Tuesday 29 December 2015

Giuseppe Verdi, Nabucco - Tiroler Festspiele Erl, Festspielhaus

Revival premiere performance 27th December

As final part of this year's christmas opera marathon I went to see Nabucco at the Erl festival. The early Verdi opera features one hit after another and every role is very demanding. Especially the roles of Nabucco and Abigaile who are kind of the central characters of the plot.
The production of Andreas Leisner is, as usual for the festival, very plain and puristic. The staging of Jan Hax Halama show a simple ramp and some sort of staircase. Together with the light effects (Gustav Kuhn & Alexander Paget) it supports the plot appropriately and helps to create atmosphere. The costumes (Lenka Radecky) were long garments in different colors for the soloists and also the choir (depending on their ethnicity).
Gustav Kuhn conducted the piece excellently and created a very balanced sound with great knowledge of the pitfalls of the score. The Orchester der Tiroler Festspiele Erl followed his lead very elegantly with great accuracy and joy of playing. The brilliant sound of the orchestra was really impressive and showed great musicality. Also the Chorakademie der Tiroler Festspiele Erl did a wonderful job and performed some lovely balanced choir scenes with great dramatic sense.
The supporting roles of the Gran Sacerdote, Abdallo and Anna were performed by Nicola Ziccardi, Patrizio Saudelli and Maria Lopalco. All three of them did a good job in their roles. Especially Lopalco made quite an impression even though her role is not really such a great deal.
George Vincent Humphrey sang a very heroic Ismaele, almost too heroic for my taste. As good as he might sound as Siegfried or similar roles, he was too heavy for this role. I would have preferred a lighter voice that is more agile and has a more youthful sound. Anyway his performance was still not bad at all. Just a matter of taste.
Svetlana Kotina's Fenena was very strong with a beautiful warm timbre and quite some power throughout her range. Her lower register sounds wide and pleasant while her upper register has a more dramatic sound. I personally think that the role of Fenena is quite boring and Kotina would have earned a bigger role than that one.
As Zaccaria we heard Franz Hawlata who still has the voice for demanding roles like that. His bass voice has a very warm and pleasant lower register with a velvet like timbre. Even though he lacked a bit of real italianità he did a very good job, especially during his prayer in the second act.
My personal highlight of the evening was Sophie Gordeladze as Abigaile. I knew Gordeladze from the last new year's concert in Salzburg and I thought her voice would be too light for this heavy role. How wrong I was!! It is incredible how intensively her voice broke through the heaviest orchestral passages and still kept the light sound and agility of a light soprano. Not matter in which register she sang she was able to put so much power and focus on every single not that I was deeply impressed. Her famous cabaletta in the second act was sung magnificently even though I missed the climatic high c.
Giulio Boschetti sang a powerful and heroic Nabucco with a very heavy and imperious voice. His appearance and the sheer power of his voice suited the role of the king marvelously. Especially his first appearance was solemn and dominating with great dramatic singing.
The Erl festival proved once again that it can compete with other festivals around. Great singing and straightforward productions with great impressions are definitely characteristics of the festival in the Austrian village of Erl. The production of Nabucco definitely earns 9 stars and is worth a visit.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday 28 December 2015

Engelbert Humperdinck, Hänsel und Gretel - Linzer Landestheater, Musiktheater

Performance 25th December

Part 3 of my christmas opera marathon took place in Linz. Hänsel und Gretel is probably one of the best examples for an opera for children. A famous fairytale as plot and ravishing melodies and songs that are easy to remember. Still it is not just a piece for kids but also a highly professional work that shows the talent that Humperdinck had.
The production of the theatre's director Rainer Mennicken (who is leaving after this season) does not leave anything left to wish for. Both staging and costumes (Christian Schmidleithner) looked lovely and showed so many nice details in many different shapes. Everything just suited the whole plot just perfectly. Also the idea to include two dancers (and also the children) with strong focus on choreography (Matthew Tusa) and pantomimic scenes was marvelous and worked out pretty well. Especially the dance roles of the raven (Mazen Muna) and the cat (Fatina Saleh) made sense and supported the drama really well.
Musically conductor Takeshi Moriuchi was able to deliver the drama of Humperdinck's score as well as the catchy tunes. The Bruckner Orchester Linz followed his directions marvelously and played very clearly and accurately. Everything sounded very balanced and precise. Also the Kinder- & Jugendchor des Landestheaters Linz gave a very good performance and earned the huge waves of applause in the end.
The soloists all did a very good job. Jenifer Lary sang  both Sandmännchen and Taumännchen. Her clear voice suited both roles excellently. Her voice has a very soft and pleasent timbre with a very focused sound.
Michael Wagner also gave a ravishing performance as father Peter. His strong voice has a beautiful warm timbre and also impressive stamina. The role seemed to be very comfortable for him for he did not seem to have any issues with it at any point. Same is valid for Karen Robertson as mother Gertrud. Her mezzo voice has a very clear and easygoing upper register. She did a very impressive job in this role with her focused but still soft voice.
The role of the witch is not very long but still quite demanding in terms of singing AND acting. Originally written for a mezzo soprano it is also frequently performed by tenors (whyever?). This leads to several issues in the performance that are caused by the vocal differences of these two vocal types. Nevertheless Matthäus Schmidlechner, who sang the Kusperhexe during this performance, did a fine job. His voice is not just very flexible but also quite powerful with a very piercing timbre. He did not seem to have problems with the high parts of the role. I would still have preferred a mezzo singing it because the role is definitely written for another voice type than a tenor. A classic example for the importance of the Fach system because of course a good tenor won't have any problems with the range of the role. But as I said, Schmidlechner did a fine job and earned a lot of applause in the end (totally earned).
Martha Hirschmann sang a very lyric and cheeky Hänsel with a very powerful and affectionate voice. Her lower register has a very warm sound while her upper register sounds clear and piercing. But also besides her singing she did a lovely job with very convincing acting skills.
My personal highlight was Elisabeth Breuer as Gretel. I was really impressed by her incredible singing and was immediately reminded of Helen Donath. Breuer's voice has a bell-like quality in her upper register and a enormously beautiful timbre in her lower registers. Everything she sang just sounded marvelously beautiful. The sheer beauty of her voice combined with her agility and the ease of her high notes make her a perfect Gretel. For me she definitely gave the performance of the evening and a performance that could also have taken place in the great opera houses of Europe! BRAVO!!!
All in all I really enjoyed the performance and I can say that the Landestheater Linz is probably Austria's most successfully emerging company at the moment. The whole production was really positive and a great success. Therefore I give 9 stars out of ten to Linz' Hänsel und Gretel.
Review by Daniel Url

Friday 25 December 2015

Johann Strauss Junior, Die Fledermaus - Semperoper Dresden

Performance 23rd December

For the second evening of my christmas opera marathon (and the last one before christmas) I visited Dresden once again to see the most famous operetta by Strauss Junior. The prototype of a Viennese operetta is still a core piece of our repertoire and usually is often played around christmas and new year's eve.
The production directed by Günter Krämer plays with many Austrian (not neccesarily Viennese) clichés. Anyway I personally thought that the piece lost a lot of its originality because many things were turned into ridicule. The staging (Gisbert Jäkel) looked good, but could have been the stage of any other opera as well. The idea to continue the stage around the orchestra pit gave the production the positive effect that the audience felt included in the action. The costumes by Falk Bauer featured the famous Dirndl dresses and Lederhosn (the traditional costumes of the alpine region) which is not really Viennese but anyway. The most positive achievement of the production in my opinion was that the singers were so close to the audience (thanks to the enlarged stage). Many times the audience was getting involved in the plot with some lovely jokes. Here I have to mention Adele's second couplet because our Adele left the stage and seduced a gentleman in the first row. What a lovely funny idea!
Musically the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden gave a magnificent performance under the lead of conductor  Stefan Lano. The accuracy of the orchestra and Lano's conducting accumulated in a genuinely marvelous performance from the orchestra pit. Only sometimes I wished for a more Viennese sound (especially in terms of accentuation and tempo fluctuation) but however, they played impressively anyway. Also the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden sang very well in the numerous choir numbers. The second act is unthinkable without a good choir!
The production's Frosch was played by Wolfgang Stumph who is a famous comedian from Saxonia. Of course he modified his part in deference of current headlines and trivia. I already thought it was funny, but the audience totally went crazy and showed their appreciation with much applause.
In the small roles of Ida, Dr. Blind and Alfred we heard Gundula Rosenkranz, Tom Martinsen and Merto Sungu. All three gave a good performance, but did not really have the chance to really convince due to the size of their roles.
Christina Bock sang a very decadent Orlofsky (dressed as a Vampire) with beautiful sound and a very warm timbre. As Frank we heard Oliver Zwarg who gave a strong performance with his Wagner proven baritone voice. Even though he has a very heavy voice he had no problems with the light singing of his role and mastered it without any problems.
Young baritone Sebastian Wartig sang Dr. Falke alias die Fledermaus and showed that he has a very strong instrument with a very pleasant timbre. Wartig has a lot of potential and hopefully takes care of his lovely voice so we can hear much more in the future.
In the role of Adele it took Emily Dorn some time to get comfortable. I had the feeling that she did not feel totally comfortable during the first act. It was better in the second act and in the third act she reached peak form. Apart from her singing she also was a very fine actress and convinced very well as cheeky maid.
The male protagonist, Gabriel von Eisenstein, was performed by Jürgen Müller who is singing a lot of heroic repertoire. In the role of Gabriel I sometimes missed the power of a heroic Heldentenor which might be caused by the lightness and demanded agility of the role. Still Müller sang very well and especially during the final act he was very convincing.
The female lead was performed by Natalie Karl who jumped in for Christiane Libor (who I was hoping to see originally, what happened?). Karl has a very light but powerful voice. Her lower registers and the lower part of her upper register showed quite some power. Unfortunately the very top of her voice tended to be thin and a little bit shrill. I would have preferred a bigger voice (bigger but at least as agile as Karl's voice) but Karl did a good job anyway, especially with her acting skills and (I just have to mention it) her décolleté which draw everyone's attention to it and that tight accentuating dress.
Finally I have to say it was a good performance, not perfect but still quite good and better than most other houses could do. I had a very entertaining funny evening and therefore the performance gets 7 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday 21 December 2015

Richard Wagner, Götterdämmerung - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 19th December

As first part of this year's christmas opera marathon I attended a performance of Götterdämmerung in Munich. After Walküre, this is the second part I saw from the Munich Ring and I do have to say that the production led by Andreas Kriegenburg is definitely showing some really interesting aspects of the story in a very appropriate way. On the other hand there were also several moments where he showed that he does not take the immanent drama serious enough. Too often his production gave an over the top impression. The staging by Harald B. Thor was definitely one of the most positive aspects of the production. As were the costumes by Andrea Schraad which were not just beautiful to look at but also showed the contrasts between the characters. The staging looked very sober but also classy and showed the dangers of our society nowadays. This actually is the production's best feature, because it proves that Kriegenburg knew how to deal with the social criticism that Wagner put into his opus magnum.
But the really interesting part of this performance was the music anyway. Kirill Petrenko once again proved that he is one of the great conductors of our times. Wagner has never been so differentiated with such a clear and balanced tone. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester also gave a magnificent performance with a brilliant sound and virtousic playing. Also the Chor und Extrachor der Bayerischen Staatsoper sang lovely and sounded impressively throughout the whole evening (especially the male choir).
Interesting enough the best solo performances were done by the supporting roles. The first scene for example was a great success with three really wonderful norns. Okka von der Damerau, Helena Zubanovich and Anna Gabler sang their roles very intensively and showed their great voices. Von der Damerau, who is Munich's universal weapon, sounded strong and convinced with a warm an beautiful timbre. Helena Zubanovich's voice is not very warm or beautiful, but is extremely powerful and intense. She definitely has the voice for bigger roles than just a norn. Anna Gabler gave a nice performance as third norn before she went on performing in role of Gutrune. Unfortunately this role is probably one of the most boring roles Wagner ever wrote. Anyway Gabler gave a good job with a beautiful warm voice and good acting skills.
Von der Damerau also knew to convince as Floßhilde later in the evening. Together with Angela Brower (strong and warm timbre) and Eri Nakamura (such a beautiful clear voice) she was responsible for one of the highlights of the evening (the rhinemaiden scene).
Christopher Purves had a very short appearance as Alberich during the second act. However he knew how to deliver the drama of his role during this short scene. Especially his diction was exemplary and suited his role perfectly.
As Waltraute we heard Michaela Schuster who also did a great job with her acting. Nevertheless I thought her singing sounded a little bit edgy. I have never been a fan of her voice,  but anyway she managed the role without any difficulties and gave a good performance.
Markus Eiche was probably the greatest victim of the overacting principles of the production. Many of his appearances were just over the top and seemed childishly exaggerated. However his singing was all the better. His smooth and warm baritone voice suited the role very well and his phrasing and interpretation made a very good impression.
My personal highlight was Hans-Peter König as Hagen. König, who I already heard as Rocco this summer, has a powerful dark bass voice with a profound but still dignified timbre. His singing was very clear and differentiated, especially during the second act. For me this was probably the best performance of the evening.
The singer of Siegfried, Lance Ryan, poses me a riddle. It would be wrong to say that he is not good because he definitely is able to sing the role appropriately. He has the power, the stamina, the range and also feeling for the phrasing. Still I had the feeling that he might not be the perfect singer for this role. The timbre of his voice sometimes sounds awkwardly parodic and in my opinion not heroic enough. Nevertheless he sang an incredibly long high c during the third act (several seconds long) and also the bird's narrative in the same act was performed really impressively with reduced voice (which fitted the scene perfectly). So Ryan definitely did not do a bad job, but I am also not sure if he was the best choice.
Same is valid for Petra Lang as Brünnhilde. I remember seeing her as Ortrud in Bayreuth some years ago and she did an incredible job there. However, Ortrud is kind of a mezzo role while Brünnhilde is probably the most dramatic role Wagner wrote for a soprano. Not just the range, but also the general demands for the voice call for a dramatic soprano who is not afraid of dramatic singing in every single register. Lang did a good job in the lower register which probably is connected with her mezzo past. Still her upper register sounded unfocused and shaky. Very often her portamenti were extremely strong and she slided into her notes awkwardly. Her voice is very dramatic and powerful but in my opinion she should stick with the mezzo roles for the upper register seems not be comfortable enough for the great dramatic soprano repertoire.
All in all it was a very nice evening with great music, not perfect but still very enjoyable. The Bayerische Staatsoper proves once more that it is one of the best houses (if not the best) in Europe. No other house has such a good ensemble combined with the great names of opera.
The productioin of Götterdämmerung gets 8 stars of me.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Giacomo Puccini, Turandot -Deutsche Oper am Rhein – Theater Duisburg 

Performance 5th December 

The plot of Puccini's last opera Turandot revolves around a Chinese princess and the love of Kalaf to her. Therefore build the Deutsche Oper am Rhein a cooperation with the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts in Taiwan to produce this opera. The Asian team developed a great production based on symbolic elements and atmospheric video (JunJieh Wang) and light (Volker Weinhart) installations.
Huan-Hsiung Li designed his production as a young woman's dream who is embodied by the dancer Yi-An Chen in a way of a distracted and sympathetic bystander. She is always present on stage as the dreamer and observer of what is happening in her 13th century dream. Putting the plot into a dream, gave Huan-Hsiung Li the chance to stage the sometimes irrational scenes over dramatically. Everything functioned well together for this vision: Jo-Shan Liang's stage design showed the silhouette of a medieval Chinese town with a gate which can be opened and closed for appearances. Nothing more than a scroll as a path from the gate is covering the stage. The constantly changing light and video installations were capturing the situation's atmosphere. Classic elegant costumes (HsuanWu Lai) based on Chinese traditional costumes of the 13th century emphasised the serious theme.
Important part of the whole opera is the choir (rehearsal: Gerhard Michalski) which represents the folk. The Chor der Deutschen Oper am Rhein demonstrated melodramatic greatness especially in the higher voice passages. A huge compliment is going to Sabina López Miguez and her children's choir Kinderchor am Rhein Duisburg. The children sang their two scenes very emotionally and mellowly.
Sami Luttinen appeared as Kalaf's loving father Timur with a bright trembling bass voice. The three ministers Ping (Bogdan Baciu), Pang (Florian Simson) and Pong (Cornel Frey) represented a refreshing mixture of narrator, advisor and prankster. Bogdan Baciu showed up as the calm anchor between the two untwisted tenor parts of Simson and Frey. With a natural elegance and freedom in his warm baritone voice, attracted Baciu the audience's attention. The self-sacrificing slave Liú was sung by Brigitta Kele. With great lightness in her voice featured she a sensitive woman. The two main characters Turandot (Linda Watson) and Kalaf (Zoran Todorovich) harmonised nicely together. Although Linda Watson's strong voice power drowned Zoran Todorovich's dramatic tenor voice in a few parts. But you can't actually count this as a negative point as Watson's voice was still present in the big choir scenes; Who could really hold against such a voluminous voice as hers? Todorovich's Nessun dorma aria was very solemn. He let some piano parts fad away with a breathy voice. In combination with his dark timbre highlighted this Kalaf's despair in this situation. Linda Watson replied with a sharply and reedy voice.
Axel Kober conducted the Duisburger Philharmoniker which took up the dream metaphor and hold everything in a quite gentle tune. The singers were supported perfectly due to accurate dynamic changings.
I give 8 out of 10 stars for this nicely production which shows how new technology as visual desgin can enhance an opera production.
Reviewed by Christine Arnold