Monday 29 February 2016

Henry Purcell, Dido & Aeneas - Staatsoper im Schillertheater Berlin

Performance 27th February

When I saw the performance of Purcell's famous opera in combination with dance I thought that it was a brilliant idea to combine the different art forms in order to intensify the effect of the heart-
breaking story of Dido and Aeneas. It could have been such a lovely evening...
Everyone who has at least a bit of knowledge about dance has heard of Sasha Waltz. The German choreographer is probably the most important figure in contemporary dance theatre since the great Pina Bausch and works a lot with dance and opera. However the production of Dido and Aeneas was quite disappointing and did not really convince me.
The two most important things of this marvelous piece were just not elaborated well enough in this performance: first the clear and plain musical performance and secondly the immediate dramatic power of Purcell's masterpiece.
The main problem was that the added dance sequences did interrupt the plot and not support it. It was as if there were two pieces on the stage at the same time. The whole production tried so hard to be progressive that the spirit of the work became totally secondary. It all started so well. During the first scene the dancers jumped into some sort of glass pool filled with water. The highly aestatic movements of the dancers looked even more elegantly in the water. The intensive expressivity of this water ballet was really nice but was the most interesting part of the whole evening (when it comes to dance). Some of the later dance scenes were also very beautiful and expressive but most of it lacked of dramatic content and even though you could tell the high professionalism of the dance company it just failed to convince. If it had been two seperate pieces it would probably have been more interesting but the attempt to blend them together just failed epicly.
The musical part was more satisfying but also not what I expected. Christopher Moulds and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin just did not carry away the audience. There was a lack of passion and solemnity throughout the whole performance. Knowing the score very well I really was surprised of some passages that I know very differently. Very often I missed the immediate simplicity of Purcell's great score due to the extensive use of ornaments and overfilled basso continuo parts. The Vocalconsort Berlin probably was the most convincing part of the evening with delicate singing during the many lovely choir scenes.
The vocal soloists mostly gave a solid performance but not more. The sorceress and her two fellow witches (Fabrice Mantegna with Sebastian Lipp and Michael Bennett) were casted with male singers which was disturbing at first. They managed their part fine and party with comedic irony but stayed a little bit colourless.
Same is valid for the singers of the second woman and Belinda. Céline Ricci and Deborah York sang their part without any issues but there was no thrill in their performance. York, not having a very big voice (which is also not necessary for this repertoire) seemed to have some intonation issues but showed her very flexible light soprano voice.
Reuben Willcox's Aeneas would probably have been better if he did not have to be dancing around during his performance. Being busy dancing and singing at once his performance just did not really convince me and seemed one-dimensional.
Probably the best vocal performance was made by Aurore Ugolin as Dido. Her dark soft voice suited this role well even though her performance could have been a little bit more intensive. She sometimes seemed a bit emotionless and lacked the passion of this tragic role.
Alltogether I have to say that I was really disappointed by the performance which I was really looking forward to. As I already said it could have been interesting if the two spheres (dance sequences and opera) did not interfere so distinctively all the time. Like that I would give 6 stars to the performance.
✰- - -
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Sunday 28 February 2016

Richard Wagner, Rienzi - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 26th February

Another weekend in Berlin, another Wagner opera at the DOB. This time his early work Rienzi, which is a very special piece combining strong Italian and French influences, but also already showing Wagner's personal composing style. Having written the opera at a quite early age the demands of the protagonists are extreme and require exceptional singers to master them appropriately.
But not only the vocal requirements make this piece difficult, also the plot is not an easy one to produce. The production of the DOB however did a great job with choosing Philipp Stölzl as director of the production (co-direction: Mara Kurotschka). Using videos and live broadcasts on stage as a medium of intensification the production shows clear parallels to the Nazi dictatorship. The staging (Ulrike Siegrist & Philipp Stölzl) and the costumes (Kathi Maurer & Ursula Kudma) had an impressive impact together with the many video projections (video: fettfilm, Momme Hinrichs & Torge Møller). The similarity to documents from the second world war was just horrifyingly realistic and had a strong effect. Especially Rienzi's speeches reached a higher dramatic intensity thanks to the projections. But of course there was also space for some comedy. That is why I just have to mention the really funny opening scene during the ouverture when Rienzi-double Gernot Frischling danced around like a crazy dictator. It somehow reminded me of the earthball-scene in Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" (and I think that is definitely a compliment).
But not just the production, also the musical performance was really intensive and very enjoyable. Evan Rogister was able to bring out the Italian and French influences without loosing the Wagnerian sound out of sight. He carved out the beautiful catchy melodies and was able to capture the spirit of the monumental parts of the score. The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin followed his lead wonderfully and sounded brilliantly. Especially during the ouverture the string and brass sections sounded so focused and accurately that this was already a first great highlight of the evening.
The Chor ( and the Extra-Chor) der Deutschen Oper Berlin performed the very important choir parts of the opera really well. This whole opera would not be the same without the famous big choir scenes which sounded lovely this evening. Especially the finali of the first two acts were real highlights for me!
But now to the soloists of the evening: Stephen Bronk and Clemens Bieber sang the ambivalent roles of Cecco and Baroncelli. I already heard Bronk as a wonderful Rocco in Salzburg and he did not fail to convince me this time as well. Also Bieber gave a good performance with a very clear tenor voice. Noel Bouley's cardinal Orvieto was solid but could have been a little more intense and dignified. Dong-Hwan Lee also gave a solid performance as Paolo Orsini, but was unlucky to have Tobias Kehrer as partner / opponent during his scenes. Kehrer (as Steffano Colonna) is a force of nature with a powerful dark bass voice that really suited his malicious evil character. His performance was intense, exciting and dramatic.
The first of the three main protagonists, Rienzi's sister Irene, was performed by German soprano Martina Welschenbach who looked stunningly and made it understandable to fall in love with her character. Her soprano has a very beautiful timbre and definitely will be a good Wagner voice in the future but for the moment it just seems a bit early. She does not have the power that is neccessary to float over the huge orchestra. I think her voice is just not ready for this role yet but definitely on the way there. A few more years and the power will come naturally and then I would be happy to see her again.
My personal highlight of the evening was Daniela Sindram as Adriano. Sindram's vocie is strong and flexible with a very expressive timbre that can deliver dramatic content marvelously. Her scenes showed great acting talent combined with great musicality and a wonderful voice. Her dramatic outbursts gave me goosebumps. Especially her final desperate appearance finding Irene before the last climax was magnificent.
The title hero Rienzi was sung by tenor Torsten Kerl who has a very interesting voice. While having a clear and bright upper register his lower register sounds almost like a baritone with its very dark timbre. He held some of the high notes (and there are many of them) really long and showed that he does not have a problem with the high tessitura of this role. During the famous prayer he seemed a bit tired but during the great finale he gave everyhing he got. The audience forgave the signs of tiredness during the prayer and rewarded him great applause and appreciation in the end.
The whole performance was very enjoyable with a good cast. The only thing that I did not like was that they used really many cuts and gave us only a very shortened version of this wonderful opera. Anyway I would still give 8 stars to the great production of Rienzi at the DOB.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Thursday 25 February 2016

Richard Wagner, Die Walküre - Semperoper Dresden

Performance 23rd February

Dresden always had a close connection with Wagner. Not online did he himself work at the house, also several works composed by him premiered here. He called the orchestra his "Wunderharfe" (miraculous harp) and the orchestra has a long history of Wagner performance. If now the current chief conductor (or Kapellmeister) Christian Thielemann leads one of his operas the audience comes to Dresden from far and wide. From the four Ring operas Walküre has always been the most popular one due to its famous tunes, its highly authentic characters and of course its magnificent music. The difficulties of the piece are to have a proper production (which of course is important for any other opera as well) and a cast that is able to not only sing but also act the roles appropriately.
The Dresden production (which premiered in 2001) was directed by Willy Decker who was also responsible for the legendary La traviata production in Salzburg 2005. Optically the production is very appealing with big impressive stage sets and nice costumes (staging: Wolfgang Gussmann, costumes: Wolfgang Gussmann & Frauke Schernau). Especially the second act looked marvelously with the white miniature buildings and figures, not to mention the really elegant costume of Fricka. Unfortunately the management of the characters sometimes really did not seem authentic and overacted. Many movements just looked mannered and not really convincing. Nevertheless the whole look of the production excused that.
Of course the main interest of the evening was the musical part anyway. Christian Thielemann, currently probably the most dedicated conductor for Wagner, did not fail to satisfy with a highly passionate and clean interpretation with a masterfully focus on the thematic diversity of the score. The dynamic range between chamber music-like parts and massive outbreaks was really impressive and also the elegant way how he supported the singers throughout the whole evening showed his high professionalism. His orchestra, the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, also did a good job following his instructions and especially the string section sounded incredibly bright and clear. Only some minor issues in the brass section leave some room for improvement, especially during calm passages.
The range of the soloists also reached from only satisfying to exceptional. The valkyries (Christiane Kohl, Sonja Mühleck, Irmgard Vilsmaier, Christina Bock, Julia Rutigliano, Simone Schröder, Constance Heller and Nadine Weissmann) were not really a homogenous group. Some voices were just not powerful enough while others definitely had enough power to sing over the heavy orchestration of the first scene of the third act.
Very solid on the other hand was Georg Zeppenfeld as Hunding. His dark sonorous bass voice has quite some power but is always controlled and flexible. He seemed to have internalised this role perfectly and it earned him much applause.
A highlight for me was Christa Mayer as Fricka. Both, her acting and her singing culminated in a performance that was pretty close to perfect. She portrayed the nagging wife of Wotan with a strong mezzo voice that has a very warm timbre.
Petra Lang as Sieglinde unfortunately did not really convince me in this role. Interestingly it was neither good nor bad. Of course Sieglinde is appealing for high mezzos but Lang does just not have the right voice for it. Her timbre is not youthful enough and tends to be edgy with quite strong portamenti. As I said she managed the part but did not really convince except with her immense power and the clarity of her high notes.
Her brother and lover Siegmund was sung by Christopher Ventris who does have a very good voice for this role. His timbre is not only heroic but also has a very youthful component. His phrasing is very lyric but does also show a very powerful instrument that can compete with the orchestra.
Markus Marquardt sang the role of Wotan very well with a really smart and sophisticated interpretation. He used the full power of his voice only for a few selected moments while most of his part was sung very intimately and lyrically. Especially during the climatic third act he changed between dramatic outbursts and very soft passages.
However, the vocal highlight of the evening was Nina Stemme in the title role of Brünnhilde. Stemme is one of those singers who sound way better in a real performance. The immense power of her voice is joined by a great ability to keep the voice very lyrical and soft. Of course the important outbursts were great but also the soft and intimate parts sounded magnificently. Moreover I got the impression that she really internalised this role because her acting was really convincing and showed her intensive understanding of the character. She proved that she really is one of the leading singers for this repertoire.
The whole performance was a huge success even though some parts still leave room for improvement. Nevertheless I would say that it was definitely a top performance compared to other current productions and the great international interest proved that beyond doubt. I would give 8 stars out of ten to this performance and I am looking forward to see the other parts of the Ring here under the baton of Christian Thielemann.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Sunday 21 February 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, Don Carlo - Semperoper Dresden

Performance 18th February

The first performance of the revival of Verdi's masterpiece at the Semperoper showed that Verdi definitely was the giant genius of Italian opera during the second half of the 19th century. One famous tune after another and in between sheer dramatic tension. Don Carlo is surely one of his greatest works and quite a difficult one to cast appropriately. You need 5 top protagonists and several other smaller supporting characters that manage the musically and theatrically demanding roles. The Production led by Eike Gramms (who passed away last year) created a production that centres around the questions of human relation and still also impresses with great staging and beautiful costumes (both by Gottfried Pilz). A huge wall (some sort of shelf) filled with skulls that acts as wall and floor throughout the evening shows from the very beginning that this whole story will not finish with a happy end. Impressively they use the different levels of the stage to creat space and position the protagonists and the choir.
Musically the performance was as least as impressive as optically. Paolo Arrivabeni jumped in for Myung-Whun Chung who was ill. Arrivabeni showed great Italian passion and great controll over the orchestra during the whole performance. The Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden did a wonderful job following his instructions and played so ravishingly and passionately that also the orchestral parts were a real pleasure to hear. The two choirs (Sächsischer Staatsopernchor and Sinfoniechor Dresden e.V.) also gave a marvelous performance and gave me chills especially during the finale of the second act (not to mention the monks at the very beginning).
Peter Lobert as the Monk did not have much to sing during the evening but his two appearances (at least vocally twice) were great with a reverential dark voice that is able to deliver shivery respect.
Michael Eder was an evil grand inquisitor through and through. His low and heavy bass sounded really viciously and he managed to increase the intensity of his main appearance during the third act gradually before leaving with a nasty "forse!".
The role of Filipo II was sung by René Pape who still convinces with a such a powerful and dark voice that seems not to age at all. After decades he still a reliable force of nature when it comes to great bass roles. He totally convinced again with a great voices and impeccable acting skills.
Another great performance of the evening was done by Christoph Pohl as Rodrigo. Already having a very powerful and nice sounding entrance he managed to gradually raise up the level of his performance. By the end one was sadder about Pohl not singing anything anymore than Rodrigo dying for his friend. His youthful heroic voice with the beautiful timbre was definitely a highlight of the evening.
My personal highlight of the evening however was Ekaterina Gubanova as Eboli. A role that really calls for a force of nature with a huge range, great power and ideally a good-looking exterior. Gubanova unified all these things in her performance. Her Eboli was powerful, sexy and did not have a problem with the vocal range of the role. Her final aria was immense and earned her a huge wave of applause.
Also Barbara Haveman was able to impress the audience in the role of Elisabetta di Valois. Not just gifted with a big voice that can fill the whole theatre hers was also equipped with a very intimate timbre that depicted the sufferings of her character very appropriately. Her big aria in the final act was a real gem and was rewarded with a storm of enthusiasm.
The title role was sung by Massimo Giordano who has a very interesting voice. Apart from sounding very natural generally his voice tends to have somewhat of a sighing sound. I do not know if this was part of his interpretation, anyway, I did enjoy his portrayal due to the power and the lightness of his voice even though some of the higher notes seemed not really comfortable. However he did a pretty good job in this role and portrayed it really well.
Alltogether I really enjoyed the whole performance and liked every minute of it. I was actually thinking about getting a ticket for another performance to see it again. Who knows. However I would give 9 stars to this great performance I already saw.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Richard Wagner, Lohengrin - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 14th February

It is always difficult to stage Lohengrin due to its hilariously pathetic plot. Some parts really seem totally inappropriate and totally over the top. So it is quite hard to create a production that really finds a way to make everything seems reasonable. Kaspar Holten definitely did a great job with his production at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Together with Steffen Aarfing (stage and costumes) he created a production that shows Lohengrin as politician who proclaims to be a hero that is sent by god. In this interpretation Elsa is becoming the real hero by not trusting a man who just searches a way to the top. All this might sound difficult to convert into a proper production but Holten and Aarfing kept close to the libretto which sometimes really convincingly agrees to their interpretation. The great scenery and the costumes from several eras looked marvelously and supported the plot very well. This really is a production that shows intellect and appreciation by the creative team.
Musically Donald Runnicles also did a great job leading the Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin. He found the perfect balance between delicate parts and dramatic outbursts. The orchestra was in top form and especially the interlude in the third act with trumpets and snares divided within the auditorium was incredibly impressive. What a huge wall of sound!!
The Chor (und Extra-Chor) der Deutschen Oper Berlin sometimes seemed to be not totally synchronous but gave a solid performance during the whole evening. Especially the final act was performed really well.
Vocally the cast was just magnificent. Bastiaan Everink sang the role of the Heerrufer and showed a very strong heroic but still youthful baritone voice. I'm pretty sure that he will sing some proper main roles very soon with this beautiful voice.
Albert Pesendorfer was called indisposed but sounded lovely. If that is how he sounds ill I really want to know how he sounds when he is totally healthy. Such a powerful dignified voice that sounds heroic without having a rough unfriendly timbre.
Thomas Johannes Mayer's Telramund is not new to me because I already heard him singing this role in Bayreuth in 2014. He still does a very good job though I personally would wish for a darker lower voice for this role. Anyway he is a marvelous singer and as I said he did a great job.
Due to the fact that Anna Smirnova had some issues at the airport Petra Lang (rehearsing Sieglinde in Dresden at the moment) jumped in as Ortrud. Also not new to me in this role she did not fail to impress me once again. I heard her as Brünnhilde in december which was not really her role in my opinion but her Ortrud is a force of nature. The power, the dramatic feeling and her stage presence are incredible and this role totally hers.
Nevertheless my personal highlight was Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Elsa. I was genuinely blown away by her flawless performance. Her soprano is very dark but shiny and bright in the top register. The power is immense and still she has an incredible beauty of tone. I really cannot name any deficits because her voice obviously was made to sing Elsa and other Wagner roles.
Another great performance was done by Michael Weinius as the title hero Lohengrin. He also has a powerful Wagnerian voice with a very heroic timbre but is still able to manage the very soft parts that Lohengrin also has to sing. Interestingly in his lower register his voice totally reminded me of Siegfried Jerusalem. His performance was really good, only some of the top notes could have been a little longer. Anyway he seems to be one of the best performers of this role nowadays I would say.
As I already wrote this whole performance was a real eye-(and ear-)opener and I was extremely happy that I decided to see it because it was totally worth it. And therefor I give full 10 stars to this great performance.

Reviewed by Daniel Url

Ludwig van Beethoven, Missa Solemnis - Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, Semperoper

Performance 13th February

As every year since 1951 the Staatskapelle Dresden is dedicating one of their symphonic concerts to the victims of the bombardment on Dresden in february 1943. This year Kapellmeister Christian Thielemann conducted Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in two concerts (one on the memorial day - 13th and another one the following day). I was lucky enough to attend the memorial concert which was a very touching experience. Neither before nor after the performance the audience applauded but stayed silent for a minute of silence and remembrance.
Thieleman conducted the Staatskapelle Dresden masterfully and shaped this epic work magnificently. The dynamic variations and accurate cues led to a marvelous performance of the orchestra which easily followed Thielemann's instructions. The Sächsische Staatsopernchor also gave a wonderful performance and convinced with a huge wall of sound on one hand and delicate calm parts on the other hand. Especially during the Benedictus (with an impressive violin solo by Matthias Wollong) everything matched just perfectly.
The solo parts were sung by Camilla Nylund, Elisabeth Kulman, Daniel Behle and Georg Zeppenfeld. Camilla Nylund's beautiful floating voice sounded great and powerful throughout the range. Especially her higher register sounded just heavenly smooth.
Elisabeth Kulman's dark mezzo voice on the other hand has a very attractive warm timbre and the sheer power of her voice is really impressive. It is really a pity that she decided not to sing opera onstage anymore.
Daniel Behle is definitely one of the most interesting tenor voices of the younger generation. His timbre is noble and youthful but at the same time powerful and flexible. I can't wait to see him singing Wagner (his Lohengrin would surely sound marvelously).
Georg Zeppenfeld always gives a solid performance with his dark bass voice. The timbre of his voice is very balanced and radiates dignity and warmth. He never disappoints and always manages to keep his üerformance standards high.
Alltogether I would give the touching performance 9 stars
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Friday 12 February 2016

Ludwig van Beethoven, Fidelio - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater 

Performance 10th February 

Because the production of Fidelio at the Bavarian State Opera is more than five years old, this review should not be focused on the staging or the scenery, but I still feel like passing my opinion about it. Calixto Bieito’s concept is a very abstract one and even if there is no real prison on the stage, everybody is kind of trapped in a big maze of iron bars with horizontal and vertical fixed plates of glass between them at some places. Expect for Leonore and Florestan at the end of the opera, everybody has to stay in this huge scaffolding that was brought on the stage by Rebecca Ringst. The problem that I see in this attempt of bringing the basic principle of Beethovens opera, the ideals of freedom embodied by the revolting against despotism, in our time, is that the subject matter of Fidelio is shifted on a psychological level and the whole plot gets lost. Bieito’s concept that is too much focused on the individual unfreedom of every character in the opera sacrifices almost all interactions between them.
The two small male parts of Jaquino (Dean Power) and Don Fernando (Steven Humes) were delivered reliably. But even if Don Fernando’s arrival was staged quite spectacularly from a loge above the stage, where he appeared being dressed just like the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movie, I felt like making Don Fernandos act of releasing Florestan to an anarchistic one (because that is what the Joker embodies in the movie) was far-fetched.
Hanna-Elisabeth Müller as Marzelline was one of the highlights of this throughout magnificent cast. She owns a beautiful lyric voice and always phrased her tones through all registers just perfectly while you could understand every single word very distinctly.
The sound of Franz-Josef Selig’s voice is very noble and while singing alone with the orchestra I really enjoyed his Rocco, but unfortunately he could not assert hisself during trios or quartets because of too less volume in his voice or just not singing loud enough.
Don Pizarro was performed very convincing by Tomasz Konieczny who made his status as the arbitrary ruling tyrant very clear by a mighty bass voice with a dark and unique timbre. Because of his vivid presence on the stage and the diversely presentation of his voice, whose strength surpassed all other voices of the evening in volume, he fitted the role of Don Pizarro in a complete way
It is just incredible that Peter Seiffert has still got such a strong voice and the power to perform Florestan like this. Right at the beginning of his big scene after the intermission his „Gott“ shout pervaded the air of the stage and the whole house with an amazing intensity. Over the ten minutes of his recitative and his aria he managed to increase the atmosphere of his performance by his clear tenor voice without any hearable struggle.
Anja Kampe is an outstanding soprano and she performed a solid Leonore in general, but she had some issues in the high register and was compelled to accelerate the very high tones. At parts like these she seemed kind of strained, even if it did not happen too often during the performance. She still raised the biggest cheer under the singers for her efforts.
The way how the audience welcomed Zubin Mehta, the former chief conductor of the Bayerisches Staatsorchester, was thrilling. Even before the first performed bar of the opera the audience cheered for the incoming conductor. Through the evening it appeared that this loudly making known of trust in Mehta even before the opera by the audience happened correctly. He led the orchestra very sovereign and with a subtle intuition for the singers. The parts together with the choir in the prison and at the end of the opera in which the human liberty is extolled were performed greatly moving. The applause for the orchestra and especially Mehta at the end of the evening was tremendous.
Reviewed by Lukas Leipfinger

Thursday 11 February 2016

Richard Strauss, Salome - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 6th February

For the very first time I visited Germany's capital and one of the two big opera houses there. On the programme was Strauss' first really successful opera Salome. A piece that genuinely challenges the audience with brutality and music that reaches the borders of tonality. Nevertheless it is an incredible piece that contains much psychological issues in its plot.
The production's director Claus Guth transferred the plot into a custum tailoring shop led by Herodes and centered the whole story around Herodes and Salome showing that he maybe loved her a little too much (as said in the libretto). Basically it explores the almost pedophile relation between those two characters and introduces Jochanaan as imaginative better version of Herodes (and finally only as shop window mannequin). The whole idea was quite sophisticated but could have been a little clearer from the beginning. Anyway the staging and costumes by Muriel Gerstner were great and looked wonderful. Something I also liked a lot was the idea of having several younger versions of Salome (from very young age to adult) to show the different stages of Salome and her psychological condition.
Musically Alain Altinoglu showed the ravishing score skillfully and supported the singers extremely well. Sometimes I wished for more power from the orchestra (which sat quite low in the pit) but in total it was a very pleasing performance of the Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin. Especially the Dance of the seven veils (which technically is really demanding and tricky) distinctly showed the high professionalism of the orchestra.
The number of named roles in this short opera is enormous even though many of them barely have more to sing than one sentence. Therefore I will skip these roles including the Jews, soldiers etc. and will start with Annika Schlicht as Page. She also does not have much to sing but sang the few lines of her part genuinely lovely with a very beautiful voice that has a warm and beautifully-sounding timbre. Thomas Blondelle's Narraboth also was very clear and beautifully sung. His tenor has a very light youthful timbre but is still powerful enough to be heard over the orchestra appropriately.
Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet sang an almost perfect Herodias with dramatic phrasing and great acting skills. She totally conveyed the weirdness and depravity of her role. Burkhard Ulrich as Herodes also showed great acting skills. Vocally he also did a wonderful job even though I sometimes felt that he does not feel 100% comfortable in this role. Nevertheless his performance was truly marvelous from the beginning to the very end.
Michael Volle probably gave the performance of the evening as Jochanaan. His powerful voice sounds dignified and heroic at the same time. The virile timbre and his solemn phrasing made his performance truly magnificent and really impressed me.
Due to illness Catherine Naglestad had to cancel her performance and soprano Allison Oakes jumped in. During her first line Oakes sounded very silently but soon showed that she definitely has the voice for this role. From the very low parts of the role to the very top (Salome has quite a range to handle) she sounded great and showed high musicality with her smart phrasing. Some of the top notes sometimes could have been a little softer but her overall performance was really great.
I totally enjoyed the whole performance and was really impressed by the work of the Deutsche Oper Berlin. I am happy to be visiting several other performances there during the next few months. The performance of Salome gets 9 stars for a really lovely evening.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Richard Wagner, Rienzi - Oper Leipzig

Performance 31st January

After a lovely night in Munich I travelled on to Leipzig to see Wagner's early work Rienzi, a marvelous example of french Grand opéra, just in German. This opera is definitely one of the reasons why I became a wagnerian and therefor I was looking forward to see it.
The production led by Nicolas Joel is not very inventive and sometimes so exaggerated that it seems like being over the top was the goal. Staging and costumes by Andreas Reinhardt looked magnificently and especially the map of Rome including the miniatures of famous monuments made a lovely impression. The whole mafia look was a nice idea even though it was not really worked through appropriately.
Anyway musically it was an evening with ambivalent performances. Matthias Foremny knew how to make the music sound solemnly and impressively. Everything sounded hugely, dramaticly and full of passion. The Gewandhausorchester gave a solid performance following his lead and realized the score very nicely. Also the Chor und Extrachor der Oper Leipzig (including Damen des Jugendchores) gave everyhing in the several bid choir scenes. Sometimes I wished for a little bit more volume but their performance was fine anyway.
Sandra Maxheimer gave a short but nice performance as Friedensbote with a lovely mezzo voice that has a warm and clear timbre. I liked Martin Petzold (Baroncelli) more when I saw him in Das Liebesverbot last year. This time he just seemed not to feel totally comfortable in his role even though he did not have any issues vocally. Ricardo Llamas Márquez on the other hand gave a nice performance as Cecco with a strong baritone voice that sounded very masculine and youthful timbre. Sejong Chang's Kardinal Orvieto was very dignified and honorable with his dark bass voice.
Paolo Orsini was sung by Jürgen Kurth who convinced with a very sustaining voice that had a very clear and light timbre and still enough power to be heard through the orchestra. Milcho Borovinov as Steffano Colonna also made a fine impression with a dark and threatingly bass.
Unfortunately Kathrin Göring who would have sung the role of Adriano was ill. I was really looking forward to hear her lovely voice again. Her replacement who obviously already sang the role in Leipzig seemed to have serious issues that evening. Chariklia Marvopoulou's voice did just not get going throughout the performance. While she sounded ok in the dramatic outbursts in the upper register she was not able to manage the lower parts and during the great aria "Gerechter Gott" she just managed to get through. Thankfully she jumped in for Göring but she obviously was not totally prepared for the performance.
My personal highlight of the evening was a role that actually is not really very outstanding in the plot but vocally just blew my mind: Vida Mikneviciute as Irene. Her appearance in the first scene literally made me stop breathing because I just did not expect such an enormous voice from such a little slim lady. Her voice is huge but still very clear and has a beautifully sounding timbre. It is a pity they cut the great duet in the final act between her and Rienzi because I would have loved to hear more of her!! It is really incredible that I have not heard of her before.
One of the main reasons I wanted to see this performance was Andreas Schager as Rienzi. I heard a lot those past few months about him and his magnificent voice. I do have to say that his voice truly is a proper wagnerian tenor voice but I did feel that it might already be a little to heavy for Rienzi. I would have preferred his singing to be lighter. Sometimes it seemed like that the tessitura of the role is just to high for it calls for a very light but powerful Heldentenor. Anyway Schager still did a marvelous job, it was just a matter of taste.
All together I enjoyed the performance despite the few deficits this evening. I would give the performance still 7 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Charles Gounod, Faust – Aalto-Theater Essen

Performance 30th January

Again the Aalto-Theater staged a less common played opera. And the first night audience awarded this co-production with the Deutsche Oper Berlin of Charles Gounod’s Faust with massive applause. With good reason welcomed the audience Sébastien Rouland for his musical direction after the intermission with a big applause. He made the Essener Philharmoniker sound very softly and the dynamical arrangement between the orchestra and the singers functioned just perfectly.
But not just the musical performance worked nicely in its arrangement. In addition to it the staging by Philipp Stölz and co-director Mara Kurotschka acted also very harmonically. It was noticeable that every little symbole and gesture were well elaborated. Bassicaly the stage setting (Heike Vollmer) has not changed much through the whole opera. A big pillar in the middle of the stage functioned as a constant and not moving element in this dynamic story. All entrances (apart from one in the third act) were made from behind this pillar. Faust (Abdellah Lasri) appeared at the beginning as an old man, sitting in an electric wheelchair bound to ventilators. After Mephistophélès (Alexander Vinogadov) have made Faust into a young man, he was wearing the same glittery pink suit as the devil Mephistophélès. Both singers convinced with a great and strong voice as almost the whole cast. Abdellah Lasri was able to show a wide range of his tenor voice. When Faust was going to amuse himself with Mephistophélès, he showed the brightness in his voice. But with a touching feeling admitted he his love to Marguerite (Jessica Muirhead) and appealingly did he later try to get her out of the dungeon. This was implied by a smal fence, wall and door positioned semicircularly along the pillar. Jessica Muirhead embodied the two sites of Marguerite convincingly. The naive Marguerite of the first half was light footed and cheerful. Her space filling soprano voice gave the high notes great power and were filling the auditorium with easiness. The always merry Siébel (Karin Strobos) was dressed (costumes: Ursula Kudrna) into a rabbit costume due to the funfair in the first act. As a mezzo-soprano did she not have any problems with her high notes at all. They even sounded very clear and light. Important part of the funfair in this opera is the choir who represents the not nearer defined crowd. The choir was dressed pastell-coloured and reminded with their porcelain looking masks of dolls. Unfortunatly the choir (rehearsal: Patrick Jaskolka) had partly light rhythm problems but surely it will get better in the next performances. Martijn Cornet as Marguerite’s brother Valantin who got killed brutally on Mephistophélès’ instruction, portraied a strong, emotional and bellligerent young man. Until the last breathe did he demonstrate his specific rounded voice. The secret star of the evening was Alexander Vinogadov as Mephistophélès. The diabolical in his play came through his lightness and carelessness into effect. Vinogadov’s full, soft and flexible basso voice will surely profit him further on lucrative roles. In the third act did he show his dark side when he made fun of Marguerite. The Aalto-Theater trys to involve the whole theater into their play. So this time Mephistophélès had his entrance in the stalls and sang across the whole aditorium in direction to the stage. Very straight and with great volume in his voice did Vinogadov make the audience feeling frightened. The snowy scenery from the second half on, confirmed the glumnes atmosphere.
I really liked the fact that you could always draw a connection to what was happening on stage, thanks to the well elaborated production. When Marguerite get dressed in her new dress which she got from Mephistophélès, this was as magical as Cinderella’s story. Or the dungeon might have let think some people of the Berlin Wall. And the old caravan, Marguerite was living in, created an uncertain and dubios atmosphere.
For this great entertainment for ears and eyes I give nine out of ten stars.
 Reviewed by Christine Arnold

Monday 1 February 2016

Francois Poulenc, Dialogues des carmélites - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 30th January

The quarrel about the Munich production of Poulenc's most successful opera probably made it even more anticipated than it would have been anyway. The families of Poulenc and the librettist tried to stop the performance because director Dmitri Tcherniakov gave the finale a new twist that obviously was not approved by the descendents of the creators. All together I have to say that this quarrel was probably the most exciting thing about the production. Tcherniakov is neither progressive nor very creative and treated the work very unkindly. Already having some problematic lengths it would have needed some work of the director to keep the dramatic flow. Instead Tcherniakov shows amateur theatre with artificial emotions and horrible lead of the roles. Even the nice and atmospheric staging (also designed by Tcherniakov) and the elegant costumes by Elena Zaytseva were not able to keep up the dramatic flow of the opera throughtout the evening. Except of a few moments of dramatic action there was not much to look at (and not little enough to see it as concept.
Nevertheless musically the performance was better but also not as well as other evenings in the Nationaltheater. Bertrand de Billy led the Bayerisches Staatsorchester with elegance and a very sensitive technique. Only a few times he made use of the power of the big orchestra and kept the dynamics low for most of the evening. The Chor der bayerischen Staatsoper also stayed soberly and plainly during the whole evening and supported the plot well.
The many small roles of the opera were casted very well. Ulrich Reß (1er commissaire), Tim Kuypers (2ème commissaire), Igor Tsarkov (L'Officier), Andrea Borghini (Le geôlier), Johannes Kammler (Thierry) and Oscar Quezada (Monsieur Javelinot) all did a good job in their supporting roles.
Alexander Kaimbacher gave a very dignified and sympathetic L'aumônier with a strong voice with a warm and friendly timbre. He definitely seemed like someone who Blanche could rely on. Mère Jeanne and Soeur Mathilde were performed by Munich's universal weapon Heike Grötzinger and Rachael Wilson, both with powerful and controlled voices. Soeur Constance was nicely sung by Anna Christy who has a very slim and light voice which suited her character perfectly.
Blanche's father, Marquis de la force, was sung by Laurent Naouri and even with just a short appearance he was able to make a lasting impression with his dark and strict voice. Stanislas de Barbeyrac on the other hand convinced more by the beauty and ease of his voice. He did not seem to have problems with the high tessitura of the role and sang his part really beautifully.
One of the most exciting performances of the evening was Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo as Madame de Croissy. With her imperative strong alto voice she radiated superiority and her death scene was truly frightening!
Also a highlight was Susanne Resmark as Mère Marie. She impersonated her role so well that one would forget that one sits in a theatre. Also her powerful instrument was genuinely impressive and did not fail to convince.
Anne Schwanewilms on the other hand, who I was looking forward to see, seemed to have a bad day. Her voice sounded uncontrolled and just not totally in form. She managed to sing her part without any issues but it just did not feel appropriately. Hopefully she will be better during the other performances.
Christiane Karg however was the voice of the evening. Her portrayal was truly inspiring and showed not only a very beautiful gleaming voice but also very fine acting skills. Her light soprano convinces with sheer beauty and a very elegant silvery timbre. I would love to see her more often in Munich in some other main roles.
Finally I did enjoy the evening with Poulenc's beautiful music even though the production was not really that impressive. Nevertheless it was a solid performance with some small deficits that did not do too much harm. The performance gets 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url