Monday 23 November 2015

Sergei Prokofiev, The Love for Three Oranges – Aalto Theater 

Performance 21st November 

There are many too rarely played operas which would enhance the repertoires of the opera houses across the country. The Aalto Theater in Essen is mixing up their old beloved repertoire, consisting of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner, with infrequent played operas as The Love for Three Oranges by Prokofiev. Its fantastical content and pictorial speaking music is drawing the story of a prince whose illness can only be cured by his own laughter. After convalescing, a bane forces him being in love with three oranges which he is in need to find. As always in fairytales, in the end the prince is getting his princess and they all lived happily ever after.
The Aalto Theater uses a staging of De Nationale Opera Amsterdam from 2005 to play Prokofiev's opera. Laurent Pelly's production is set up in a land of cards which reminds of Alice in Wonderland (stage set: Chantal Thomas). Even the choir is dressed in colours of cards (costumes: Laurent Pelly) to show patriotism to their king's land. Notably was the opera choir and extra-choir of the Aalto Theater (rehearsal: Patrick Jaskolka) presenting its full dramatic power in the final. In this way he created a heroic ending. Big part of this production is a massive amount of movements and crosses over the stage (rehearsal: Nico Weggemans). This brings liveliness into the staging and with little extra pantomime in the singer's playing, this partially overdramatic opera got a wisp of humor.
Tijl Faveyts as King Treff demonstrated a worried father whose son's illness is causing him sorrow, which he showed with his warm and soft voice. As the king's advisor Pantalon, Martijn Cornet represented the counterpart to his king. Cornet’s bright baritone voice with a natural height and exaggerated acting were one of the premiere night’s highlight. Alexey Sayapin showed up as splendidly casted for the melancholy prince. He played with his lyric tenor voice to create an atmosphere something in between of awfully wistful and kind of tragic-comical. His love to princess Ninetta (Christina Clark) sang Sayapin with plenty of melodiousness. This was the part when Sayapin showed the power in his young voice. Christina Clark sang with a gentle and very clear voice. Especially the high notes were sung in a precise way to make a difference to the wicked Fata Morgana (Teiya Kasahara). Her interpretation consisted of big vibratos and a full sound in her flexible voice. Albrecht Kludszuweit as the court jester Truffaldino amused not only the prince but also the audience. He fits perfectly into the concept of this production as it seems he is never standing still at one spot. Kludszuweit transported the idea of an always happy jester who would leave nothing untried to make his prince smile. In spite of all his dancing and jumping was his voice not suffering from this acting and appeared in a highly clear but strong manner. The Essener Philharmoniker under Yannis Pouspourikas could have given even more sound in Truffaldinos parts as his voice came easily over the orchestra and filled the auditorium. Heiko Trinsinger in his role as the evildoer Leander showed a dark timbre and was perfectly in harmony with soprano An De Ridder as the cruel Clarisse. According to the score this part requires a contralto. This is maybe why An De Ridder’s could not show the full volume of her beautiful voice. Especially the lower parts could not stand the orchestra. Fata Morganas antagonist the wizard Tschelio was sung by Bart Driessen with a markedly deep and full timbre. The audience gave Baurzhan Anderzhanov a big laughter for his entrance as the cook. No one expected such a deep bass voice coming out of the clearly feminine dressed woman’s mouth. Anderzhanov gave his voice a smoky and dirty sound which frightened the protagonists Truffaldino and the prince.
This production is great theater with superb singers who are also able to act and interact with the audience. Set and costume design matches perfectly. I only could not figure out why the light design (Joël Adam) was kept very bright through the whole opera. In my opinion more often changing and diverse lights would have created an even more magical staging. But maybe exactly this was the intention: maybe this bright light was likewise a reminder, that the surreal story on stage can never happen in reality.
This well elaborated production and the great cast get 8 out of 10 stars.
Reviewed by Christine Arnold

Sunday 1 November 2015

Arrigo Boito, Mefistofele - Bayerische Staatsoper 

Performance 29th October 

As a highlight already at the beginning of the season the Bavarian State Opera came up with their first production of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele in the history of this prestigious theatre. The opera is adapted from Goethe’s Faust I and II.
Very suitable for the home of the „spirit that always denies“ Roland Schwab’s staging starts in a nihilistic chaos of wreckages where Mefistofele lives with his own kind and begins the opera by himself by putting on a gramophone record. This seems like a witty idea considering that the whole action of the drama is initiated by the devil who makes a bet with god. Piero Vinciguerra is accountable for the gripping scenery that never disturbed the music, even at the very dynamic, visual thrilling Walpurgis Night, when the floor under the dancing witches divided in three areas moves up and down while big fountains spew fire.
Also the concept of a stage that belongs to Mefistofele who plays with the humans as puppets that only move in a prison of their lowest desires for the devil’s amusement and get seduced to drinking, debaucheries, raping and killing, was very exciting and clarified by the huge wave-shaped grids on the left and the right of the stage as an implied prison. The grids stay there for the whole opera, surrounding the Oktoberfest, the table, where Faust sits together with Margherita and seduces her, the Walpurgis Night, the dungeon, where Margherita is held captive after killing her mother and her child and the mental home, where Faust stays together with Alzheimer’s patients, because he wants to forget the sins he committed.
These grids and the often-present wafts of mist allowed Michael Bauer to do impressing plays with the light, like in the fourth act when the beams of the spotlights created a „M“ through the fog. The production also works with wellimplemented video projections (Lea Heutelbeck) by which impressions are accomplished that go outside the envelope of the stage machinery. For example when Mefistofele and Faust fly through the night on a Motorcycle and behind them you could see the fast moving eye of the camera on a huge screen flying between skyscrapers.
It was absolutely fascinating how much pathos Omer Meir Wellber carried from the score into the musical performance of the orchestra. The finale of the Epilogue was performed with a maximum of volume and energy. It seemed very convincing and not disturbing that at the end of the opera the huge sound of the orchestra and choir of angelic hosts and cherubims overlayed Mefistofele’s part in a thrilling way, because the devil is left standing without Faust’s soul, who gets redeemed. Even if the staging was not that explicit about the end and left Faust’s salvation open, Mefistofele gets forced to his knees by the power of this tremendous music that spoke for itself.
Besides the solid casted smaller roles Boito’s Mefistofele contains three main roles that appear as real characters and not just stereotypes of their own. Even if Margherita’s part is not very long, Kristine Opolais sticks in one’s memory with the dungeon scene in the third act. She overwhelmed the audience as the regretting daughter and mother who had killed her own mother to be able to spend a night with Faust and drowned her own baby, the result of this sin, afterwards. After Opolais performed the unidimensional naive girl that gets seduced by Faust in the second act, her voice presents totally different colors while acting completely overcome with hysteria.
Faust’s part is not easy at all with all that high notes and requires a strong voice with a huge stamina. Joseph Calleja was absolutely able to deliver and was reliable at all registers. With his marvellous voice that generated a contrast to the dominating gloominess of the scenery Faust’s soul just had to be saved to sing with the angels.
But the focus in Boito’s opera is set on Mefistofele, as the title suggests it. René Pape gave a stunning Mefistofele and because of his strong but not black voice he also was quite a likeable „spirit that always denies“. In his purple suit, black gloves and red patent-leather shoes he looks like a mafia don, later like a rockstar in his black leather jacket and on his black Harley Davidson-motorcycle, on which he takes Faust on a journey through time and space. Also his acting was very powerful from the beginning when he challenges god very nonchalantly and stays quite lethargic confronting the suffering and loving humans, while at the end with the insight that he only managed to help saving a soul by trying to seduce it once again, he plays himself into madness.
9 Stars for a musical excellent performance with a dream cast and an exciting staging of this (unjustly) rarely performed opera!
Reviewed by Lukas Leipfinger