Monday 27 February 2017

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde - Aalto-Musiktheater

Performance 25th February

Part two of my Essen journey was one of my absolute favorites and probably one of the most dramatic love stories of all time. The production led by Barrie Kosky has an interesting concept and does not fail to convey a special atmosphere. The Stage (Klaus Grünberg) features a single room that is quite small compared to the full stage and the whole action takes place in this small room. While in act 1 it seemed a bit odd to have only this little bit of space the following two acts showed the idea of this concept. During the famous love duet in act 2 the room was constantly turned several times so that the singers had to walk on the walls and ultimately also the ceiling. This created an atmosphere in which we know that everything is upside down and there is no place in reality for these lovers. While in the first two acts we only saw the room surrounded by a black wall, in act three we were able to see the whole construction surrounded by sheep showing that they are alone on this deserted island. After I while I started to appreciate the production more and more and alltogether it was really well done. The costumes by Alfred Mayerhofer also suited the characters and supported the overal concept very well.
Musically there were some really great performances as well. Frank Beermann conducted a very clear and elegant version of the score with a great balance between passion and control. The Essener Philharmoniker played way better than the other night and really gave a ravishing performance. They sounded lush and the performance was much more intense.
Most of the smaller roles were sung appropriately. Karel Martin Ludvik sang a rather dark Melot which suited the character quite well.
Tijl Faveyts was a solid Marke with an elegant and warm bass voice. His performance could have feature the despair of the king a bit more, but alltogether he gave a solid performance.
As Kurwenal we heard Heiko Trinsinger who has a powerful heroic baritone voice which suited the role very well. The warm timbre combined with a very convincing portrayal of the role made his performance a real treat. Especially during the lengthy final act he helped to keep the level of attention up.
Martina Dike was a wonderful Brangäne with a warm and flexible mezzo voice. The necessary power combined with a highly musical performance showed that this is a great role for her. She sang very beautifully and simply gave a thrilling performance throughout the evening.
Jeffrey Dowd's Tristan was a bit misplaced. Having seen that he already sang this role at the premiere (in 2006) I do believe that he is past his prime. His voice seemed not comfortable with the role at all. He was so busy just to manage the role that it simply did not convince in the end. He lacks the power and stamina that is crucial for the role and his timbre seems not to be fitting as well. Unfortunately he was no match for his Isolde even though he managed to get through the evening without any serious issues.
Dara Hobbs was a wonderful Isolde with a surprisingly youthful timbre. I have to say that at some moment she reminded me of the Isolde recording of Margaret Price. While also having enough power to be heard over the orchestra Hobbs has an impeccable lyric quality in her voice which makes her interpretation very exciting. Her ringing high notes (including two really impressive high c's) and her beautiful legato singing suited the role very well (way better than the usual "over" dramatic sopranos). She had enough stamina to finish the evening with a utterly beautiful rendition of the famous Liebestod.
Alltogether it was a really good performance that started a bit cautious and got better with every minute. So finally I can give 9 stars to this interesting rendition of Tristan und Isolde.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Sunday 26 February 2017

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Die Zauberflöte - Aalto-Musiktheater Essen

Performance 24th February

My first visit in Essen started on friday with the famous fairytale by Mozart in a production by Ezio Toffolutti. The production basically features a single room which is created by several different parts which can be used seperately. This gave me the impression of some kind of a doll's house. Together with the costumes it looked rather cheesy sometimes, but was lovely to look at most of the time. The interaction of the characters was a bit more problematic because it seemed quite artificial most of the time (on purpose I suppose) which made the opera feel like a children's version sometimes. Most of it was rather conventional which might not be bad, but also not really exciting.
Musically there was quite a contrast as well. Felix Bender seemed very passionate about the score and conducted very elegantly, but sometimes there was a lack of control. Especially during some ensemble or choir scenes there were some inaccuracies that could have been avoided. This might partly be because of the Essener Philharmoniker. The orchestra sometimes did not follow Bender's instructions immediately which caused some of these moments. I also felt that there was a lack of passion which lead to some really uninspired playing. The great choir "Es lebe Sarastro" for example did not have the necessary charisma and solemnity which makes it such an impressive scene. The Opernchor des Aalto-Theaters also gave a very unenthused impression and gave a rather boring performance. I also think that the choir for Zauberflöte definitely needs a bigger lineup than it was during this performance.
Most of the smaller roles were cast more or less appropriately with some solid performances. The two trios (Jessica Muirhead, Marie-Helen Joël & Marion Thienel as the three ladies as well as three young ladies from the Aalto Kinderchor as the three boys) did not blend together as well as they should, even though everyone of them did a solid job own their own. This shows the difficulty of such tight ensemble roles.
Albrecht Kludszuweit was a rather heavy Monostatos with a strong tenor voice which is almost too elegant for that role which calls for a true Charaktertenor. However, he did a good job with it and gave a solid performance.
Tijl Faveyts also might not be the perfect voice to sing the role of Sarastro, even though he managed the role without any problem. Only the solemnity and reverend timbre that you would expect for this role seemed to be missing a bit.
In the famous role of the Queen of the night we heard young soprano Danae Kontora who has a lovely lyric soprano voice which has no problems with the many high notes or the coloratura of the role. I personally think that her performance seemed a bit too innocent and could have been more fierce. I do believe that her beautiful voice would fit better to more lyrical repertoire where she could delight the audience with her clear light soprano.
The rather short role of Papagena was sung by Christina Clark who gave a solid performance during her short scene. A bit more balance when it comes to timbre and volume and she would be on a good way for bigger roles.
One of the highlights of the evening was Martijn Cornet as Papageno. His light flexible baritone voice seems perfect for the role, but not only musically he was able to convince. His whole portrayal was full of life and energy which is crucial for this part which wins the audience by its acting and not necessarily by its music. Cornet simply did a wonderful job and did not leave anything to wish for at all.
The other highlight was Elbenita Kajtazi as Pamina. A voice that combines a dark and full-bodied colour with a clear soft timbre and good power. With her vocal control, the wide range of colours and the simply beautiful timbre she has everything this role calls for. She gave a thrilling performance with excellent diction and simply marvelous singing. Brava!
Finally, the role of Tamino was sung by Dmitry Ivanchey who has the perfect vocal material for this role. However he did not fully convince me due to his sometimes a bit emotionless performance. His bright and clear tenor voice would fit the role perfectly, but too often he failed to convey the dramatic content of his role. I am sure that he could be a magnificent performer in this role if he worked through some of the inaccuracies and dealt with the character a bit more.
Alltogether it was a solid performance with some good and some less good moments. Still it was definitely worth coming to Essen for and I did have a lovely evening. Therefor I give 8 stars to the Essener Zauberflöte.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Richard Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer - Staatsoper Stuttgart

Performance 29th January

The second evening in Stuttgart featured Wagner's famous opera about the cursed dutchman who is in search for love. The Staatsoper Stuttgart decided to play the original version from 1841 in a production led by Calixto Bieto. Bieto's interpretation is quite abstract in many ways. It features a lot of symbolic properties and a very modern view of the plot. The plain stage (Susanne Gschwender & Rebecca Ringst) the modern costumes (Anna Eiermann) showed a typical capitalistic society with all its whims. I thought the production was quite sophisticated and complex even though its aesthetics did not really appeal to me. Nevertheless you could tell that Bieto did really deal with the work intensively.
The evening was conducted by Georg Fritzsch who gave a very balanced performance. He showed intimate musicality as well as powerful outbursts during the big choir scenes or the climatic finale. The Staatsorchester Stuttgart also gave a solid performance with passionate playing and exemplary accuracy. Of course the Staatsopernchor Stuttgart (Zusatzchor) had a very important role in this opera and they gave a very refined performance except of a few inaccuracies. Especially the big scene in the final act was simply brilliant.
Torsten Hofmann sang a very fine Steuermann with his bright and clear tenor voice. I personally prefer a voice with a more youthful timbre, but Hofmann undoubtly gave a very fine performance anyway.
Idunnu Münch was a wonderful Mary with a beautiful dark mezzo voice. She has the necessary power, flexibility and playfulness that is important for that role and so she gave a marvelous performance.
Thomas Blondelle was a really superior Georg with his slender but powerful tenor voice. He showed great musicality and his performance was so expressive and thrilling that he reallyy gave me goosebumps several times.
As Donald we heard Attila Jun who also has a powerful instrument with a very imperious timbre, but he lacked the flexibility and agility to absolutely convince in this role. He seemed a bit to static sometimes and seemed to feel totally comfortable with the role.
The female leading role, Senta, was sung by Christiane Libor stunned me with her highly musical performance once again. I might repeat myself, but her voice is simply perfect for Wagner including not only power and flexibility, but also a beautiful warm timbre and good sense for phrasing.
James Rutherford was a good match for her as dutchman. His baritone voice has a dark but clear timbre and his power and stamina worked out well too. His performance also showed great musical talent and he did not give any reason for criticism.
Alltogether a very good performance with some very good singing and a very sophisticated smart production that features some really smart ideas. Therefor I give 9 stars to the production.
is definitely worth the travelling and so I give 9 stars to Elektra in Stuttgart.
Reviewed by Daniel Url