Tuesday 31 May 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, Il Trovatore - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 28th May

After almost 12 years the Deutsche Oper shows a revival of Verdi's masterpiece Il Trovatore in the production of Hans Neuenfels. Having seen it now I understand why they did not play it for so long. Hans Neuenfels is known for his progressive strange productions and was responsible for many scandal productions for decades now. The production of Il Trovatore is not really scandalous but simply grotesque and very often his ideas do not make any sense (which is probably the plan). The stage and the costumes made by Reinhard von der Thannen look really strangely and are not really supporting the plot at all. It is really a boring production that seems just to try to be progressive and abnormal.
At least musically it was a good evening. Roberto Rizzi Brignoli conducted a very balanced transparent score with focus on the beautiful melodies of the opera. The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin realised his ideas perfectly and so it was a very exciting performance of the orchestra. The Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin seemed not as well prepared and was a bit too weak. Especially the famous choir at the beginning of act 2 did not sound organically and convincingly.
In the small roles of Inez and Ruiz we heard Annika Schlicht and Burkhard Ulrich who both were quite a luxurious casting for these roles. Schlicht has a very beautiful warm mezzo voice and phrases very beautifully. Ulrich's tenor sounded unusally dark and made me wish for more of his singing.
Ferrando was sung by Marko Mimica with his powerful dark baritone voice. I really love his voice because it has a very heroic youthful timbre and his performances are always solid and exciting.
Dana Beth Miller sang Azucena and gave one of the most exciting performances of the evening. Her highly dramatic voice and her very convincing acting made a huge impression. Her lower register used a bit too much chest voice, but her phrasing was really thrilling. Especially in the dramatic outbursts she totally convinced and her final "Sei vendicata, o madre" gave me goosebumps.
In the role of Luna we heard Dalibor Jenis with a dark but very slim baritone voice. He gave a solid performance but seemed a bit one-dimensional. His voice was a bit unbalanced from time to time and I missed the richness of the lower register. However his portrayal was solid.
My personal highlight (and the reason to see the performance) was Angela Meade as Leonora. I never had the pleasure to hear her live before and so I was very excited to see her. Her strong voice has a dark lower register and a clear bright upper register. Her effortless high notes are simply mindblowing and vocal acrobatics are definitely her strengths. The only thing that is interfering a bit is the sometimes strong vibrato, but it did not affect the overal impression. Sometimes she seemed a bit insecure at certain moments and generall gave a very risky performance. However it worked out really well and was really impressive alltogether.
Murat Karahan jumped in as Manrico and needed some time to really get into the character. While being a bit one-dimensional and unbalanced during the first act he improved a lot afterwards and sang a brilliant "Di quella pira" with a ringing high c that left the audience breathless. If he had managed to sing as clear and balanced during the whole performance it would have been an exceptional performance. Maybe he will work on that and then I would love to hear him again.
Alltogether it was a solid performance with some nice highlights. Unfortunately the production was a bit disturbing and dimmed the overall impression. I would give 8 stars to the Trovatore at Deutsche Oper.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Sunday 29 May 2016

Giacomo Puccini, Tosca - Staatsoper im Schillertheater Berlin

Performance 25th May

Tosca is probably one of the most famous operas and a great example of Puccini's thrilling dramatic power. If you have three very good protagonists this opera can have a very strong impact on the audience. The production of the Staatsoper was directed by Alvis Hermanis and convinces with a very differentiated conduction of the characters. Hermanis worked out many small details that intensified the experience of this opera and told the plot more than appropriately. Kristine Jurjane was responsible for the décor which looked really beautifully and especially the costumes were really elegant and nice. The only thing that was a bit cheesy were the projections which showed the plot as a comic during the whole performance.
The Staatskapelle Berlin was led by Domingo Hindoyan who showed a very balanced interpretation with a great sense for the dramatic flow of the plot. At some points there could have been more power (finale of act 1) but alltogether he led the performance really well. Also the Staatskapelle played ravishingly and conveyed the verismo spirit of this opera. From the many elegant lines to the dramatic outbursts everything you could wish for was there.
As for the soloists, Tosca basically has three big roles and then several really small roles. These smaller roles were casted really solidly and helped to improve the overall impression. Florian Hoffmann (Spoletta), Vincenzo Neri (Sciarrone) and Dominic Barberi (jailer) sang very well and did a good job in these roles. As Angelotti we heard Grigory Shkarupa whose voice suited this role of the young rebel on the run very well. Jan Martiník as sacristan sounded much more apropriately than as hermit last week. His singing and acting suited the role perfectly and he gave a very good performance.
In the role of the main antagonist Scarpia we heard George Gagnidze who has a powerful dark voice with a very heroic but also elegant timbre. His performance was so convincing because of his good acting skills and a really thrilling performance full of emotion. During the second act his sadistic nature was really obvious but also the glowing desire for Tosca.
Fabio Sartori sang the role of Cavaradossi with exceptional stamina and a very Italian voice that was perfect for the role. This one seems to suit his voice way better than Pollione because of the dramatic aspects of the role. His top notes are powerful and focused without any signs of strain.
The most thrilling performance of the evening was made by the singer of the title role, Anja Kampe. What a Tosca! Her full voice has a very warm and beautiful timbre but also exceptional stamina and great expressive abilities. The very top of her voice could be a little bit more controlled but the overal impression was marvelous. Her performance was so thrilling that I almost forgot that it is just an opera. Having heard her only in German repertoire so far I was surprised how well she did in this role and she surely is one of the best Toscas around.
Alltogether it was a great night with a wonderful performance that really touched me. I loved every minute of it and so I would give 9 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 8 "Symphony of a Thousand" - Dresdner Musikfestspiele, Dresdner Kreuzkirche

Performance 21st May

I came back to Dresden last saturday for one of the most epic pieces in classical music which not without reason has the inofficial title "Symphony of a Thousand". Mahler's huge 8th Symphony is enormous in evey single way. A huge orchestra, several choirs and 7 vocal soloists come together for a piece that is able to literally take your breath away.
Conductor Omer Meir Wellber conducted the Istrael Philharmonic Orchestra which was joined by musicians of the Sinfonieorchester der Hochschule für Musik Dresden. Wellber's conducting style looks very scholarly and sometimes a bit strangely, but he seems to have everything under controll (which is already quite an achievement with this piece). He managed to show a very clear and transparent rendition of the score. The orchestra did a very good job following his instructions and convinced with a great dynamic range. From the very soft parts where you could barely hear the orchestra to the tremendous outbreaks they were able to convey everthing. It never sounded just brutally loud, but always musically refined and sophisticatedly.
The several participating choirs featured the Prager Philharmonischer Chor, the Singakademie Dresden, the Universitätschor Dresden, the Knabenchor Dresden and the Kinderchor der Singakademie Dresden. I was really impressed by the great balance during the choir parts and the wonderful contrasts between extremely intimate passages and the moments of full power. The beginning of the final Chorus mysticus was simply exceptional and gave me goosebumps through and through. Meir Wellber managed to keep orchestra and choirs together very well and it sounded really brilliantly.
The male soloists were sung by Gábor Bretz (Pater Profundus), Christoph Pohl (Pater Ecstaticus) and Lance Ryan (Doctor Marianus, jumping in for Stefano Secco). Bretz's dark heroic voice sounded solemnly and dignifiedly and he sang with great passion. Christoph Pohl's voice convinced with a very noble warm timbre and a very beautifully sounding upper register. His baritone also has a very appealing quality of tone and is simply wonderful to listen to. Unfortunately Lance Ryan did not fit into the rest of the ensemble. I cannot help but feeling that his intonation is quite dreadful in the upper register and the timbre simply isn't really beautiful. However his voice is quite powerful and it is very thankful that he took over for his sick colleague.
The two low female roles featured Gala el Hadidi (Maria Aegyptiaca) and legendary Waltraud Meier (Mulier Samaritana). Gala el Hadidi convinced with an incredibly warm, dark and soft alto voice. Her timbre is very tender and pleasant and also the flexibility of her voice were very satisfying. Her voice is definitely worth to be remembered. Waltraud Meier, as always, convinced with a thrilling performance with her unmistakable voice which has this special lean but intense timbre. Already seeing that woman perform is just incredibly because of her exceptional presence onstage.
The short role of Mater gloriosa was sung by Hila Baggio who has a voice that is clear like a bell. Her bright, light soprano has a shining top register and together with the mystical music it was just a magic moment.
In the role of Una Poenitentium we heard Rachel Willis-Sørensen. Her full warm soprano is powerful but still has a very beautiful timbre. Her voice sounds very softly and remains controlled and beautiful throughout her whole range. I personally think that her voice is an outstanding example of a lyric-dramatic soprano and it was a pleasure to hear her again.
Last but not least, the role of Magna Peccatrix was performed by Sarah-Jane Brandon who also has a very powerful soprano voice, but her timbre is a bit brighter and her top quite silvery. Almost without any effort she seemed to sing out these high b's and c's. She also gave a brilliant performance even though her breath could be a bit longer at certain passages.
I have to say the performance really blew my mind and I had goosebumps several times. It was so touching and beautiful that during the final Chors mysticus I even had tears in my eyes (I admit). So I would definitely give 9 stars to this glorious performance.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Saturday 21 May 2016

Carl Maria von Weber, Der Freischütz - Staatsoper im Schillertheater Berlin

Performance 19th May

Weber's Freischütz is probably one of the most romantic operas ever written and historically it had a very special influence on later German composers like Wagner. The difficulties of the piece (which quite often are underestimated) are that the opera calls for very special voices in most roles and also convincing actors because of the dramatic tensions within the plot. Moreover there is a lot that you can do in a production due to the various sceneries.
However, the production led by Michael Thalheimer is quite a disappointment. The stage (Olaf Altmann) is basically the same throughout the whole evening and is not really what I would call creative (a long big pipe basically). Thalheimer does not bring any action into the story and cut most of the dialogues as well. In the end it looked more like a concert performance with costumes (it probably would have been better to do so anyway). Fortunately the costumes (Katrin Lea Tag) looked nicely and brought at least a bit of aesthetics into the performance.
The conductor of the evening was Alexander Soddy who conducted everything precisely and nicely but without real passion. Very often his tempos were relatively slow and he just couldn't bring out the excitement of the score. The Staatskapelle Berlin played lovely and sometimes quite chamber music like. Alltogether they gave a solid performance with some really beautiful moments (the viola solo for Ännchen's aria for example was really great). The Staatsopernchor Berlin was a bit unbalanced this evening and some of the leading melodies were not pointed out well enough.
The speaking role of Samiel was performed by Peter Moltzen who was more a joke than being really creepy or scary. Jumping around and making strange sounds (probably Thalheimer's idea) is just not really the way Samiel should be. Sometimes I felt more like being in a comedy than in a serious piece.
The smaller appearances of Killian (Timothy Sharp) and the Bridemaids (Verena Allertz, Katharina Bolding, Regina Emersleben-Motz, Konstanze Löwe & Claudia Tuch) were done very well and made a good impression. Roman Trekel as Ottokar did a good job with his very noble solemn voice. His performance was very convincing and enjoyable.
In the role of Kuno we heard legendary Victor von Halem whose dark but still soft bass voice might not be as good as in the past, but he still filled the role with life and authority. Jan Martiník as Eremit gave a bit of a one-dimensional performance. His voice seems a bit too young and not dignified enough yet for this role.
Also Tobias Schabel as Kaspar was not really convincing. His performance was a bit colorless and lacked real passion. Also his voice seemed not to be perfect for this role. The role of Kaspar calls for a very agile and flexible bass voice with a dark and intimidating timbre.
Evelin Novak as Ännchen did a good job even though her voice also was not really the right Fach for this role. While Novak's voice is a very beautiful lyric instrument with good power resources, Ännchen calls for a German soubrette which means a very agile voice that is extremely flexible and has a very direct intonation. However, Novak did a very good job anyway and was a very likeable Ännchen.
My main reason of interest for this performance was Dorothea Röschmann as Agathe. Röschmann's voice is quite unique and probably best used for her legendary Mozart roles like the Countess, Pamina or Donna Elvira. Her Agathe mainly impresses with the intimate parts and her marvelous mezza voce. While the big aria seemed not totally comfortable (she seemed to have lost a bit of her agility with the years) her cavatina was simply wonderful. She has the incredible talent to convey emotions through her voice so easily! After the performance she was finally awarded the title "Berliner Kammersängerin" for her work in Berlin.
The male protagonist Max was sung by Austrian tenor Andreas Schager. As usual his powerful bright tenor voice sounded marvelously. Unlike in his performance as Siegmund in Leipzig lately he did not have any serious text issues this time and gave a simply brilliant performance. His voice is so strong that he easily sings over the orchestra and a full choir without any signs of strain. Schager is definitely and undoubtedly one of the leading heroic tenors of our time.
I was a bit disappointed by some parts of the performance but alltogether it was a solid performance, not really extraordinarily good, but also not really bad. Therefor 7 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Nicola Antonio Zingarelli, Giulietta e Romeo, Salzburger Pfingstfestspiele, Haus für Mozart

Concert performance 14th may

During my spontaneous trip back home to Salzburg I had the pleasure to see the performance of an interesting opera rarity that is based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliette (this year's motto of the Festival). Zingarelli's music is supposed to be a link between the music of Mozart and Bellini. However the opera sounds much older than it is and I would have guessed that it was written at least 50 years earlier. The whole disposition and the sound is very conventional and not really as exciting as operas by Mozart or Bellini.
However some numbers were really nice and alltogether it was a very pleasing entertaining evening. George Petrou (playing the piano part during the basso continuo parts himself) led the Armonia Atenea and they gave a performance with a broad range of dynamic and dramatic aspects. Especially the final act was really exciting and showed the dramatic flexibility of the ensemble. Also the choir Armonia Atenea did a very good job with very soft and balanced singing.
Juan Sancho and Irini Karaianni gave solid performances in their small roles as Teobaldo and Matilde. Especially Karaianni sang very beautifully in during her appearances with a warm an soft mezzo voice which has a very pleasant timbre. Xavier Sabata sang the role of Gilberto with his countertenor voice. Compared to Fagioli his voice seemed fuller and somewhat more mature which suited the role perfectly.
Bogdan Mihai gave a very nice performance as Giulietta's father Everardo. His light clear tenor voice convincedwith great fexibility and also a very touching interpretation. Especially the realisation that the whole tragedy was his fault in the end or his performance during the "first" death of Juliet showed great artistical talent.
In the role of Giulietta we heard swedish mezzo soprano Ann Hallenberg who has a very soft and warm instrument. Her flexible agile voice seems to be perfect for this kind of repertoire. Especially her death scene was extremely convincing with great emotional singing and a talent for conveying the tragedy of the story just by singing.
However, the vocal highlight of the evening was probably Franco Fagioli as Romeo. I normally am not a fan of countertenor voices, but Fagioli's voice has such an eveness and a really impressive range. I never heard such a beautiful countertenor voice before and it was truly a pleasure to hear him. Also his agility and flexibility was really nice and showed that he is an incredibly talented singer with a very precious instrument.
Alltogether I have to say that this opera might not be the most exciting one, but I had a lovely evening and it was interesting to hear such a rarity. I would give the performance 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Friday 13 May 2016

Vincenzo Bellini, Norma - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Concert performance 12th May

There are not many operas that cause so much fascination and also differ so much in their execution. How to cast Norma is a question that is always coming with a long discussion: Shall Norma be sung by a light coloratura voice or a heavier dramatic soprano that is still able to manage the runs and coloratura? Undoubtedly Edita Gruberová had great success in this role and so she came to Berlin to sing it two times at Deutsche Oper.
The Orchester der Deutschen Oper was conducted by Peter Valentovic with great refinement and elegant balance between dramatic outbreaks and lovely belcanto phrases.The dynamic range that he and the orchestra had was marvelous and included everything from the dramatic climax to the soft duets. The Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin also did a good job with a great range of dynamics and very appropriate phrasing. However some tenors should definitely keep their volume down, because they should not stick out of the ensemble too much.
In the smaller roles of Clotilde and Flavio we heard Rebecca Jo Loeb and Attilio Glaser who both gave solid performances and sang their roles very appropriately. Marko Mimica sang the role of Oroveso and gave the best vocal performance of the evening. His dark imperious voice was powerful and very balanced. His performance was not just solid, but really convincing and qualitative
Sonia Ganassi gave a good performance as Adalgisa. Her voice is strong and has a very warm timbre, but tends to get a bit unpleasantly in the upper register. I personally would wish for more eveness and balance between the different registers. However she gave a very good performance and is definitely able to sing the role appropriately.
Fabio Sartori as Pollione has a very powerful tenor voice with a relatively dark timbre. I sometimes wanted him to articulate more clearly and sing more focused. Alltogether he gave a very good and convincing performance but I had the feeling that he could do even better.
Finally, last but not least, Edita Gruberová sang the title role of Norma. Of course she does not sing with the same quality as 30 years ago but it truly is magnificent how intact her voice still is. My personal opinion is that her voice never really was made for Norma, but she pulled it off quite well. Casta diva and Mira, o Norma were both sung at least as well as other sopranos today would do it. Unfortunately the role demands more than that. Especially the lower parts of the role showed that she is past her prime and this performance was more about the legend factor than the musical quality. However, as I said, she still did better than many other current sopranos and it was a pleasure to hear her once more.
Alltogether it was a nice evening that might not have been perfect but definitely convinced with the legend factor of Gruberová. So I would give 7 stars to the performance.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen - Oper Leipzig

Ring cycle 5th - 8th May résumé

If an operahouse is doing a new Ring production it always is a huge effort and a very ambitious project. That Leipzig had to wait for 40 years to get a new one is a pity but they managed to bring this new Ring on stage with a very impressive level of competence. The production might not be a world-changing view of the plot but it tells the story appropriately and without any great contradictions. For the audience that is searching for a plain production that is more or less only serving the piece it surely is a recommendable production. People that want to have a totally innovative production that brings in a lot of interpretation and modern views might be disappointed, but the vocal quality of the performances compensates it all. Truly the vocal disposition of the cast is the main advantage of this Ring. I have never heard these roles with such qualitative voices that are able to hit all the notes and still sound beautifully. I can undoublty recommend everyone to see this Ring production, especially for people who see it for the first time. In some cases there is still room for improvement, but the Oper Leipzig did a good job with this quite ambitious project and it was definitely worth going there for the first cycle. The whole Ring gets 8 stars from me for a great cast and a very uncomplicated production.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen - Götterdämmerung - Oper Leipzig

Performance 8th May

The great anticipated finale of the Ring in Leipzig took place on sunday and the atmosphere was highly charged. In the end it was an epic climax after some great performances at the Oper Leipzig. The production of Götterdämmerung (Rosamund Gilmore) seemed most natural to me and the interaction between the different singers was quite convincing. Gilmore's ideas for this opera were way more interesting and gave a fine impression. The prestigious loft with view to the Rhine (Carl Friedrich Oberle) looked very impressively and especially the pillars (some characters disappeared within these pillars) were a great idea. The costumes (Nicola Reichert) were a bit ambivalent. Some of them (Norns, Gutrune and Gunther) were really beautiful while others were just not really appropriate and did not impress at all.
The musical part seemed to better as well this time. Ulf Schirmer still should have kept the orchestra (especially the brass) a bit better under control but alltogether it sounded better than in Walküre or Siegfried. Schirmer can be happy to have singers who are not easily covered by the immense outbreaks of the orchestra. Nevertheless the Gewandhausorchester showed great musicality and excitement for this performance. A very good performance was done by the Chor der Oper Leipzig during the solemn second act. They sounded really brilliantly and gave a fine performance.
The two female trios, the norns and the rhinemaidens, were casted really well and sang very beautifully. Especially the norn scene was simply brilliant. Olena Tokar, Kathrin Göring and Karin Lovelius gave a very well balanced and mystirious trio with great phrasing. Especially Tokar impressed me with a very clear and bright, but still quite powerful voice. Lovelius also sang the role of Waltraute later and gave a solid performance there as well. A bit more power (and less power in the orchestra) would have made it better but it was fine anyway. Magdalena Hinterdobler, Sandra Maxheimer and Sandra Janke sang the rhinemaidens with very beautiful seductive voices. Also this trio sounded well balanced and gave a ravishing performance.
As Alberich we heard Jochen Schmeckenbecher who did a good job. His voice suits the role very well and his short appearance during act 2 was very interesting. In the role of Gutrune we heard Marika Schönberg again who seemed to be more happy with this role. It suited her voice way better than Freia and she gave a very emotional and touching performance. Tuomas Pursio also gave a better performance as Gunther than as Wotan. His elegant voice suited the character very well and his portrayal was really good. With the role of Hagen we also heard Rúni Brattaberg again who gave a good performance. The role might bring him to his limits in the upper register but everything else was really intensive. His dark timbre and the intimidating performance were simply great.
I was really excited to hear Thomas Mohr as Siegfried after his great Loge in Rheingold. He actually managed the role really well. His voice has a very bright and light timbre but also the power to sing over the orchestra and manage this very demanding role. His diction and his acting were also really great and helped to give a very solid convincing performance. Only in the third act he already seemed a bit tired, but his performance still worked out pretty well.
Christiane Libor on the other hand seemed to have never-ending resources of power for her Brünnhilde. She used her shining soprano without any consideration and gave an extremely intensive performance throughout the whole evening. Her beautiful voice was so powerful and radiant that it was a pleasure to hear her. Especially her top register is of such impeccable quality and radiance that her high notes float through the auditorium with such ease and power. Only her lower register still needs a bit more power and maybe some time, but I am sure that this will work out soon enough. I have to admit that I never heard a better Brünnhilde live so far. BRAVA!!
Alltogether it was a brilliant finale for the Ring cycle and I am happy that I have been part of it. The performance of Götterdämmerung gets 8 stars for a very fine evening.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday 9 May 2016

Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen - Siegfried - Oper Leipzig

Performance 7th May

After the shaky Walküre on friday I was hoping for a better Siegfried and I have to say that this performance compensated for the previous evening. It was a true firework of great voices and surely the best performance so far. The production of Rosamund Gilmore seems to get better throughout the whole Ring. The interaction between the characters seemed very authentic and clear during this performance and the stage (Carl Friedrich Oberle) and the costumes (Nicola Reichert) also looked even better than in Walküre. Especially the second and third act looked just magnificently and served the plot really well. Also the role of the dancers seemed way more plausible than in the other parts so far. Especially the role of the bird as a dancer was a lovely idea.
Ulf Schirmer once again released the full power of the orchestra which sometimes just ended in unbalanced noise because of the relatively immense brass section. The string section really had to fight to be heard at all. Schirmer should hold the brass a bit more under control to ensure a balanced sound. Also some singers had to fight the wall of sound  that Schirmer and the Gewandhausorchester unleashed from the pit quite intensely.
Eun Yee You as the forest's bird was acceptable, but not really the ideal voice for this role. Her voice seemed not to be bright and radiant enough for this role. Unlike other Wagner soprano roles this one calls for a very clear and shiny light soprano with almost Mozart-like brightness in the voice.
Jürgen Linn as Alberich did a way better job this time than in Rheingold. Obviously this Alberich suits his voice better. The performance was more controlled and definitely more accurate. Rúni Brattaberg also appeared to be more comfortable in the role of Fafner than the evening before. The sluggish low phrases of Fafner sounded simply marvelously and showed the dark qualities of Brattaberg's voice.
In the role of Erda we heard Nicole Piccolomini once again. Her performance in Siegfried was even more intensive than the one in Rheingold and her incredibly dark and warm voice suited the role perfectly. Her strength is the balanced eveness of her full sonorous lower register which is so important for this kind of roles.
Dan Karlström also did a brilliant job as Mime. I have to say that I do not know what could be done better. His diction is clear, his light clear tenor voice has enough power to be heard through the orchestra and his whole portrayal was just really convincing. Bravo!
As Wanderer we heard Evgeny Nikitin who has seemed to be a very low Wanderer. While having a very good lower register he seemed not really comfortable with the upper parts of the role. Alltogether his performance was quite good even though his voice could be a bit more powerful and more heroic.
Elisabet Strid was one of the highlights of the performance with her very lyric but also very powerful soprano voice. Her Brünnhilde convinces with the sheer beauty of her voice, very elegant singing and also the neccessary power. Compared to her debut last year she was even better this time. Her phrasing was brilliant and the mix of power and beauty of tone worked out very well. If she manages to make the final high c a bit more shiny and bright in the future she would be a Brünnhilde to keep watching.
The event of the evening was Stefan Vinke as Siegfried. It is really incredible to hear a tenor who sings this incredibly difficult and demanding role seemingly easily without any signs of tiredness. The sheer power of his voice and the heroic dark timbre of his tenor make him one of the leading Siegfrieds of our time. Even during the finale of act three after hours of singing he still sounds freshly and vibrantly. Also his acting was really nice and showed great understanding of the role. He definitely brought down the house and it was an enormous pleasure to hear a singer that is not just able to sing the role, but also be really convincing in it.
Even though Siegfried is not my favorite of the Ring operas I loved the performance and was just delighted because of the brilliant accomplishment of the cast this evening. Therefor I give 9 stars to the third evening of the Leipzig Ring.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Sunday 8 May 2016

Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen - Die Walküre - Oper Leipzig

Performance 6th May

The first full evening (after the so-called pre-evening) was something I was looking forward to with great expectations. An impressive cast was found for this performance and so I was sure to hear a brilliant performance. Unfortunately the great potential of the disposition did not work out as expected. The production of Walküre (I was lucky enough to have seen this one before) is very dedicated and intimate. Once again there could me more interaction and a more innovative concept but I was happy with the work that Rosamund Gilmore did. The stage (Carl Friedrich Oberle) and the costumes (Nicola Reichert) looked even more elegantl than in Rheingold and created a great atmosphere throughtout the evening. Especially the second act was astonishing with great impressions.
The musical part was not as satisfying as the day before. Ulf Schirmer seemed not to have everything fully under controll this evening. The Gewandhausorchester sounded quite loud at some moments and especially the string section was covered by the wind several times (at important passages). There should have been a bit more balance between the different sections and maybe even less volume from time to time.
Vocally the cast would have been on a very high level throughout the list. The valkyries (Marika Schönberg, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Monica Mascus, Sandra Janke, Daniela Köhler, Sandra Maxheimer, Karin Lovelius and Wallis Giunta) were a very balanced ensemble with great voices. I have to point out Miss Köhler at this point because her valkyrie shouts were exemplary and her voice definitely worth to be remembered.
Rúni Brattaberg sang the role of Hunding with his strong dark bass voice. I personally thought he could be a bit more clearer in his singing but he gave a solid performance. A bit more refinement and intimidating expression and he would be a marvelous Hunding.
Kathrin Göring as Fricka definitely was a highlight of the whole evening. Her clear and stron mezzo voice suits the role lovely and her performance was hauntingly intense with great clarity and exemplary diction. She portrayed her character simply marvelously.
The role of Siegmund was sung by Andreas Schager who is one of the most promising heroic tenors of our time. His voice is powerful with instensive radiance and effortless high notes. His voice has an enormous potential and he is singing almost all great Wagner tenor roles at the moment. Maybe too much. He had serious text issues and seemed not totally prepared. What a pity, because his voice was just perfect for the role but there were just too many blurry errors.
Christiane Libor also seemed to be a bit tense but did a good job. Her gleaming soprano is just perfect for this role. The mix of power, beauty of tone and her striking ability to combine dramatic singing with lyric qualities make her one of the best wagnerian sopranos of our time. Also the dynamic range is impressive because she can do anything from the most delicate pianissimo to enormous outbreaks  and still retain her beautiful timbre.
Markus Marquardt sang the role of Wotan and was quite unlucky this evening. He missed his entrance during act three because the call system of the house did not work. So the performance was interrupted and restarted after some time. Nevertheless he gave a wonderful performance with his heroic baritone voice. I thought that his performance in Dresden in february was better but he did a great job here as well. I actually thought that he sang even more intensively after the misfortune and the audience was very happy with his performance anyway.
Eva Johansson performed the title hero, Brünnhilde. She definitely is past her prime now and cannot sing this role as intensively as she did years ago anymore. Her lower register became quite weak and the top register rather shaky. Nevertheless she gave a good third act where she was way better than in act 2. I do not know where she took the power from but the final act was really magnificent and sung appropriately.
Alltogether it was a rather sobering performance that did not work out as it should have. It could have been an incredible evening and a firework of Wagner music, but in the end it just did not live up to its potential. Therefor I can only give 6 stars to the performance of Walküre.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Saturday 7 May 2016

Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen - Das Rheingold - Oper Leipzig

Performance 5th May

A big spectacle that I waited for quite some time started last thursday: the first full cycle of the new Ring production of the Oper Leipzig. The first one after 40 long years! Since 2013 they added one new production per season and just last week they finished the Ring with Götterdämmerung. Within four days they play a first full cycle now which is a very ambitious project for any house. The production of Rheingold, led by Rosamund Gilmore focuses on the music and basically tells the story quite appropriately. It might not be an incredibly expressive and innovative interpretation, but it surely serves the plot. Sometimes I felt that the lead of the characters was a bit over the top but alltogether I was happy with the way everything was performed. The stage (Carl Friedrich Oberle) and the costumes (Nicola Reichert) looked monumentally and elegantly. Especially Fricka's costumes looked marvelously and suited the role perfectly. The idea to have real water on the stage during the first scene also was quite an interesting idea and worked lovely. Towards the end I was a bit irritated because of the quite cheesy rainbow bridge, which also seemed to be a bit over the top.
However musically Ulf Schirmer led the Gewandhausorchester through an evening full of huge sound walls and dramatic flow. Schirmer is one of the conductors who are not afraid to make use of the full power of a huge orchestra like that. Especially during the great finale the volume was overwhelming. The orchestra did a pretty good job and showed the high level of professionalism of the Gewandhausorchester. The sheer power of the brass section is sometimes almost too much and one would wish for a little bit more balance.
Thanks to the exceptional acoustics of the house noone of the singers had any problems to be heard in the auditorium. The three rhinemaidens were performed by Eun Yee You, Kathrin Göring and Sandra Janke. They did a lovely job and especially Göring convinced with great power and flexibility of the voice. Jürgen Kurth's Donner seemed a bit undermanned and did not really fulfill the vocal demands of this role. Bernhard Berchtold on the other hand performed the role of Froh very well with a light heroic tenor voice.
Dan Karlstöm as Mime was definitely one of the best performances of the evening. There is nothing to wish for in his performance. His voice seems to be perfect for this role and I really look forward to his Siegfried-Mime on saturday. In the role of Alberich we heard Jürgen Linn who gave a solid performance. His portrayal could be a bit more accurate rhythmically and more balanced in terms of his phrasing but as I said it was a solid performance.
In the short role of Erda we heard Nicole Piccolomini who has the perfect instrument for a role like Erda. Her dark low mezzo voice has a very soft and full timbre with a very colorful lower register. Her portrayal was mysterious and very convincing. Marika Schönberg as Freia seemed a bit colorlessly and her acting a bit mannered. Vocally her soprano has a very even timbre and smooth transitions.
The two giants were performed by James Moellenhoff and Stephan Klemm. Both voices have a very dark but also sort of smooth timbre. Klemm's voice seemed a bit brighter while Moellenhoff's timbre was definitely darker and rougher.
Thomas Mohr sang Loge and did a great job. His voice is strong and quite heroic for this role but still somehow light and bright. His diction was exceptional and the whole portrayal very convincing. I am looking forward to his Götterdämmerung-Siegfried on sunday which will be definitely interesting to hear.
Karin Lovelius sang a very elegant and refined Fricka. Her voice is smooth and has a warm timbre with smooth transitions. I thought that her performance was really nice and her portrayal, vocally and acting-wise, appropriately. Lovelius definitely seems to be a very reliable and solid performer.
In the role of her husband, Wotan, we heard Tuomas Pursio who has a very lyrical baritone voice. Surely he has enough power to sing the role but the role of Wotan demands a more heroic and dramatic sort of voice. He managed the role but I was not totally happy with this approach. Wagner-singing demands more that just a strong voice.
Alltogether it was a lovely start for the cycle and a solid performance through and through. Generally I would like to hear more rhythmical accuracy and more balance between the voices. Therefor I give 7 stars for Rheingold.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Thursday 5 May 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 2nd May

After some Puccini I went off to see some Verdi the following day. La Traviata is probably one of the most popular operas of all time and most people know it very well. This bears advantages and dangers for the performers. The production at Deutsche Oper Berlin was created by Götz Friedrich and is kind of vintage. The classy stage (Frank Philipp Schlößmann) and the elegant costumes (Klaus Bruns) looked very beautifully and created a very decadent flair. Nevertheless the direction seemed a bit boring and conservative. Not really totally exciting, but beautifully to look at.
Musically Ivan Repušić led a very soft chamber music like performance that rarely became very loud. This of course created a very intimate atmosphere but sometimes I wished for a little bit more dramatic flow. The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin played vividly and gushingly with elegant phrases and great rhythmic expression. Also the Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin gave a lovely performance during the many choir passages.
The performances of the soloists were quite ambivalent sometimes. The smaller roles were casted very well and showed that the Deutsche Oper has a very fine ensemble. Marko Mimica as Grenvil, Michael Adams as the Marquis, and Gideon Poppe gave solid performances and did very well in their few appearances. Dong-Hwan Lee as Baron Douphol sang with a very intimidating dark voice. He never seemed brutal and always showed some kind of noble superiority.
Rebecca Jo Loeb as Annina also gave a solid performance, but seemed a bit one-dimensional from time to time. Amira Elmadfa on the other hand gave a brilliant performance in the small role of Flora Bervoix. Her seductive warm voice sounded very beautifully and her portrayal also made a very convincing impression to me.
Jumping in for the ill Thomas Hampson was George Petean who gave one of the best performances of the evening. His dark but noble baritone voice suits the role of Giorgio Germont very well. While beeing a little bit expressionlessly at the beginning he improved from minute to minute and became more and more impressive throughout the performance. He even sang an impressive optional high note at the end of the first scene of act 2.
The role of Alfredo was sung by Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu who has a very smooth youthful voice. While his lower register has a darker timbre his upper register is bright and clear. He sang his part very intimately and passionately. Admittedly the high c was not totally perfect, but alltogether his performance was probably the best of the whol evening. Especially during the second half his performance was so instense and emtional that it was a pleasure to watch him.
Jumping in for Diana Damrau surely is not an easy thing and many people in the audience just came bto see her. Nevertheless she had to cancel due to illness and Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi jumped in for the title role. Ciofi's acting in the role was simply thrilling and totally convincing. The agony and despair of Violetta was so vivid that it almost made me cry. However, vocally she constantly seemed to be a bit husky and ill herself. I personally think that she might be to light for the role of Violetta which definitely demands a more dramatic type of coloratura soprano. Nevertheless she gave (except of the high e flat in act 1) a solid performance and got the gratitude of the audience for jumping in spontaneously.
Alltogether it was an entertaining evening but not really a moment of glory for the Deutsche Oper. Of course they were quite unlucky to lose two of the main singers, but they managed to save the performance quite appropriately. The production gets 7 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Giacomo Puccini, Madama Butterfly - Staatsoper im Schillertheater Berlin

Performance 1st May

The first evening of my Berlin residence started off with Puccini's Madama Butterfly at the Schillertheater and a wonderful performance. Madama Butterfly is an opera that always seemed strange to me. Some parts are really marvelous while other parts always bored me. This production did not disappoint me and I have to say that I enjoyed it from the beginning to the tragic ending. Eike Gramss realised a production that looks astonishing and creates space for intimate atmosphere as well (stage & costumes: Peter Sykora). Gramss shows a young girl that expected to much of love and marriage. His Butterfly is not just a victim of Pinkteron, but also a victim of her own expectations which finally bring her to the final suicide.
Musically Stefano Ranzani created the perfect balance between the highly romantic intimate passages and the hysteric dramatic outbursts of the score. He showed the diversity of colours that are hidden in this ravishing score. The Staatskapelle Berlin managed to bring out this eastern sound with great clarity and beauty, while supporting the singers appropriately.
The smaller roles (Scott Wilde as Bonze, Arttu Kataja as Yamadori, Natalia Skrycka as Kate Pinkerton and David Oštrek as Imperial commissioner) were performed very well. Especially Natalia Skrycka's warm and full voice sounded lovely during her short appearance.
Jürgen Sacher sang the role of Goro with a very bright and focussed tenor voice. The timbre of his voice is very bright and clear and has a very carrying sound. This is also valid for Katharina Kammerloher who sang Suzuki. Her portrayal was very convincing and she did a wonderful job with that role. Her mezzo voice has a very smooth timbre with a very concentrated sound. Alfredo Daza as Sharpless also gave a great performance with a very pleasant baritone voice that has a very warm and songful timbre. Also his acting was impressive and highly convincing.
The male lead, B.F. Pinkerton, was performed by Stefano La Colla who was a very powerful tenor voice. Especially his upper register was very strong and he seemed not to fear any high notes up there. Not only did he manage the high tessitura well, it also sounded really lovely. His timbre is both, youthful and virile and his whole portrayal of the role was convincing, especially in the final act.
Nevertheless, the highlight of the evening was Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho in the title role. What a voice! Her soprano has a shimmering upper register with such clarity and brightness that one wishes for more phrases up there. Not only does her voice sound beautifully, it also radiates through the whole auditorium without any problems. Only the lower register sometimes could be a little stronger, but alltogether her performance was simply marvelous. The high d flat during her first appearance sounded just brilliantly and also the great duet in act 1 was a great pleasure.
Alltogether I had a lovely night with wonderful music and a very touching performance. Therefor I give 9 stars to Madama Butterfly at the Schillertheater.
Reviewed by Daniel Url