Monday, 27 October 2014

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Die Vier Grobiane (I quattro rusteghi) - Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Prinzregententheater

Performance 26th October

On sunday I had the last encounter of "rarity week" in the beautiful Prinzregententheater in Munich: Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's Die vier Grobiane. Wolf-Ferrari is a name that is not really known by many people except some opera lovers with eyes for rarities. Unfortunately his works - which where quite successful at their premieres - are rarely performed and mostly only in concert versions. That really is a great mistake because yesterday I was blown away by this very insteresting and rousing music. Wolf-Ferrari is best known for reviving the opera buffa into a great renaissance and this opera is a wonderful example for this. His musical language is a mix of lovely parlando parts and italian melodic ability. Sometimes it seems like a very Italian Strauss opera.
A part that I really want to point out is the impressive finale of the second act. During the climax the singers have to sing their notes (for Marina and Felice high c's) for 17 measures (new breaths are allowed, but still!!) !!!!! However I really hope that Wolf-Ferrari will be seen in our theaters more often, because it would be a pity to leave those great works to the rarity section.
The man who we can thank for this great evening is the great conductor Ulf Schirmer, who is the musical director of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester. He conducted very tasteful with lots of interesting details and courage for dynamic outbreaks. Schirmer always gives me the impression that nothing could baffle him. The orchestra played also very well and translated everything Schirmer wanted to great music and thrilling rhythms.
Another specialty of Schirmer is a great sense for good voices, which he showed by the casting.
Uwe Eikötter sang Conte Riccardo (the admirer of Felice) with a strong tenor voice that immediately gave me the impression of a wagner voice (which was true). He has the typical tenor voice for roles like Mime, Froh or Loge. It totally fitted the noble role of the Conte with his heroic sound.
Felice's husband, Cancian, was performed by Friedemann Röhlig, who has a profound bass voice with a very warm timbre. He does not really have much to sing but the few lines he sang were fine and he showed great comedic talent.
Felice herself was sung by Christine Buffle, who has a quite interesting voice. It is strong and powerful throughout the registers but has a thin timbre in the upper register which gives the impression that she sings very "narrow". Nevertheless she sang very nicely although this little deficit was a bit annoying from time to time.
Peter Schöne sang the role of Simon with a beautiful baritone voice which could be a little bit more powerful. The interesting thing was, that his appearance was very noble and really seemed very aristocratic and superior.
His wife, Marina, was sung by Susanne Bernhard. Her soprano voice is very strong and has a warm velvet-like timbre which would fit perfectly with lyric dramatic roles of the german repertory. She played this character really lovely with great acting and charming personage.
Annette Mühlhans only had a short appearance as Marina's maid. She seemed to have a lovely voice, but unfortunately she did not really have much to sing.
Lunardo was sung by Jürgen Linn, who was one of this evening's favorites. His baritone voice is very agile and he definitely knows how to create a character through the voice. Weather he plays the grim husband or the desperate father he always found the right tone.
His wife, Margarita, was performed by mezzosoprano Zoryana Kushpler. She also has a very powerful voice with a warm timbre and a strong lower register. When she sang her first lines I was thinking that she could be a great Fricka, Amneris or Venus.
Victor van Halem gave Maurizio, the groom's father, his voice. His bass might not be the most powerful but it delivers superiority, nobility and solemnity. I'm sure he would be a wonderful Baron Ochs with his very wooden timbre.
His son, Filipeto, was portrayed by tenor Markus Francke. He displayed the youthful enthusiasm appropriately and also used his voice very expertly to deliver the right aspects of his character.
His future wife, Lucieta (Lunardo's daughter), was sung by Christina Landshamer who has a very beautiful light lyric soprano voice. Her silver-like timbre meets great agility and very convincing acting which gives a wonderful total impression. Her parlando singing is really great and shows that they are way more interesting than "normal" recitatives.
In the end I can say that it was an enormous pleasure to hear this wonderful work and I hope I will have the possibility to see something from Wolf-Ferrari soon again. The performance gets 8 stars.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Franz Schubert, Lazarus - Wiener Philharmoniker, Festspielhaus St. Pölten

Performance 24th October

Another rarity I was able to hear now is Schubert's fragmental oratory Lazarus. Conductor Ingo Metzmacher decided to perform this interesting work in a concert series with the Wiener Philharmoniker (they are performing it inter alia in Rome, Vienna and in St. Pölten). The music sounds very modern for Schubert and reminds of Weber and even shows perspectives of early Wagner. The dramatic action happens through the recitatives which really show Schubert's dramatic skills. Unfortunately the whole piece stops after a ravishing dramatic outbreak of Lazarus' sister Martha.
Metzmacher and the Orchestra showed a very clear and accurate interpretation with intimate quiet moments as well as dramatic outbursts that remind of the wolf's glen scene (Wolfsschluchtszene) from Weber's Freischütz. Also the choir (Wiener Singverein) was very good and sang very reverent and pious.
The baritone Daniel Schmutzhard sang the role of Simon who only has a big monologue in the beginning of the fragmental second part. This extraordinary monologue can easily be compared to the Florestan scene of Fidelio or other big dramatic scenes like that. The mood always changes within a few beats and the dramatic singing really shows directions to Wagner. Schmutzhard did a great job here with his strong and dramatic baritone which also convinces with fine diction.
Jemina was sung by Sophie Karthäuser who has a lovely light lyric soprano with a very beautiful tone and good stamina. She would be a very good Freischütz Ännchen in my opinion. Her "songs" had something very dance-like even though the matter was very serious.
Werner Güra performed the role of Lazarus' friend Nathanael and also did a fine job. His lyric tenor has some dramatic aspects which help him giving a very heroic impression. He has a great Mozart voice with ease and finesse.
Maria, one of Lazarus' sisters, was sung by soprano Rachel Harnisch who has a beautiful soprano which might be an early state of a lyric dramatic soprano. Her voice is strong with great stamina and still very beautiful with very tasteful long phrasing.
Lazarus' other sister, Martha, was performed by Christiane Libor who did a great job once again. I just can't get enough of her great voice. The perfect symbiosis of beauty and power. During the great outbreaks she showed her Wagner proven power while she convinced with delicate pianissimi during the calm moments.
Steve Davislim performed Lazarus and had the difficult task to find a middle between heroic singing and a continuous morendo until he dies. In my opinion he totally delivered that with his strong heroic voice which is able to totally take itself back. I actually was also very surprised that his diction (he is Australian) was totally flawless and showed no signs of any error. All in all I really liked his singing and his interpretation.
Finally I am very happy that I saw this interesting work which would change the minds about Schubert a lot if it was performed more regularly. Lazarus earns 8 stars.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Astor Piazzolla, María de Buenos Aires - Salzburger Kulturvereinigung, Universitätsaula

Performance 23rd October

Yesterday I was able to see a rarity which I only knew before de to the fact that I wrote a paper about it once: Astor Piazzolla's María de Buenos Aires. As a so called Tango Operita it features a lot of typical Piazzolla tango music and great rousing rhythms. The production is a cooperation between the Kulturvereinigung Salzburg and the dance organisation Tango Salzburg. Elisabeth Fuchs conducted her Philharmonie Salzburg and the dancers were members of Tango Salzburg. Unfortunately they were not able to catch the work's ravishing aura. The orchestra lacked of clarity and richness of tone. The great rhythmic power of Piazzolla's music was not noticable and Fuchs interpreted it like a bad school ensemble arrangement of a Mozart or Vivaldi. Already the opening bars were a big disaster due to the fact that the bandoneon (whose player was a disaster himself), which has such an important role throughout the piece, had serious issues to fit in. Fuchs obviously did not get the importance of this instrument and covered it constantly instead of pointing it out.
Another unintelligibility was the casting of the speaker. Robert Pienz might have had spanish in school or anywhere else and his diction is surely better than average, but even I could tell that this is not his mother tongue. He was so busy pronouncing everything correctly that there was no interpretation of the text at all (it seemed more like a reading). I really don't understand why they did not cast a native spanish speaker or at least someone who can recite the text appropriately.
Oscar Ovejero, who is a born south american, performed the role of the male singer. His voice might not be perfect, but he gave a satisfying performance although his microphone was adjusted way to loud.
The main protagonist, María, was sung by Mya Fracassini who gave a good performance all in all. Her voice might not be very strong but she delivered the character very well and had no major vocal issues. In the beginning she seemed a little restrained but opened up herself more throughout the performance
The additional characters (Theater(Off)ensive Sprechchor and members of Tango Salzburg) made the performance more bearable and supported the protagonists. The staging (Elisabeth Fuchs) and the costumes (Sven Jungclaus) were fine and helped the complicated plot quite well.
So finally I was happy to have seen it even though the whole performance lacked of professionality and quality. The performance gets 5 stars (which, in my opinion, is already quite kind and merciful).
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Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ludwig van Beethoven, Fidelio - Semperoper Dresden

Performance 16th October

This season I went to Dresden for the first time. For a long time I was wishing to go there and now I took the chance for a performance of Beethoven's Fidelio. The very old production (premiere 1989) of Christine Mielitz (staging and costumes: Peter Heilein) treats subjects of the cold war and transfers the plot into a prison during this time. Although you could tell that it is a very old production it looked fine and worked out really well.
The orchestra (Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden) was really tremendous under the Rainer Mühlbach as conductor. Every single note and phrase was so clear and delicate that I heard details like never before. The orchestra never covered the singers but always supported them very appropriately.
Don Fernando, sung by Alexander Hajek, did a good job during his short appearance. His voice sounded very noble and warm. Don Pizarro was sung by Matthias Henneberg, who I just saw in Strauss' Die Schweigsame Frau in Munich. I liked him better in Munich, but still he gave a good performance with great dramatic sense and a lot of evilness. Simeon Esper sang Jaquino with a nice and very youthful tenor voice. Unfortunately Jaquino is quite unlikeable in this production which was a pity because Esper's singing was really lovely and way better than his character.
Carolina Ullrich from Chile portrayed the role of Marzelline. She sounded quite strong for this role but did not have any problems to perform it appropriately. She sang very delicate during the soft passages and strong during the ensemble scenes.
Georg Zeppenfeld was singing her father Rocco. His voice is quite strong and profound although I would have casted a singer with a stronger and more profound voice. Sometimes his phrasing seemed a little bit stressed in order to sing every single note. In the end his performance was good but mabye not totally perfect for this certain role.
Stephen Gould must have had a very bad evening. While I was very impressed by the dark and strong timbre of his tenor voice he was very disappointing in respect of phrasing and the higher register which is very important for the role of Florestan. He had great issues with the higher notes and was out of tune several times during his opening monologue during act 2. I was quite disappointed because I was really looking forward to see him.
However Christiane Libor as Leonore once again totally blew my mind. Her really strong and still beautiful lyrical soprano suits this role perfectly. Her dramatic outbursts were impressive and her delicate singing very touching. Although I had the feeling that sometimes she had some minor inaccuriacies it did not affect the overall impression. She definitely is one of the leading singers in terms of German repertory and I am looking forward to see her again soon.
The whole production gave me a very pleasent evening and therefore gets 8 stars of me.

Richard Strauss, Die Schweigsame Frau - Bayerische Staatsoper München

Performance 11th October

My first opera of the new season was Strauss' and Stefan Zweig's first collaboration: Die Schweigsame Frau. An actually quite rarely performed piece which has lovely parts and very high requirements for both, singers and instrumentalists. The production of Barry Kosky (staging and costumes: Esther Bialas) does not feature a lot of stuff on stage except of the very important things. You never had the feeling that there are too many things on the stage and the whole production really supported the plot in a way you would wish to see more often.
The orchestra of the opera house was leaded by Pedro Halffter who conducted a very clear and clean score with many different details.
As the three men of Henry's company, Farfallo, Vanuzzi and Morbio: Tareq Nazmi, Christoph Stephinger and Matthias Henneberg. All three had very fine voices with great power and clear diction. Especially Henneberg was a very pleasing character due to the fact that he jumped in for another singer although his schedule in Dresden (where he is rehearsing for two productions at the moment) is very tight. I think for this reason he had a big bonus compared to the other singers. As the two ladies from the company, Isotta and Carlotta, we heard Elsa Benoit and Tara Erraught who was the subject of this year's Glyndebourne scandal. Benoit has a fine coloratura soprano which sometimes sound quite shrill in the higher register. Nevertheless her performance in that little role was good anyway. However Erraught really impressed me a lot. Her voice has a really beautiful timbre and great power. She filled the auditorium with her voice so easily that it was very delightful to listen to her. And to say something about her physique: she really looked lovely in her victorian dress and the curly hair. Of course the costume was totally overdone, but that was intented like that. One can just hope that she will stay a long time in the ensemble so that we can hear more of her lovely voice.
Another nice singer was Okka von der Damerau as the house maid. Damerau, who is everybody's darling here in Munich, has a nice alto voice with a very velvet-like dark timbre. She also convinced with a great sense of humor and comedic playing.
Sir Morosus was sung by Franz Hawlata who also gave a good performance. Although his voice does not have the same power as other great basses of our time he gave a very convincing and nice portrayal of the poor old guy. His impersonation of the old sensitive and stubborn captain is really great and the role fits him quite well.
Now to the young pair. Daniel Behle sang the role of Henry Morosus and also did a fine job. I already heard him at the easter festival Salzburg as Arabella's Matteo where I really liked him a lot. This time I didn't like him that much. He was singing good but some higher passages sounded a little bit strained and uncomfortable. He surely did a fine job, but could have done better. Nevertheless I am sure that Behle is maybe the best tenor of the younger generation at the moment. Let's see how he'll do in the future.
The real star of the evening was Brenda Rae as Aminta alias the silent woman a.k.a. Timidia. The very difficult coloratura role is very demanding and contains very dramatic and very lyrical requirements. The finale of the second act calls for beautiful singing with long phrases in very high registers and still the main part of the act is very dramatic with singing like a fury. Nevertheless she performed a great Aminta and did not disappoint in any way. Her high notes were very clear, delicate and still powerful. Also her acting was very nice and helped her to stand up to the original Aminta of the production, Diana Damrau.
Finally it was a lovely evening with many laughter, nice moments and great singing. I give the performane 7 stars.
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Sonntagsmatinee 1, Mozarteum Orchester - Großes Festspielhaus Salzburg

Performance 5th October

After my well-deserved holiday in september I attended the first sunday's matinee of the Mozarteum Orchester. On the programme: Mozart's symphony no. 39 in e-flat major, Strauss' four last songs and Don Quixotte. During the Mozart symphony the conductor, Ivor Bolton, managed to show many different aspects of the score with great finesse and taste. Same can be said for the Strauss tone poem. The different themes were played very clearly and the dynamics were really impressing. Unfortunately the songs were a little bit disappointing due to the loud orchestra. Soprano Genia Kühmeier sang very beautifully and started with maybe the best rendition of Frühling I ever heard LIVE. Her warm timbre and her flawless phrases matched perfectly with the vocal line and gave a really tremendous impression. From the louder parts to the delicate pianissimi in the score Kühmeier sang everything very sublimely and with great atmosphere. Unfortunately Bolton was not able to keep the orchestra under control and so Kühmeier was covered several times during soft passages (which was definitely not because she couldn't sing louder, but because of the loud orchestra). It was really a pity because she genuinely sang marvellous. Nevertheless I liked the performance a lot because of the sheer beauty of Kühmeier's rendition. Her Beim Schlafengehen was melancholic and mature, her Im Abendrot touching and noble. I can clearly say that I liked Kühmeier's interpretation more than the other renditions I heard LIVE (Mattila, Harteros, Tilling).
The whole performance obtains 7 stars.
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