Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Giuseppe Verdi, Nabucco - Tiroler Festspiele Erl, Festspielhaus

Revival premiere performance 27th December

As final part of this year's christmas opera marathon I went to see Nabucco at the Erl festival. The early Verdi opera features one hit after another and every role is very demanding. Especially the roles of Nabucco and Abigaile who are kind of the central characters of the plot.
The production of Andreas Leisner is, as usual for the festival, very plain and puristic. The staging of Jan Hax Halama show a simple ramp and some sort of staircase. Together with the light effects (Gustav Kuhn & Alexander Paget) it supports the plot appropriately and helps to create atmosphere. The costumes (Lenka Radecky) were long garments in different colors for the soloists and also the choir (depending on their ethnicity).
Gustav Kuhn conducted the piece excellently and created a very balanced sound with great knowledge of the pitfalls of the score. The Orchester der Tiroler Festspiele Erl followed his lead very elegantly with great accuracy and joy of playing. The brilliant sound of the orchestra was really impressive and showed great musicality. Also the Chorakademie der Tiroler Festspiele Erl did a wonderful job and performed some lovely balanced choir scenes with great dramatic sense.
The supporting roles of the Gran Sacerdote, Abdallo and Anna were performed by Nicola Ziccardi, Patrizio Saudelli and Maria Lopalco. All three of them did a good job in their roles. Especially Lopalco made quite an impression even though her role is not really such a great deal.
George Vincent Humphrey sang a very heroic Ismaele, almost too heroic for my taste. As good as he might sound as Siegfried or similar roles, he was too heavy for this role. I would have preferred a lighter voice that is more agile and has a more youthful sound. Anyway his performance was still not bad at all. Just a matter of taste.
Svetlana Kotina's Fenena was very strong with a beautiful warm timbre and quite some power throughout her range. Her lower register sounds wide and pleasant while her upper register has a more dramatic sound. I personally think that the role of Fenena is quite boring and Kotina would have earned a bigger role than that one.
As Zaccaria we heard Franz Hawlata who still has the voice for demanding roles like that. His bass voice has a very warm and pleasant lower register with a velvet like timbre. Even though he lacked a bit of real italianità he did a very good job, especially during his prayer in the second act.
My personal highlight of the evening was Sophie Gordeladze as Abigaile. I knew Gordeladze from the last new year's concert in Salzburg and I thought her voice would be too light for this heavy role. How wrong I was!! It is incredible how intensively her voice broke through the heaviest orchestral passages and still kept the light sound and agility of a light soprano. Not matter in which register she sang she was able to put so much power and focus on every single not that I was deeply impressed. Her famous cabaletta in the second act was sung magnificently even though I missed the climatic high c.
Giulio Boschetti sang a powerful and heroic Nabucco with a very heavy and imperious voice. His appearance and the sheer power of his voice suited the role of the king marvelously. Especially his first appearance was solemn and dominating with great dramatic singing.
The Erl festival proved once again that it can compete with other festivals around. Great singing and straightforward productions with great impressions are definitely characteristics of the festival in the Austrian village of Erl. The production of Nabucco definitely earns 9 stars and is worth a visit.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday, 28 December 2015

Engelbert Humperdinck, Hänsel und Gretel - Linzer Landestheater, Musiktheater

Performance 25th December

Part 3 of my christmas opera marathon took place in Linz. Hänsel und Gretel is probably one of the best examples for an opera for children. A famous fairytale as plot and ravishing melodies and songs that are easy to remember. Still it is not just a piece for kids but also a highly professional work that shows the talent that Humperdinck had.
The production of the theatre's director Rainer Mennicken (who is leaving after this season) does not leave anything left to wish for. Both staging and costumes (Christian Schmidleithner) looked lovely and showed so many nice details in many different shapes. Everything just suited the whole plot just perfectly. Also the idea to include two dancers (and also the children) with strong focus on choreography (Matthew Tusa) and pantomimic scenes was marvelous and worked out pretty well. Especially the dance roles of the raven (Mazen Muna) and the cat (Fatina Saleh) made sense and supported the drama really well.
Musically conductor Takeshi Moriuchi was able to deliver the drama of Humperdinck's score as well as the catchy tunes. The Bruckner Orchester Linz followed his directions marvelously and played very clearly and accurately. Everything sounded very balanced and precise. Also the Kinder- & Jugendchor des Landestheaters Linz gave a very good performance and earned the huge waves of applause in the end.
The soloists all did a very good job. Jenifer Lary sang  both Sandmännchen and Taumännchen. Her clear voice suited both roles excellently. Her voice has a very soft and pleasent timbre with a very focused sound.
Michael Wagner also gave a ravishing performance as father Peter. His strong voice has a beautiful warm timbre and also impressive stamina. The role seemed to be very comfortable for him for he did not seem to have any issues with it at any point. Same is valid for Karen Robertson as mother Gertrud. Her mezzo voice has a very clear and easygoing upper register. She did a very impressive job in this role with her focused but still soft voice.
The role of the witch is not very long but still quite demanding in terms of singing AND acting. Originally written for a mezzo soprano it is also frequently performed by tenors (whyever?). This leads to several issues in the performance that are caused by the vocal differences of these two vocal types. Nevertheless Matthäus Schmidlechner, who sang the Kusperhexe during this performance, did a fine job. His voice is not just very flexible but also quite powerful with a very piercing timbre. He did not seem to have problems with the high parts of the role. I would still have preferred a mezzo singing it because the role is definitely written for another voice type than a tenor. A classic example for the importance of the Fach system because of course a good tenor won't have any problems with the range of the role. But as I said, Schmidlechner did a fine job and earned a lot of applause in the end (totally earned).
Martha Hirschmann sang a very lyric and cheeky Hänsel with a very powerful and affectionate voice. Her lower register has a very warm sound while her upper register sounds clear and piercing. But also besides her singing she did a lovely job with very convincing acting skills.
My personal highlight was Elisabeth Breuer as Gretel. I was really impressed by her incredible singing and was immediately reminded of Helen Donath. Breuer's voice has a bell-like quality in her upper register and a enormously beautiful timbre in her lower registers. Everything she sang just sounded marvelously beautiful. The sheer beauty of her voice combined with her agility and the ease of her high notes make her a perfect Gretel. For me she definitely gave the performance of the evening and a performance that could also have taken place in the great opera houses of Europe! BRAVO!!!
All in all I really enjoyed the performance and I can say that the Landestheater Linz is probably Austria's most successfully emerging company at the moment. The whole production was really positive and a great success. Therefore I give 9 stars out of ten to Linz' Hänsel und Gretel.
Review by Daniel Url

Friday, 25 December 2015

Johann Strauss Junior, Die Fledermaus - Semperoper Dresden

Performance 23rd December

For the second evening of my christmas opera marathon (and the last one before christmas) I visited Dresden once again to see the most famous operetta by Strauss Junior. The prototype of a Viennese operetta is still a core piece of our repertoire and usually is often played around christmas and new year's eve.
The production directed by Günter Krämer plays with many Austrian (not neccesarily Viennese) clichés. Anyway I personally thought that the piece lost a lot of its originality because many things were turned into ridicule. The staging (Gisbert Jäkel) looked good, but could have been the stage of any other opera as well. The idea to continue the stage around the orchestra pit gave the production the positive effect that the audience felt included in the action. The costumes by Falk Bauer featured the famous Dirndl dresses and Lederhosn (the traditional costumes of the alpine region) which is not really Viennese but anyway. The most positive achievement of the production in my opinion was that the singers were so close to the audience (thanks to the enlarged stage). Many times the audience was getting involved in the plot with some lovely jokes. Here I have to mention Adele's second couplet because our Adele left the stage and seduced a gentleman in the first row. What a lovely funny idea!
Musically the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden gave a magnificent performance under the lead of conductor  Stefan Lano. The accuracy of the orchestra and Lano's conducting accumulated in a genuinely marvelous performance from the orchestra pit. Only sometimes I wished for a more Viennese sound (especially in terms of accentuation and tempo fluctuation) but however, they played impressively anyway. Also the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden sang very well in the numerous choir numbers. The second act is unthinkable without a good choir!
The production's Frosch was played by Wolfgang Stumph who is a famous comedian from Saxonia. Of course he modified his part in deference of current headlines and trivia. I already thought it was funny, but the audience totally went crazy and showed their appreciation with much applause.
In the small roles of Ida, Dr. Blind and Alfred we heard Gundula Rosenkranz, Tom Martinsen and Merto Sungu. All three gave a good performance, but did not really have the chance to really convince due to the size of their roles.
Christina Bock sang a very decadent Orlofsky (dressed as a Vampire) with beautiful sound and a very warm timbre. As Frank we heard Oliver Zwarg who gave a strong performance with his Wagner proven baritone voice. Even though he has a very heavy voice he had no problems with the light singing of his role and mastered it without any problems.
Young baritone Sebastian Wartig sang Dr. Falke alias die Fledermaus and showed that he has a very strong instrument with a very pleasant timbre. Wartig has a lot of potential and hopefully takes care of his lovely voice so we can hear much more in the future.
In the role of Adele it took Emily Dorn some time to get comfortable. I had the feeling that she did not feel totally comfortable during the first act. It was better in the second act and in the third act she reached peak form. Apart from her singing she also was a very fine actress and convinced very well as cheeky maid.
The male protagonist, Gabriel von Eisenstein, was performed by Jürgen Müller who is singing a lot of heroic repertoire. In the role of Gabriel I sometimes missed the power of a heroic Heldentenor which might be caused by the lightness and demanded agility of the role. Still Müller sang very well and especially during the final act he was very convincing.
The female lead was performed by Natalie Karl who jumped in for Christiane Libor (who I was hoping to see originally, what happened?). Karl has a very light but powerful voice. Her lower registers and the lower part of her upper register showed quite some power. Unfortunately the very top of her voice tended to be thin and a little bit shrill. I would have preferred a bigger voice (bigger but at least as agile as Karl's voice) but Karl did a good job anyway, especially with her acting skills and (I just have to mention it) her décolleté which draw everyone's attention to it and that tight accentuating dress.
Finally I have to say it was a good performance, not perfect but still quite good and better than most other houses could do. I had a very entertaining funny evening and therefore the performance gets 7 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday, 21 December 2015

Richard Wagner, Götterdämmerung - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 19th December

As first part of this year's christmas opera marathon I attended a performance of Götterdämmerung in Munich. After Walküre, this is the second part I saw from the Munich Ring and I do have to say that the production led by Andreas Kriegenburg is definitely showing some really interesting aspects of the story in a very appropriate way. On the other hand there were also several moments where he showed that he does not take the immanent drama serious enough. Too often his production gave an over the top impression. The staging by Harald B. Thor was definitely one of the most positive aspects of the production. As were the costumes by Andrea Schraad which were not just beautiful to look at but also showed the contrasts between the characters. The staging looked very sober but also classy and showed the dangers of our society nowadays. This actually is the production's best feature, because it proves that Kriegenburg knew how to deal with the social criticism that Wagner put into his opus magnum.
But the really interesting part of this performance was the music anyway. Kirill Petrenko once again proved that he is one of the great conductors of our times. Wagner has never been so differentiated with such a clear and balanced tone. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester also gave a magnificent performance with a brilliant sound and virtousic playing. Also the Chor und Extrachor der Bayerischen Staatsoper sang lovely and sounded impressively throughout the whole evening (especially the male choir).
Interesting enough the best solo performances were done by the supporting roles. The first scene for example was a great success with three really wonderful norns. Okka von der Damerau, Helena Zubanovich and Anna Gabler sang their roles very intensively and showed their great voices. Von der Damerau, who is Munich's universal weapon, sounded strong and convinced with a warm an beautiful timbre. Helena Zubanovich's voice is not very warm or beautiful, but is extremely powerful and intense. She definitely has the voice for bigger roles than just a norn. Anna Gabler gave a nice performance as third norn before she went on performing in role of Gutrune. Unfortunately this role is probably one of the most boring roles Wagner ever wrote. Anyway Gabler gave a good job with a beautiful warm voice and good acting skills.
Von der Damerau also knew to convince as Floßhilde later in the evening. Together with Angela Brower (strong and warm timbre) and Eri Nakamura (such a beautiful clear voice) she was responsible for one of the highlights of the evening (the rhinemaiden scene).
Christopher Purves had a very short appearance as Alberich during the second act. However he knew how to deliver the drama of his role during this short scene. Especially his diction was exemplary and suited his role perfectly.
As Waltraute we heard Michaela Schuster who also did a great job with her acting. Nevertheless I thought her singing sounded a little bit edgy. I have never been a fan of her voice,  but anyway she managed the role without any difficulties and gave a good performance.
Markus Eiche was probably the greatest victim of the overacting principles of the production. Many of his appearances were just over the top and seemed childishly exaggerated. However his singing was all the better. His smooth and warm baritone voice suited the role very well and his phrasing and interpretation made a very good impression.
My personal highlight was Hans-Peter König as Hagen. König, who I already heard as Rocco this summer, has a powerful dark bass voice with a profound but still dignified timbre. His singing was very clear and differentiated, especially during the second act. For me this was probably the best performance of the evening.
The singer of Siegfried, Lance Ryan, poses me a riddle. It would be wrong to say that he is not good because he definitely is able to sing the role appropriately. He has the power, the stamina, the range and also feeling for the phrasing. Still I had the feeling that he might not be the perfect singer for this role. The timbre of his voice sometimes sounds awkwardly parodic and in my opinion not heroic enough. Nevertheless he sang an incredibly long high c during the third act (several seconds long) and also the bird's narrative in the same act was performed really impressively with reduced voice (which fitted the scene perfectly). So Ryan definitely did not do a bad job, but I am also not sure if he was the best choice.
Same is valid for Petra Lang as Brünnhilde. I remember seeing her as Ortrud in Bayreuth some years ago and she did an incredible job there. However, Ortrud is kind of a mezzo role while Brünnhilde is probably the most dramatic role Wagner wrote for a soprano. Not just the range, but also the general demands for the voice call for a dramatic soprano who is not afraid of dramatic singing in every single register. Lang did a good job in the lower register which probably is connected with her mezzo past. Still her upper register sounded unfocused and shaky. Very often her portamenti were extremely strong and she slided into her notes awkwardly. Her voice is very dramatic and powerful but in my opinion she should stick with the mezzo roles for the upper register seems not be comfortable enough for the great dramatic soprano repertoire.
All in all it was a very nice evening with great music, not perfect but still very enjoyable. The Bayerische Staatsoper proves once more that it is one of the best houses (if not the best) in Europe. No other house has such a good ensemble combined with the great names of opera.
The productioin of Götterdämmerung gets 8 stars of me.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Giacomo Puccini, Turandot -Deutsche Oper am Rhein – Theater Duisburg 

Performance 5th December 

The plot of Puccini's last opera Turandot revolves around a Chinese princess and the love of Kalaf to her. Therefore build the Deutsche Oper am Rhein a cooperation with the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts in Taiwan to produce this opera. The Asian team developed a great production based on symbolic elements and atmospheric video (JunJieh Wang) and light (Volker Weinhart) installations.
Huan-Hsiung Li designed his production as a young woman's dream who is embodied by the dancer Yi-An Chen in a way of a distracted and sympathetic bystander. She is always present on stage as the dreamer and observer of what is happening in her 13th century dream. Putting the plot into a dream, gave Huan-Hsiung Li the chance to stage the sometimes irrational scenes over dramatically. Everything functioned well together for this vision: Jo-Shan Liang's stage design showed the silhouette of a medieval Chinese town with a gate which can be opened and closed for appearances. Nothing more than a scroll as a path from the gate is covering the stage. The constantly changing light and video installations were capturing the situation's atmosphere. Classic elegant costumes (HsuanWu Lai) based on Chinese traditional costumes of the 13th century emphasised the serious theme.
Important part of the whole opera is the choir (rehearsal: Gerhard Michalski) which represents the folk. The Chor der Deutschen Oper am Rhein demonstrated melodramatic greatness especially in the higher voice passages. A huge compliment is going to Sabina López Miguez and her children's choir Kinderchor am Rhein Duisburg. The children sang their two scenes very emotionally and mellowly.
Sami Luttinen appeared as Kalaf's loving father Timur with a bright trembling bass voice. The three ministers Ping (Bogdan Baciu), Pang (Florian Simson) and Pong (Cornel Frey) represented a refreshing mixture of narrator, advisor and prankster. Bogdan Baciu showed up as the calm anchor between the two untwisted tenor parts of Simson and Frey. With a natural elegance and freedom in his warm baritone voice, attracted Baciu the audience's attention. The self-sacrificing slave Liú was sung by Brigitta Kele. With great lightness in her voice featured she a sensitive woman. The two main characters Turandot (Linda Watson) and Kalaf (Zoran Todorovich) harmonised nicely together. Although Linda Watson's strong voice power drowned Zoran Todorovich's dramatic tenor voice in a few parts. But you can't actually count this as a negative point as Watson's voice was still present in the big choir scenes; Who could really hold against such a voluminous voice as hers? Todorovich's Nessun dorma aria was very solemn. He let some piano parts fad away with a breathy voice. In combination with his dark timbre highlighted this Kalaf's despair in this situation. Linda Watson replied with a sharply and reedy voice.
Axel Kober conducted the Duisburger Philharmoniker which took up the dream metaphor and hold everything in a quite gentle tune. The singers were supported perfectly due to accurate dynamic changings.
I give 8 out of 10 stars for this nicely production which shows how new technology as visual desgin can enhance an opera production.
Reviewed by Christine Arnold

Monday, 23 November 2015

Sergei Prokofiev, The Love for Three Oranges – Aalto Theater 

Performance 21st November 

There are many too rarely played operas which would enhance the repertoires of the opera houses across the country. The Aalto Theater in Essen is mixing up their old beloved repertoire, consisting of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner, with infrequent played operas as The Love for Three Oranges by Prokofiev. Its fantastical content and pictorial speaking music is drawing the story of a prince whose illness can only be cured by his own laughter. After convalescing, a bane forces him being in love with three oranges which he is in need to find. As always in fairytales, in the end the prince is getting his princess and they all lived happily ever after.
The Aalto Theater uses a staging of De Nationale Opera Amsterdam from 2005 to play Prokofiev's opera. Laurent Pelly's production is set up in a land of cards which reminds of Alice in Wonderland (stage set: Chantal Thomas). Even the choir is dressed in colours of cards (costumes: Laurent Pelly) to show patriotism to their king's land. Notably was the opera choir and extra-choir of the Aalto Theater (rehearsal: Patrick Jaskolka) presenting its full dramatic power in the final. In this way he created a heroic ending. Big part of this production is a massive amount of movements and crosses over the stage (rehearsal: Nico Weggemans). This brings liveliness into the staging and with little extra pantomime in the singer's playing, this partially overdramatic opera got a wisp of humor.
Tijl Faveyts as King Treff demonstrated a worried father whose son's illness is causing him sorrow, which he showed with his warm and soft voice. As the king's advisor Pantalon, Martijn Cornet represented the counterpart to his king. Cornet’s bright baritone voice with a natural height and exaggerated acting were one of the premiere night’s highlight. Alexey Sayapin showed up as splendidly casted for the melancholy prince. He played with his lyric tenor voice to create an atmosphere something in between of awfully wistful and kind of tragic-comical. His love to princess Ninetta (Christina Clark) sang Sayapin with plenty of melodiousness. This was the part when Sayapin showed the power in his young voice. Christina Clark sang with a gentle and very clear voice. Especially the high notes were sung in a precise way to make a difference to the wicked Fata Morgana (Teiya Kasahara). Her interpretation consisted of big vibratos and a full sound in her flexible voice. Albrecht Kludszuweit as the court jester Truffaldino amused not only the prince but also the audience. He fits perfectly into the concept of this production as it seems he is never standing still at one spot. Kludszuweit transported the idea of an always happy jester who would leave nothing untried to make his prince smile. In spite of all his dancing and jumping was his voice not suffering from this acting and appeared in a highly clear but strong manner. The Essener Philharmoniker under Yannis Pouspourikas could have given even more sound in Truffaldinos parts as his voice came easily over the orchestra and filled the auditorium. Heiko Trinsinger in his role as the evildoer Leander showed a dark timbre and was perfectly in harmony with soprano An De Ridder as the cruel Clarisse. According to the score this part requires a contralto. This is maybe why An De Ridder’s could not show the full volume of her beautiful voice. Especially the lower parts could not stand the orchestra. Fata Morganas antagonist the wizard Tschelio was sung by Bart Driessen with a markedly deep and full timbre. The audience gave Baurzhan Anderzhanov a big laughter for his entrance as the cook. No one expected such a deep bass voice coming out of the clearly feminine dressed woman’s mouth. Anderzhanov gave his voice a smoky and dirty sound which frightened the protagonists Truffaldino and the prince.
This production is great theater with superb singers who are also able to act and interact with the audience. Set and costume design matches perfectly. I only could not figure out why the light design (Joël Adam) was kept very bright through the whole opera. In my opinion more often changing and diverse lights would have created an even more magical staging. But maybe exactly this was the intention: maybe this bright light was likewise a reminder, that the surreal story on stage can never happen in reality.
This well elaborated production and the great cast get 8 out of 10 stars.
Reviewed by Christine Arnold

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Arrigo Boito, Mefistofele - Bayerische Staatsoper 

Performance 29th October 

As a highlight already at the beginning of the season the Bavarian State Opera came up with their first production of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele in the history of this prestigious theatre. The opera is adapted from Goethe’s Faust I and II.
Very suitable for the home of the „spirit that always denies“ Roland Schwab’s staging starts in a nihilistic chaos of wreckages where Mefistofele lives with his own kind and begins the opera by himself by putting on a gramophone record. This seems like a witty idea considering that the whole action of the drama is initiated by the devil who makes a bet with god. Piero Vinciguerra is accountable for the gripping scenery that never disturbed the music, even at the very dynamic, visual thrilling Walpurgis Night, when the floor under the dancing witches divided in three areas moves up and down while big fountains spew fire.
Also the concept of a stage that belongs to Mefistofele who plays with the humans as puppets that only move in a prison of their lowest desires for the devil’s amusement and get seduced to drinking, debaucheries, raping and killing, was very exciting and clarified by the huge wave-shaped grids on the left and the right of the stage as an implied prison. The grids stay there for the whole opera, surrounding the Oktoberfest, the table, where Faust sits together with Margherita and seduces her, the Walpurgis Night, the dungeon, where Margherita is held captive after killing her mother and her child and the mental home, where Faust stays together with Alzheimer’s patients, because he wants to forget the sins he committed.
These grids and the often-present wafts of mist allowed Michael Bauer to do impressing plays with the light, like in the fourth act when the beams of the spotlights created a „M“ through the fog. The production also works with wellimplemented video projections (Lea Heutelbeck) by which impressions are accomplished that go outside the envelope of the stage machinery. For example when Mefistofele and Faust fly through the night on a Motorcycle and behind them you could see the fast moving eye of the camera on a huge screen flying between skyscrapers.
It was absolutely fascinating how much pathos Omer Meir Wellber carried from the score into the musical performance of the orchestra. The finale of the Epilogue was performed with a maximum of volume and energy. It seemed very convincing and not disturbing that at the end of the opera the huge sound of the orchestra and choir of angelic hosts and cherubims overlayed Mefistofele’s part in a thrilling way, because the devil is left standing without Faust’s soul, who gets redeemed. Even if the staging was not that explicit about the end and left Faust’s salvation open, Mefistofele gets forced to his knees by the power of this tremendous music that spoke for itself.
Besides the solid casted smaller roles Boito’s Mefistofele contains three main roles that appear as real characters and not just stereotypes of their own. Even if Margherita’s part is not very long, Kristine Opolais sticks in one’s memory with the dungeon scene in the third act. She overwhelmed the audience as the regretting daughter and mother who had killed her own mother to be able to spend a night with Faust and drowned her own baby, the result of this sin, afterwards. After Opolais performed the unidimensional naive girl that gets seduced by Faust in the second act, her voice presents totally different colors while acting completely overcome with hysteria.
Faust’s part is not easy at all with all that high notes and requires a strong voice with a huge stamina. Joseph Calleja was absolutely able to deliver and was reliable at all registers. With his marvellous voice that generated a contrast to the dominating gloominess of the scenery Faust’s soul just had to be saved to sing with the angels.
But the focus in Boito’s opera is set on Mefistofele, as the title suggests it. René Pape gave a stunning Mefistofele and because of his strong but not black voice he also was quite a likeable „spirit that always denies“. In his purple suit, black gloves and red patent-leather shoes he looks like a mafia don, later like a rockstar in his black leather jacket and on his black Harley Davidson-motorcycle, on which he takes Faust on a journey through time and space. Also his acting was very powerful from the beginning when he challenges god very nonchalantly and stays quite lethargic confronting the suffering and loving humans, while at the end with the insight that he only managed to help saving a soul by trying to seduce it once again, he plays himself into madness.
9 Stars for a musical excellent performance with a dream cast and an exciting staging of this (unjustly) rarely performed opera!
Reviewed by Lukas Leipfinger

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Georges Bizet, Carmen - Salzburger Landestheater, Felsenreitschule

Premiere performance 18th October

If George Bizet had written his opera Carmen today maybe the people on stage wouldn't work at a cigarette factory and smuggle cigarettes but doing this with drugs. That’s exactly what the audience had to go through in the new production of the opera by Andreas Gergen at the Salzburger Landestheater, which had its opening night last sunday. In co-operation with Peter J. Davidson (stage set) and Conny Lüders (costumes) he creates an atmosphere of the drug-war, like it is happening nowadays in Mexico. This point stands out clearly at the beginning when the "fate-motive" is heard first in the overture: one of the extras shoots up himself to death and is carried off stage by some of the soldiers during the first choir. But also the field of red poppy speaks for the production of drugs. Well, why not? The audience would even see over the scene in which Carmen gives Don Jose the flower and pours water out of a bucket onto him - originally she throws it on him - and a modern hero of bullfight is expected to drive an extravagant luxurious car and to have a tightdressed woman on his side like a popstar today. Though you have to get used to the costumes especially to the women’s' one. Frasquita's and Mercedes's dress are covered with sequins and remembered me of the production of La cage aux follies just as the bull-costumes of the female ballet dancers: shocking pink hot pants and bras - again with sequins - , the baby-blue patent boots and the glittering golden horns. But on the top of this Michaela's costume during her aria "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante": Jose shoots up himself before this aria and hallucinate her as Madonna wearing a blue cloak, a pink glittering dress and a halo in combination with a tiara. An interesting interpretation which is turned into absurdity by the costume. The men were luckier with their costumes: military uniforms, black trousers and shirts for the smugglers and stylized torero-pants in purple for the male dancers and white for Escamillo.
The scenery of the Felsenreitschule is used partly: at the beginning of the third act there were three smugglers coming down the wall and also the gallery was in use. At the final scene the choir - playing the audience of the bullfight - and some of the brass section where positioned there and in the second act the ballet dancers performed the dance Carmen should dance for Don Jose, which wasn't really showed on stage. At this point it should be mentioned that the ballet ensemble (choreography: Peter Breuer) presented a solid performance but should work a bit more on the synchronicity.
The last scene turns up a question which is not answered to the audience: what is happening with the feelings of Jose? First of all he stabbed her with a knife in a really unspectacular way - the audience may have expected that he shoots her up to death - after that he rejoices before he breaks down crying on his beloved Carmen. What was Andreas Gergen thinking about at this scene? This question also appears if you're thinking about the extra-person on stages representing the death. He wasn't as disturbing as the marionettes in the Zauberflöte production last season but just as superfluous as them.
All in one a production which isn't that bad but could be staged at the Landestheater in the same way what would be better for the singers because the room isn't that big.
Elena Stikhin (Michaela) with her brilliant and clear lyric soprano and Raimundus Juzuitis (Zuniga) with his dark but still youthfully sounding bass voice were the only ones of the soloist ensemble who really convinced by their singing and acting level. They had no problems with the wideness an size of the room and could be heard clear over the orchestra sound.(Normally you say the orchestra is too loud if you don’t hear the singers enough but in this case the orchestra’s sound level was appropriate for the room.) In the speaking passage it was the same the actors weren’t talking loudly enough so that they could be heard clearly except of Raimundus Juzuitis.
Concerning the acting Oksana Volkova (Carmen) and Andeka Gorrotxategi (Don Jose) did a good job. He had a really nice sounding bright lyric tenor which matches to the role and could reflect emotions in his voice. But it was a pity that he nearly wasn’t able to be heard over the orchestra in his middle register at some passages. Similar in Vonkova’s case. Her voice was rather dark sounding, sometimes to dark so that she sounded muffled. The mentioned problem to drown the orchestra was also to be heard in the performance of the other soloist: Elliott Carlton Hines (Morales/Dancairo), Zachary Nelson (Escamillio) together with Laura Nicorescu (Frasquita), Rowan Hellier (Mercedes) and Franz Supper (Remendado) who are in the soloist ensemble of the Landestheater. It also should be mentioned that the voices of Laura Nicorescu and Rowan Hellier didn’t assort well with each other in some passages.
The Chor des Salzburger Landestheaters ( + extra-choir) (rehearsal: Stefan Müller) and the children’s choir (rehearsal: Wolfgang Götz) did a very good job.
The performance, especially of the soloists of the wind instruments (Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg), under the conductorship of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla was outstanding. She conducted in clear, big and fluent movements which were also energetic and active. Next to the space-filling sound she was able to outline chamber music like passages very well too. For this reason alone the performance is worth visiting.
All in one the performance gets 6 stars and I wish they would relocate the production in the next season into the Landestheater which would be better in terms of acoustics for the singers.
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Reviewed by Katharina Schiller

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Giuseppe Verdi, Aida - Bayerische Staatsoper München

Performance 1st October 

With a cast like at that evening you certainly look forward to your visit of the opera with huge expectations: Krassimira Stoyanova in the title role and Jonas Kaufmann doing his stage debut as Radamès (if you are not considering the concertante performance in Rome last February for the Warner recording that came out recently) in one of the most popular Verdi operas. But let us start with the less pleasing aspects of that overall very successful evening.
Christof Nels production does not come up with a very convincing concept and the staging of the singers stays quite static over the whole performance. Unfortunately Jens Kilians weak scenery can not really enhance the general visual impression of the production, because there is only a very simplified edged and plain building on the stage that does not allow any associations to develop. The fact that this draft of a building is spinning during almost the whole opera does not make it more creative.
Anyway, the casting of the singers could compensate the lame staging concept easily. Although Christophoros Stamboglis still seemed a little bit ailing (he was subbed by Ain Anger at the previous performance and also will be subbed by him for the last two performances in this month), he still did a respectable job as the harsh priest Ramfis who shows absolutely no mercy for the Ethiopian prisoners of war or Radamès. Franco Vassallo convinced as the Ethiopian king Amonasro and with his powerful baritone voice he radiated such an authority that Aida's submitting to her father’s demand in the third act seemed very comprehensible.
Anna Smirnova's voice sounded kind of faint during Amneris’ less emotional parts but apart from that she has a strong voice that found its complete expression during her attacks of jealousy and her hysteric collapse when Radamès signs his own death warrant by not justifying himself after his act of treason. Unlike Krassimira Stoyanova who could draw on almost unlimited resources of colours by what she managed to reveal the inner conflict between her patriotism and the love to her father on the one hand and the passionate attraction towards Radamès on the other hand. While singing at all volumes with such a lightness, she exhaled a breathtaking subtle beauty especially during her piano parts.
Who could keep pace better with such a superb cast title role than splendid Jonas Kaufmann? Although Dan Ettinger's conducting seemed a bit undifferentiated and too loud at some parts so the singers had their difficulties to prevail over the orchestra and Kaufmann did not use the full power of his voice before the intermission, the tenor did absolutely not spare himself during the last two acts. The finale of the third act and particularly the last line of it „Sacerdote, io resto a te“ was pure dramatic intensity and the duet at the end of the opera between Stoyanova and Kaufmann proved that those two wonderful voices fit together perfectly.
 For that musical magnificent performance with a great singer ensemble but one limitation of a not always perfectly balanced orchestra and a quite weak staging I would still give 8 stars.
reviewed by Lukas Leipfinger

NEWS - New authors starting to write for the Operatic Musicologist - NEWS

It is my great pleasure to announce two new members of this project. Mr. Lukas Leipfinger will cover performances in Munich. You can already find his short bio online here and later today his first review (Aida in Munich) will be available. The second person is Ms. Christine Arnold, B.A., who will write about performances in Essen and the surrounding area (including the Deutsche Oper am Rhein). Her short bio will be available soon as well. More authors will be announced soon. In future you will find the author of every review at the very end of it.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro - Royal Opera House Covent Garden

Performance 18th September

Due to the fact that I am spending the next few months in the United Kingdom I decided to have a week off in London before I move on into the north. Having a full week here I definitely had to go to the ROH and see something. Lovely enough they just started performances of Mozart's Figaro and so I went to see the second performance last friday.
The production was directed by David McVicar who brought a very conservative version onstage which included a lot of lovely funny details. The way he let the roles just enfold their characters was really marvelous and enabled the plot to feel very understandable and close to everyday's life. The stage and costume designs (designer: Tanya McCallin) were utterly beautiful and made a wonderfull impression. Especially the second act and the final dress of the Countess looked marvelously!
Musically the evening started a little bit rough for during the first scenes the singers and the orchestra were not always matching together perfectly. In general Ivor Bolton seemed not to have everything under control all the time. I regularly had the feeling that they entered dangerous situations but they always managed to keep the danger away.
The orchestra of the Royal Opera House played lovely even though there were a few small details that troubled the performance from time to time. Nevertheless the overall impression was good and the British definitely know how to bring Mozart to life. Also the choir scenes (members of the Royal Opera chorus) sounded lovely and were very pleasant.
Heather Engebretson sang a very strong light Barbarina and showed some acting talent as well. Her voice sounds so smoothly and beautifully that it was a pity she did not sing more.
Alasdair Elliott sang a very know-it-all Don Curzio but made quite an impression during his short appearance. As did Jeremy White as Antonio who totally catched the audience with his wonderful acting during the finale of the second act. Don Basilio was funnily performed by Krystian Adam who also made a fine impression.
Carlo Lepore sang a very strong Bartolo with a very powerfull voice that sounded wonderfull, especially during his Vendetta aria during the first act. He upgraded his role vocally (if you can say that).
Once more I saw Dame Ann Murray as Marcellina and like one month ago at the Salzburg festival she did not fail to convince me. It is magnificent that her voice still has such quality and power. She did not seem weak or tired at all. Once again she proves that female singers are definitely able to be singing on a high level in their sixties.
A wonderful highlight for me was Kate Lindsey who I just saw exactly one month ago as Dido at the Salzburg festival. Now she sang the role of Cherubino and sounded marvelously once more. Her voice has such a warm and smooth timbre that everything she sings sounds like coming from heaven. But not just her singing was great, also her acting. She totally filled the character with life and was responsible for some of the evening's best jokes.
Stéphane Degout sang a very appropriate Count Almaviva with his very noble baritone voice. I would say that the timbre of his voice is just perfect for this role. He sounds noble, strict and passionate at the same time and his acting (especially his mimic) was wonderful as well. He sang his role really elegantly and did not fail to impress the audience at all.
His wife, the Countess, was performed by American soprano Ellie Dehn who gave her debut at ROH. The role of the Countess is very difficult because the role calls for a soprano with enough volume and maturity while having a very light and clear upper register. Dehn definitely has those abilities and sang a remarkable Countess. Her phrasing was so clear and beautiful that I was wishing to hear her arias once more again after she finished them.
Also a pleasure to hear was Anita Hartig as Susanna. She has a very strong light voice and a very beautiful crystal clear timbre. Her whole interpretation was nearly perfect with wonderful phrasing and very exact singing. Her performance was really exemplary and displayed many lovely details of her character. Like most other soloists she also showed some acting talent.
Her husband Figaro was performed by Erwin Schrott who I finally heard live now! He is such a stage animal with his marvelous acting and the phenomenal singing. Schrott definitely is one of the persons that can catch an audience with every little move they do and in addition he is able to fullfill the musical requirements in a thrilling way as well. His voice is very strong and everything seems to be very easy when he sings and still his voice seems to be very flexible. He is able to display a wide range of colors with his voice and his performance is best discribed by calling it excellent.
The vocal quality of the performance was even better than the one of the Salzburg festival this summer and impressed me a lot. But not just the singing was great, also the acting of the main protagonists was so convincing that one did not have the feeling that one is sitting in a theatre but being right there in the Count's palace!
I genuinely enjoyed the evening (even though I had to stand the whole performance) and so I would give the performance 9 stars!

Giuseppe Verdi, Ernani - Salzburger Festspiele, Großes Festspielhaus

Performance 29th August

As final performance of this year's festival I attended the concert performance of Verdi's Ernani. The performance was led by Riccardo Muti, who is probably the best choice for Verdi. His performances of Verdi operas at the Salzburg festival of those last few years were all really exceptional and so was Ernani. He has a natural sense for the melodies and the musical form of those operas. His young orchestra, the orchestra giovanile Luigi Cherubini, is a great highligh as well for those young musicians play so thrillingly that every small theme in the orchestra becomes a small victory. Everything was played exactly as it should and so a big part of the evening was already bound to be successfull. Also the short backstage appearance of the Mozarteumorchester was fine and lovely played.
The Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor did a fine job as well even though they definitely had better performances this year. They sometimes did not seem totally together and I had the feeling that they did not have enough time to fully inhale the score.
In the smaller roles we heard Gianfranco Montresor, Antonello Ceron and Simge Büyükedes as Jago, Don Riccardo and Giovanna. Especially Büyükedes impressed me a lot for she had a very beautiful dark voice with a warm timbre and actually looked more noble than Donna Elvira.
Don Carlo was sung by Luca Salsi with a profound and very aggressive baritone voice. The timbre of the voice suited the future Emperor quite well and his portrayal was really ravishing and full of emotion.
My personal highlight of the evening was Ildar Abdrazakov as Silva. His huge bass voice has a very dark and profound timbre. He was able to put all the evilness of his character into his singing and gave a genuinely brilliant performance. His phrasing and his interpretation show great musical intellect and I enjoyed every minute of his singing. Bravo!
Vittoria Yeo sang Donna Elvira and did a good job. She managed to sing it appropriately but I also do have to say that she definitely does not really have the perfect voice for it. The problem of Donna Elvira is that it actually is a very low role that also calls for a light and easy higher register. A dramatic coloratura with lyric qualities would be the perfect cast. Yeo managed the coloraturas without any problems but in the lower parts she seemed not to be totally comfortable. Anyway her performance was still really good.
Italian tenor Francesco Meli sang the title part and was great as well. He found the perfect balance between the contrasting lyric and dramatic parts of this role. His phrasing was great and he definitely understands what it means to bring life to a role. His stamina is huge (I do have to say that I sat in the front, but you could tell that his voice filled the auditorium) and actually I sometimes had the feeling that he sang too loud. He seemed to switch between two levels: loud and extremely loud. If he did work a little bit on dynamics he would definitely be able to do a perfect performance.
I really enjoyed the whole performance and liked the opera very much even though the plot is complete nonsense (like most Verdi plots). The quality of the singers and the orchestra was marvelous and so I would give Ernani 8 stars.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier - Salzburger Festspiele, Großes Festspielhaus

Performance 26th August

As a little update of last year's performance of this production I will just write a few words about new singers and some highlights (for the whole review of last year look at "August 2014").
Franz Welser-Möst and the Wiener Philharmoniker sounded magnificently this year (I really do not know what is different this year) and improved a lot compared to last year. I enjoyed the whole performance a lot this year.
New in the production (besides many small roles) was Andeka Gorrotxategi as the Italian singer. I liked his performance way better than last year's singer because his voice was strong and sounded elegantly and very youthfully.
Also new in the cast was Golda Schultz as Sophie. She replaced Mojca Erdmann who was not able to convince last year. Schultz on the other hand sang marvelously and had a great success in this role. Her gleaming clear light soprano is strong enough to fill the house and she sounded deligthfully. Her acting sometimes seemed exaggerated but the overall impression was lovely. She definitely made the whole casting stellar. BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO!
Krassimira Stoyanova was also able to convince again and seemed even more secure this year. Her performance seemed more natural and her voice sounded clearly and beautifully.
Sophie Koch also did a fine job even though I had the feeling that she was not totally fit this evening. Nevertheless she showed that she still is one of the best Octavians out there.
My personal highlight was Günther Groissböck who this time did not fight a cold. Last year he sang totally impressively even with a cold. This year it was just not from this world. He sang the optional low c in the first act and everything just sounded powerfully, classy and kind of dangerously as well. His interpretation improved over the last year and made his performance perfect. He definitely is the Ochs of our days and will be first choice for the next decade in this role.
After giving the production 9 stars last year I now feel like I have to give it 10 this year for they worked out every deficit and managed to bring a perfect performance on stage.

Jules Massenet, Werther - Salzburger Festspiele, Großes Festspielhaus

Performance 22nd August

Another concert performance was Massenet's opera with a mezzo as female lead based on a novel by Goethe. Due to personal reasons Elina Garanca (who was originally planned to sing Charlotte) had to cancel her involvement but the festival managed to find another Diva to jump in.
The Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg was led by Alejo Pérez who might not have been the perfect choice for french opera. It was ok but sometimes I missed the diversity of colors which is so typical for french opera. Nevertheless the orchestra gave a fine performance with a nice balance between dramatic outbursts and delicate melodies.
In the smaller roles we heard Ruben Drole (Johan) with a very gentle warm baritone voice, Martin Zysset (Schmidt) with a light clear tenor and Giorgio Surian as Charlotte's father (Le Bailli) with a profound dark bass voice.
Daniel Schmutzhard sang a very elegant and noble Albert with his lovely baritone voice. It has a youthful and heroic color with a warm smooth timbre. His phrasing was very tastefull and showed great musical intelligence.
A personal highlight for me was Elena Tsallagova as Sophie. Not just does she look enormously elegantly, she also sings most delicately with a lovely light soprano which has quite some power. Every phrase she sings sounds extraordinarily gently and her whole performance was just marvelously.
The diva replacement for the role of Charlotte was Angela Gheorghiu who is quite the personification of a diva. Already during her first appearance one had the feeling that she thought the opera was called Charlotte and not Werther. Nevertheless she gave a brilliant performance even though this role definitely calls for a mezzo soprano. During the lower parts of the role she sometimes had issues with the volume. Her performance was lovely and the audience was very thankfull for such a wonderful replacement.
The main attraction of the evening was the protagonist, who was sung by Piotr Beczala. His strong and gentle tenor voice is on the top of its possibilities. The timbre of his voice is probably best described as warm, youthfull and noble. He sang his role so elegantly and intensively that the whole performance was just ravishing. His high notes seemed quite effortless and sounded so purely.
The whole evening lasted quite long (it started at 9pm and finished at midnight) but was quite a success with delightful singing and a great cast. So I give Werther in Salzburg 9 stars.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Henry Purcell, Dido and Aeneas - Salzburger Festspiele, Felsenreitschule

Performance 18th August

One of my highlights of this summer was a concert version (at least they announced it as a concert version) of Purcell's only real opera and I was looking forward to it with thrilling anticipation. In the end they made a very reduced production which had an enormous impact. Concept and direction were made by conductor Thomas Hengelbrock. Costumes and staging were made by Florence von Gerkan. The whole production was very minimalistic but very elegant and extremely emotional. The whole scenery with the arcades of the Felsenreitschule were magnificent and looked marvelously together with the staging.
Musically Thomas Hengelbrock and the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble were playing so brilliantly that one was just blown away by the wonderful music. Everything sounded so delicately and tastefull. But even the wilder parts were thrilling and ravishing. The Balthasar Neumann Chor also was just breathtaking perfect. The several choir parts sounded exceptionally and I could not imagine it being performed better. Especially during the last scene, when the choir joined the ensemble in the orchestra pit (where there were no lights on anymore) and just the arcades and four fire bowls enlightend the stage the effect was genuinely breathtaking (almost literally).
In the smaller roles Hermann Oswald convinced as a drunk and reckless sailor. Marion Eckstein sang the Second Witch and the Spirit with her lovely dark and warm voice. Anne Bierwirth let us hear her strong dark alto voice in the role of the First Witch. Agnes Kovacs gave a very beautiful sounding second woman with a very beautiful soprano.
Katja Stuber as Belinda also was a very delightful casting choice. Her light beautiful soprano is clear like a bell and sounded heavenly. Also her diction was impressive for you were able to understand almost everything she sang.
 A great highlight for me was actress Johanna Wokalek as Sorceress. Wokalek wrote several new texts which were added before, during and after the opera. Those texts explained the figure of the sorceress a little bit better and fitted perfectly into the whole piece. Wokalek did not actually sing her role in the usual operatic style but with her normal voice. Now I have to admit that I was a little surprised when she began to sing, but in fact her intontation was perfect and I thought that the cold rough timbre of her voice suited the role perfectly. Afterwards I had to admit that the idea was just marvelous and the effect totally worked out.
As Aeneas we heard british baritone Benedict Nelson who I personally liked the least. He sang well but I often wished that his singing would be clearer. It was not because of his voice, more a matter of style. I thought Purcell calls for clarity and pure tone. Nevertheless he gave a fine performance, I just liked the other soloists more.
Dido was sung by mezzosoprano Kate Lindsey whose voice is very clear and pure. Her singing seemed so natural and honest! Sometimes she sang so gently that you almost had to stop breathing to hear her (and I mean that in the most positive was!!). You could genuinely hear the pain and agony of her character in her singing. Her Lamento was not from this world and almost got me crying. Especially when the four fire bowls went out exactly at the end of the piece.
After all I can say that this probably was the best performance I saw for years!! Everything worked out perfectly together. They relinquished all the opulence and decadence of the late baroque and showed the opera in her real shape: a dramatic piece that displays human emotions and feelings so convincingly that it hits the audience right in their heart. Therefore this performance of Purcell's opera gets full 10 stars (a pity they just played it only once). BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO!!

Monday, 24 August 2015

Richard Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer - Bayreuther Festspiele

Performance 15th August

My final evening in Bayreuth took place with a performance of the first Wagner opera I ever heard: the flying dutchman. I did have a very cheap seat, so I did not see much of the stage (which probably was not a bad thing at all). Jan Philipp Gloger's production is quite boring and it would not have made a difference if they had played it without production. Christof Hetzer's staging looked funny and interesting from time to time but not more. Karin Jud's costumes also were boring and seemed thoughtlessly.
Conductor Axel Kober and the Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele gave a marvelous performance with extreme accuracy and exemplary phrasing. The orchestra played so accentuated and accurately that the results were thrilling. The Chor der Bayreuther Festspiele was even better. For me the choir was one of the highlights with their several famous scenes. They performed really magnificently and especially the great choir scene at the beginning of the third act was marvelous.
Benjamin Bruns gave a strong performance as Steuermann with his powerful light tenor voice. His timbre is a mix of heroic and youthful and worked perfectly in this role. Christa Mayer once again gave a solid performance in the small role of Mary (what a luxurious choice once more). This time her lower register and her agility fitted wonderfully into the vocal requirements of the role. Her acting was lovely and cute.
Tomislav Mužek sang the role of Erik ( I already heard him in this role in Dresden in June). Still I think that he is not yet ready for this role. I often think that Erik is casted with voices that are too light and not dramatic enough. If you study the score it is clear that the role calls for a dramatic tenor with a youthful timbre. Mužek might become a good Erik but for now I think he should sing lighter repertoire.
Daland was sung by Kwangchul Youn who has a strong profound bass voice with a very dark and serious timbre. I probably liked him best because his performance was more than solid and he was able to portray his character very appropriately.
Ricarda Merbeth sang Senta and showed that this role is more difficult than most people might think. Merbeth hit every note and her diction was very clear (even though it sounded weird from time to time). But to sing Wagner means more than just hit the right notes. You could clearly hear that her voice is not dramatic enough and her acting is just hidious. Very often she showed that she is not able to sing the very accentuated dramatic parts of the role appropriately. She should go on singing roles of the lyric-dramatic fach because that is where her voice belongs.
The title role was performed by Samuel Youn who also hit all notes without problems, but I missed the interpretation. For me he is not a real dutchman because he was not able to deliver the character appropriately. Normally one should fear this strange creepy character but Youn was not able to fill the role with life.
I was a little bit disappointed by the casting but had a nice evening anyway (thanks to orchestra and choir). There is space for improvement when it comes to casting in Bayreuth (as well as the productions). I still enjoyed it and give 8 stars to the performance.

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde - Bayreuther Festspiele

Performance 13th August

My second Bayreuth journey started with a performance of the new production of Tristan and Isolde (my third Tristan production within approximately 1 1/2 months). The highly anticipated production was responsible for several small scandals concerning the casting of Isolde.
The production led by Wagner descendant Katharina Wagner was very intersting and featured some details really worth seeing. The stage was made by Frank Philipp Schlößmann and Matthias Lippert and looked really marvelously. Especially the crazy staircase scenery during the first act depicted the hopelessness of the loving pair incredibly well. Also the costumes by Thomas Kaiser looked great and very elegant. Especially Isolde's blue coat was a real eye catcher.
Musically Christian Thielemann, the Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele and the Chor der Bayreuther Festspiele were magnificent. Thielemann made me hear details I never heard before and especially the special Bayreuth acoustics made it sound even more mysterious and mystic. I never heard Tristan and Isolde being played  so dramatically and intensively before.
Most of the singers also sang on a very high niveau and convinced me. Tansel Akzeybek sang both the young sailsman and the sheppard and sounded lovely with his light and beautiful bright tenor voice. So did Kay Stiefermann in the small role of the helmsman.
As Melot Raimund Nolte was a very strong casting choice with a very strong but still clear voice. His diction was exemplary and I thought it was a pity that his part was not longer.
Iain Paterson also gave a strong performance with a very powerful heroic baritone voice. I personally liked the different colors of his voice and he definitely knew how to use it properly. Also his acting was very good and made especially the third act more interesting to me than usually.
Christa Mayer sang Isolde's maid Brangäne with a strong beautiful voice. Her upper register sometimes seems a little bit uncontrolled (only a bit) but her phrasing and the whole interpretation were really enjoyable. If she had a broader lower register it would have been perfect but still it was a luxurious casting choice.
Georg Zeppenfeld once again convinced me, this time as King Marke. His profound dark bass voice is perfect for this role. I loved his acting which depicted Marke not as the poor victim but as an evil heartless tyrant. I wonder if there is a role in which he could not convince me...
Isolde, which was the main subject of this year's scandals in Bayreuth, was now performed by Evelyn Herlitzius (before Eva-Maria Westbroek and Anja Kampe were scheduled to perform it). I really do not like Herlitzius and I was very disappointed when she jumped in. Nevertheless I think we have to be thankfull that she did and she obviously is not disliked by everyone. I still think that she is just loud and her phrasing is horrible. Her first high b during the first act was totally off tune, as well as the first high c during the second act. She always shortens longer notes and teares phrases apart because of that. In my opinion she should stop singing those roles (maybe she can still sing Elektra, which would still work with this voice).
The main highlight for me was Stephen Gould as Tristan. I do not care about the tenors normally, but Gould was just phenomenal in this role. He seemed not to have any problems with the high parts of the role but also the lower parts were strong. I think at the moment there is no better Tristan (except maybe Peter Seiffert) but this was a performance on the highest level.
I personally liked the performance very much and thought that Katharina Wagner did a good job. Of course not everything was perfect but it surely was a solid performance. I give Bayreuth's new Tristan 9 stars.