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

Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 26th April

After the Tristan debacle earlier this month I went to see Verdi’s adaptation of Dumas‘ Dame aux camelies known as La Traviata. An opera that is widely known and is played regularly and the title role is probably the dream role of most dramatic coloratura sopranos. The performance at the Bayerische Staatsoper sounded pretty promising with famous soprano Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta, a role that she is widely known for.
The production by Günter Krämer is rather conservative and made a pretty boring and unexciting impression with few ideas that mostly were not elaborated appropriately. The costumes (Carlo Diappi) and the stage (Andreas Reinhardt)  might have been lovey to watch, but there was no drama taking place throughout the evening. I have never been less touched by a Traviata performance than this very evening and already during the prelude I felt genuinely bored.
Unfortunately not only the production itself, also the musical part of the evening did not really convince me the way I hoped it would. Conductor Andrea Battistoni (despite being Italian) lacked grace and real Italianità. He tried to convince with sheer power and loudness instead of deep knowledge of the score. Very often there were issues of timing (especially when the choir was onstage) and the worst thing was his extremely annoying humming. Even in the 15th row I could hear him hum along the score (though it sounded as if he hummed in another key). The Bayerisches Staatsorchester did a solid job and did its best. At some moments they were close to find the right Traviata tone, but Battistoni simply could not trigger the magic of the score. Despite of the mentioned timing issues the Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper sounded refined and well balanced.
The many small roles (often only a small line) were cast appropriately and sometimes showed some interesting voices. I definitely want to mention Rachael Wilson as Flora and Kristof Klorek as Dr. Grenvil who both gave very good performances.
Leo Nucci, definitely a legend in the Italian repertoire, was singing the role of Giorgio Germont. Being a legend nowadays seems to make people believe that they shall go on singing no matter if they can actually deliver a role appropriately. Nucci might have been able to hit the notes (more or less), but there was no phrasing and simply no explainable reason why someone would still cast him. Interestingly also his Italian was absolutely not to understand (even if you knew what he should have been singing).
Arturo Chacón-Cruz also did not really stand a chance with this role. I can imagine that he might be a good choice for small houses, but the Nationaltheater in Munich is definitely way to big for his light tenor voice. Too often he had problems to be heard over the orchestra and simply could not deliver a convincing performance.
The star of the evening was Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta. Yoncheva’s voice sounded immensely powerful and filled the audience so easily that I was rather suspicious after the first act. However, in act two I realised that there is a normal reason for it. Most of the singing took place at the very fron of the stage and so no sound was lost onstage. Yoncheva gave a good performance with a strong voice and good phrasing, but altogether I missed the grace and lightness I would expect from a Violetta. Most of her singing was simply loud and in the final act she seemed to have some intonation issues in the upper register. Nevertheless it was a good performance, but maybe there is a bit much hype about her Violetta.
Alltogether it was definitely better than the dreadful Tristan lately, but still not absolutely convincing. I left the performance without sheding a single tear and therefor there will only be 8 stars for this Traviata.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday, 17 April 2017

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 13th April

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

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

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

Premiere performance 9th April

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

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Richard Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 29th March

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

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Richard Wagner, Wagnergala, Staatsoper Berlin, Schillertheater

Gala performance 12th March

For one night, and one night only, the Staatsoper Berlin invited to Gala honouring the great Richard Wagner including scenes from his operas sung by some of the best Wagner singers of our times. The cast and the programme really made it impossible not to come and so I decided to take this short trip to the German capital and check out the performance.
The Staatskapelle Berlin was playing throughout the evening conducted by Simone Young who showed perfect and strict control over everything with a very economic and clear conducting style. I have rarely see someone conduct with such clarity and accuracy! The Staatskapelle followed her lead very well with passionate playing and especially a great range of volume and colours. Except of a few less nice moments of the brass section everything sounded marvelous and proved the high level of the orchestra. Also the Staatsopernchor Berlin did a great job during the two choir scenes. First they sang a wonderful rendition of the Entry of the Guests from Tannhäuser with such solemnity and joy that it was simply breathtaking. In the second part of the evening they returned for the "Wach auf" scene which they also sang very well and passionately.
The soloists were Anne Schwanewilms, Camilla Nylund, Waltraud Meier, Nikolai Schukoff (jumping in for Burkhard Fritz), Wolfgang Koch and René Pape. Schwanewilms openend the evening with a rendition of the famous Hallenarie from Tannhäuser. Her crystal clear soprano voice has this certain fragility and innocence in its timbre which sounds glorious, but also seems dangerously close to crack. However, she sang the aria very beautifully without any problems. I liked her singing as Elsa way more because it just suited her voice much better with its bright slender timbre. Singing with her was Waltraud Meier as Ortrud. I have to admit that Meier was the main reason for me to come to the gala because she simply is a legend and a national treasure. Of course the quality of tone might not be as good as 10 years ago, but she still captures the audience with her electric stage presence. I have never ever experienced such an exciting charisma with any other singer. Meier just nailed the fierce scene with Elsa with a stormy performance of "Entweihte Götter" as well as the previous scene with Telramund, sung by Wolfgang Koch. Koch did a very good job with his dark and flexible baritone voice. I think he was outstanding as Telramund and also gave a great rendition of the dutchman's monologue later. He is definitely one of the leading Wagner baritones and especially in the evil roles he has this certain viciousness in his timbre.
Nikolai Schukoff was singing the Parsifal scene from act 2 with his powerful youthful tenor voice. I have not heard of him before, but I will definitely remember his name now. He combines piercing power with an elegant bright tenor timbre and great flexibility. Even better than his Parsifal, was his performance as Siegmund together with Camilla Nylund as Sieglinde. This might have been the best rendition of the 3rd scene from Walküre act 1 I have ever heard. Schukoff did a great job and was definitely an outstanding Siegmund, but Nylund simply gave a flawless performance. Not only does her beautiful voice sound lovely, she also seemed to perfectly understand every single line of the role. Nylund continuously became one of the leading Wagner & Strauss sopranos of our time and is definitely one of the most musically talented singers out there. BRAVA!
Last but not least, René Pape joined the ensemble of singers with two scenes. First he was singing the Fliedermonolog from Meistersinger with such theatricality that it simply was a joy to listen to him. Every word was pronounced so meaningful and the range of his colours is just incredible. However, his performance as Wotan in Wotan's farewell was even more intense. Marking the end of the evening it was a performance that clearly earns the adjective legendary. His Wotan combines authority, emotion, melancholy as well as anger and disappointment. I thought he was brilliant and finished the performance with nobility and class.
Alltogether it really was a glorious evening and really showed that the age of great singing is definitely not over yet. Without doubt this performance earns full 10 stars thanks to the electric performances of all singers!

Reviewed by Daniel Url