Monday 28 March 2016

Richard Wagner, Parsifal - Wiener Staatsoper

Performance 27th March

In view of the staging and scenery I only want to underline the elements that I appreciated in this neither revolutionary interpretation of Wagner’s „sacred festival drama“ nor disturbing production; in general Christine Mielitz’ staging and Stefan Mayer’s scenery supported the plot and did not come up with any absurd ideas. The whole portrayal of the Holy Grail’s fellowship was suitable with the knights in full armour and their swords and also their Squires as fencers. The ritual of the Holy Grail’s revealing was described as the Holy Communion with bread and wine while the stage moved upwards and the choir sang from beneath, invisible for the motionless and introverted gazing knights beyond. So the singing choir during this ritual was like a voice from within for the single knights, Titurel and Amfortas above and transcended the whole strange rite. Even if the scenery in the second act was almost the same as in the first, I liked how the walls started to rotate at the climax of the music and the plot, when Parsifal destroys Klingsor’s world. This effect increased the imagination of Klingsor’s collapsing magic and his „deceiving splendor“. Also visually appealing impacts were created by light effects on the slightly transparent huge cloth behind the scenery.
Vocally solid but unfortunately not precise enough in his diction was Boaz Daniel’s Klingsor that could have been performed a little bit more diabolical. As one of the highlights of this evening Michael Volle was a perfectly convincing Amfortas in his suffering and death wish. Volle has got a very rich and multifaceted baritone voice and no matter which role he performs, his acting always is so powerful that he carries the audience along in an incredible way. You just had to believe in Amfortas’ agony and understand why he has to let his own father die because of Volle’s stage presence. Volle gave Amfortas the significance that this role actually has, even if the vocal part is not the longest one in this opera.
With a great endurance Falk Struckmann performed an incorruptible Gurnemanz whose narrations were put into shape affecting and gripping at the same time. Because of his performance there could arise no boredom during the long first act.
For a successful climax in this opera you need a superior Kundry, so the second act can unfold its whole dramatic potential. Violeta Urmana’s voice comprises everything to reach this climax. Her low and middle register are very sonor while she is also able to reach her highest tones in a very controlled and powerful but not hysteric way. She did not have to struggle during the intense second act and particular peaks of her role such as the two „irre“-shouts and her whole curse of Parsifal at the last minutes of the second act were simply thrillingly impressive. She also performed her whole part with  an incredible distinction of the language, so you could understand almost every single word clearly.
Stephen Gould seems to have endless resources of energy in his voice. Because of his strong high register and his huge stamina he is a very reliable Wagnerian tenor and his Parsifal was bursting with youthful strength. Not even in the second act with Parsifal’s long monologues you could hear any signs of fatigue in Gould’s voice and the last twenty minutes in Klingsor’s world with Gould and Urmana were pure intensity. Gould never had any problems to prevail against the huge orchestra. Even if Gould does not have the largest facet of tonal colors, this is what a Wagnerian heldentenor’s voice should sound like.
Adam Fischer conducted the Orchestra of the Wiener Staatsoper with an instinctive feeling and created a very transparent sound that was balanced highly accurate. Fischer’s interpretation of the score was greatly nuanced both at piano parts with subtle instrumental solos and at fierce parts like the finale of the second act with its vigorous drumbeats, so no details got lost in the tone richness.
Reviewed by Lukas Leipfinger

Saturday 26 March 2016

Richard Wagner, Parsifal - Staatsoper im Schillertheater Berlin

Performance 25th March

I had the immense pleasure to attend one of the final performances of a living legend in one of the roles of her life. Waltraud Meier is saying goodbye to the role that started her international career in a three performance run at the Staatsoper Berlin. After 33 years singing this role and surely being the most intensive performer in this role for more than 3 decades the whole evening was more or less an hommage to her artistry. But first about the production.
Dmitri Tcherniakov (also responsible for the stage) brought a very intersting interpretation on stage with great lead of the characters. Many small details told the story of Parsifal very appropriately and showed that there are still directors that are capable of displaying human emotions. The stage looked very interesting and also some kind of solemnly, only the second act in its sterility did not really appeal to me. Elena Zaytseva's costumes suited this whole surroundings very well and gave a great impression in combination with the stage.
The musical performance was led by Daniel Barenboim who conducted the opera very slowly and solemnly with great pathos. Only to hurry through the flowermaiden scene with quite a rapid tempo. Moreover I had the feeling that the orchestra sometimes played just too loudly and Barenboim should have kept them a little more under control. The Staatskapelle Berlin followed his lead and played very dignifiedly and accurately, but as I said, just a bit loud from time to time. Anyway, especially the brass section sounded magnificently and very balanced throughout the performance. A great performance was also achieved by the Staatsopernchor which sounded really impressively. Especially during the final act I was really touched by the choir.
The many smaller roles were casted quite well even though the flowermaidens (Julia Novikova, Adriane Queiroz, Anja Schlosser, Sónia Grané, Narine Yeghiyan, Natalia Skrycka) could have sounded more balanced and a little bit unrehearsed.
Titurel was sung by Matthias Hölle who has a dignified dark bass voice that suited his role perfectly. It was actually also quite interesting that he sang while lying in a coffin most of the time. His performace was full of authority and was really convincing.
The role of Klingsor (in this production a pedophile old guy) was performed by Tómas Tómasson who mostly convinced with his incredible portrayal of the character. His vocal performance was solid but not really outstanding. Anyway he did a good job, especially with his acting skills.
Wolfgang Koch also gave a great performance with his very lyrical baritone voice. He was able to portray the despair and desperation of his character very appropriately. His voice combines power and a very lyrical phrasing which concludes with a highly musical performance.
In the role of Gurnemanz we heard great German bass René Pape who has an extraordinary instrument. It is incredible that he sings on such a high level for decades now and still is able to give such intensive and convincing performances. The quality of his voice and his great musicality are always a garantor for a successful evening. This evening he gave a brilliant convincing performance once again and made a great impression.
The main reason for me to see the performance (and I think I was not the only one) was Waltraud Meier in her last series as Kundry. Noone has ever portrayed this role more intensively and more convincingly. Even before she sang her first note she captured the audience with her incredible stage presence. Her acting skills are legendary and definitely unmatchable. After 33 years of performing this role she might feel as comfortable in the upper register as she did years ago but the overall impression is still impeccable. Especially her great scene during the second act was so intensive that I had goosebumps throughout the whole act. Her high b on the word "lachte" was still bloodcurdling and showed that she is still able to convince in this role. I cannot say  how lucky and blessed I felt to have attended this incredible performance and see her one final time in this role.
But Meier was not the only highlight of the evening. Austrian tenor Andreas Schager proved that he is definitely a voice to remember. His performance as Parsifal was exemplary and was unbelievably impressive. He is not afraid of phrases in the upper register and the immense power of his voice throughout the whole range is astonishing. The high notes are clear and shiny and the lower register sounds excellently as well. Also his diction is exemplary and his phrasing shows a great sense for music-dramatic phrasing.
After the performance the audience went crazy, especially for Meier and Schager. Meier was visibly touched by the reaction of the crowd and also seemed kind of relieved. I am really happy to have seen this performance and give 9 start to the farewell Parsifal of Waltraud Meier.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Friday 25 March 2016

Richard Wagner, Tannhäuser - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 24th March

No concept is also a concept. That was what came into my mind all the time watching the production of Tannhäuser at the DOB. After deciding spontaneously to come to Berlin one day earlier to see this performance I was looking forward to hear a great cast. I was not disappointed by the singers, but the production is really lacking of interesting ideas. Kirsten Harms seemed not to have any ideas about the opera and only shows a series of strangely staged scenes. Especially the second act seems more like a concert performance than an actual staged version. Stage, costumes and light were done by Bernd Damovsky who did not really help. The stage was non existent and the costumes were an extreme contrast with historical dresses and knight's armours. It looked as if a group of people from the middle age were kidnapped into a bunker.
At least musically I was not disappointed. Ivan Repušić conducted a very transparent and clear Tannhäuser. The Orchester der Deutsche Oper Berlin gave a great performance even though I already heard them do better. A really intensive performance was made by the Chor und Extrachor der Deutschen Oper Berlin. They sang really beautifully and did a very good job, especially the entry of the guests was phenomenal.
Elbenita Kajtazi had a very short appearance as Hirt but did very well. Her light soprano has a very beautiful clear timbre and suited the role perfectly.
The four minnesingers Walther, Biterwolf, Heinrich and Reinmar were performed by Clemens Bieber, Noel Bouley, Jörg Schörner and Andrew Harris. They did a very good job and especially the climax of the first act sounded so balanced! I have to point out Clemens Bieber, who stood out with his beautiful tenor voice. Albert Pesendorfer sang his Landgraf Hermann very solemnly and dignifiedly. His bass voice is very dark-coloured and has quite some power.
My personal highlight (and probably also for many people in the audience) was Mathias Hausmann as Wolfram. His baritone voice suits this role just perfectly and his performance was exemplary. His performance showed great musicality and showed that the role is closely bond to the genre of the the German Kunstlied. He sang his part so songfully and lyrically that it was a pleasure to hear.
Ricarda Merbeth sang both female roles, Elisabeth and Venus, which is obviously an idea of the production. As I already mentioned after last weeks Helena, I just prefere her Strauss singing to her Wagner singing. She did an incredible job, no doubt, but it just does not really seem perfect. Elisabeth definitely suited her voice better while Venus seemed to have some parts that are simply written for a lower type of voice. As always her diction was perfect and amazes me every single time. Every single syllable is pronounced so clearly that  you actually would not need any subtitles at all.
Stefan Vinke sang the very difficult role of Tannhäuser and did quite well. He is an animal, a force of nature unleashing extraordinary power with his voice. It is incredible that he manages to sing so intensively for the whole evening without showing any signs of tiredness. However, I sometimes wished for a little bit less power and especially in the upper register he seems to need the power to hit those high notes. I am always irresolute if I like it or not, but in the end I was just amazed. To manage this role without any issues and such power is just magnificent.
The whole performance (though optically boring) was a great success and the audience went crazy for the three main protagonists (especially Hausmann got an immense applause and many bravo shouts). I would give the performance totally earned 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Thursday 24 March 2016

Georg Friedrich Händel, Giulio Cesare in Egitto - Semperoper Dresden

Performance 22nd March

In 2009 Jens-Daniel Herzog (staging) and Mathias Neidhardt (stage design & costumes) set their adaptation of Handel’s most popular opera in the 1930s. The Roman soldiers’ ochre uniforms remind us of the British occupation of Egypt around 1900, and the costumes of the Egyptians are also appropriate for this period. All the signs are that the action takes place at the turn of the last century: Cesare is a statesman accompanied by a photographer for important political appointments, Cleopatra is shown as a chanteuse in the Parnassus scene, and the solo violonist (Wieland Heize) in “Se in fiorito ameno prato” is also portrayed as a bar musician. The scenery is based around a constant of three blank walls defining a room. Depending on the scene, extra subdivisions were inserted, or the front of room closed. This rather successful idea made it possible to change the setting of the storyline without interrupting the action or music. However, certain scene changes were unfortunately very loud and disruptive. Small weaknesses in the interpretation include the unnecessary violence – why does Tolomeo have to kill his defeated enemies one by one with a shot in the head? – and the inexplicable resurrection of the previously killed Tolomeo and Achilla, who wait expectantly to see whether the bomb in the briefcase will explode at the end of the opera. A variation from the usual interpretations is the assassination of Tolomeo: it is not Sesto kills him, to avenge the death of his father Pompeo – who is played by Robert Thile and appears again and again as “l’ombra del genitore” on stage –, but Cesare, who knifes him from behind. Maybe that’s the reason why Cornelia and Setso sit aggrieved on the edge of the stage at the end of the opera. Ramses Sigl was the choreographer of this production. He adds dance to the instrumental music, ensemble numbers and arias, as was common in Händel’s time; however, his choreography frequently evokes a flavour of Musical Theatre.
As in the premiere of the new production in 2009, Alessandro De Marchi was the musical director. The orchestra, which consisted of members of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden and guest musicians on historical instruments, responded well to his direction to produce a nuanced performance. It was without a doubt the mixture of modern and historical instruments that ensured the unique and special sound of the orchestra. The two continuo groups (one in the left and one in the right side of the pit) deserve special mention for their excellent agility and sensitivity to the singers. Also outstanding was Wieland Heinze’s violin solo in “Se in fiorito ameno prato” at the beginning of the second act. He and David Hansen (Cesare) competed musically with each other, much to the amusement of the audience. This involved repeating and elaborating on each other’s cadenzas, including the whistling and the beginning of the German national anthem (both from Hansen). Unfortunately the horn solo in “Va tacito e nascosto” was not well-played, and included several cracked notes. This solo has undoubtedly been given better performances on even natural horns, not to mention on modern-day horns with valves, as was the case here.
The title role was sung by David Hansen. Unfortunately the Australian wasn’t convincing in the middle or lower register, being barely audible in places, although this improved during the course of the evening. But his higher tones – from around c2 upwards – were brilliant, and he showed more of it in elegant ornamentation in the da capo arias. The only thing that was very distracting was his movement of the upper body when singing coloratura passages. The role of Cornelia was filled by the American mezzo soprano Tichina Vaughn. She grabbed the audience’s attention with her darker colouring and sang the arias of a dolorous widow and worried mother with a beautifully clear melodic line and powerful, expressive voice. Her sound harmonised excellently with the brighter colouring of Jana Kurucová (Sesto), which was clearly heard in their duet “Son nata a lagrimar”. Kurucová characterised Sesto as a hesitant boy who gained in boldness as the performance progressed. She managed pearling coloraturas as well as fine melodies, such as the middle section of the aria “Svegliatevi nel core, furie d’un alma offesa”. That being said, the best singer of the evening was, in my opinion, Matthew Shaw in the role of Tolomeo. In his flowing coloraturas, which were sung effortlessly, it seemed as though his breath would go on forever. The timbre of his voice was pleasant and he had a wide palette of colours appropriate to each situation. I almost wished he would have sung the role of Cesare as he did in 2009/10 in Dortmund and Kiel, so as to hear more of his beautiful voice. The role of Cleopatra was sung by Elena Gorshunova. Like the other singers, she was knowledgeable about the style of baroque ornamentation required by the da capo arias, but she didn’t always manage it in the best way. Sometimes she seemed to insert some high tones just for the sake of it, regardless of whether they fitted the melody or not. With her flexible and clear voice she sang the coloraturas, like in “Da tempeste il legno infranto” without problems, and the change of emotions, e.g. “Piangerò la sorte mia”, presented no difficulties for her. Other roles were sung by Allen Boxer (Curio), Evan Hughes (Achilla), who presented a very flexible bass-baritone, and Yosemeh Adjei (Nireno), who sang his only aria “Chi perde un momento“ with bravery and mastered his recitatives in the same way.
I would give this production 9 stars (a half each being deducted for the set/choreography and musical deficits).
Reviewed by Katharina Schiller

Monday 21 March 2016


Richard Strauss, Die ägyptische Helena - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 19th March

The second part of my Strauss-weekend focused on another rarity: Die ägyptische Helena. An opera that premiered between Die Frau ohne Schatten and Arabella and therefor features a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The text is great and shows Hofmannsthal's incredible talent, but also the music is magnificent. Being the third of the so-called marriage operas it Centers around the question of faithfulness and truth.
The production led by Marco Arturo Marelli (also responsible for the stage) is very beautiful with an elegant hall as scenery including high-class furnishings. Optically it was very colorful but also very elegant and exotic. Also the costumes by Dagmar Niefind looked stunningly and supported the plot really well. The stage was divided in three halls by using the revolving stage which was a great idea. With a lot of doors, panels and movement in the production it never got boring throughout the whole performance
Musically Andrew Litton pointed out the incredibly colourful spectre of Strauss' music. He led the Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin which played in such an elegant manner that the whole evening was just a celebration of orchestral fireworks. The orchestra sounded brilliantly and showed the whole range of colours and Timbres.
The three elves (Elbenita Kajtazi, Alexandra Ionis and Rebecca Raffell) as well as the two servants (Alexandra Hutton & Stephanie Weiss) gave very solid performances. Andrew Dickinson gave a very youthful and bright Da-Ud with a beautiful clear Timbre.
Derek Walton sang the role of Altair very enthusiastically with a strong and dark voice. He did not have a lot of scenes but totally convinced in the few ones he had.
One of my highlights was Ronnita Miller as Die alles-wissende Muschel. Her voice is just incredible. The Timbre of her voice is dark and mellow sounding really low which was really perfect for this role. It was a pity that she did not have more to sing.
Laura Aikin sang the role of Aithra and was simply stunning in it. Her voice seemed to be perfect for the role having a light focused timbre with great musicality and comedic talent. Her Performance was definitely a highligh of the evening and I loved her singing a lot. Her acting was also really convincing and sometimes marvelously funny.
Stefan Vinke, who I already heard as Bacchus and Siegfried, is a real power house. His tenor voice has a very dark timbre and one might not think that he manages the incredibly high tessitura of the role of Menelas. Strauss must have really hated tenors to write such difficult roles for them. Vinke however, seemed to have no Problem with it. He sings so powerful throughout his whole range that I was afraid he would lose his voice, but he just went on and on and on. Some of the top notes seemed not totally comfortable but it would be a miracle if they did. Vinke really gave a marvelous Performance.
As did Riccarda Merbeth as Helena. I really do not know why but her voice always confuses me. I never liked her Wagner-roles but her Strauss performances are really exceptional. She sings these soaring phrases in the top register with such ease and her diction is really always exemplary throughout the performance. No matter if she has to sing loud or soft she always finds the right tone. her voice has a very warm and clear tmbre that allows her to sing the famous Strauss phrases with such bauty of tone that one believes she was brn to sing Strauss. Great Performance!
Finally I was really happy to have heard this prformance and I hope pople start to appreciate this opera more. It was a delightful evening with astonishing music and therefor I give 9 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Richard Strauss, Die Liebe der Danae - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 18th March

Due to the fact that the DOB is having a Strauss focus for the next few weeks I came back to Berlin to have a Strauss-weekend. The first evening started with Strauss rarely performed Die Liebe der Danae. An opera that is a real rarity with incredibly beautiful music, but never really entered the repertoire. Strauss himself only heard the full opera once in a semi-public rehearsal at the Salzburg Festival 1944 but the premiere was cancelled due to the Hitler assassination attempt. It finally premiered three years after Strauss' death in 1952.
The music is just marvelous and shows the incredible mastery of Strauss' style. Especially the third act lifts up everyone with its divine melodies and soaring phrases. The production led by Kirsten Harms was really nice and focused on the relationships of the three main protagonists. There were some really interesting ideas and especially during the final act the direction showed interesting aspects. The stage (Bernd Damovsky) and the costumes (Dorothea Katzer) were incredibly beautiful and matched with the ravishing music.
Sebastian Weigle led the Orchester der Deutsche Oper Berlin and showed great understanding of the score. He pointed out the great spectre of colours and shimmering sounds of Strauss' music. The orchestra followed his lead and created a great atmosphere with beautifully elaborated playing. Also the Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin gave a nice performance during the few choir parts. Especially the reception of Midas was a great musical moment.
First to the four royal couples: The four kings (Paul Kaufmann, Clemens Bieber, Thomas Lehman & Alexei Botnarciuc) seemed to do a good job, but did not really have much to sing anyway. Their wives Semele, Europa, Alkmene and Leda (Nicole Haslett, Martina Welschenbach, Rebecca Jo Loeb & Katharina Peetz) on the other hand were on stage more often and gave a lovely performance. Especially Nicole Haslett's beautiful light soprano sounded brilliantly and would probably also make a great Sophie or Zerbinetta.
Thomas Blondelle's Merkur also sounded great with a very light focused timbre and exceptional diction. His acting was very good as well and made his short appearance a real highlight.
Burkhard Ulrich sang the role of King Pollux and also gave us a taste of his strong and clear tenor voice that seems not to have any problems with a high tessitura.
Xanthe also does not have a lot to sing but is singing the wonderful duet with Danae at the beginning of act 1. It is a really intersting role because it stays mostly in the middle and lower register but also calls for quite high notes (especially in the duet). Adriana Ferfezka managed the role lovely with a beautiful clear timbre and a very shiny top.
Mark Delavan sang the role of Jupiter which also has an extremely high tessitura (for a low voice). He managed the role even though I had the Feeling that the high parts really challenged him Anyway, he did a great Job throughout the performance and especially the final act was just magnificent.
Midas was sung by Raymond Very who has a very strong and bright tenor voice. His voice had a very pleasant timbre and his phrasing was beautifully lyrical. The love duets in act 2 and 3 were simply divine and real highlights.
The title role, Danae, was performed by soprano Manuela Uhl. Her voice is strong and powerful but still has a very lyrical quality with soaring top notes and a very beautiful timbre. The long beautiful phrases of this role are not something easy to sing but Uhl did a great job here. Her silvery voice was floating over the orchestra and she portrayed this strange young girl wonderfully.
Alltogether it was a very enjoyable evening and I really ask myself why this beautiful opera is not performed more often. Anyway, this performance totally earned ravishing 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Friday 11 March 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, Il trovatore - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 10th March 

The performance of Verdi’s most popular opera for the composer’s lifetime at the Bavarian State Opera last Thursday was really a great moment. The gloomy atmosphere of Olivier Py’s staging and Pierre-André Weitz’ black scenery seemed extremely appropriate for this opera, because there is simply nothing cheerful about the storyline of this opera. A gipsy woman burns her child by accident and the only survivor of the triangle of two men and the woman they both love is the real sufferer when he tragically has to realize that he is the one to blame for the death of his beloved and his longlost brother at the end of the opera.
The revolving stage at this house was used perfectly and showed many different scenes: a stage onstage, where Ferrando could tell the story at the beginning of the opera, the gipsies’ home with a huge locomotive that was used as an anvil during the gipsy choir, an impressively burning big cross that reinforced the terrible fire of the stake that burns inside of Manrico and smaller rooms onstage as a bedroom or a jail. The figures always were in motion and the scenery showed credible interactions between them. Even if the many cogwheels as some kind of curtain and the spinning wheels on the walls of the scenery stayed ambivalent, I loved this production.
Goran Jurić sung Ferrando solidly and even if you could have wished a little bit more vigorous effect of his voice for his narration at the beginning of the opera, he did a fine job.
The Conte di Luna was performed very sovereignly by Igor Golovatenko. With his massive and authoritarian baritone voice he could arouse the tyrant that is driven by jealousy and stops at nothing to get what he wants very vividly.
Nadia Krasteva’s gipsy woman Azucena was thrilling. As spectator you just had to buy her desire for vengeance because of her passionate acting and singing.
The role of Leonora was sung by Julianna Di Giacomo who has got a very multilayered voice. She was able to convince the audience with her ability to sing phrases with great flexibility and a strict control of volume from the low up to the high register. It was like she could adjust her voice perfectly to the particular orchestration. Only her highest tones seemed a little bit strained which ultimately did not affect the listening experience negatively.
Younghoon Lee is a superior tenor that is able to call a very powerful and heroic voice his own. He performed his part of Manrico very varied and while using many different colors with his voice, he was always reliable in all registers. At some parts his voice had a wonderful sobbing timbre and then at parts that required volume, he could deliver a vibrant sound. For example at his demanding aria „Di quella pira l’orrendo foco“ it felt like he would sing his incredibly intense last and highest tone for ages. Justifiably he was rewarded by the hugest applause of the audience after the performance.
As known by everyone the Bayerisches Staatsorchester ranks among the best orchestras for opera worldwide. Antonello Allemandi’s interpretation of the score was stimulatingly propulsive and geared to the singers precisely.
For this performance with its exciting staging, a brilliant cast and an at full blast playing orchestra I give 9 stars.
Reviewed by Lukas Leipfinger

Monday 7 March 2016

Festival talk with Günther Groissböck

4th August (updated March 2016)

Krassimira Stoyanova and Günther Groissböck in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier (Salzburg 2014/2015)

Ihr Repertoire ist ja sehr breit gefächert – deutsch, französisch, italienisch, selbst russisch ist dabei – wo fühlen Sie sich am wohlsten?
Natürlich im deutschen Repertoire. Einfach weil es in der Unmittelbarkeit des Ausdrucks so nahe ist. Logischerweise, denn man kann jedes Wort - und sei es bloß ein kleines Bindewort - ganz persönlich färben, da man natürlich zur eigenen Sprache den größten Bezug hat. Vokal ist selbstverständlich das Italienische Repertoire besonders angenehm zu singen und es liegt mir aufgrund meines familiären Umfeldes besonders am Herzen. Ich mag aber auch Russisch oder Tschechisch sehr gerne. Und da denke ich etwa an "Rusalka" oder "Boris Godunow", denn diese sind viel sanglichere Sprachen, als man vielleicht auf den ersten Blick meinen würde. Was aber die Authentizität angeht, hat man natürlich in der eigenen Sprache die größte Farbpalette zur Verfügung.
Was wäre die absolute Traumrolle und warum?
Eine davon ist sicher der "Gurnemanz", den ich bald an einigen ganz wichtigen Theatern singen werde. Und natürlich "König Philipp" in "Don Carlo", weil die Figur einfach etwas Abgründiges, Schwermütiges und Melancholisches hat. Die Musik dieser Oper hat grundsätzlich diese düstere Grundstimmung, die ich wahnsinnig faszinierend finde.
Was war bist jetzt Ihre größte Herausforderung?
Wahrscheinlich der "Rosenkavalier". Allein schon intellektuell gesehen, auch wenn man das von außen betrachtet bei dieser Rolle nicht denken würde. Aber rein lerntechnisch und musikalisch war das sicher die größte Herausforderung. Man würde gar nicht glauben, wenn man das Stück nur vom Hören kennt, wie schwierig es wirklich ist.
Auch weil es so leicht klingen muss?
Ja, genau.  Es klingt alles so leicht und spielerisch, ein bisschen Walzermusik, die keineswegs den Eindruck vermittelt, dass das tonal unglaublich schräg komponiert und gesetzt ist. Es gibt da gegeneinander reibende Tonhöhen, wo das Orchester etwa einen Halbton unter einem selbst spielt und auch viele verschobene Harmonien. Aber auch die Aufmerksamkeit und Konzentration, die das Stück von einem erfordert, ist enorm. Es gibt kaum drei aufeinanderfolgende Takte, wo man es einfach mal genießen und sozusagen durch den Part „cruisen“ kann. Man muss immer auf der Hut sein, denn man wird rhythmisch und tonal ständig gefordert.
Sie singen nicht zum ersten Mal in Salzburg. Seit 2002 sind Sie eigentlich regelmäßig hier zu Gast. Was verbinden Sie mit Salzburg?
Da gibt es eine sehr große Erinnerungspalette, was allein schon mit meiner Kindheit zu tun hat. Meine Großmutter hatte eine Wohnung hier und deshalb war ich schon als Kind sehr oft in Salzburg. Ich habe mit ihr hier sehr viele Sommer verbracht und diese typische „Festspielluft“ schnuppern können und dürfen. Durchs aktive Dabeisein bei den Festspielen bin ich dann schließlich sozusagen auf der anderen Seite gestanden, verbinde aber abgesehen von den Festspielen, einfach auch ein äußerst angenehmes Freizeitgefühl mit Salzburg. Die Berge und die günstige geographische Lage machen es einfach zu einem besonderen Platz und wenn das Wetter auch mitspielt,  ist Salzburg ja eine richtig tolle Urlaubsdestination.
Bassrollen sind meistens entweder die alten weisen Männer oder Bösewichte, selten Heldenrollen. Wie sehen Sie das?
Das Spektrum ist doch etwas größer als man vielleicht meint, besonders wenn man, wie ich, ein Basso cantante, also ein hoher Bass ist. Da kann man hin und wieder auch etwas ins Heldenbaritonfach reinschnuppern. "Orest" zum Beispiel ist so eine Partie, die zwischen den Fächern liegt, aber natürlich gibt es kaum diese klassischen Liebhaberrollen wie im Tenorfach, die dann ihre schmachtenden Arien singen und ihre Geliebten aus Eifersucht töten oder so. In unserem Fach geht es da schon eher seriös zu, aber auch hier gibt es Charaktere, die Abgründe haben, eine Entwicklung durchmachen und nicht nur von vornherein „fertig“ sind. Und ich bin, Gott sei Dank, jetzt inzwischen in der Situation, mein Repertoire dementsprechend ausbauen zu können, um auch in diese Richtung gehen zu können. Also Figuren darstellen zu können, die mehr als nur dem guten alten Mann mit aufgeklebtem Bart entsprechen.
Ihr Debut letztes Jahr als Ochs hat ja mit den gängigen Klischees dieser Rolle aufgeräumt. Was halten Sie von der Deutung als durchaus gutaussehenden jungen gewitzten Casanova.
Also eigentlich ist es ja gar nicht so revolutionär, auch wenn es in der Aufführungsgeschichte vielleicht so scheinen mag. Wir erfinden ja nichts Neues, sondern halten uns an das, was dasteht und ich glaube, dass diese Darstellung, wie wir sie hier jetzt haben, mehr dem „beabsichtigten Ideal“ der Schöpfer entspricht, als die gängige, klassische Version. Die protzigen Liebesabenteuer des Barons sollten ja eine gewisse Glaubhaftigkeit haben und der dickbäuchige, schwerfällige Kerl, wie man ihn klischeehaft so kennt, wirkt da meines Erachtens einfach nicht wirklich glaubhaft. Auch die Musik zeigt ein anderes Bild. Etwa bei der "Mägdeerzählung" ist eine gewisse Hektik allgegenwärtig und er, der Baron, überschlägt sich ja fast in seinen Erzählungen, was schon darauf hindeutet, welche Lebenslust dieser Mann hat.
Der Ochs steht demnächst auch in München und New York auf ihrem Spielplan. Was gibt es in Zukunft noch für Projekte?
Es gibt einiges Tolles, was da auf mich zukommt: Der Ochs kommt etwa auch 2016 in Mailand, übrigens in der Salzburger Produktion. Gurnemanz kommt im kommenden Herbst nun in Amsterdam, 2018 in einer Neuproduktion in Paris und ebenfalls in diesem Jahr dann auch in Bayreuth, Kaspar (Freischütz), König Marke (Tristan), Pogner (Meistersinger) zunächst in Paris und dann in Bayreuth 2017. Also es ist schon mächtig was los. Außerdem gibt es auch noch ein ganz verlockendes Angebot für etwas ganz „Narrisches“, was an Verrücktheit das Rollendebut als Ochs bei den Salzburger Festspielen 2014 wohl sogar noch übertrifft - und solche Dinge reizen mich natürlich immer ganz besonders...
Ein Haus an dem Sie besonders oft gastieren ist ja die Bayerische Staatsoper in München. Ist das quasi eine Art musikalische Heimat?
Ja, auf jeden Fall, vielleicht sogar mehr als das. Ich fühle mich dort einfach besonders wohl, denn es liegt mir sowohl von der Mentalität als auch der Sprache einfach richtig nahe. Es ist natürlich auch ein besonderes Glück, dass dort momentan sozusagen die Post abgeht. Man kann, glaube ich, ohne etwas Falsches zu sagen, sicherlich behaupten, dass dieses Haus momentan die absolute Spitze repräsentiert. Was Sänger betrifft ist es eigentlich kaum zu toppen, allein von der Homogenität der Besetzungen. Ein oder zwei große Namen kann jedes Haus mal bringen, aber eine solche Harmonie innerhalb der Casts ist schon ein klarer Punkt für München. Es herrscht dort auch eine sehr uneitle, sachliche und herzliche Atmosphäre und auch deshalb bin ich wirklich sehr gern dort.
Haben Sie ein Idol, ein Vorbild zu dem Sie aufblicken?
Ja, da gibt es schon einige Namen, die mich sehr faszinieren. Große Sänger aus der Vergangenheit und auch noch Lebende. Es ist immer schwierig Namen zu nennen, denn sobald man den einen Namen ausgesprochen hat fallen einem fünf andere ein, die man auch nennen müsste. Im Klangideal bin ich sehr beeindruckt von Franz Crass. Aus sängerischen und persönlichen Gründen, bin ich mit José van Dam, der mich einige Jahre unterrichten hat, sehr verbunden,  aber jeder hat seinen eigenen Charakter, seine eigene Herangehensweise und muss dann letztlich auch seine eigenen Wege gehen.
Junge Sänger kämpfen heute oft mit dem harten Operngeschäft und werden oftmals stimmlich sehr früh zu sehr gefordert. Was sagen sie zu dieser Entwicklung?
Das kommt immer darauf an, wo man beginnt. Ich kenne eher den umgekehrten Fall. Ich war sehr früh und relativ jung an großen Häusern, zuerst in Wien und dann in Zürich. Und bei mir war es eher so, das ich sehr ungeduldig war und schon Grösseres wollte, als man mir teilweise zugestanden hat. In Zürich waren die Aufgaben ansatzweise schon ganz gut dosiert. In kleineren Häusern kann es aber natürlich schon passieren, dass man in Rollen hineingeworfen wird, die zu früh und daher vokal wirklich gefährlich sind. Rollen etwa, die stimmlich Dramatisches verlangen und karrieretechnisch einfach auch zu früh kommen und man dann einfach noch nicht ausfüllen kann. Da muss man höllisch aufpassen, dass man seinem Instrument nicht schadet und da denke ich, dass man in kleineren Häusern möglicherweise eher gefährdet ist „verheizt“ zu werden. An größeren Häusern muss man aber eben umgekehrt aufpassen, dass man nicht mit zu kleinen Rollen unterfordert wird und dadurch einfach keine Gelegenheit hat, sich zu entwickeln. Es geht wie immer um die richtige Balance zwischen gefordert und gefördert werden und selbstverständlich muss man sich selbst auch in Geduld üben, damit man eben nicht mit 25 schon den ersten Sachs oder Wotan singen will.
Ich weiß zufälligerweise, dass Sie ein sehr leidenschaftlicher Radsportler sind. Kommen Sie bei Ihrem vollen Terminkalender überhaupt dazu das überall auszuüben?
Nun ich versuche mir jedes Jahr gewisse Ziele, meist Radmarathons zu setzen. Dieses Jahr habe ich immerhin zwei geschafft: das war die berühmte „Marmotte“ - das ist ein sehr bekannter Radmarathon in Frankreich mit über 5000 Höhenmetern bei 174 Kilometern und dem berühmten Schlussanstieg nach L’Alpe d‘Huez und die Woche davor war ich in Aprica beim Granfondo Campionissimo, eine klassische Giro d’Italia Etappe über Passo di Gavia und Mortirolo.  Das sollte natürlich so in den Kalender eingebettet sein, dass man ca. 3-4 Tage dazwischen hat, um wieder etwas runterzukommen. Wenn man solche Ziele hat, dann gibts  auch wirklich eine Motivation, sich übers Jahr  soweit fit zu halten, um da überhaupt teilzunehmen zu können. Natürlich klappt es nicht bei jedem 3-Tagesaufenthalt, das Rad mitzunehmen, aber man kann z.B. überall laufen gehen oder im Fitnessstudio auf ein Bike steigen. Im letzten Winter hatte ich zum Beispiel mal den konkreten Fall, dass ich in München Vorstellungen hatte und meine Tourenskier mit hatte. Und nach Probenende bin ich z.B. abends einfach mal nach Salzburg gefahren und mit Stirnlampe im Dunklen auf den Untersberg gelaufen. Es gibt also immer irgendeine Möglichkeit sich fit zu halten.
Ist das dann wirklich Erholung?
Das ist in dem Maße sicher Erholung, weil es mir den Kopf und das Blut vom Berufsstress etwas reinigt. Wenn ich allerdings etwas mehr Zeit hätte, dann wäre es wahrscheinlich keine Erholung mehr, weil dann der Leistungsdruck zu groß werden würde. Dann kämen Gedanken wie etwa, dass der Ötzi (Ötztaler Radmarathon) unter 8:32h gehen muss und ähnliches. Man kann halt seinen Charakter schwer ändern und nicht aus der eigenen Haut raus. Aber solange es im richtigen Ausmaß bleibt, ist es sehr erholsam und ist auch körperlich für das Singen gut.

Schön, vielen Dank für das Interview und alles Gute.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Charles Wuorinen, Brokeback Mountain - Salzburger Landestheater

Premiere performance (Austrian premiere performance) 27th February

Gerard Mortier had the idea of taking the subject of Brokeback Mountain, which had already been produced as a Hollywood movie by Ang Lee in 2005, for creating an opera. In 2014 this was realised at the Teatro Real in Madrid by the composer Charles Wuorinen and Annie Proulx (libretto). As their basis they took the 45-page novella by Proulx, published in The New Yorker in 1997. It tells, in short episodes, the love story of two cowboys, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, which begins in 1963 and ends with Jack's death in 1983.
Everybody who is familiar with Charles Wuorinen’s compositions knows that he likes to write for large orchestra. However, this is not possible at the Salzburger Landestheater, as the orchestra pit only has space for a maximum of 40 musicians. The composer therefore worked over his opera especially for this production, and delivered a version for chamber orchestra with only 24 musicians. In this version he used mainly wind instruments and percussion.
In the programme you can read Charles Wuorinen’s own thoughts on his opera: "The music shows the rough grandeur of the mountain (...) the mountain lives and breathes and the music also makes audible the turbulences in nature through storms." These effects are experienced by the audience in the chamber version, too. Adrian Kelly led the musicians of the Mozarteum Orchestra with clear movements through various bar and tempo changes, leaving nothing to be desired. Only the volume of the orchestra could have been slightly less intense as the orchestra was occasionally too loud for the performance space and, as a result, the singers were covered by the orchestra sometimes.
In this Austrian premiere the two main characters were sung by Florian Plock (Ennis de Mar) and Mark Omvlee (Jack Twist). The bass-baritone Plock had excellent diction and sang with darker colouring. His acting was also convincing and he conveyed the conversion of his character well, as intended by the composer: from taciturn lonely cowboy at the beginning to loving man, who puts his loss into words in an arioso at the end. His opposite number was the Dutchman Omvlee, who had already sung the role of Jack at the German premiere in Aachen in 2014. With equally good textual clarity he mastered the role seemingly easily. Only when singing top notes it sounded sometimes rather tight and a little nasal. Nevertheless, he gave a convincing performance and demonstrated considerable talent.

Credit should also be given to the supporting cast: Raimundas Juzuitis (Aguirre), Hailey Clark (Alma), Rowan Hellier (Lureen) and Anna Maria Major (Mrs. Twist). Clark’s and Hellier’s voice colours changed as her characters did: from the the young girl in love who is not yet married to a frustrated and jealous wife. Unfortunately, both singers as well as Juzuitis could not always be heard clearly.
The staging of Jacopo Spirei treated the subject neutrally. The first act was dominated by Brokeback Mountain. The second act represented the various scenes on the revolving stage, but again the mountain was omnipresent when a part of it was placed on the rotating stage. Along with the costumes by Eva Musil, who was also responsible for the set, the production is good, overall, but nothing special. The only thought-provoking aspect, in my opinion, is the blue sky in the background in front of which the shirts are hanging at the end. .
In summary: a successful production that can be heard and seen, although it has small weaknesses here and there. 8 stars.
Reviewed by Katharina Schiller