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.
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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

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.
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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.
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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.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday, 30 January 2017

Richard Strauss, Elektra - Staatsoper Stuttgart

Performance 28th January

Last weekend I traveled back to Stuttgart after a long time to see two of my favorite works. The first evening was dedicated to Strauss' probably most modern opera and surely one of the bloodiest stories in his oeuvre. Despite its relatively short duration it is extremely demanding for both, performers and audience. The music is brutally loud and creates a thoroughly nervous atmophere, but also thrills the listener from the very first moment to the very last.
The production by Peter Konwitschny which premiered in 2005 was a bit disappointing for me because I expected more of him. I have seen several of his productions, but this one seemed a bit boring and odd. Despite some really interesting ideas and some funnily grotesque moments the whole production struck me as a bit too simple. The impersonal stage and costumes by Hans-Joachim Schlieker did not really help. Sure, it was not a bad production, but as I said I expected a bit more of Konwitschny.
Musically it was a first-class performance led by Ulf Schirmer who kept the overall volume quite high, but the singers were still able to be heard through the walls of sound. The Staatsorchester Stuttgart did a very good job following his lead and gave a balanced and thrilling performance throughout the evening.
The many small roles (maids, servants etc.) were sung well and the overall impression was solid and positive. Torsten Hofmann sang the role of Aegisth with a clear and powerful bright tenor voice. He managed the incredibly high tessitura of the short role very well and gave a very pleasing performance.
As Orest we heard Shigeo Ishino who also sang his part very well. His imperious strong dark voice suited the role marvelously and I really liked his passionate performance. The fact that this role is very static is not very rewarding, but he definitely convinced me.
My personal highlight of the evening was Simone Schneider as Chrysothemis. Her voice is really incredible and combines vocal beauty with incredibly clean transitions and impressive power and stamina. Despite all these advantages she also has a marvelously clear and bright timbre that rings like a bell. She sang the part beautifully and I cannot imagine it to be sung better at all.
Doris Soffel was a very hysteric and crazy Klytämnestra. Her voice still has quite some power and projects very well into the auditorium. She is not new to this role and you could tell that she has a lot of experience with it. I really enjoyed her great multi-dimensional portrayal and I have to say: she still has it.
The title role was sung by Rebecca Teem, a dramatic soprano of extraordinary ability. Her voice works very well in all registers and her top seems to be very easy and shows great power and stamina. Sometimes the timbre might be edgy in the top, but undoubtly she gave a magnificent performance throughout the whole evening.
I really enjoyed the whole performance and I was thrilled from the first note to the last one. The production might not be something extraordinarily great, but it is not bad as well. Especially the cast is definitely worth the travelling and so I give 9 stars to Elektra in Stuttgart.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url