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

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Engelbert Humperdinck, Hänsel und Gretel - Landestheater Linz, Musiktheater

Performance 25th December

My already traditional christmas opera marathon started in Linz once again this year with the production of Humperdinck's famous fairy-tale opera which I already saw last year. As last time I really liked the production led by former artistic director Rainer Mennicken which featured some lovely details and several really touching moments. Compared to last year I noticed that the stage (also by Mennicken together with Christian Schmidleithner) ist a bit difficult for the singers (though looking beautiful and showing some gorgeous ideas) because a lot of sound "gets lost" onstage. The costumes (also Schmidleithner) suited the different roles very well and helped to support the differentiation of the the characters. But due to the fact that I already knew the production, my main interest was for the musical performance.
Takeshi Moriuchi once again showed great understanding of the details of this ravishing score and led a controlled and focused performance. The Brucknerorchester Linz showed great balance and accuracy during the performance. The play with intensive passion and wonderful constrasts between the reverent parts and the almost dance-like tunes. Also the Kinder- & Jugendchor des Landestheater Linz gave a very balanced and accurate performance during the finale.
I definitely have to mention Fenja Lukas as Sandmännchen & Taumännchen. Her beautiful light and soft soprano voice sounded marvelous and matched her beautiful physique. She seemed more comfortable with the latter one of the two roles but gave a nice performance in both of them.
Martin Achrainer gave a solid performance as Peter, the father. His baritone voice filled the role without any problems even though there could have been a bit more flexibility, but that is just a matter of taste I guess.
Cheryl Lichter as mother Gertrud seemed a bit stressed in that role. While some really exposed high notes worked very well she did not really convince with the rest. Too often she was covered by the orchestra too easily and simply seemed not really comfortable with the role.
One of the highlights of the performance was Matthäus Schmidlechner who once again sang the role of the witch. His focused timbre is both flexible and carries through the auditorium easily. But not just vocally, also his acting convinced me and the audience. I am still not a fan of the fact that tenors take the role which originally was written for a mezzo, but Schmidlechner simply did a great job this evening.
The two title roles were sung by Martha Hirschmann and Theresa Grabner. Both sang their roles really beautifully, but sometimes had to fight against the power of the orchestra. Hirschmann's bright mezzo voice is very flexible and therefor suits the role of Hänsel very well. Grabner's light soprano filled the beautiful lyric lines of Gretel with life. Especially during the famous Abendsegen their voices blended together very well and so it was a pleasure to listen to them.
Alltogether I was very happy to see the lovely production again and I can only recommend to see the production. My opinion: 8 stars for a beautiful fairy-tale evening.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, La forza del destino - Theater Basel

Performance 16th December

The final part of my swiss opera tour was a performance in Basel with one of Verdi's strangest operas. La forza is one of these operas that have such a dreadful ridiculous plot that it needs some really good music to get through it. I am not really sure if that is the case with La forza. While some parts are really exceptional and great music, much of it seems like Verdi did not really have a big interest in the piece. The many chorals and the absurd happenings really try one's nerves, but altogether it was still worth going there. The production by Sebastian Baumgarten also did not really impress me. Most of it seemed quite ordinary and dull. He did not manage to bring real people and their problems on the stage, but created a really artificial meaningless atmosphere. The also quite ordinary (but complex) stage (Barbara Ehnes) and costumes (Marysol del Castillo) did not really help to change that. And the many projections and videos seemed to simply try to distract from the fact that no proper direction was shown.
At least musically the evening was worth the visit. Ainars Rubikis showed a very refined and thrilling interpretation of the score with great support for the singers. Only during the ouverture he seemed to be in a rush and conducted with a really swift tempo. The Sinfonieorchester Basel played with great passion and intensity. No matter if the music was dramatic or soft, they always played everything very appropriately. The Chor und Extrachor des Theater Basel also gave a solid performance but could have been more balanced everynow and then.
The few smaller roles were mostly sung by singers from the house and they all gave solid performances with not serious issues. Pavel Kudinov as Marchese di Calatrava also did a fine job with his role. His voice could have been a bit more dignified and venerable instead of simply angry and furious.
Anaïk Morel as Preziosilla gave a very lovely performance with a beautiful and also very sensual mezzo voice. The jumpy lines of that role were no problem for her and she mastered them without any problems. I especially liked the timbre of her lower register with its wonderul colour.
As Fra Melitone Andrew Murphy convinced with nice acting skills and a real comic talent. This role focusses very much on the comic facettes and not on beautiful vocal lines or something like that. Murphy really convinced me with his playful performance and also musically fulfilled everything that was expected.
Padre Guardiano (Evgeny Stavinsky) was a big contrast to Melitone with a very dignified solemn dark voice and very serious and calm acting. Stavinsky did a good job with that role and filled it with life. The contrast between him and Melitone (especially during the final fourth act) was really nice to watch.
Vladislav Sulimsky sang the antagonist part, the evil brother of Leonora, Don Carlo di Vargas. Sulimsky's powerful noble baritone voice is perfect for the role. The dark intimidating timbre of his voice and his highly musical phrasing seem to be perfect for this kind of Verdi roles and he definitely gave one of the performances of the evening.
Aquiles Machado as Don Alvaro, the male lead, did not totally win me over. His bright tenor is very focused, but his timbre in the upper register sounds a bit weird. While his lower registers sounded normal his upper register tended to get a very unnatural sometimes edgy tone. He also seemed to reach the limits of his stamina in the end, but alltogether he gave a solid performance.
The female protagonist, Leonora di Vargas, was sung by Elena Stikhina who has a wonderful strong soprano voice with a full-bodied dark timbre. Though being quite young she still managed to fulfill the demands of this heavy role and convinced with a voice that has a dark lower register and a shining bright top register. Her top notes were beautifully clear and seemed very easy for her. She definitely was the highlight of the whole performance and I really hope to see and hear her again someday.
Alltogether a solid performance with some weak factors which did not cloud the overall impression in the end. Therefor I can give 8 stars without any doubts.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail - Opernhaus Zürich

Performance 15th December

The second evening of my opera tour through Switzerland was taking place in Zürich and probably the leading operahouse of Switzerland. Mozart's Entführung is one of his most successful operas and people usually know it very well. However the production in Zürich underwent some grave changes in both music and dialogues. Of course it is a very discussable matter to decide what might be changed and what mustn't be changed, but I have to say that the changes in Zürich definitely had a very interesting and effectful outcome. The production by David Hermann does not represent a linear plot but some sort of insight into the mind of the two main characters (Belmonte and Konstanze). The story is told from Belmonte's view and centers around jealousy and trust. The dramatic interventions and changes actually worked out pretty well and gave the story another new dimension and a very psychological point of view. Personally I thought it was brilliant, but I can also understand people who might be offended and disappointed. I think that the production succeds to give the audience an exciting evening full of funny moments, but also serious question to think about. The stage (Bettina Meyer) looked very elegant but also a bit sterile sometimes. I especially liked the bedroom with its beautiful violet colour and the elegant interior. The costumes by Esther Geremus were also very high-class and made an elegant impression.
The musical part was led by Christoph Altstaedt and the Orchestra La Scintilla who gave a highly appropriate performance. The sound of the orchestra was wonderful and totally filled with Mozartian style. It was easy, very light and also playful. Altstaedt had everything under control and was a very considerate supporter to the singers. The Zusatzchor der Oper Zürich also did a good job with a balanced clear performance.
Sam Louwyck as mute Bassa Selim was able to convey his character just through his charisma and his movements. The idea behind his was quite smart and worked out really well. Nahuel di Pierro as Osmin also gave a good performance even though I would like to have a voice that is more mature for this role because it simply does not work so well with a young voice. However di Pierro did a good job with his dark and agile bass voice.
Michael Laurenz as Pedrillo sang the role with a very expressive voice. His light tenor has a very dark but sometimes also edgy timbre. I personally thought that Mozart needs a bit more lightness and elegance, but Laurenz also sang the role without any problems.
Canadian soprano Claire de Sévigné perfectly sang Blonde with a voice that has a crystal clear timbre and the necessary flexibility and agility. The clarity and the beautiful sound of her voice were really lovely and it was a pleasure to hear her. Also her acting was really nice and made her portrayal highly convincing.
Pavol Breslik needed some time to warm up in the first half but once he was ready he really convinced the audience as Belmonte. His creamy bright tenor voice has a very elegant timbre and seems to be perfect for Mozart. He feels totally comfortable in this style and he also managed to convince with his acting. No wonder that this role is one of his signature roles at the moment and it definitely is no surprise if you have seen him perform it.
Olga Peretyatko was the show's Konstanze and I have to say that she did much better this time than some weeks ago in Berlin where I also heard her in this role. She seemed way more comfortable with the music this time and her singing was definitely more refined. I still think that this is not the perfect role for her, but she managed the many difficulties of it very well and gave a convincing performance. She sings her Konstanze very much in a belcanto style and less with a Mozartian manner which might be a bit strange sometimes, but altogether it definitely was a good and solid performance.
Altogether it was a very exciting evening and finally a production that has a really creative and interesting idea. I enjoyed every minute of it and can only recommend a visit at the opera in Zürich. Therefor; 9 stars.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Friday, 16 December 2016

Christoph Willibald Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice - Theater St. Gallen

Performance 14th December

The first station of my spontaneous trip to Switzerland was the lovely city of St. Gallen in the northeast of the country. The theatre is quite busy and features many productions of operas, operettas, musicals and ballet works. The new production of Gluck's famous opera is a cooperation of the opera ensemble and the dance ensemble of the house. The idea to add the dance ensemble to the very small ensemble of singers (three soloists and the choir) is very smart and worked out very well. The production was led by the company's dance director (and choreographer) Beate Vollack who put a lot of choreography into the evening. Even the soloists became part of it and I think that the dancing helped to intensify the experience of the evening. The stage (Kinsun Chan) was very plain and only featured a black ramp on the backside and different floors (black, red and white attuned to the different acts). The main focus really was put on the interpersonal actions and their choreography. The also very plain and sober costumes (also Kinsun Chan) also helped to keep the focus on the direction of the characters.
The musical responsibility was taken by George Petrou who conducted the Sinfonieorchester St. Gallen with intensive energy and ravishing musicality. The orchestra played vividly and supported the singers very well. Especially during the second act I really liked the thrilling sound of the whole ensemble and the dramatic attitude. The Opernchor St. Gallen also mastered the choir part appropriately and convinced with refined balance.
The dance ensemble of the theatre were wonderful and gave a brilliant performance. No matter if they were the main act of just supported the singers they always gave a very refined impression. I especially loved how the ramp was put to use for the dancing. Of the whole ensemble I feel like I have to mention Alberto Terribile who really stood out. His performance was intense, full of energy and simply compelling. Also David Schwindling as the dancer Amor gave a marvelous performance with very rough gestures and expressive mimics.
The singer of Amor, Sheida Damghani, convinced with a beautiful light soprano voice that was very agile and flexible. She was lovely as feisty and devoted god of love.
Tatjana Schneider sang the role of Euridice and also had soprano voice with a light clear timbre even though her voice possessed a bit more dramatic weight than Amor. Only singing during the finale act she still did not fail to make a strong impression with a very smart performance.
The main role (Orfeo) was sung by countertenor Xavier Sabata. His alto voice is very balanced, is very flexible and has a soft warm timbre. He was able to convey every shade of emotion of this role and really gave an astonishing performance. Besides his musical skills he also cut a fine figure with his dancing which seemed to be very good.
Alltogether it was a very pleasing evening which showed that the combination of opera with dance is a very good idea provided that it is well done. In this case it was definitely well done and therefor I can give 9 stars without any doubts.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url