and was a pleasure to watch.
And now to the secret main protagonist of the opera, Hans Sachs, who was sung by Michael Kupfer-Radecky. He also has the perfect voice for this role with its noble and euphonious timbre. His stamina is quite impressive as well and his diction makes it possible to understand every single syllable. At no point he seemed to be stressed, strained, or even exhausted. His monologues showed great artistry and his acting made the whole characterization perfect. Bravo!
Even though Meistersinger is not really my favorite opera I liked the whole performance very much. Maybe not as much as I liked the Tristan performance the day before but still I was impressed on which level the singers and instrumentalists perform this demanding opera. So I would give 8 stars to Erl's Meistersinger.

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde - Tiroler Festspiele Erl (Festspielhaus)

Premiere performance 10th July
After the Tristan performance in Munich I went on with my schedule and travelled to Erl in Tyrolia, where the "Austrian Bayreuth" is located. The Tiroler Festspiel Erl are a real pilgrimage destination for Wagnerians and lure with minimalistic productions and great young first-class singers.
The production of Tristan is leaded by musical ans scenical director Gustav Kuhn and features staging by Ina Reuter and costumes by Lenka Radecky.
The costumes remembered me of the Victorian age and looked very beautifully. The staging was quite minimalistic and just used a few props which had even more effect because of the overall simplicity. The whole production focused mostly on the acting of the protagonists which is risky but worked out very well in this production.
Kuhn and his orchestra (Orchester der Tiroler Festspiele Erl) were playing in the orchestra pit which was totally moved down and hidden by a black fabric ceiling. The audience could not see anything down there and so there was a little bit of Bayreuth atmosphere coming up. Though in Erl the orchestra sounded way more brilliant than in the special Bayreuth acoustics. The dynamic bandwidth was very big and it was a pleasure to hear them play so excellently from the most delicate beginning of the prelude to the ecstatic outbursts of the second act.
Giorgio Valenta, Markus Herzog and Frederik Baldus sang the roles of Junger Seemann, Hirt and Steuermann. All three of them have very nice strong voices with very cultivated timbre and convinced with gentle delicate phrasing. Wolfram Wittekind sang a solid Melot with a very sharp voice with a cutting timbre.
Michael Mrosek gave a wonderful Kurwenal with strong and warm voice. His timbre is very noble and has a very youthful quality. Also his acting skills made the third act very enjoyable.
As Brangäne Hermine Haselböck once again impressed me with her powerful and still very beautiful voice. She has the perfect voice for Wagner's demanding mezzo roles and has a very warm tender timbre. Her guarding song during the love scene in act 2 was magic and lured the audience into another world. Also her diction is really exemplary and impressively precise.
Franz Hawlata sang König Marke with the needed power in the lower register. His timbre might not be everyone's favorite but he did a great job in this role. The sheer despair of his character was omnipresent in his interpretation and I liked his performance very much.
A real highlight was Gianluca Zampieri as Tristan. His voice sounds quite natural and his stamina is quite impressive. Sometimes he seemed a little bit strained during higher passages but let's be honest, who would not in this incredibly demanding role? His portrayal was just great and I was really impressed by the sheer power of his voice throughout his whole range.
Same is valid for his Isolde who was sung by Mona Somm. Her voice is just huge and fills the auditorium with its warm and full timbre. Somm is a real power house and did not have any problems with singing over the full orchestra. Her upper register is clear and strong and shows that even heavy voices are able to sing good high notes. Her portrayal was very refreshing and showed Isolde as a young girl which genuinely is falling in love. Falling deep into it and finally dying because of it. Her Liebestod was quite fast but seemed very authentic and genuine.
Overall I liked Erl's Tristan very much and was thrilled by the whole performance. Therefore I give 9 stars to Erl's Tristan und Isolde.

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde - Bayerische Staatsoper, Münchner Opernfestspiele (Nationaltheater)

Performance 08th July

I had the immense pleasure and honor to be ablt to attend the first of the two last performances of Tristan und Isolde in Munich with the legendary Isolde of the last two centuries: Waltraud Meier!
But first to the production generally, which already is famous itself. Peter Konwitschny created a production that shows the emotions and intellectual content of this opus magnum appropriately. Every single move is supporting the dramatic plot and caused a very impressive impact. Supporting this great direction was the staging and the costumes of Johannes Leiacker, which seemed so abstract and just not from this world, but in a very positive way. The colorful staging and costumes created an almost magic atmosphere.
Same was valid for the music. Philippe Jordan's interpretation was so gentle and smooth, especially during the second act. He carried the singers over a most delicate carpet of sound and elicited the most marvelous virtuosity from the Bayerisches Staatsorchester, which was able to follow every command perfectly.
In the smaller roles we heard Kevin Conners as Ein Hirt, Christian Rieger as Ein Steuermann and Dean Power as Ein junger Seemann. All three of them mastered their roles very well and gave a fine performance. Francesco Petrozzi sang a fine Melot and gave a very appropriate portrayal of this quite unpleasant role.
As Brangäne Michelle Breedt jumped in for Elisabeth Kulman who cancelled her participation. Breedt did not really reach my expectations and seemed not to be the perfect choice for this role. She did not have enough power to be heard over the orchestra most of the time. She surely has a beautiful voice, but is more of a lyric mezzo soprano and Brangäne does call for much dramatic skills.
Someone who definitely has those skills is René Pape who sang König Marke with his powerful profound bass. His voice has the perfect noble and solemn timbre for this role. The finale of the second act was just magnificent and impressed me very much. Pape captured all the despair and disappointment of his role so perfectly that it was just marvelous!
Alan Held gave a solid performance as Kurwenal and especially during the final act he managed to show great acting skills and helped to make it very diverting (as diverting as Tristan 3rd act can possibly be).
Robert Dean Smith, who jumped in for the ill Peter Seiffert (I would have loved to hear Seiffert in this role), also gave a fine performance and showed that he is definitely capable of performing the role without major issues. I personally do not like the nasal timbre of his voice, but his overall performance was really fine. Especially during the third act he still seemed to have enough reserves to impress the audience with his power.
But now to the reason why I came to see the performance: Waltraud Meier's Isolde. Since she started to sing this role there has been the discussion if a mezzo can sing an appropriate Isolde and I think noone else showed better that it is definitely possible. Even more, because for me she is (or was) the Isolde of our times. Even though she might not have the very top notes anymore noone cares because everything else is just sublime and incredibly intensive. Her whole interpretation of the role is just legendary and especially the second act seemed just not from this world. Every single moment she was on stage she was capturing the attention of the audience.
In the very end during her first solo curtain call the whole auditorium seemed to explode. I have never heard such applause before and it seemed she did not expect it herself. The audience went mad and it took nearly half an hour until the applause finally ended. She even still had to get on the stage when the orchestra was already gone.
So finally I can just say that it was an incredible honor that I have been able to attend one of her final performances. I would give full 10 stars to Meier's Isolde but due to the fact that I have to assess the whole performance I would give it 9 stars.
And now I can just say: Thank you, Waltraud Meier, for the experience of such enormous artistry and an Isolde I will never forget!!!

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Richard Strauss, Arabella - Bayerische Staatsoper, Münchner Opernfestspiele (Nationaltheater)

Premiere performance 6th July

After my very ambivalent experience of last week with Pelléas I had the chance to see a wonderful rendition of Arabella yesterday at the premiere performance of the Bavarian state opera in Munich. The production of Andreas Dresen is a marvelous example of great directing with a wonderful minimalistic staging by Mathias Fischer-Dieskau and lovely costumes by Sabine Greunig. The staging had a crossing double staircase in the center and was quite dark and without many colors. The costumes on the other hand were sometimes very colorfull and so there was a wonderful contrasts between staging and costumes. This contrast had a marvelous effect and looked just stunning. Depending on the current act they turned around the stage and so you had a different view during every act.
But also musically it was just a pleasure to be there. Philippe Jordan conducted the Bayerisches Staatsorchester very gently with exemplary delicacy and sense for the "Viennese sound". The orchestra supported the singers magnificently and did a wonderful job. Especially during the famous duets of the first and second act the orchestra accompanied the singers so delicately that is was a great pleasure to listen.
The soloists were all singing on a very high level from the main protagonists to the smaller supporting roles. Heike Grötzinger managed to give a lovely short performance as Kartenaufschlägerin. Also lovely in their short appearances: Dean Power, Andrea Borghini and Steven Humes as the three counts. All three of them did a fine job as the longing lovers of Arabella.
Eir Inderhaug gave a very agile and secure Fiakermilli with a very light and crystal clear soprano voice. She managed her incredibly difficult part really well and I was quite suprised that they obviously cut out the lovely finale of the second act.
Joseph Kaiser sang a very agitated and impetuous Matteo and portrayed the role very convincing. Especially his agony and despair were really great and he sang his part very well.
As Graf Waldner we had the pleasure to hear Kurt Rydl who gave a wonderful real viennese Waldner with charming acting skills and a profound bass voice. Even if it might not be as mighty as it has been in the past he still is a very good and versatile singer.
Same is valid for Doris Soffel who sang his wife Adelaide. She still has the power and stamina to fill the auditorium. Her voice might sound quite shrill and expressive from time to time but it suited her hysteric role perfectly. Thinking about her age it is incredibly that her voice still has such a level of quality.
A highlight of the evening was Hanna-Elisabeth Müller in the role of Zdenka. Her clear and powerful light soprano suited the role very well. She portrayed the distress of her role wonderfully and I was surprised how well she developed in this role (I already saw her debut in Salzburg last year). It was simply beautiful how well her voice fitted together with Harteros' voice in the lovely duet in the first act. Simply beautiful.
Thomas J. Mayer gave an impressive Mandryka with a strong and noble baritone voice. In addition to his great vocal abilities he showed some genuinely great acting skills. He showed so many details of his character that his whole performance was really convincing.
But of course the great highlight was Anja Harteros' Arabella. I do not like everything she does but there is no doubt that she is a great singer for Strauss operas. Her voice is like silver with a very clear and beautiful timbre. Her upper register is very light and she has the ability to sing the most delicate phrases like they were nothing. Her performance as little cheeky girl was really convincing and her whole appearance was just great. She totally fitted into this role and acted it out impressively.
The whole evening was a great pleasure and I enjoyed every single second of it. I really advice everyone to not miss the online broadcast on the 11th of july. The performance gets 9 stars from me.

Friday 3 July 2015

Claude Debussy, Pelléas et Mélisande - Bayerische Staatsoper München, Münchner Opernfestspiele (Prinzregententheater)

Performance 1st July

As first performance of my summer festival season I attended the new production of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande at the Bavarian state opera Munich. The overall performance was very ambivalent. The production was horendous but the musical parts were really great.
Christiane Pohle's production was just not present. Instead of helping to unfold the complicated and very symbolic plot it made everything worse. It is a pity that such a nice piece is produced so utterly cheaply. The staging (Maria-Alice Bahra) and the costumes (Sara Kittelmann) also did not really help a lot even though they looked acceptable (still, I am so sick of hotel lobbies as staging).
At least musically it was a great success. Constantinos Carydis and the Bayrisches Staatsorchester gave a brilliant performance full of colorfull impressionistic sounds with great delicacy and proficiency.
Evgenij Kachurovsky as Ein Hirt only had to sing a few lines but did it well anyway. Also just a few sentences to sing: Peter Lobert as Ein Arzt. Anyway Lobert impressed me a lot with the sheer power and the exemplary stamina of his voice! When he opened his mouth to sing it was a real moment of shock because I did not expect him to have such a huge voice. Really impressing.
Young boy Hanno Eilers sang the role of Yniold, Golauds son, and gave a nice and solid performance. During the curtain calls he got a lot of applause and I think he totally earned it for his performance.
Alastair Miles gave a very dignified and noble old king. I thought his voice faded a little bit next to Lobert, but anyway it suited his role of the old king. Munich's universal weapon Okka von der Damerau sang Geneviéve and showed off her strong and profound mezzo. She is probably one of the most talented allrounders Munich has in its ensemble. She simply sounds great in everything she does.
In the role of Golaud we heard Markus Eiche who gave a very convincing and even disturbing performance. His portrayal of the role really made a huge impression with all its depression and despair. Vocally he was best equipped with his strong and clear baritone voice.
Elliot Madore as Pelléas seemed very youthfull and fresh. His portrayal showed his role as a quite naive and innocent child that experiences his first great love. His voice sounded great in this for a baritone very high role. He managed it without any trouble and sounded lovely throughout the evening.
Probably the best performance of the evening was done by Elena Tsallagova as Mélisande. Her voice sounds like an angel with its most delicate timbre but still has quite some power to offer. Her dreamy phrasing and the sheer purity of her sound made her performance just glorious. Her agony during the final act was just really impressive and she managed to seem more and more closer to death with every minute. As I said, just glorious.
So in the end I have to say that it would have been better to just make a concert version instead of this horrible production but the music was really great and so I enjoyed the evening (at least acoustically). The whole performance gets 7 stars (even though the production itself should not even get 5).