Monday, 14 August 2017

A final farewell

Some of you might already know it, some may have expected it and for a few it might be a surprise, but the latest review of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth in Salzburg was the final and last one of its kind. Due to a more or less sudden career change earlier this year I decided to shut down this blog and so (as some of you may have realised) there were less reviews over the last few months. This is because I only reviewed some final shows where I received press tickets and did not review any other shows anymore. I undertook some final trips to different places and the festival season in Munich and Salzburg is the finale of a project that lasted for more than 3 years and was definitely way more succesful than I thought.
I want to thank everyone who spent time reading my reviews and interviews, all artists who were ready to give a young journalist a chance for some really interesting interviews and all the press offices who were so open to collaborate with me over the years including the big houses in Berlin, Vienna, Munich and the great festivals all over Austria and Germany.
It was my pleasure to see so many great productions and performances over the last 3 years and get to know so many interesting people. However I realised that there are so many people now who are blogging about opera and it would take much more time to keep up the level of quality. It seems that nowadays everyone thinks that he can review an opera performance no matter if they actually have the necessary knowledge.
Another reason, as mentioned, is my new job as an artist manager in an agency in Munich. I believe that it is not good to work as a reviewer at the same time and therefor the blog had to end. Nevertheless I am very happy about my new job because I have the chance to use my distinct knowledge about singing and the human voice to support talented singers and their careers.
So this is the end, once again I want to thank all of you for your support.
All the best to everyone of you,


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich, Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District - Salzburger Festspiele, Großes Festspielhaus

Performance 10th August

For my very last review on this blog I went to see a wonderful production of an opera that might not be known to everybody. Shostakovich wrote his Lady Macbeth when he was barely 25 and created an interesting highly explicit piece of musical porn. The music is a wild mix of different styles and very often I had the feeling that Puccini was a big influence, but on the other hand there are also wild and grotesque parts that show Shostakovich's crazy side. I was positively surprised by the piece and I have to say that is a very exciting opera that should be performed way more often.
The production by Andreas Kriegenburg is really impressive and shows an almost veristic approach. All the relations between the different characters were worked out so clearly that it was almost like watching a movie. Kriegenburg was able to keep the level of excitement very high throughout the evening. Only the final death of Katerina seemed a bit over the top and predictable. I especially liked the stage by Harald B. Thor with that huge working class residential buildings that created a thoroughly depressing atmosphere. The smart idea to have rooms coming out from those buildings worked very well and helped to deliver the story. The costumes by Tanja Hofmann also helped to support the plot and the different characters. Especially the great difference between the working class and Katerina (and her old family).
Musically there were no wishes to be left under the baton of Mariss Jansons. He knows the score perfectly well and conducted a more or less flawless performance with the Wiener Philharmoniker. That is why th several interludes were definitely some great musical highlight. Also the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor gave a brilliant performance with great passion and lovely playfulness.
Most of the many small roles were cast very well and showed the high level of the performance. I especially want to mention Ksenia Dudnikova's dark soft mezzo / alto voice which suited her role very well. Also Stanislav Trofimov as Pope gave a wonderful performance with his drunk acting and a strong imperious voice.
Maxim Paster also convinced as absolutely drunk and wimpy Sinowi. I do not know if he did it on purpose but his tenor voice also gave a very unstable impression which suited the role very well. If this was part of his interpretation it really worked out.
As his father Boris we heard Dmitry Ulyanov who also gave a strong performance with a balanced powerful bass voice and an exciting interpretation. He made such a despicable impression that everyone would have killed him probably.
Tenor Brandon Jovanovich was an incredible Sergei with passion, power, a balanced voice and great acting. I can barely imagine the role to be sung any better and he definitely earned his applause for his highly laddish acting.
Due to the illness of Nina Stemme we had Evgenia Muraveva jumping in and singing the title role instead of the small role of Aksinya. I was really keen to hear Nina Stemme, but I have to say that Miss Muraveva probably did a better job with a beautiful strong soprano voice that is definitely more flexible than Stemme's voice. Muraveva gave a brilliant performance and really kept the excitement on a very high level throughout her performance. What a chance for this singer and maybe we will hear more of her in the future.
Alltogether it really was an exciting performance and another great success for the new director of the Salzburg festival. I would give 9 stars to Lady Macbeth in Salzburg.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Richard Wagner, Lohengrin - Tiroler Festspiele Erl

Performance 29th July

Another final visit, another final review from the little village Erl with the famous Festival. Erl has also been a regular station on my several trips and so I visited the final performance of this festival. As usual the production was led by Gustav Kuhn himself and was rather simple, plain and focused more on the music than on intensive direction. The stage by Jan Hax Halama also only featured a few little details and mainly involved the staircase that goes down into the stage and several platforms for the choir. The costumes by Lenka Radecky also were some sort of historical and futuristic, but looked very elegant. Especially the two female protagonists looked stunning.
Of course also the musical lead was in the hands of Gustav Kuhn who conducted with a lot of experience which sometimes seemed a bit unexciting. Nevertheless he and the Orchester der Tiroler Festspiele Erl did a good job supporting the singers and gave a solid pleasing performance. I also want to mention the Chorakademie which sounded lovely and really powerful.
Michael Kupfer-Radecky was a luxurious Heerrufer with a strong and slender baritone of a very warm and heroic timbre. He gave a great performance and it would have been nice to hear more of him.
Pavel Kudinov sang a very imperious and profound King Heinrich with a sonorous bass voice. Except of some top notes he gave a really wonderful performance and showed a very understanding portrayal. Especially during the first act he simply gave a lovely performance.
As Telramund we heard Michael Mrosek who seemed a bit troubled by the role. Often he had to shorten notes and the top parts of the role definitely brought him to his limits. He seemed more like a parody than actually really intimidating which is not really helpful for that role.
His wife Ortrud was sung by Mona Somm who seemed not to be in best shape too. I know Somm's powerful instrument quite well after her Brünnhilde and her Isolde, but this evening she did not absolutely convince me. Despite her roaring top notes she did not really show the same strenght in the lower register and simply seemed not totally comfortable with the role. I guess Ortrud simply needs a mezzo with good top and not a dramatic soprano.
Joo Anne Bitter as Elsa is best described as probably the best Elsa I ever heard. Her light but rich soprano voice sounds beautiful and controlled throughout her whole range and she perfectly sang the role without any problematic moments. From her first notes to the very last ones she just gave a marvelous performance and despite her singing also looked beautiful with her long flowing blonde hair. BRAVA!
Johannes Chum on the other hand was a more than problematic Lohengrin. He has a very odd timbre and his diction makes me question the language he is singing in. Consonants were barely recognisable and also the vowels sounded pretty much the same most of the time. As if this was not enough he also had to fight for the whole last act and basically had to scream the last 20 minutes in order to get through the performance. I guess the role is just out of his league.
Alltogether it was still a lovely performance and I did not regret the trip. The Lohengrin in Erl gets 7 stars.
✰- - -
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Friday, 28 July 2017

Gaetano Donizetti, La Favorite - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 26th July

Time flies and suddenly the day for my final review in Munich came. After three years of ravishing performances here I chose an opera that I have not seen live yet for my final review. Donizetti's La Favorite is one of those rare operas that features a mezzo as main protagonist. Most people only know the great scene "O mon Fernand", but the mezzo part also features high b-flats and an optional (but usually done) high c in the first duet.
The production by Amelie Niermeyer is dark and cold as usual. If it had been a concert version there would not have been much of a difference. Despite the moving panels of the stage (Alexander Müller-Elmau) there was not much going on at any moment. Even the highly dramatic finali of act 2 and 3 were utterly boring and it seemed that Niermeyer had no idea what to make out of it. The costumes (Kirsten Dephoff) looked pretty, but did not really convey any meaning or support the plot in any way.
At least the musical part of the evening was on a very high level. Karel Mark Chichon conducted the Bayerisches Staatsorchester with a great sense for Donizetti's melodies and with marvelous dramatic drive in the ensemble scenes. He brought the very french sound of the score to life and did not fail to deliver the drama that the production could not create. The orchestra played very well with brilliant elegance and fierce excitement. The Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper seemed a bit unbalanced that evening and especially during their entrance scene they seemed to have some timing issues.
Elsa Benoit was a wonderful Inès with a magnificent bright soprano voice that showed great flexibility and a lovely clear upper register. Joshua Owen Mills also has a very clear bright voice with a piercing timbre. He gave a solid performance as slimy Don Gaspard.
Mika Kares showed his strong profound bass voice in the role of Balthazar and sang the role passionately and with raw venerability. His interpretation could have been a bit more differentiated, but alltogether he gave a fine performance.
As Alphonse XI we heard Mariusz Kwiecień who did a great job in that role. His imperious flexible baritone voice suited the character very well and also acting-wise he showed great enthusiasm for the role.
Matthew Polenzani sang the role of Fernand with great passion with his rather light, but sustainable tenor voice. He gave us some beautiful high notes and a wonderful balance of soft intimate moments and dramatic outbursts. I thought that he could have been a bit more elegant, but anyway he did a good job.
Last but not least, the role of Léonor was sung by star mezzo Elīna Garanča who definitely was the star of the evening. Her lush dark voice combines beauty of tone, power and a marvelous sense for phrasing.Without any problems she tackled the many high parts of the role and convinced with a very emotional passionate portrayal.
Alltogether it was a solid performance with some very nice moments (at least musically) and therefor I give 8 stars to Munich's La Favorite.
 - -
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Carl Maria von Weber, Oberon - Bayerische Staatsoper, Prinzregententheater

Performance 24th July

The finale premiere of this season in Munich is a real rarity that rarely finds its way into the repertoire. Weber's Oberon is not as popular as his Freischütz which might be because of its rather dull story and the unelegant libretto. The plot seems like a strange mix of Mozart's Entführung, his Zauberflöte and other influences. Operas like this can barely be approached in a serious way without becoming unbareably cheesy. However, the team around Nikolaus Habjahn created a wonderful production with an impressive level of entertainment. The point of the production was to create a frame story and to simply not take the story serious at all. By exaggerations the plot became highly ironic and fit perfectly into the created frame story of an experiment. I have to admit that I do not know when I had so much fun at an opera the last time. There were so many funny moments and the audience was genuinely entertained by the several interesting ideas. I also thought the the costumes (Denise Heschl) and the stage (Jakob Brossmann) looked very elegant and gave a lovely fairytale-like impression. Especially the many little panels that came from all around the stage to support the plot. Another highly interesting detail was the use of those puppets that were played by the three Pucks. It was really impressive how well the actors were able to deliver different characters with those puppets.
The musical part of the evening was under the control of Ivor Bolton who gave a solid performance. I thought that the balance in the score could have been better most of the time and the light classiness of Weber's music was missing too. However, the Bayerisches Staatsorchester played well with a few little inaccuracies. Especially the natural horns were rather problematic, but alltogether the performance was fine on a good level. I especially want to mention the Extrachor der Bayerischen Staatsoper which sang wonderfully during the choir scenes.
Of the soloists I want to mention the three Pucks (Manuela Linshalm, Daniel Frantisek Kamen, Sebastian Mock) because they were responsible for many funny moments and helped to keep the ecxitement on a high level throughout the performance.
Anna El-Kashem had a very short but beautiful scene as Meermädchen. She sang the beautiful scene with a lovely and genuinely beautiful soprano voice that is definitely worth more than such a small appearance. Alyona Abramowa showed her dark warm mezzo voice, but definitely needs to work on her diction which tended to be rather problematic (especially during the few dialogues she had to deliver).
Julian Prégardien was a wonderful Oberon with a lovely youthful and elegant tenor voice. His noble timbre suited the role perfectly well and only his acting could have been a bit more convincing alltogether.
As Fatime we heard Rachael Wilson with her slender focused mezzo soprano. She gave a beautiful portrayal of the role with passion and lighthearted acting skills. I especially liked her aria in the final act, the following duet with Scherasmin and the Terzett with both guys where Wilson showed her vocal skills exceptionally well.
Johannes Kammler as Scherasmin also was a performance to remember. His light baritone voice suited the character very well and he sang the role with elegance and charm. But not only musically he knew how to catch the audience, also his acting skills were very good and he gave a wonderful performance.
Brenden Gunnell as Hüon von Bordeaux also did a good job even though he sometimes seemed a bit uncomfortable with the highly demanding part. The many runs and the rather high tessitura pushed him to his limits, but alltogether he gave a good performance.
Anette Dasch as Rezia seemed to have the same problem. While having a very beautiful strong and dark soprano voice, her top always gave a rather pushed impression. Surely the part calls for a more flexible kind of voice, but Dasch used her striking stage presence to make up for vocal deficits. In the end she probably gave the best overall impression with her marvelous diva-like behaviour (which was part of the production, obviously).
As mentioned before, I really had a great time and much fun during the performance. Certainly the piece and the production are not perfect, but it is a wonderful example of good entertainment. Therefor I give 9 stars to the absolutely hilarious Oberon in Munich.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Friday, 7 July 2017

Richard Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 5th July

After years of intensive occupation with this marvelous work it seems obvious that I had to revisit the production in Munich this summer. Being my 4th production of FroSch this year I have a lot to compare. However, I already saw this production in Munich twice and there definitely are better ones. Compared to Die Gezeichneten Krysztof Warlikowski at least tells the story in a straight and more or less clear way, but the many connotations and odd pictures stay. While there is a lot going on all the time during this production it still fails very often to get to the core of the story. One could say that Warlikowski operates with some sort of diffuse conventionalism which creates some interesting pictures, but finally ends up rather random.
Kirill Petrenko led the musical part of the evening and was celebrated like a god. He certainly shows the greatest musical rendition of that piece I ever heard, but compared to earlier performances (2013 and 2014) some parts seemed a bit sloppy everynow and then. No really great issues, but several smaller moments when the accuracy could have been better. Nevertheless the Bayerisches Staatsorchester certainly gave a brilliant performance under the baton of its celebrated marvelous music director.
Most of the small parts were cast really well like the luxurious presence of Okka von der Damerau as voice from above or the guard trio (Johannes Kammler, Sean Michael Plumb and Milan Siljanov). Elsa Benoit was a great falcon and guard of the treshold with a beautiful and flexible soprano voice. Dean Power convinced not only as one of the three brothers, but also as fresh youngling with his youthful sonorous tenor voice.
Michaela Schuster once again (after Berlin) as the Nurse gave a solid performance again. Her voice tends to have a rather edgy sound and it is definitely not one of the most balanced voices, but she performs the part very smartly and gave a thrilling performance with her acting skills.
Burkhard Fritz (after Berlin AND Leipzig) once again showed that the role of the Emperor suits him well. He is absolutely reliable with power, delicacy and a good understanding of the role with all its difficulties. He seemed in better shape than in Leipzig lately and gave a flawless performance that evening.
Wolfgang Koch was also singing Barak in Berlin too and is one of the leading singers for that role as well. Except of some minor dangerous moments he did a great job with his flexible warm baritone voice and he seemed very playful during this performance.
As Färberin we heard Elena Pankratova (who lately jumped in at Oper Leipzig with that role) and she gave a marvelous performance even though she seemed not as fierce as usual. I had the feeling that she was a bit more careful that night, but still threw out one thrilling high note after another. Her warm and soft voice is also powerful and she definitely has a deep understanding of the character of the Dyer's Wife.
The title role of the Empress was sung by Riccarda Merbeth who sang the role for over a decade now. However she still sings it with intensity and a beautiful ringing upper register. I am not really a fan of her voice, but she undoubtedly sings the role with great security and no fear of any high notes.
Alltogether it was a lovely night and therefor I can give 9 stars to the revival of Die Frau ohne Schatten in Munich.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Franz Schreker, Die Gezeichneten - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 4th July

Marking my last summer as reviewer and my last reviews in Munich I started this year's Munich Opera Festival with a marvelous rarity, a work so captivating that I do not understand why it is not part of the normal repertoire. Franz Schreker's Die Gezeichneten is an opera that clearly marks some competition for Strauss and in fact Schreker was more often performed than Strauss during his lifetime. Unfortunately the horrors of the Nazi regime ended his success and his works were forgotten.
The Bayerische Staatsoper now revives this great opera in a production by Krysztof Warlikowski who is know for his collage style and his highly psychological productions. As usual it ended up as a diarrhoea of connotations, odd film scenes and a lot of stuff that keeps the audience from actually thinking about the philosophical questions of the piece. The opera, being quite complicated already, ended up being even less understandable and many people probably had no clue what was going on. The stage was designed by Małgorzata Szczęśniak who is usually working with Warlikowski. The staging reminded me of any other production they made (Die Frau ohne Schatten in Munich, Parsifal in Paris...) and stroke me as nothing new at all. The costumes also could have been from any other of their productions. Knowing the great production of Nikolaus Lehnhoff (Salzburg 2005) the one in Munich was rather disappointing.
Musically it was not as striking as one would expect at the Bayerische Staatsoper as well. Ingo Metzmacher, making his house debut, seems like a smart choice, but I expected more. His tempi sometimes seemed rather odd and unfortunately he was not able to make the music flow appropriately. Most of the time he and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester seemed so busy to simply perform the score that the soul of the music was lost. The lack of elegance and the sheer fluidity of Schreker's themes led to raw brutality and almost chaotic moments. The oddest moment of the evening was the finale when the opera simply ended on a random chord instead of the actual climatic flare of the final bars. These final few bars were simply cut away which is a thing that I seriously do not understand at all.
Most small roles (and there are many of those in this opera) were cast appropriately and were performed nicely. Of the smaller roles I definitely want to mention three people: Alastair Miles as Lodovico Nardi, Dean Power as Pietro and Heike Grötzinger as Martuccia. Miles has a great bass voice that sometimes reminded me of the great Kurt Moll. Dean Power, as usual, gave a lovely performance with his youthful beautiful tenor voice and Heike Grötzinger, another treasure of the ensemble, sang a very dramatic and thrilling maid.
Tomasz Konieczny sang the role of the Count Adorno and was definitely one of the leading performers of the evening. His baritone combines a virile sonorous timbre with great flexibility and intensive power.
Christopher Maltman's baritone voice was a lovely contrast to the rather bright tone of Konieczny with his warm and elegant timbre. Maltman did not only sing his part really wonderfully, he also acted in a nice convincing way and simply gave a wonderful performance.
As Carlotta we heard Catherine Naglestad who gave a solid performance with her meanwhile rather dramatic voice. She sang the role very passionately, but she is definitely not the right choice for this role. While her lower register has a really odd and weak timbre she lacks the bright tone and the crucial lightness which is really important for this role.
The creator of the mysterious island "Elysium", Alviano Salvago, was sung by John Daszak who clearly reached his limits with this role. However I thought that this suits the role very well and I really liked his performance very much. His tenor voice still has a very pleasing timbre and his interpretation was not as caricatural as in many other performances. I especially liked the intensity of his reading scene before act 3.
Alltogether it was absolutely magnificent to hear this wonderful piece of music even though the performance was not really on the level I originally expected it to be. At least many other theatres are staging their productions of the opera now as well and finally people have the chance to see this great opera. The performance in Munich gets 7 stars.
✰- - -
Reviewed by Daniel Url