Wednesday 21 October 2015

Georges Bizet, Carmen - Salzburger Landestheater, Felsenreitschule

Premiere performance 18th October

If George Bizet had written his opera Carmen today maybe the people on stage wouldn't work at a cigarette factory and smuggle cigarettes but doing this with drugs. That’s exactly what the audience had to go through in the new production of the opera by Andreas Gergen at the Salzburger Landestheater, which had its opening night last sunday. In co-operation with Peter J. Davidson (stage set) and Conny Lüders (costumes) he creates an atmosphere of the drug-war, like it is happening nowadays in Mexico. This point stands out clearly at the beginning when the "fate-motive" is heard first in the overture: one of the extras shoots up himself to death and is carried off stage by some of the soldiers during the first choir. But also the field of red poppy speaks for the production of drugs. Well, why not? The audience would even see over the scene in which Carmen gives Don Jose the flower and pours water out of a bucket onto him - originally she throws it on him - and a modern hero of bullfight is expected to drive an extravagant luxurious car and to have a tightdressed woman on his side like a popstar today. Though you have to get used to the costumes especially to the women’s' one. Frasquita's and Mercedes's dress are covered with sequins and remembered me of the production of La cage aux follies just as the bull-costumes of the female ballet dancers: shocking pink hot pants and bras - again with sequins - , the baby-blue patent boots and the glittering golden horns. But on the top of this Michaela's costume during her aria "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante": Jose shoots up himself before this aria and hallucinate her as Madonna wearing a blue cloak, a pink glittering dress and a halo in combination with a tiara. An interesting interpretation which is turned into absurdity by the costume. The men were luckier with their costumes: military uniforms, black trousers and shirts for the smugglers and stylized torero-pants in purple for the male dancers and white for Escamillo.
The scenery of the Felsenreitschule is used partly: at the beginning of the third act there were three smugglers coming down the wall and also the gallery was in use. At the final scene the choir - playing the audience of the bullfight - and some of the brass section where positioned there and in the second act the ballet dancers performed the dance Carmen should dance for Don Jose, which wasn't really showed on stage. At this point it should be mentioned that the ballet ensemble (choreography: Peter Breuer) presented a solid performance but should work a bit more on the synchronicity.
The last scene turns up a question which is not answered to the audience: what is happening with the feelings of Jose? First of all he stabbed her with a knife in a really unspectacular way - the audience may have expected that he shoots her up to death - after that he rejoices before he breaks down crying on his beloved Carmen. What was Andreas Gergen thinking about at this scene? This question also appears if you're thinking about the extra-person on stages representing the death. He wasn't as disturbing as the marionettes in the Zauberflöte production last season but just as superfluous as them.
All in one a production which isn't that bad but could be staged at the Landestheater in the same way what would be better for the singers because the room isn't that big.
Elena Stikhin (Michaela) with her brilliant and clear lyric soprano and Raimundus Juzuitis (Zuniga) with his dark but still youthfully sounding bass voice were the only ones of the soloist ensemble who really convinced by their singing and acting level. They had no problems with the wideness an size of the room and could be heard clear over the orchestra sound.(Normally you say the orchestra is too loud if you don’t hear the singers enough but in this case the orchestra’s sound level was appropriate for the room.) In the speaking passage it was the same the actors weren’t talking loudly enough so that they could be heard clearly except of Raimundus Juzuitis.
Concerning the acting Oksana Volkova (Carmen) and Andeka Gorrotxategi (Don Jose) did a good job. He had a really nice sounding bright lyric tenor which matches to the role and could reflect emotions in his voice. But it was a pity that he nearly wasn’t able to be heard over the orchestra in his middle register at some passages. Similar in Vonkova’s case. Her voice was rather dark sounding, sometimes to dark so that she sounded muffled. The mentioned problem to drown the orchestra was also to be heard in the performance of the other soloist: Elliott Carlton Hines (Morales/Dancairo), Zachary Nelson (Escamillio) together with Laura Nicorescu (Frasquita), Rowan Hellier (Mercedes) and Franz Supper (Remendado) who are in the soloist ensemble of the Landestheater. It also should be mentioned that the voices of Laura Nicorescu and Rowan Hellier didn’t assort well with each other in some passages.
The Chor des Salzburger Landestheaters ( + extra-choir) (rehearsal: Stefan Müller) and the children’s choir (rehearsal: Wolfgang Götz) did a very good job.
The performance, especially of the soloists of the wind instruments (Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg), under the conductorship of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla was outstanding. She conducted in clear, big and fluent movements which were also energetic and active. Next to the space-filling sound she was able to outline chamber music like passages very well too. For this reason alone the performance is worth visiting.
All in one the performance gets 6 stars and I wish they would relocate the production in the next season into the Landestheater which would be better in terms of acoustics for the singers.
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Reviewed by Katharina Schiller

Sunday 4 October 2015

Giuseppe Verdi, Aida - Bayerische Staatsoper München

Performance 1st October 

With a cast like at that evening you certainly look forward to your visit of the opera with huge expectations: Krassimira Stoyanova in the title role and Jonas Kaufmann doing his stage debut as Radamès (if you are not considering the concertante performance in Rome last February for the Warner recording that came out recently) in one of the most popular Verdi operas. But let us start with the less pleasing aspects of that overall very successful evening.
Christof Nels production does not come up with a very convincing concept and the staging of the singers stays quite static over the whole performance. Unfortunately Jens Kilians weak scenery can not really enhance the general visual impression of the production, because there is only a very simplified edged and plain building on the stage that does not allow any associations to develop. The fact that this draft of a building is spinning during almost the whole opera does not make it more creative.
Anyway, the casting of the singers could compensate the lame staging concept easily. Although Christophoros Stamboglis still seemed a little bit ailing (he was subbed by Ain Anger at the previous performance and also will be subbed by him for the last two performances in this month), he still did a respectable job as the harsh priest Ramfis who shows absolutely no mercy for the Ethiopian prisoners of war or Radamès. Franco Vassallo convinced as the Ethiopian king Amonasro and with his powerful baritone voice he radiated such an authority that Aida's submitting to her father’s demand in the third act seemed very comprehensible.
Anna Smirnova's voice sounded kind of faint during Amneris’ less emotional parts but apart from that she has a strong voice that found its complete expression during her attacks of jealousy and her hysteric collapse when Radamès signs his own death warrant by not justifying himself after his act of treason. Unlike Krassimira Stoyanova who could draw on almost unlimited resources of colours by what she managed to reveal the inner conflict between her patriotism and the love to her father on the one hand and the passionate attraction towards Radamès on the other hand. While singing at all volumes with such a lightness, she exhaled a breathtaking subtle beauty especially during her piano parts.
Who could keep pace better with such a superb cast title role than splendid Jonas Kaufmann? Although Dan Ettinger's conducting seemed a bit undifferentiated and too loud at some parts so the singers had their difficulties to prevail over the orchestra and Kaufmann did not use the full power of his voice before the intermission, the tenor did absolutely not spare himself during the last two acts. The finale of the third act and particularly the last line of it „Sacerdote, io resto a te“ was pure dramatic intensity and the duet at the end of the opera between Stoyanova and Kaufmann proved that those two wonderful voices fit together perfectly.
 For that musical magnificent performance with a great singer ensemble but one limitation of a not always perfectly balanced orchestra and a quite weak staging I would still give 8 stars.
reviewed by Lukas Leipfinger

NEWS - New authors starting to write for the Operatic Musicologist - NEWS

It is my great pleasure to announce two new members of this project. Mr. Lukas Leipfinger will cover performances in Munich. You can already find his short bio online here and later today his first review (Aida in Munich) will be available. The second person is Ms. Christine Arnold, B.A., who will write about performances in Essen and the surrounding area (including the Deutsche Oper am Rhein). Her short bio will be available soon as well. More authors will be announced soon. In future you will find the author of every review at the very end of it.