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

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Giuseppe Verdi, Don Carlo - Bayerische Staatsoper München, Nationaltheater

Performance 22nd January

After the terrific Macbeth last month I saw my other Verdi favorite, Don Carlo, with a first-class cast. The version they chose for Munich is a mix of the several version of this opera. While being based on the Italian  five-act version it also features the famous ending from the four-act version. The production is fully created by Jürgen Rose and is really exciting and thrills from the first minute to the spectacular finale. Rose's production shows the complicated relations between the different characters very detailed and convincingly. The plain stage shows a dark big room most of the time. The room features many doors and also a big wooden cross and a jesus figure on it. It sounds very simple, but Rose was able to create extremely powerful images with these few things. The costumes on the other hand were historic and worked as a contrast to the simple stage very well. I really have to say that despite the long running time of the opera (4 1/2 hours including the break) I never felt bored at any time and the time just flew by.
The conductor Paolo Carignani seems to be responsible for all Verdi operas in Munich which is not a bad thing. Not at all, because he is definitely one of the leading conductors for this repertoire. He proved once again that he has an excellen sense for Verdi's music and conducted a thrilling performance. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester filled the music with life and played passionately with great musicality. A very important part in this opera is done by the choir, especially during the famous autodafé. The Chor (und Extrachor) der Bayerischen Staatsoper sounded wonderful that evening with great power and excellent balance.
Don Carlo features many different roles which sometimes only appear for a moment, but there are a few main characters. Anyway even the smallest role were performed appropriately and without any bad moments.
The small role of Tebaldo was sung by Laura Tatulescu who jumped in for Eri Nakamura. Her bright clear voice suited the character well and she did a solid job. Peter Lobert sang a very rough and imposing monk with a dark and reverend bass voice. He filled the auditorium with ease and it was really a powerful performance.
Another dark and dignified performance was given by Günther Groissböck as Il Grande Inquisitore. His powerful voice has both, the dark lower register and the powerful upper register, that is necessary for this role. He definitely gave a terryfying and threatening performance.
In the demanding role of Eboli we heard Nadia Krasteva who has a very sensual dark mezzo voice with a warm and flexible timbre. She gave a very touching and convincing performance, especially during her famous final scene and the very difficult aria "O don fatale". Only a few of the top notes seemed to bother her a little bit, but she did an amazing job alltogether.
Christian Gerhaher sang the role of Rodrigo with his flexible baritone voice. He sang with such elegance and musicality that it was a pleasure to listen to him. He definitely brought his experience with Liedgesang into the role which worked out very well. Only the death scene became a bitt odd an cheesy after a while, but that might be Verdi's blame.
The role of King Philipp was sung by Ildar Abdrazakov who gave a ravishing performance. His dark rough bass voice handled the contrasts of this character really well and especially the aria in the beginning of act 4 was impressive and genuinely touching. He did not only sing well, he also acted very convincingly and did a marvelous job.
Tamara Wilson as Elisabetta was a spectecular choice and definitely a highlight of the evening. Her strong focused voice has magnificently smooth transition between the registers and especially her upper register is bright and crystalclear while her lower register also has quite some power and a noble and elegant timbre. I absolutely loved every minute of it and especially the final cry "O ciel" gave me goosebumps.
The title role, Don Carlo, was sung by Yonghoon Lee who seemed to have a tough evening. His power is impressive and he seemed not to have any difficulties to be heard over the orchestra. However he seemed to have issues with the top of his range and some top notes were quite close to the edge of screaming. He managed the evening without any serious issues, but I had the feeling that he did not feel absolutely comfortable during the performance.
Alltogether it still was an unforgetable afternoon and a simply marvelous performance. Without doubt one of the best performances I have seen for a while and therefor I can give 9 stars to Don Carlo in Munich.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Don Giovanni - Landestheater Linz, Musiktheater

Premiere performance 21st January

My first opera in 2017 was a real classic by good old Mozart. Don Giovanni is probably one of the most famous operas and definitely a masterpiece by the famous prodigy from Salzburg. The Landestheater Linz created this new production under the direction of François De Carpentries who created a very dignified and intimate atmosphere for the plot. He sees Don Giovanni more as a libertine than just a nymphomanic casanova. His Don Giovanni is smart, witty and almost seems like a popstar, but also has a very dark and aggressive side. The concept also focused very much on the religious aspects of the story and featured monks and religious symbols several times. de Carpentries' approach was rather naturalistic, but also featured many abstract aspects that were supported by the costumes and the stage. Karine Van Hercke was responsible for both, costumes and stage, and I have to say it all looked stunning. Especially the stage created a very powerful and exciting atmosphere with the big stone cross in the middle of the stage and the big circle on the back wall (later also being used as the moon). There also were some minor properties around the cross, but you never had the feeling that there is too much stuff on the stage. I especially liked the symbolistic approach that involved many little details that supported the plot without distracting from the drama. Also the supporting dancers (choreography: Christina Comtesse) fitted into the overall concept very well and intensified the dramatic content of the story (especially during the famous descent to hell).
Due to the fact that the singer of Leporello (Dominik Nekel) had some sort of circulatory issues the performance had to be delayed for a bit and so we had the pleasure to get an exclusive introduction in the auditorium by the responsible dramaturg Magdalena Hoisbauer who gave the audience an overview about the piece and its context.
The evening was conducted by Enrico Calesso who showed a genuinely explosive interpretation of the score. Already the first few bars were extremely energetic and agitative without being brutal at all. Sometimes he chose very fast tempi but alltogether it was a balanced and well flowing performance. The Brucknerorchester Linz did a great job and sounded terrific. There was a wide range between dramatic outbursts and very intimate moments.
The performance of the ensemble was solid with some very good performances. Probably the most convincing performance was given by the you couple, Masetto and Zerlina. Till von Orlowsky sang the role with a beautiful sonorous baritone voice with a youthful timbre and Theresa Grabner has the ideal voice for Zerlina with her bright full lyric soprano voice. They also played convincingly and humorously.
The role of Il commendatore was performed by Nikolai Galkin with his imperious venerable bass voice. His rough dark timbre suited the role very well and created a tense atmosphere during the famous final scene. Donna Elvira was sung by Martha Hirschmann who did a good job with her flexible high mezzo voice. She sang it very beautifully with strong energy and passionate impulses. Only some of the topnotes seemed not totally comfortable, but she did very well anyway.
Iurie Ciobanu sang Don Ottavio with his powerful clear tenor with that elegant youthful timbre. His performance was noble, highly elegant and at the same time passionate and exciting. Don Ottavio has never been one of my favorites, but Ciobanu simply did a good job with it.
His fiancè, Donna Anna, was sung by Myung Joo Lee. Lee's voice is strong and very flexible and she sang very beautifully, even though her performance sounded more like a belcanto opera than Mozart. She managed the role without any difficulties, but her voice just did not really seem to suit the role in the end. I guess it is just a matter of style, but anyway, she gave a lovely performance.
Dominik Nekel, after his health issues in the beginning, gave a solid performance as Leporello. I would not have guessed that he did not feel well at all, because he sang and played vividly and gave a convincing performance. He only needed some time to get into the role in the beginning, but after a while he was in top form.
The title role was sung by Martin Achrainer who seemed to be the ideal choice vocally. He sang the role with ease and noble elegance. His virile baritone voice is flexible, agile and has the necessary dark timbre for this role. But not only musically, also acting-wise he gave a convincing performance as hunting casanova.
Alltogether it was a very entertaining evening with another great production at the Landestheater Linz. I think the new Don Giovanni is worth 8 stars.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday, 2 January 2017

Antoine Mariotte, Salomé - Landestheater Linz, BlackBox

Premiere performance 30th December

The final opera performance of 2016 was the second production of the new series Oper am Klavier at the Landestheater Linz. This opera was composed at the same time as Strauss' famous opera and is also based on the play by Wilde (actually even on the French original), but never reached such big audiences as the Strauss version. However the Landestheater Linz decided to present this piece in a cut version accompanied by piano. The music is totally different from Strauss' opulent score, but treats the plot in a very similar way. Sometimes the structure reminded me very much of the other score even though it is a totally independent work.
After a very detailed introduction to the piece and its composer by Christoph Blitt the few musicians started to play the music which shows a strong influence by Debussy. The musical lead was taken by Daniel Spaw who also passionately played the piano part and supported the singers with cues everynow and then. You could tell that he as very devoted to Mariotte's music because quite often you could see him form the words of the lyrics silently himself.
First of all I have to say that the French of all singers was very clear and you were actually able to understand every single word. In his very short role of the young Syrian Sven Hjörleifsson still gave a refined impression with a slender bright tenor voice. He also supported the performance as part of the choir in the end. Yasuyo Asano was singing the soprano part of the choir.
Same is valid for Cheryl Lichter who also sang the role of Herodias with a edgy mezzo voice. She definitely filled the role of this nagging woman with life and gave a solid performance.
Michael Wagner's dark and bossy bass voice is a strong contrast to Strauss' view on the character of Herodes, but also worked very well. Wagner knew how to convey the different shades of his character during his performance and showed refined musicality. Wagner also was part of the final choir.
Martin Achrainer sang the role of Iokanaan and also did a good job. His elegant sonorous baritone voice suited the role very well and he gave a very intensive interpretation with great contrasts and a very solemn timbre.
The title role of the evening was sung by young singer Isabell Czarnecki who did a wonderful job with it. Her mellow soft voice has a very sensual timbre and a well focused top. She sang her role with intensive passion and was able to convey the seductive erotism and the desire of this character perfectly.
Alltogether a really interesting work that is definitely worth being rediscovered and therefor I can just recommend theatres to stage this opera. For everyone who did not see the production yet I recommend the second performance on the 18th of february: 9 stars.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, Macbeth - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 27th December

After long absence I came back to Munich for a performance as part three of this year's christmas opera marathon. Dark times call for dark music and so Macbeth seems to be more than appropriate. The bloody story of the murderous couple in Scotland is one of Shakespeare's greatest plays and worth reading in the English original version. The production by Martin Kušej captures the spirit of Shakespeare with his dark and disturbing direction. I especially liked that he actually showed an intensive development of the two main characters. He did not show them as crazy killers, but simply as two persons disappointed by life who turn against it afterwards. Especially the evolution of Lady Macbeth was shown very well. Already during the Ouverture it was shown that she obviously lost a child (the first bloody shocker) which might have triggered her evolution. Dashed by life and full of frustration she turns against everything, even her own sex. With every of her appearances she becomes more and more vicious and ill-minded until she finally appears as a consumed broken existence during her final scene (the sleepwalking scene). Also the idea of showing the witches as little creepy children (I guess inspired by the movie "Village of the Damned") was quite exciting and gave these scenes some intesnse horror.
The stage by Martin Zehetgruber was really captivating with a field of skulls and a grey tent on the frontstage. With walls of plastic foils he was able to make the stage smaller or bigger by putting them up. Even though the stage stayed exactly the same throughout the evening it never became boring at all. The costumes by Werner Fritz jumped between period costumes (at the totally posed Brindisi for example) and costumes from the present (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth most of the time). Not matter which time they were in, they supported the plot very well.
Conductor Paolo Carignani led the musical part of the evening with passionate intensity and a distinct sense for musical-dramatic processes. He was able to captivate the audiece with the many catchy tunes and a refined balance between the dramatic and grotesque parts of the score. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester played vividly with ravishing drive. They gave a more or less flawless performance as well as the Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper which sounded balanced and strong.
Apart of the many small roles there are basically 5 bigger roles of which two are definitely the center of attention. I will focus on these five bigger roles, but I have to mention that even the smallest role was sung very well by everyone.
Dean Power sang the role of Malcolm with his youthful bright tenor. It is a pity that this role does not have more music because Power did a wonderful job and is definitely worth bigger roles.
As Banco Italian singer Ildebrando D'Arcangelo gave a solid performance with his dark and intimidating voice. He filled the role with life easily and managed his part without any issues. Personally I would like Banco to have a more dignified and reverent timbre, but D'Arcangelo did a good job anyway.
Yusif Eyvazov was singing Macduff with his bright and focused tenor. While having a very clear and powerful voice his performance did not really convince me. He sings everything with the same tone colour and the same volume (loud) which might be impressing, but not artistically convincing. It is really a pity because he seems to sing everything with ease, but unfortunately he ends up a bit one-dimensional.
The clear highlight of the evening was the singer of the female leading role, Lady Macbeth, which was sung by celebrated Russian soprano Anna Netrebko. Her voice grew much bigger in the last few years, but did not lose its incredibly warm and soft timbre. Her lower register is magnificent and really impressively strong and solid, while her top notes still have that shiny quality. But not just vocally, also acting-wise she knew how to convince the audience. The famous sleepwalking scene (including a crystal clear high d flat) showed her strong acting skills and literally gave me goosebumps. I have to say though that it is a pity that she did choose not to sing the optional high high d flat in the finale of the first act. However, her performance was simply flawless.
You definitely need a singer who is able to sing at the same niveau as Ms. Netrebko for the title role and with Franco Vassallo they definitely had someone like that. Vassallo's dark and flexible baritone seems to be perfect for the dramatic Verdi repertoire. He showed many facettes of the character with his elegant, but also intimidating voice. His performance included harsh brutality as well as hopeless despair which he was able to convey through his singing as well as through his acting. Especially his final aria in act 4 was really wonderful and showed his refined musicality.
Alltogether it was a magical evening that had almost everything one could call for. Time simply flew by and I could have watched it all over again right after the last note. Therefor I can give 9 stars to the magic Macbeth performance in Munich.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Giuseppe Verdi, Falstaff - Landestheater Linz, Musiktheater

Performance 26th December

Part two of this year's christmas marathon also took place in Linz with Verdi's last opera and only successful comedy. In constrast to most other people I am not really a fan of the lade Verdi and definitely prefer his early works. I never understood the fuss about Falstaff which has some really lovely scenes, but does not really capture me like Nabucco or other early works.
The new production by Guy Montavon featured some nice ideas and definitely succeded to convey the comic parts of the plot. I would not call his direction exceptional but it definitely shows some solid work. The beautiful stage and costumes by Hank Irwin Kittel feature lovely costumes from the late 19th / early 20th century and the stage was full of things which indicated the time of the industrialisation. Great machines and a big factory created a unique atmosphere. Especially the staging of the second act (inside the factory) and the finale in the woods (in this case a funfair) looked simply marvelous.
Dennis Russell Davies conducted the performance with skilful routine and showed some of the smart details of Verdi's score. He was able to point out the colourful instrumentation and the intensive counterpoints. The Brucknerorchester Linz followed his lead and gave a very elegant and light performance. Especially during the final fuga in the end the orchestra actually seemed to have fun playing the entangled lines. The Chor des Landestheater Linz convinced during their short appearance in the final act with joyful passion and playfullness.
In the smaller roles we heard Pedro Velázquez-Díaz (Dr. Cajus), Sven Hjörleifsson (Bardolfo) and Dominik Nekel (Pistola). All three of them gave solid performances and convinced both vocally and acting-wise.
A real highlight was the young couple of lovers. Fenja Lukas and Iurie Ciobanu sang Nannetta and Fenton with beautiful fresh youthful voices. Lukas' beautiful soprano did not fail to bewitch me once again and Ciobanu's clear and powerful tenor was a perfect match for her.
Christa Ratzenböck gave a solid performance as Mrs. Quickly with her slender mezzo voice. Personally I would like a fuller voice for this role, but Ratzenböck did not fail to convince, especially with her humorous acting.
After her Hänsel the day before Martha Hirschmann sang the role of Meg Page. She gave a very refined elegant performance with her beautiful soft mezzo voice and fitted into the ensemble very well.
In the role of Ford we heard Seho Chang who filled the role perfectly with his striking and intimidating baritone voice. The power and the warm timbre of his voice are marvelous. His performance was a real pleasure and showed great musicality.
Alice Ford was sung by Myung Joo Lee whose lovely lyric soprano voice combines a beautiful bright top and a soft warm lower register. She sang the role with ease and gave a cheeky ludic performance with her flexible agile instrument.
The title role of Falstaff was performed by Federico Longhi who did a wonderful job. His powerful flexible baritone has the right timbre for this role and he filled his performance with comedic talent. His voice seems to be perfect to such a Verdi baritone role and his singing came together with a refinded understanding of the role.
Finally I have to say that the performance did not change my opinion on this opera, even though the performance was on a very high level and is definitely recommendable. I would give 8 stars to the Falstaff of Linz.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url