Tuesday 29 November 2016

Giacomo Puccini, Turandot - Oper Leipzig

Performance 27th November

As second part of my Leipzig trip and opera no. 4 of my november opera marathon I attended a performance of Puccini's final opera in the new production in Leipzig. The production is led by director Balázs Kovalik who transferred the plot into a futuristic regime. This idea worked out really well and during the whole evenin Kovalik elaborated this admittedly weird plot into a understandable and touching story. Kovalik showed great understanding of the characters and their unique relation with eachother. He was able to bring out the emotional content of the plot and managed to create a really impressive production. The spectacular stage by Heike Scheele helped a lot to support the central idea of the production with its futuristic honeycomb design and the smartly placed paths within the scenery. The costumes by Sebastian Ellrich sometimes looked a bit weird but also suited to the futuristic placement of the plot.
Matthias Foremny led a muscially truly impressive evening with sheer power as well as delicate fragility. He worked out the ruthless brutality of the score and also the beautiful vocal lines that are so typical for Puccini. The Gewandhausorchester did a great job playing the music with intensive power without being too brutal or unmusical at any time. It was a real pleasure to hear the magnificent contrast between huge moments and wonderfully delicate parts of the score. Also the Chor der Oper Leipzig was amazing and managed the highly demanding choir part of the opera very well. No matter if the sweet cantilenes to the moon or the excitement when the executioner comes (including a high c sharp for the sopranos!!), they always sounded brilliantly clear and balanced.
After his lovely performance in Lucia di Lammermoor the day before Sehong Chang was able to convince once again as a mandarin. His huge dignified bass voice suited the role magnificently and it was a pleasure to listen to him. Also the three ministers Ping, Pang & Pong, sung by Jürgen Kurth, Dan Karlström and Patrick Vogel sounded very good. The highly ironic parts of these characters were brought out very well and the beginning of act 2 was very entertaining.
Martin Petzold as emperor Altoum did not really convince and seemed not totally comfortable with the role. I had the feeling that it did not really suit his voice even though he did not have any serious issues. It was just a matter of suitability of the role.
Randall Jakobsh was an impressive Timur with a powerful and solemn voice that was full of radiance. His curse after Liú's death literally gave me goosebumps and was simply marvelous. I was truly ipressed by the sheer power and the elegance that he was spreading at the same time.
Speaking of Liú, her role was performed by Olena Tokar who has the most gorgeous soprano voice one could wish for. Her light lyric timbre and her beautiful phrasing were really magnificent and I was truly touched by her performance. Even though she already gave a truly wonderful performance I think that her Liú will grow even bigger and more impressive with years coming. So I would love to hear her again in this role in the near future.
The male lead was performed by Leonardo Caimi who also gave a flawless performance. He has everything the role calls for: power, the bright top and the stamina to endure this demanding role until the very last note. His strong, bright tenor voice has a very elegant and focused timbre and a seemingly easy top. His "Nessun dorma" was marvelous and showed that he is a first-class performer who really has the voice for such a role.
Finally the title role of Turandot was sung by dramatic soprano Jennifer Wilson who was a stunning heroine. She needed some time at the beginning to warm up but once she was ready she simply through around with high b flats, bs and cs like a laserbeam. Without any problems she managed to manoeuvre through this highly dangerous role and convinced with a steely focused dramatic voice that does not fear any highnotes at all. Brava, simply brava!
Alltogether it was a brilliant performance that gave me goosebumps several times. If you have the chance to see it: GO! It is definitely worth the journey to Leipzig and therefor I give 9 stars to the futuristic Turandot of Leipzig.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday 28 November 2016

Gaetano Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor - Oper Leipzig

Premiere performance 26th November

For day 3 of my november opera marathon I chose the premiere performance of Donizetti's bloodcurdling story which is based on Walter Scott's "The bride of Lammermoor". The production suffered a severe setback last week due to an accident of the female protagonist who suffered a ligament rupture. The Oper Leipzig has my greatest respect for reacting immediately and changing the production together with director Katharina Thalbach. Lucia now sang from a wheelchair most of the time and was driven around by Thalbach herself as the appearance of her death mother / witch / whatever. This worked out pretty well and actually suited the story quite interestingly. Thalbach's staging was quite conservative in general and showed a very naturalistic approach. Unfortunately it also ended up being a bit boring everynow and then. The production did not really succed to thrill the audience totally. The beautiful stage by Momme Röhrbein looked really amazing with the naturalistic display of a Scottish landscape. Also the historic costumes by Angelika Rieck (including kilts) gave a lovely impression and suited the roles.
Anthony Bramall led the musical part of the evening and conducted a very slim and clear version of the score with great sense for the support of the singers and the beautiful belcanto lines. The Gewandhausorchester Leipzig played with great passion and marvelous unity. The orchestra was able to create the wonderful tension of the beautiful phrases that simply carried away the audience. The Chor der Oper Leipzig also gave a good performance with a very balanced elegant sound and clear accuracy during the great ensemble scenes.
In the smaller roles of Normanno, Alisa and Lord Arturo Buchlaw we heard Dan Karlström, Sandra Janke and Sergei Pisarev. Karlström and Pisarev convinced with clear and flexible tenor voices, while Janke's mezzo voice sometimes could have been more flexible. however she did good job with the role.
In the role of the priest Raimondo Sejong Chang knew how to convince the audience with his mighty dark voice. His timbre has great radiance and the required dignity for the role and that is why he earned a lot of applause for his truly fine performance in the end.
Lucia's evil brother, Lord Enrico Ashton, was performed by Mathias Hausmann who doubtlessly gave the performance of the evening. His flexible and sonorous baritone voice has such a beautiful timbre and his highly musical phrasing suited the role perfectly. He showed great understanding of the belcanto techniques and was able to give a really convincing performance.
Tenor Antonio Poli as Edgardo di Ravenswood unfortunately was not able to convince as impressively as Hausmann. Poli sang the role without any serious issues, but failed to show real passion for the role. His acting was dreadful and of such a mannered style that it simply did not appear seriously anymore. His cheesy operatic gestures looked like a parody of an opera performance and seemed really inappropriate. Even though his vocal performance was pleasing and showed a decent voice he did not really convince during this performance.
The title role was sung by young soprano Anna Virovlansky who did a great job despite her handicap. Her voice is flexible, well balanced and has a relatively dark timbre for this role. She sang her lines very beautifully with great passion and commitment. Only the very top notes always seemed a bit uncomfortable and were cut short. I personally think that this is not a role that suits her voice very well. She manages the part without any serious issues and is able to impress with her coloratura but it simply does not seem totally appropriate. Nevertheless it is highly thankworthy and impressive that she sang this highly demanding role after her accident and that endurance definitely earned her standing ovations after the performance.
Alltogether an entertaining evening that was wether really good nor really bad, but simply a lovely evening with great music and a solid performance. Therefor I give 7 stars to the new production of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Oper Leipzig.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Saturday 26 November 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, Un ballo in Maschera - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 25th November

Being back in Berlin for an intensive week of operas I also attended the Verdi opera about the assassination of King Gustaf of Sweden. The production is still a remain of the times of Götz Friedrich who was responsible for it. Being almost 23 years old the production still does not fail to convince with great conduct of the plot with all its drama. Friedrich understood how to accomplish great effects with little effort and fill the evening with subtle details. The stage and the costumes were created by Gottfried Pilz and Isabel Ines Glathar. Both looked beautiful and especially the great finale with the ball worked really well with the elegant costumes, but also the abbandoned scenery for the love duet with its skulls and the horrifying lonliness was very effectful.
The musical lead was done by Ido Arad who conducted the detailed spirited score very elegantly with great sense for phrasing and supporting the singers. Sometimes he could have worked out the contrasts a little bit more, but alltogether he showed great musicality. The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin followed his lead wonderfully and played passionately and very accurately. Everything sounded very nice and pleasing. Also the Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin sounded great and sang brilliantly with elegance and great sway.
The smaller roles were sang by Simon Pauly (Christian, the sailor), Gideon Poppe (the senior judge) and Robert Watson (a servant). All three of them did a very appropriate job with solid vocal performances. The two villains Count Horn (Florian Spiess) and Count Ribbing (Ben Wager) also sounded great with their dark profound voices. Their laughing scene in the third scene was simply lovely to watch with their highly ironic behaviour.
The role of Oscar seemed to have more importance than in usual production which I think is more than appropriate. Especially when sung by Heidi Stober who has a gorgeous soprano voice. She managed the jumpy lines without any problems and was simply a very very good choice for the role. Her clear timbre and the flexibility of her voice are simply perfect for this quite demanding role that has a very prominent role in this opera.
Also the role of Ulrika, the fortune teller, is a very important role even though she does only have one scene. Ronnita Miller also seemed a perfect choice for this special role. Her profound and dark voice suited the wisewoman wonderfully. She really had this diabolic radiance that is important for the second scene. Miller really made the audience shiver with her utterly exciting and convincing performance
The first protagonist of the love triangle was Roman Burdenko as Renato. His baritone voice is a mix of lyrical and also quite heroic qualities which worked very well with that role. He played the seemingly betrayed husband very well and his elegant timbre helped to convey his character through the music.
His wife Amelia was sung by recent Tucker Award Winner Tamara Wilson who was my main interest this evening. Her powerful voice combines power, vocal beauty and a very smooth transition between her registers. Her shiny clear top was as impressive as her dark and warm lower voice. She gave a really refined performance and seemed not to be bothered by any difficulties of the role at all. I hope she will be careful with her instrument because she is definitely a voice that is made for this kind of roles. I would love to see her in some Wagner and I really hope that she will be around more often in Europe.
The protagonist, King Gustaf, was sung by Korean tenor Yosep Kang who also is one of the great tenors of our time. His powerful clear tenor has everything you could wish for. He is not afraid of any high notes and not only his singing but also his acting is simply marvelous. He sang and played so passionately that it was a joy to watch him. He performs with such ease that one could believe that it is not that difficult at all. I can only say it is always a pleasure to hear him.
Alltogether it was a great night with great drama, wonderful singing and a genuinely convincing production. That is why I can give 9 stars without any doubt. Bravo!
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde - Oper Graz

Performance 20th November

As second part of my weekend in Graz I saw the new production of Richard Wagner's epic love story between Tristan and Isolde. An opera that never fails to get my attention with its drug-like impact. The production led by Verena Stoiber is showing some interesting ideas, but fails to really make sense in the end. She indicates that Tristan and Isolde do have some sort of failing marriage at from the beginning of the opera. At some moments this idea works quite well, but most of the time it creates plenty of contradictions. Those many contradictions become more and more disturbing during the evening and leave the audience bored and irritated in the end. Even though the modern elegant stage by Sophia Schneider (also responsible for the costumes) and Susanne Gschwender looks really great with its cold, but very chic beachhouse, the production simply fails to promote the plot. However, while the optical charms of the production did not succed to convince me, the musical part managed to do so.
Robin Engelen led the performance with great musicality and dramatic sense. He had full controll over everything and was able to still stay very flexible during the whole evening. Especially during the famous love scene he kept the tempi very adjustable so that he could totally bring out the passion and the excitement of the scene. Only the volume level was sometimes a bit too high which made it difficult for some of the singers at certain moments. The Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester played very passionately with great emotion and impressive accuracy. They managed to created that strange suction which is so typical for Wagner's Tristan. Also the gentlemen of the Chor der Oper Graz did very well during their appearances in the first act.
The small roles of Melot, young sailsman & shepherd and the navigator were sung by Manuel von Senden, Martin Fournier and Dariusz Perczak. All three of them sang very appropriately on a good level, but especially Fournier convinced with a youthful balanced tenor voice.
Markus Butter sang the role of Kurwenal with great passion and full of enthusiastic energy. His virile and heroic baritone voice has a very pleasant timbre and enough flexibility to sing the role excitingly and convincingly. Dshamilja Kaiser also gave a magnificent performance as Brangäne and really impressed me with her singing. Her creamy mezzo voice has a gorgeous warm timbre and also the dramatic weight for a Wagner mezzo role like this. She really gave a flawless performance from the low parts of the role to the shiny top notes. BRAVO!
As King Marke we heard Guido Jentjens who was probably the least pleasing performer of the evening. His voice lacked the authority and the grave dark timbre that is so essential for this role. Even though he sang every note it simply did not convince me in the end.
The Tristan of this performance was performed by Zoltán Nyári who was the biggest surprise for me. I have never heard this name before but his performance was simply incredible. His powerful tenor voice has everything the role calls for: power, flexibility, an easy top and the stamina to keep going until the very last line. Nyári is definitely a name to remember and I am sure that we will hear it more often in the future.
Also the singer of Isolde, Gun-Brit Barkmin, surprised me. Not being impressed by her Chrysothemis last year in Vienna I did not have great expectations, but she definitely proved me wrong. Her youthful focused soprano might not be the biggest, but she sang the role so elegantly and emotionally that I simply had to like it. She has a very easy top and a very flexible voice that is able to do very beautiful phrasing without losing the drama of the role. If she is careful enough with her voice and does not try to sing such roles in houses that are too big she will definitely be a very very successful Isolde during the next few years.
Alltogether musically the performance was enormously pleasing, but when it comes to the production itself it fails to convince. A pity to mix the wonderful musical potential of the performance with such an inadequate staging. Therefor I can only give 8 stars even though the musical part would definitely earn 9.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday 21 November 2016

Edvard Grieg, Peer Gynt - Oper Graz

Premiere performance 19th November

As first part of my intensive pre-christmas weeks I spent a weekend in Graz attending a very special concert that was dedicated to the glorious incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's epic story of Peer Gynt. The wonderful music of Edvard Grieg is supporting the drama of the truly touching plot. Of course the Oper Graz did not perform the full play, but some sort of concert version for a use in combination with the full incidental music. This performance, based on the version created by Alain Perroux, lacked the fantastic intensity of the play, but basically told the story quite well except of a few complications. While the singing parts were cast as usual this version calls only for two different actors, a male actor for the title role and a female one for most other roles that appear during the evening (most notably Solveig, Peer's mother and Anitra). Knowing Ibsen's wonderful drama very well I was a bit disappointed by the delivery of the text. I personally thought it lost the drive that Ibsen's original Version contains. However it is a great idea to such a version at all. I wonder why there are so few performances of the full incidental music with a montage of the text. That is why I am very grateful that the Oper Graz decided to do such a thing.
The whole evening took place under the musical lead of Dirk Kaftan who conducted a very energetic and explosive, but also very touching interpretation. He did a good job to hold the many different parties of the piece together and showed great understanding of Grieg's music. The Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester did its best to follow his lead with elegant and passionate playing. Only sometimes there were some minor inaccuracies which did not affect the overall impression in the end. Also the Chor der Oper Graz gave a very intensive performance with strong accentuated singing and very good Norwegian diction (which is quite tough). Also most of the vocal soloists sang very clearly and it was able to understand most of the Norwegian lyrics (provided that you can understand it of course). Neven Crnić and Martin Simonovski sang the roles of the fence and the thief with their intimidating dark voices. Both succeded to give a strong impression during their really short appearance in the second part. Also the three herdswomen sung by Sieglinde FeldhoferSonja Sarić and Yuan Zhang were beautifully to listen at. All three of them had very pleasing balanced voices with beautiful timbres which blended together marvelously during their short scene. Dshamilja Kaiser as Anitra probably gave the most impressing vocal performance of the evening. With a very seductive dark timbre her beautiful mezzo voice suited the role of the exotic beauty perfectly. With great musicality and erotic radiance she impressed me a lot. The female lead, Solveig, was sung by Tatjana Miyus who also has a gorgeous voice with a lovely light timbre clear like a bell. Except of some top notes that ended up a bit flat she gave a beautiful and touching performance and looked wonderful in her turquoise dress. The male lead, only having one little song, was sung by Dariusz Perczak whose voice sounded very appropriate and well trained. Unfortunately his diction seemed a bit unclear and could have been more elaborated. However he did a decent job and earned his applause.
The two main performers were the two actors for the speaking parts. Famous theatre actress Sunnyi Melles performed the role called "The woman" including the female parts of the play as well as the many small roles that are crossing Peer's way. Melles was probably the most problematic part of the whole evening. Most of the time she seemed as if she had seen her text for the first time ever and spoke in an extremely mannered way most of the time (why on earth would the mountain king have a strange swiss accent??). More than once she stopped the dramatic flow and even switched a scene (by accident I guess). Alltogether I thought that her performance was disappointingly unprepared and did not match the niveau of the evening.
Cornelius Obonya on the other hand did much better in the title role. His recitation and his acting are highly elegant and convincing. The way he uses breaks and the speed of talking are really effective and supported the drama of the plot very well. Personally I though that his Peer was a bit too much of a macho and to little of a simple naive boy who does not do anything bad on purpose. However he did an excellent job and was definitely the right choice for this performance.
Alltogether it was a very enjoyable evening that carried the audience off to the far lands of Norway, the Sahara and other fantastic places. I hope that other houses take those performances at the Oper Graz as an example and are also establishing productions of this wonderful drama with its magnificent music. Therefor I give 8 starts to the Peer Gynt production in Graz.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Engelbert Humperdinck, Hänsel und Gretel - Salzburger Landestheater, Felsenreitschule

Premiere performance 30th October

After almost two months of operatic abstinence I attended the first operatic premiere of the new season at the Salzburger Landestheater with a work that I know quite well. The fairy-tale opera about the two silblings who get lost in the woods is one of the most successful German operas after Wagner which are still performed regularly. Unfortunately it is not treated as such very often and is seen as a children's opera instead.
The production led by Johannes Reitmeier makes the same mistake and creates a very naive and predictable rendition of the work. Extremely mannered and exaggerated ideas dominated the evening and reminded me more of a children's performance. I generally felt like every decent conservatory could have done the whole thing at least as well. The beautiful but also very plain and conservative stage and costumes created by Court Watson did not really help to change that impression.
Musically it also was quite a ambivalent evening. While the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg played very passionately and with impressive balance, conductor Adrian Kelly seemed not to have everything (or everyone) under full control. Too often the singers and the orchestra were not exactly on time and several cues went wrong.
The two small roles of the Sandmännchen and the Taumännchen were sung by Rowan Hellier and Tamara Invaniš. While Hellier seemed not totally comfortable with her role and strangely unflexible, Ivaniš sounded lovely with a beautiful light and flexible voice.
As father and mother we heard Jukka Rasilainen and Anna Maria Dur. Both did a good job but could have done better alltogether. Rasilainen sounded a bit weak from time to time and his phrasing was a bit rough sometimes. Dur also struggled with the size of the auditorium and the loudness of the orchestra, even though her upper register sounded strong enough. Only the middle register was covered at some moments.
Probably the most satisfying performance was given by Franz Supper as the witch. His clear and focused tenor has a very characteristical timbre and was able to sing over the orchestra without problems. He really filled the role with life and gave a very pleasing performance.
The two main characters were a bit of disappointment and make me question the casting policy of the Landestheater. Elisabeth Jansson as Hänsel had a very beautiful soft and dark timbre but her voice lacked the necessary flexibility and her diction was not really satisfactory. She also struggled with the power of the orchestra and the huge auditorium. So did Athanasia Zöhrer who has a very beautiful instrument as well, but is simply not ready to fill a stage like the Felsenreitschule. Apart of her power she also seemed an odd choice for this role which should be sung by a very light and clear soprano. Zöhrer's fuller lyrical voice (as beautiful as it is) was a bit too motionless and this role definitely too early on a big stage like that.
Alltogether a rather inglorious performance that showed a lack of seriousness and some serious problems in the casting department. If one takes the challenge to do a production on a big stage like the Felsenreitschule, one must not underestimate the difficulties of proper casting. Therefor the production will only get 6 stars unfortunately.
Reviewed by Daniel Url