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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday, 29 May 2017

Richard Wagner, Tannhäuser - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 25th May

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

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

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

Performance 30th April

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

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Richard Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten - Hamburgische Staatsoper

Performance 29th April

For a long time I have planned this weekend in Hamburg full of epic music and a visit to the new and long awaited Elbphilharmonie, but the first evening was reservated for my all time favorite opera and the subject of my master thesis (I might have mentioned it before). So I simply had to pass and have a look at it and I certainly did not regret it. For the production in Hamburg they decided to do the usual cut version introduced by Böhm. I am not really a fan of cuts, but if there have to be cuts, this is the version to do.
The production was led by Andreas Kriegenburg who created a very atmospheric surrounding for the opera with a mix of intense reality and fairytale-like fiction. He did not put the Empress, but the Dyer's Wife into the center of the story and told her story in a dreamlike fantasy that includes her and her alter ego (the Empress) and their difficulties. Both, the stage (Harald B. Thor) and especially the costumes (Andrea Schraad) were really impressively supportive to the plot and helped to elaborate the highly complex relations of the opera. I think in terms of the production it is certainly one of the best ones I have seen so far with its plain simplicity and highly emotional direction.
After the cancellation of Kent Nagano who should have conducted the evenin originally the operahouse was able to find an appropriate replacement with Axel Kober who showed that he knows the piece very well. Sometimes I felt that his tempi were quite swift, but alltogether it was a ver pleasing performance. The Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg played very well with great intensity and a wonderful range of colours. The marvelous instrumentation of Strauss was so captivating that it was a pleasure to just sit and listen.
The many small roles were sung solidly and did not give any reason for critique. Especially Alex Kim as the Youngling and Gabriele Rossmanith as Red Falcon & Keeper of the Treshold were done really wonderfully. Both with beautiful light voices and passionate legato singing. Bogdan Baciu also did a great job as Spirit Messenger with his powerful and dramatic baritone voice. I am quite sure that he might tackle the role of Barak someday in the future.
In the role of the Emperor we heard Roberto Saccà who was a rather lyrical choice for the role. He convinced with his easygoing top and a beautiful youthful timbre while his lower parts tended to sound a bit weak and simply not powerful enough. However he managed to do a good job with that really cruel tenor part (Strauss really must have hated tenors to write such difficult roles).
Andrzej Dobber probably gave this evening's best performance as Barak with a strong and flexible baritone voice that combines a warm and tender timbre with power and a highly convincing interpretation. He did not just sing his part really well, he also acted wonderfully and really made the audience believe that he IS Barak.
Changing her repertoire from being a former Färberin to singing the role of the Nurse now, Linda Watson showed that she is one of the great dramatic sopranos of our times. She managed the low parts of the role without any problems and also the high notes were as intensive as I expected. I personally thought that there is still potential when it comes to diction, but alltogether it definitely was a luxurious choice for that role.
Making her debut in that role, Lise Lindstrom sang the role of the Dyer's Wife and did a wonderful job with it. Compared to other singers of that role Lindstrom has a very bright and slender voice, but convinces with powerful and laser-like high notes that do not seem to bother her at all. Her performance was really touching and showed great understanding of the role. She definitely studied the role very well and did a great job.
Finally, the title role, the role of the Empress, was sung by Emily Magee who already sang the role several times. Her middle and upper register is incredibly clear and soft (perfect for the role) and she did not fear any of the high notes (including several high c's and also a d). Her lower register sometimes sounded a bit rough and rather expressive, but alltogether she gave fine performance and showed that she knowes to ration her power in that role.
Alltogether it was a magnificent and really touching performance that did not fail to convince me. The combination of good singing and a smart production really worked very well and so I can give 8 stars to Frau ohne Schatten in Hamburg.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url