Wednesday 21 June 2017

Richard Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten - Oper Leipzig

Performance 18th June

As final part of my marathon (day 5 and opera 6) I revisited a production of my all time favorite opera and probably the most glorious pieve ever written: Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten. Being the subject of my Master thesis I simply could not resist to get back to see the Leipzig production which I already saw quite exactly three years ago when it premiered. So it is quite a matter of destiny that after more than 3 1/2 years of regular visits and reviews from Leipzig I would end my final trip as a reviewer here with my favorite opera.
The production by Balasz Kovalik is quite interesting even though it tends to be irrepressibly cheesy with its Sissi aesthetics. The idea itself seems to be not to bad if you know the piece well enough, but sometimes Kovalik's direction simply ends up being too theatrical. On the other hand I have to give him credit for some moments that really created some intense atmosphere and filled the story with life. Especially because of the flamboyant stage and costumes by Heike Scheele which were really impressive and absolutely marvelous to watch.
Musically it was definitely the most pleasing one of the three evenings. Maestro Ulf Schirmer and the Gewandhausorchester played wonderfully with intense passion and captivating power. Thanks to the fact that this score is already so thick that loudness is definitely not a problem most of the time Schirmer's tendency for loud performances was not a problem this time. Also the powerful voices of most of the protagonists prevented the covering by the orchestra. Due to the difficulty of the score I can imagine that Schirmer and the orchestra saved their energy for this performance to make it a really exciting treat.
The many different smaller roles were solidly cast and supported the story very well. I definitely want to mention Patrick Vogel as the voice of the younling with a beautiful youthful tenor voice and Magdalena Hinterdobler as ravishing guard of the treshold. Tuomas Pursio seemed more comfortable with the role of the spirit messenger than as Jochanaan the night before. I still am not really a fan of his raw top register, but he gave a solid performance.
Karin Lovelius really surprised me in the role of the Nurse, Her voice might not be perfect for the role, but she managed it rather well. She smartly avoided difficulties with a very intelligent and highly expressive interpretation. The range of the role definitely took her to her limits, but she did a good job delivering the character.
Franz Grundheber as Barak also was a positive surprise. It is really incredible in what good shape his voice still is (being almost 80). He managed the part without any issues and also showed a very smart interpretation. I really have to say that he can still sing the role better than most other baritones who are much younger. Grundheber was able to convince with his singing which reflected great experience in this repertoire.
Burkhard Fritz, as usual, was a very reliable Emperor with easy high notes and a tenor voice that carries easily through the auditorium. He is probably the leading singer for this role at the moment and probably also the only one who can convince in it as a whole. Especially his scene during act is simply exciting and impressive.
Due to the fact that Jennifer Wilson was sick we had the pleasure to witness a jump-in of a very interesting sort. While someone from the production was acting on stage we had Elena Pankratova singing the role of the Dyer's Wife from the side of the stage. She also is one of the leading performers in that role and convinces with the sheer power and evenness of her timbre. She can through out the demanding top notes of that nagging role without any problems and definitely impressed the audience with her performance.
Nevertheless, the most impressive part of the evening was Simone Schneider as Empress. I have to say that I have never heard anyone sing this role on such a high level. Schneider's voice is absolutely unique and combines unbelievably even transitions with power and sheer beauty of tone. From almost mezzo-like registers to gleaming top notes (including the feared high d) that convince with that silvery Straussian tone she knows how to deliver the drama of the character through her singing. Her performance was undoubtedly the most amazin Strauss singing I have heard for a long time and I cannot imagine this role being sung better by anyone at the moment. BRAVA!!!!
Alltogether it was a glorious end of the Strauss weekend and I can definitely give 9 stars to this amazing Frau ohne Schatten performance.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Sunday 18 June 2017

Richard Strauss, Salome - Oper Leipzig

Premiere Performance 17th June

Day 4 of my marathon featured the premiere of Strauss' Salome in Leipzig, a work that I have supervised myself once. Knowing the piece quite well I might be very picky as well, but the performance in Leipzig was definitely no disappointment.
The production by Aron Stiehl is featuring the usual ideas that come with that piece, but does not really bring something new to the piece. Many things have already been done by other houses and there are definitely more differentiated productions. The stage and costumes by the artist rosalie (who sadly passed away recently) helped Stiehl's interpretation very much with the impressive setting and the extravagant costumes. The futuristic palace and its surrounding had some great details that supported the plot very well. I especially liked the extensive use of the staircases which created an interesting atmosphere.
Musically I was a bit disappointed by Ulf Schirmer that evening, because apart of the usual loudness of the orchestra I missed the diversity of colours and themes that are featured in this masterful score. Some parts of it seemed too unbalanced and the lack of clarity sometimes clouded the overall impression of the Gewandhausorchester. Once again the loudness also interfered with the musical lines so that the dramatic flow was disturbed by the sheer power of the orchestra. Sometimes less is more...
Most of the small roles were cast solidly with appropriate voices. The quintet of the jews could have been a bit more balanced, but everything worked out quite well anyway. Sandra Maxheimer gave a good performance as Page with a very youthful and soft mezzo voice. Sergei Pisarev as Narraboth was definitely one of the highlights of the evening. His beautiful bright and youthful tenor voice suited the role perfectly and he sang it with lovely passion and devotion. Quite a pity that he dies so early in the plot.
Karin Lovelius as Herodias also sang her role without any issues, but did not really seem to be absolutely comfortable with the role. Her outbreaks sometimes gave the impression that she was too busy doing everything the right way.
As her husband Herodes we heard Michael Weinius who was a bit disappointing in my opinion. Probably just because I was expecting more of him. His heroic tenor voice seemed not flexible enough at certain moments and like Lovelius he just gave the impression that this is not really his type of role.
Tuomas Pursio as Jochanaan also turned out to be rather problematic. While his baritone voice is easily heard through the orchestra, it tends to sound rather shaky at the top which leads to unreliable intonation. The pushed upper register also prevents proper phrasing and therefor I was not really pleased with his performance unfortunately.
The most awaited part of the performance was Elisabet Strid's debut in the title role. After her Siegfried Brünnhilde Salome seems to be a rather smart choice for a role, but ultimately she had to fight quite hard against Schirmer and his wall of sound. She managed the role without any problems, but I personally think that her voice is not flexible and agile enough for this role which calls for a very certain kind of voice. Surely, she did have all of the notes, but it simply did not go as easy as it should and so I was not as enchanted as I expected. Nevertheless she did a good job and definitely celebrated a great success.
After the pretty loud Arabella the night before I think that Salome could have been a bit more sophisticated. In the end it was a pleasing night that had no great issues, but also no real surprises or exceptional performances. Therefor 8 stars seem to be appropriate for a high level performance that could have been better.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Richard Strauss, Arabella - Oper Leipzig

Performance 16th June

Everyone who reads my blog knows that Leipzig has always been a regular destination for me due to the intensive Strauss and Wagner programming here and also because of their casting choices. After almost 3 1/2 years I am happy that it is also part of my last big trip as reviewer visiting the Strauss weekend with three Strauss operas in a row starting with his lyrical comedy, Arabella.
The production by Jan Schmidt-Garre combines elegance and plain simplicity. The focus of his works is bringing out the relations and emotions of the different characters which works out really well. The puzzle-like stage (Heike Scheele) is changing almost constantly and creates an insecure undecisive atmosphere which suits the story perfectly. I especially liked the elegant and beautiful costumes by Thomas Kaiser which gave the evening some noble radiance.
Ulf Schirmer conducted the performance and showed a clean score full of details. He knows the music very well, but unfortunately he has this utterly annoying tendency to let the orchestra be too loud. That caused some problems that evening and left some singers almost unheard. The Gewandhausorchester, though playing the score really wonderfully, simply covered the singers most of the times when they should rather be in the background. Certain moments like the love duet in act 2 (Und du wirst mein Gebieter) simply cannot unfold their magic when the music is too loud which was the case for most of the evening.
Most of the small roles were cast very well with a great spectrum of voices. Paul McNamara, Jürgen Kurth and Sejong Chang convinced as the three elegant and jealous Counts Elemer, Dominik and Lamoral. Katja Pieweck gave a solid performance during her short scene as Kartenaufschlägerin and Diana Tomsche enchanted the audience as stratospheric Fiakermilli.
Jan-Hendrik Rooterin as Waldner was unfortunately rather weak and had serious issues to be heard at all. He played the role very convincing, but it was really hard to hear him, especially when someone else was singing too. Same is valid for Renate Behle as Adelaide. Some notes were breaking through the orchestra without problems, but much of her singing did not succeed to do so.
As Matteo we heard Markus Francke who gave a solid performance with a youthful bright tenor voice. He was very convincing in his role and showed great acting talent as well as a deep understanding of the character. His top could sound easier everynow and then, but alltogether he gave a pleasing performance.
Olena Tokar also sang the role of Zdenka with great passion and devotion. Her full and strong soprano easily soars over the orchestra and has a beautiful timbre. She gave a lovely performance even though I was hoping for more light clarity in her timbre which is quite important for Strauss roles like this one. If her top notes only had this special Straussian silvery tone she would be a perfect cast.
Thomas J. Mayer is an experienced Mandryka who knows the tricky parts of the role and knows how get through it without problems. He is probably one of the leading singers for this part at the moment and it was a pleasure to hear him in it again. His strong and warm baritone voice has the necessary power and stamina to fight the wall of sound that Schirmer sends from the orchestra pit and he is really convincing as Mandryka.
Last, but not least, the role of Arabella was sung by Betsy Horne who has a wonderful full-bodied voice that combines a beautiful timbre with the flexibility and ability to fill the Straussian parlando style with life. I think her voice has the perfect colour for this role, but she has to work on her top which strikes me rather unreliable. There is a distinct break between middle and upper register which needs a more even transition so that she can let the top notes float with more ease.
Alltogether it was a solid performance with some lovely moments. If only the loudness did not affect the overall impression that much... 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen - Siegfried - Staatstheater Nürnberg

Performance 15th June

As final big trip as reviewer I decided to take the possibility to travel to some of the cities I visited regularly during the last years, but also one last new one. For the first day of my 5 day opera marathon (including 6 opera performances and a panel discussion) I made a stop in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg (Nürnberg) to see their production of Wagner's Siegfried.
The production by Georg Schmidleitner shows an intensive knowledge of the plot and brings a very entertaining, but also sophisticated irony into the evening. Many little ironical details create an interesting fraction between the pathos of Wagner's story and the light-hearted irony of Schmiedleitner's direction. It might not please everyone and may seem offensive and disrespectful to some people, but I thought that it showed a great mind behind the production. The stage by Stefan Brandtmayr also showed some really interesting ideas and especially the second act with the moving street and the decayed surroundings created an intense and exciting atmosphere. Alfred Mayerhofer designed the rather simple and common costumes which supported the story quite well too.
The musical lead of Marcus Bosch was surprisingly strong and he led the Staatsphilharmonie Nürnberg with great understanding of the score. The orchestra did a great job following his lead and played a very clear and accurate rendition of the score. I have to admit that I have never heard the final bars of the first act finale (which are really a challenge for every orchestra) being played so clear and well balanced before. Unfortunately Bosch and the orchestra also tended to be way too loud for much of the whole performance and so very often the structure of the music got lost in the sheer display of power.
Ina Yoshikawa as Waldvöglein gave a solid performance with light lyric soprano voice that could have had a bit more of a clear timbre and more lightness in her phrasing. Nicolai Karnolsky as Fafner was equipped with a microphone to create reverb which made his performance a bit more complicated. For this role I would wish for a more profound and darker bass voice.
As Erda we heard Judith Schmid who has the right timbre for this role. Her creamy mysterious alto voice could be more flexible sometimes and her top was a it shaky, but apart of that she gave a pleasing performance during her scene in act 3.
Martin Winkler sang a very good Alberich with his raw dark voice which suited the character very well. If his diction were a bit clearer he could have been even better, but as I said, he did a great job anyway.
Hans Kittelmann as Mime gave an exceptional performance with a wide spectrum of colours and an excellent understanding of the text. He changed the colour of his voice so intensively depending on the words he sang that he gave a whole new dimension to the role. His light tenor voice might not be the most impressive one, but he showed great intelligence with his interpretation.
The role of Wanderer was sung by Antonio Yang who also filled the role with life and sang it with great passion. His noble baritone voice suited the role wonderfully and apart of some little text mistakes he gave a flawless performance. Of course he might have difficulties in bigger houses, but in that house he definitely gave a marvelous performance.
Rachael Tovey as Brünnhilde was a bit problematic and left me rather disappointed in the end. While having a nice and steady middle register and a good lower register her top is simply not convincing. This might not be a problem for the Walküre Brünnhilde, but in Siegfried it is highly dangerous because the tessitura is significantly higher. Most notes above f felt short or had shaky intonation. However, the real sin of the evening was the fact that she decided to not even attempt the final high c of the love duet. Moments like this are simply not negotionable and simply destroy the structure of the piece!
The hero of the evening was Vincent Wolfsteiner as Siegfried with a voice that really impressed me a lot. His tenor voice combines the power of a Heldentenor with the light and easy top of a Charaktertenor. He is definitely one of the best Siegfrieds I heard so far and was worth the travel. In the end of the evening there seemed to be less brightness in his timbre, but he did not fail to deliver everything until the very last note. Bravo!
Alltogether a pleasing performance with a few deficits, but I enjoyed it and was happy to visit the house for my farewell tour. 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url