Monday 29 May 2017

Richard Wagner, Tannhäuser - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 25th May

After a rather quiet month I went to see the new production of Tannhäuser in Munich shortly after its premiere. The long awaited production features many interesting reasons to have a look at it and so I decided to do so. The production is led by Romeo Castellucci who is also responsible for the stage and the costumes. I have to admit that I still do not know if I liked or disliked the staging. Castellucci shows an extremely sophisticated and highly philosophical version of Tannhäuser and everyone who came to see a more or less traditional Tannhäuser was probably very disappointed. He showed some really interesting ideas and a very symbolical concept that had some incredibly strong moments. The whole production is simply highly aesthetical and follows an extremely aesthetical concept that works quite well. There is no such thing as a traditional direction of the characters, but a lot of symbols and many images that create an atmosphere without necessarily telling a story. Optically it was definitely a highly interesting production that clearly captured the audience with its aesthetics. However, sometimes I had the feeling that Castellucci made the work end up more complicated than it is. I think that the production is really interesting for people who know the piece well and are open to new views on the work. Unfortunately this might be the problem because people who are new to the work or opera in general surely felt like having a drug trip (not necessarily in a positive way) and probably did not get everything Castellucci wanted to deliver.
Musically the evening also was long awaited due to Kirill Petrenko's debut conducting this very work. I thought that he did a good job with a clear idea of the music and a extremely clean interpretation of the score. I sometimes felt that his tempi are quite rushed, but not in an extreme way. He gave me the impression that he worked really hard on the piece, but did not really find his relation with it yet. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester played very well and followed Petrenko's lead with passion and clarity. Some minor inaccuracies were there, but nothing really serious.
The Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper did a great job with the really important choir part of the opera. I sometimes felt that the sopranos could have been a bit stronger, but alltogether they gave a wonderful performance and ended the opera with a ravishing final chorus.
Georg Zeppenfeld sang the role of Hermann and even though the part is not really big he did not fail to absolutely convince with it. Zeppenfeld is probably one of the most reliable singers out there and a guarantee for a nice performance. He sang the part very refined with his unique noble and solemn bass voice.
As Wolfram we heard Christian Gerhaher who did a solid job, but did not really convince me. His singing sometimes sounded too operatic on one hand and too much like Lied on the other hand. Especially the recitative-like parts in the beginning of act 3 were so mannered that it simply lost all drama and seemed more like a Liederabend. Of course he did not do a bad job, but I thought that his interpretation lacked soul and dramatic flow.
Elena Pankratova on the other hand did even exceed my expectations as Venus. Her powerful focused soprano has the necessary depth and also the easy top for the high notes. No doubt that she is one of the leading singers for that role at the moment and I am really happy to have heard her.
In the role of Elisabeth Anja Harteros seemed to be a rather dramatic choice, but nevertheless she did a solid job. I have to say that I could name other singers who would be a better choice for that certain role, but Harteros is professional enough to make it her own as well. She convinces with a strong and well balanced soprano voice that was able to deliver the drama of her character very well.
The most problematic performance of the evening was give by Klaus Florian Vogt as Tannhäuser. His extremely clear bright voice seems to be a rather strange choice for a role that is know to be a voice killer. Of course he has the power and stamina to endure a performance like that, but it simply feels weird to hear him in such a role. The one thing his voice definitely lacks is passion and colour. I would say that even a sinus tone has more timbre and colours than Vogt's voice that sounds the same throughout the whole performance. No matter if he sings of love, despair or death, he simply cannot give any other colour than the natural bright timbre of his voice. I thought that he was not as bad as I expected, but he definitely did not convince me in this role and I am sure there are enough other singers who could do a better job.
Alltogether it was a nice performance that really made me think a lot and clearly has give me a strong  and lasting impression. As I already said, I still do not know what to think about it, but it was definitely a performance on a very high level and therefor I can surely give 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 8 (Symphony of a Thousand) - Elbphilharmonie Hamburg

Performance 30th April

Part two of my epic music weekend in Hamburg was a visit at the prestigious Elbphilharmonie with one of the greatest symphonies of all time and a piece that definitely earns the designation epic. Before I will talk about the concert itself I want to say a few words about the hall and its acoustics. Much has been written about it and still you have to get your own impression about the sound of the new Elbphilharmonie. No doubt it is an incredibly spectacular building and I spent two hours before the concert to discover much of it. The hall looks marvelous and is definitely an eyecatcher (as well as the view from the several floors (11th to 16th floor to be exact)). Acoustically I was not as disappointed as I originally expected. The acoustics are really cold and mercilessly clear. In addition to this extreme clarity (which unfortunately does not create a homogenous consonance) the music often sounds strangely choppend and phrases are torn apart. So in the end, the acoustics are not as bad as some reports made me expect, but they definitely are rather difficult for the ensemble because they are not very supportive.
However, the concert itself was simply great and probably the best performance of the piece I ever heard live. Due to the illness of Kent Nagano, Eliahu Inbal took over the lead of the concert. With his more than 80 years he still brought so much energy and power into the performance that it was really impressive. Being a Mahler specialist, he pointed out many great details of the magnificent score and led the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg to simply glorious performance. The huge orchestra did a wonderful job and played with intense passion as well as a nice balance between the different instrument groups.
The choirs (Chor der Hamburgischen Staatsoper, Hamburger Alsterspatzen & Staatlicher Akademischer Chor Latvija) also sounded wonderfully balanced and had a great range from absolutely silent to powerful forte. Especially during the famous chorus mysticus they showed great harmony and gave a ravishing performance.
The several soloists were very well cast as well and featured wonderful voices. The sopranos (Sarah Wegener, Jacquelyn Wagner & Heather Engebretson) combined powerful clear top registers with a very beautiful warm timbre.
Daniela Sindram and Dorottya Láng sang the two mezzo parts with their strong dark voices and were a great contrast to the sopranos. The tenor part was sung by Burkhard Fritz who did a great job once again. He did not show any fear of the high tessitura and managed his part without any problems.
Kartal Karagedik and Wilhelm Schwinghammer sang the two low voice parts and also met the high niveau of the performance. Karagedik's baritone voice has a heroic, sonorous timbre while Schwinghammer convinced with his dark and elegant bass voice.
As I already mentioned the performance was brilliant and I was really touched by this glorious work. I definitely can say that this was the best Mahler 8th I ever heard and therefor I can definitely give 9 stars to this marvelous performance in the new Elbphilharmonie.
Reviewed by Daniel Url