Monday, 17 April 2017

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 13th April

After almost two years of absence the wonderful production of Tristan in Munich had a comeback and I have to admit that I was rather excited to see a performance because of the new Isolde they had scheduled. In the past we had legendary Waltraud Meier do it and for the future we were supposed to have the exceptional Christiane Libor do it, but instead (due to a cancellation of Libor) we got Petra Lang. However, not only Lang was rather problematic during this performance, also the rest of the ensemble had a really really bad night. The first problem was the acting of the performance. Knowing the production I am aware of its playful ideas and Peter Konwitschny's view of the work. Unfortunately most acting during this performance was quite mechanic and clearly studied. That led to a pretty unsatisfying and absolutely not exciting performance of the work that ended up feeling like 10 hours instead of the ususal 4 hours. It is a pity that almost noone of the cast was able to really convince with this normally great production.
Musically there were some serious issues as well that should not happen in a house like the Munich State Opera. Simone Young showed a wonderful rendition of the score together with the Bayerisches Staatsorchester and if had been a concert suite it would have been extremely interesting, but strangely the interaction with the singers was a bit uneven and lacked flexibility. Very often the timing of the orchestra and the singers did not really match and so some sloppy moments happened that could have been avoided.
The smaller roles were sung solidly and more or less appropriately. I especially want to mention Dean Power who sang a youthful and charming sailor. Francesco Petrozzi was a rather strained and unflexible Melot, but managed his part without any serious issues.
Iain Paterson was a fine Kurwenal and gave a convincing performance this evening. I have heard him singing this role in Bayreuth were I liked his performance a bit more, but he did not fail to convince in Munich as well with a emotional and very caring portrayal of the role.
Okka von der Damerau gave her long awaited debut as Brangäne and was definitely one of the pleasing performances of the evening. Her warm and strong mezzo voice suited the role wonderfully and she convinced with power and beautifully sung lines. I felt like she did not feel absolutely comfortable in the role yet, but clearly she will be a first-class Brangäne, once she got used to the role.
René Pape probably saved the evening with his flawless performance as King Marke. His voice fills the auditorium with ease and his noble dark voice is simply perfect for the character. He gave an incredibly convincing performance and showed how Wagner could sound if you are actually able to really sing his music appropriately.
Stephen Gould had a very unlucky day and quite obviously struggled a lot with the role this evening. Having heard him in that role in Bayreuth and Berlin I know that he normally has no problem with it, but this night he had serious health issues and probably should not have sung. I do not want to mention anything more about his performance except that it was quite impressive how he managed to finished the performance with dignity and smart disposition of his remaining forces.
In the role of Isolde, as mentioned before, we heard Petra Lang instead of Christiane Libor. I have to admit that it was better than I imagined, but still it was really not satisfying at all. She was scooping her way through the role as if she was not sure which notes to sing. The extreme portamenti of her voice are disastrous and her intonation is absolutely unreliable. I was actually pretty surprised that she has a rather weak lower register (considering that she originally was a mezzo) and even though her high notes are impressive the role is simply not her thing. I cannot imagine that there is no better singer out there at the moment to sing this role!
Alltogether it was a pretty disappointing evening and probably the most irritating performance I have ever seen in Munich. One can only hope that this was a one-time thing and not something that will happen again soon. Unfortunately that means only 7 stars for Tristan und Isolde at the Bayerische Staatsoper München.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Richard Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten - Staatsoper Berlin im Schillertheater, Festtage 2017

Premiere performance 9th April

Last weekend I had another trip to Berlin for one of the greatest operas ever written. Strauss' and Hofmannsthal's Die Frau ohne Schatten is definitely a gem of music history and an incredibly interesting piece of music (and theatre). I am absolutely fascinated by the sheer complexity of the opera and also wrote my Masterthesis about the highly philosophical plot. I know every single note and I simply could not resist to make the trip to Berlin in order to see it. One thing is for sure: it was absolutely worth it.
The production by Claus Guth is a cooperation with the Teatro alla Scala Milano and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London and now it finally came to Berlin. It shows some great ideas and really features some interesting thoughts. Some of them might be daring, but alltogether I thought that he served the work very well with a reasonable view on the complex plot. Not only the interaction of the characters also the ravishing precious stage (Christian Schmidt) and also the elegant costumes (also Schmidt) were not only beautiful but also very supportive to the whole performance. Every single detail helped to support and solve the complexity of the story. Of course not everybody liked Guth's ideas, but I thought that he did a great job and it was definitely the best production of FroSch I ever saw.
Musically it was a rather ambivalent evening with some exceptional performances and some rather unsatisfying ones. Zubin Mehta clearly is not a suitable conductor for this kind of repertoire and conducted a pretty dull and unbalanced performance. Not only his choice of tempi, also the sloppy confusion of the complex score did not really make a good impression. There is so much going on in this score that you need to have absolute control about anything to keep the dramatic flow of the music on a certain level. Mehta did not really succeed in that and the Staatskapelle Berlin seemed a bit lost at certain moments. However the orchestra showed great professionalism and still managed to prove that they are a top orchestra which is able to perform the score without any problems. If only they had an appropriate leader.
Nevertheless, the singing was on a very high level with a few exceptions. The many small ensembles (servants, guards, voices, Barak's brothers etc.) gave solid performances on a quite pleasing level. Narine Yeghiyan sang the red falcon with a nice lyrical voice that could have had a bit more brightness in her timbre. Jun-Sang Han was a wonderful youngling with a beautiful youthful and clear tenor voice. As keeper of the treshold, Evelin Novak gave a solid performance with her warm and flexible soprano.
Roman Trekel, usually a very reliable performer, seemed a bit uncomfortable with the role of the spirit messenger. With the lower parts of the role he did not really convince me, while the top was steady and strong. Probably it simply is not really his role.
In the role of the nurse we heard Michael Schuster who gave an exciting and highly expressive performance. She did not care about some notes that sounded harsh and almost ugly, but she put everything into her impeccable interpretation. I thought she was brilliant even though the voice sounds edgy at some point. However, she did a great job in this rather demanding role.
Wolfgang Koch sang the role of Barak, which he already performed with great success in Munich. He also is one of the best candidates for this role at the moment and gave an experienced and balanced performance with his warm and versatile baritone voice. He also convinced with his acting skills and simply did a great job.
The role of the Emperor was sung by Burkhard Fritz who also is an experienced singer for this role. He knows about the tricky parts and also gave a very refined performance. He had no fear and convinced with great power, seemingly easy high notes and great musicality throughout the performance.
Making her debut as dyer's wife, Iréne Theorin gave one of the evening's best performances. Her voice is like a laserbeam and can cut through the thickest orchestrations without any problems. She is not afraid of any high notes and her diction and interpretation showed that she is one of the leading dramatic sopranos of our days. I think there has not been a singer so capable of this role since Christa Ludwig and Theorin is definitely one of the best singers of her repertoire.
Another debut was made by Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund who sang the role of the Empress which is another highly complex and demanding role. Nylund however, gave a performance with such ease and lightness that one would think that Strauss wrote the role just for her. She sang everything with such nobility and grace (including a ringing high d) that it was simply marvelous to hear her. But not only vocally, also acting-wise she gave a performance that is close to perfection! Nylund also will definitely be the Kaiserin of a generation with her flawless technique and the sheer beauty of her voice.
Alltogether this performance was breathtaking with great vocal performances and a production that showed great understanding of the work and its complexity. I think that the Schillertheater is too small for such an immense piece, but I hope that they will revive the production one day in the new old building (hopefully with a more suitable conductor), because this cast could help to show the greatness of this magnificent opera. Therefor, 9 stars for an exceptional evening.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Richard Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 29th March

After a while of absence I finally returned to Munich for some Strauss. His Ariadne is a work that shows us a plot within a plot and is also different when it comes to the size of the orchestra. Only a small chamber orchestra is playing music that clearly shows a lot of Mozartian inspiration. The production by Robert Carsen is very plain and does not feature a lot of stuff on the stage, but focuses on the interaction of the characters. I felt that he really struck a chord with his understanding of the different relations in this work. The simple stage by Peter Pabst and the also basic costumes by Falk Bauer supported this very unpretentious staging. Especially the great finale was really impressive with the intensive contrasts of the bright wall that came closer to the auditorium and the black costumes and stage that dominated the evening. Also the idea to let people appear in the auditorium and open the so-called 4th wall (between stage and auditorium) worked out very well.
Musically it was a very satisfying evening with some minor issues. Oksana Lyniv conducted a very plain performance which could have been a bit more passionate. Very often I had the feeling that she did not react to the singers onstage well enough. While having the orchestra under control most of the time there sometimes was a gap between the music from the pit and the singing from the stage. However she still did a solid job and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester showed great musicality. The orchestra sounded brilliant and there was a clear balance between the different sections.
The highlight of the evening were the singers of the performance. Every single role was performed on a very high level. Markus Meyer gave a wonderul Haushofmeister with extremely clear and expressive diction. The many small roles were cast appropriately and showed the level of the Bayerische Staatsoper. The male quartet around Zerbinetta (Harlekin, Scaramuccio, Truffaldin & Brighella) was perfectly sung by Sean Michael Plumb (very nice and beautifully sounding baritone), Dean Power (almost overcast with his elegant youthful tenor voice), Andreas Wolf and Matthew Grills. The female trio of the nymphs (Najade, Dryade & Echo) was sung by Elsa Benoit (beautiful clear top), Okka von der Damerau (what a luxurious choice for that role) and Anna Virovlansky. Jörg Schneider sang a powerful and bright Tanzmeister that could  have sung much more and Eike Wilm Schulte was a wonderful Musiklehrer who showed great understanding and experience in his role. Tara Erraught gave her debut as Komponist and did a solid job with it. Her bright mezzo voice could have a fuller sound and a warmer timbre for this role, but she compensated this with a passionate and convincing performance.
The role of Bacchus was sung by Burkhard Fritz who is definitely one of the most relying heroic tenors of our times. He seems not to be afraid of any high notes and he mastered this really challenging role without any problems. His tenor voice combines a dark heroic timbre with a very clear and soft top register.
Zerbinetta was performed by Jane Archibald who gave a stunning performance. Her bright and focused soprano seems to be perfect for the coloraturas and cheeky ornaments of this role. She sang everyhing with ease and even seemed to have fun doing the role. Her famous aria was done really well and earned her an intensive wave of applause. Brava!
Finally, the title role was sung by famous soprano Karita Mattila who also gave a very impressive performance. Her dark but still soft soprano voice combines great power with a magnificent full-bodied timbre that suits the role perfectly. No matter if she is supposed to sing loud or soft, Mattila fulfilled everything the role is calling for and really convinced with her performance. Definitely the best Ariadne I ever heard live so far!
Alltogether it was a lovely evening that really impressed with a nice production and marvelous singing. Therefor I can give 9 stars to Ariadne in Munich.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

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