Wednesday 15 March 2017

Richard Wagner, Wagnergala, Staatsoper Berlin, Schillertheater

Gala performance 12th March

For one night, and one night only, the Staatsoper Berlin invited to Gala honouring the great Richard Wagner including scenes from his operas sung by some of the best Wagner singers of our times. The cast and the programme really made it impossible not to come and so I decided to take this short trip to the German capital and check out the performance.
The Staatskapelle Berlin was playing throughout the evening conducted by Simone Young who showed perfect and strict control over everything with a very economic and clear conducting style. I have rarely see someone conduct with such clarity and accuracy! The Staatskapelle followed her lead very well with passionate playing and especially a great range of volume and colours. Except of a few less nice moments of the brass section everything sounded marvelous and proved the high level of the orchestra. Also the Staatsopernchor Berlin did a great job during the two choir scenes. First they sang a wonderful rendition of the Entry of the Guests from Tannhäuser with such solemnity and joy that it was simply breathtaking. In the second part of the evening they returned for the "Wach auf" scene which they also sang very well and passionately.
The soloists were Anne Schwanewilms, Camilla Nylund, Waltraud Meier, Nikolai Schukoff (jumping in for Burkhard Fritz), Wolfgang Koch and René Pape. Schwanewilms openend the evening with a rendition of the famous Hallenarie from Tannhäuser. Her crystal clear soprano voice has this certain fragility and innocence in its timbre which sounds glorious, but also seems dangerously close to crack. However, she sang the aria very beautifully without any problems. I liked her singing as Elsa way more because it just suited her voice much better with its bright slender timbre. Singing with her was Waltraud Meier as Ortrud. I have to admit that Meier was the main reason for me to come to the gala because she simply is a legend and a national treasure. Of course the quality of tone might not be as good as 10 years ago, but she still captures the audience with her electric stage presence. I have never ever experienced such an exciting charisma with any other singer. Meier just nailed the fierce scene with Elsa with a stormy performance of "Entweihte Götter" as well as the previous scene with Telramund, sung by Wolfgang Koch. Koch did a very good job with his dark and flexible baritone voice. I think he was outstanding as Telramund and also gave a great rendition of the dutchman's monologue later. He is definitely one of the leading Wagner baritones and especially in the evil roles he has this certain viciousness in his timbre.
Nikolai Schukoff was singing the Parsifal scene from act 2 with his powerful youthful tenor voice. I have not heard of him before, but I will definitely remember his name now. He combines piercing power with an elegant bright tenor timbre and great flexibility. Even better than his Parsifal, was his performance as Siegmund together with Camilla Nylund as Sieglinde. This might have been the best rendition of the 3rd scene from Walküre act 1 I have ever heard. Schukoff did a great job and was definitely an outstanding Siegmund, but Nylund simply gave a flawless performance. Not only does her beautiful voice sound lovely, she also seemed to perfectly understand every single line of the role. Nylund continuously became one of the leading Wagner & Strauss sopranos of our time and is definitely one of the most musically talented singers out there. BRAVA!
Last but not least, René Pape joined the ensemble of singers with two scenes. First he was singing the Fliedermonolog from Meistersinger with such theatricality that it simply was a joy to listen to him. Every word was pronounced so meaningful and the range of his colours is just incredible. However, his performance as Wotan in Wotan's farewell was even more intense. Marking the end of the evening it was a performance that clearly earns the adjective legendary. His Wotan combines authority, emotion, melancholy as well as anger and disappointment. I thought he was brilliant and finished the performance with nobility and class.
Alltogether it really was a glorious evening and really showed that the age of great singing is definitely not over yet. Without doubt this performance earns full 10 stars thanks to the electric performances of all singers!

Reviewed by Daniel Url

Saturday 4 March 2017

Giacomo Puccini, La Bohème - Salzburger Landestheater, Haus für Mozart

Performance 2nd March

After a while also attended an opera performance in Salzburg again, this time in the former small festival hall (now called Haus für Mozart). Puccini's Bohème is something like an evergreen which always works and barely ends up in a mess. Also the new production by the Salzburger Landestheater is convincing the audience with a concept that is not really pioneering, but very pleasing to a mostly conservative audience. Andreas Gergen's production reminded me a lot of the festival production of 2012 and shows some noticable parallels, but also displays the plot very well most of the time. Only some very bold choices (that create some contradictions as well) did blur the overall impression. Particularly the house beat during the last few minutes of the second act were really inappropriate as well as some ideas that clearly were based on faulty translations. However most of the interactions were elaborated quite well and also the interesting stage (fettfilm) was incredibly versatile. The many projections worked out very well and created a magical atmosphere. The costumes by Regina Schill also looked lovely and helped to support the characterisations of the different roles.
Musically I was positively surprised by the performance because I have not experienced such a good performance of the Landestheater for quite a while. Not only because of the wonderful Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, but also because of the excellent casting of the singers. The young conductress (?) is one of the most promising young talents and there is a reason why she is in mind for bigger positions all the time. It really is a great loss that she will leave Salzburg so soon and it is always a pleasure to have her here to conduct. The Mozarteumorchester also seems to benefit from the highl musical woman and played wonderfully and passionately throughout the evening with a great sense for the emotions onstage.
The smaller roles were cast appropriately with Einar Th. Gudmundsson as Benoît and Franz Supper (always a highlight) as Parpignol, a role that I really never understood. Also Colline and Schaunard were sung very well by ensemble members Raimundas Juzuitis (lovely dark, but soft voice) and Elliott Carlton Hines (very flexible and elegant bright baritone voice).
David Pershall was a very good Marcello with a beautiful voice which has a lovely soft and warm timbre. He sang his role really passionately and probably gave the best performance of the evening with a very emotional portrayal of his role.
His Musetta was sung by Hailey Clark who impersonated the role wonderfully. Her voice combines a beautiful softness with great agility and clarity of singing. I really liked her performance which was really captivating both musically and acting-wise.
Luciano Ganci's Rodolfo was also sung very well with a bright and clear tenor voice, but he tended to be very loud an harsh in the upper register which sounded not really elegant. However, he gave a nice performance throughout the evening and ended the performance with very emotional "Mimì" screams.
The Role of Mimì was performed by Shelley Jackson who gave a marvelous and really touching performance. She has the ideal voice for that role with a warm lyrical voice that has a soft flexible timbre throughout all the registers. Only her upper register could sound a bit more free, but nevertheless she convinced me from the very first moment.
I can only hope that the Landestheater finally starts to cast more appropriately and we will have more production with good casts like this time. The new production of La Bohème earns 8 stars this time with good singing, but a bit of a capricious staging.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Thursday 2 March 2017

Werner Egk, Peer Gynt - Theater an der Wien

Performance 27th February

The Theater an der Wien rediscovered a rare piece of music from the last century and staged a production of Peer Gynt by composer Werner Egk. The piece was premiered in 1938 and admired be Hitler and Goebbels which did not really help Egk after the war when he had serious issues to explain his role in Nazi Germany. However the opera itself is a real treat and shows some really interesting influences. Traces of jazz, late-romanticism and musical modernism can be found in the work which features some great musical ideas. Of course it might not have the same quality level as Richard Strauss for example, but it is definitely worth a rediscovery.
The production by Peter Konwitschny helps to bring out the drama of the plot very well and achieves a really exciting and thrilling evening. He does not fail to display the inner strife of the main character and also the interpersonal relations of the different roles. This is exactly why I love his production because they usually show great understanding of the dramatic flow of a work. The stage and costumes (Helmut Brade) also supported this impression with a versatile concept full of interesting details. This shows how thrilling a production can be and how it is able to carry the audience into the plot.
Not only the scenery, also the musical part of the evening was exceptional. Leo Hussain conducted the mixture of styles with great understanding and a balanced controlled drive throughout the evening. He seemed to have studied the score very well and definitely was responsible for the musical success of the evening. The ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien played the interesting score very passionately with a wide range of different timbres and a very luscious sound. Also the Arnold Schönberg Chor did a great job with the choir part. They sounded balanced with a focussed sonority.
Basically all of the soloists sang on a very high level and their voices suited their roles really well. Of the smaller roles I want to mention Andrew Owens (Mads, Servant) and Nazazin Ezazi (Ingrid, waitress & first black bird). Both convinced with bright clear voices. Owens light tenor has a very focused timbre, while Ezazi's soprano has a very beautiful soft, but also flexible sound.
Rainer Trost sang the roles of The Old One and the king of the trolls. He also was able to convince with a highly musical performance and with a flexible powerful voice that was able to convey the his characters very well.
As Aase we heard Natascha Petrinksy with a great dramatic mezzo voice that has the full-bodied lower register as well as the dramatic top notes which are important for that role. She gave a wonderful performance with passion and devotion.
The double role of Solveig / the redhead was sung by Maria Bengtsson with hear beautiful soprano voice. Her voice combines the power of a lyric-dramatic soprano with the clear timbre and flexibility of a light lyric soprano. This combination worked perfectly for those roles and she gave a magnificent performance. Also her acting was very convincing and her beautiful final song was the perfect ending for the opera.
The title role was performed by Bo Skovhus with his elegant and noble baritone. His voice has this disting noble timbre and also convinces with great flexibility and a passionate interpretation. He was able to capture the attention of the audience from the first minute to the very last and it was great to see and hear him in this role.
I have to say that I was positively surprised by this opera and I really hope that this production might help to bring it back from oblivion. It was definitely a great evening both musically and scenically and therefor I give full 10 stars to Peer Gynt at the Theater an der Wien.

Reviewed by Daniel Url