Thursday, 29 December 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, Macbeth - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 27th December

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

Giuseppe Verdi, Falstaff - Landestheater Linz, Musiktheater

Performance 26th December

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

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Engelbert Humperdinck, Hänsel und Gretel - Landestheater Linz, Musiktheater

Performance 25th December

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

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, La forza del destino - Theater Basel

Performance 16th December

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

Saturday, 17 December 2016

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

Performance 15th December

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

Friday, 16 December 2016

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

Performance 14th December

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

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Idomeneo - Salzburger Landestheater

Premiere performance 4th December

The second opera performance of this season at the Landestheater in Salzburg features one of my favorite Mozart operas and one that is too rarely performed. Idomeneo was written before all the big famous operas and was composed for the court in Munich. It is clearly inspired by French opera with the very important choir parts and the highly dramatic plot. The opera is an enormously interesting piece with thrilling dramaturgy and an intensive display of complex characters and their relations. The new production in Salzburg was led by director Arila Siegert who has a background in dance. I was actually a bit disappointed by her work because I expected an interpretation that is more intensive and especially plays more with the performativity of the characters. Most of it was very conventional and did not really have a thrilling effect. An exception was the placement of the choir which worked out way better most of the time. Especially during the dramatic big choir scenes the choreography of the choir achieved a great effect. Definitely the most interesting part of the production was the stage by Hans-Dieter Schaal. The plain and cold stage created a highly charged atmosphere and the easy changes of the stage simply made a good impression. The costumes by Marie-Luise Strandt were nice to look at mostly but did not have the same effect as the stage. In my opinion the costumes did not really tell anything about the characters and therefor they were not really crucial most of the time.
A real highlight of the performance was Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducting the performance. Not only does she look really elegant while conducting, she also gives an enormously professional impression. Her cues and her technique are totally clear and actually nice to look at. But not only technically she did a great job, but also musically. Her energetic conducting caused a highly explosive performance full of passion and intensity. The Mozarteumorchester Salzburg definitely lived up to its patron saint and played wonderfully. They sounded brilliant and gave a performance full of contrasts and balance at the same time. But not only the orchestra, also the Chor (und Extrachor) des Salzburger Landestheaters did a great job this time. The important choir parts of the opera were marvelous and showed that there is great potential within the choir. Let's hope that they will be able to keep that level.
The soloists of the evening gave a good impression most of the time. Franz Supper as Grand Sacerdote was reliable as always with his clear and focused tenor voice. He did not have much to sing but he sang his lines with great devotion.
Emilio Pons as Arbace stayed a bit pale through the evening. While having a beautiful light tenor voice he did not really convince with this role. Sometimes he simply did not seem totally appropriate for this very role.
As Elettra we heard Meredith Hoffmann-Thomson who has a very strong dramatic voice that sometimes has a tendency to sound edgy from time to time. She was able to convey the drama of her role very well and her first aria (Tutte nel cor) was really impressive. Unfortunately the probably most famous aria of the whole opera (D'Oreste, d'Ajace) was simply cut away (more about that later) and so she could not give us the dramatic finale we were waiting for.
In the role of Ilia Lavinia Bini sang with a full-bodied lyric voice that sometimes seemed already to full for this role. While her performance really did not have any flaw I just felt that Ilia should sound even lighter and have more lightness in the voice. I could imagine Bini as a wonderful Pamina, but Ilia is maybe already too light for her.
Probably the most amazing vocal performance of the evening was accomplished by Sophie Rennert as Idamante. I do not even know what to write because I simply cannot imagine this role to be sung any better. Her creamy balanced mezzo has a very warm lower register and a creamy bright upper register. Her voice is flexible, her diction was fine and her acting very commited. I can only say: BRAVA!
Finally the title role of Idomeneo was sung by Bernhard Berchtold who jumped in for Christoph Strehl who was not able to sing. However Strehl acted the role while Berchtold sang the role from the side of the stage. Berchtold did a solid job with the role. His light voice has a very bright and clear timbre, but could be a little bit more powerful. The performance was not exceptionally good but also not bad and everyone was simply thankful that he jumped in in such short time.
Before I give my rating I have to make the cut of Elettra's aria the subject of the discussion once again. I do not know who is responsible for this action, but I think it is a really severe intervention to cut this aria which really is one of the highlights of the score. After this I hope they will not cut the aria of the queen of the night next time they do Zauberflöte... you never know...
Alltogether I have to say (except of this terrible cut) the evening was very enjoyable and surprisingly well done.I have not heard such qualitative singing in a production of the Salzburger Landestheater for quite some time and I hope this is the first step into a better casting policy in the future. Therefor I am happy to give 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Engelbert Humperdinck, Königskinder - Semperoper Dresden

Performance 30th November

The final performance of my marathon took place in the beautiful Semperoper in Dresden and was another work that I have not seen live before. Humperdinck's Königskinder shares many details with his famous Hänsel und Gretel but definitely is more serious and sober. The music is not as simple as in Hänsel und Gretel and the whole plot is definitely not really a children's fairytale. Especially the third act is truly heartbreaking with its straight and sad message.
The production in Dresden was led by Jetske Mijnssen who did a nice job with a very naturalistic and reasonable direction. She was able to really show the emotions and relations between the characters without making it too obvious. Everything always seemed very natural and understandable.I especially liked the children acting as the many animals in the house of the witch. I thought it was a lovely idea that really worked marvelously. The stage and the costumes by Christian Schmidt also supported the plot effectively and looked beautiful. Optically the production always gave a very elegant and refined impression.
Musically the evening was led by Thomas Rösner who showed the many interesting details of the colourful score with intensive passion. He brought out many different shades of the music and kept everything in elegant balance. The Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden once again did a great job and played the score excitingly and enjoyed the rousing music. Especially the tragic music in the third act with all its emotion and tragedy sounded lovely and was really touching. Also the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden gave a solid performance with fine inner balance and good accuracy during the second act.
While there are only a few bigger roles there are several smaller roles that sometimes just have a few sentences to sing. Most of these most roles were performed solidly without any issues. I will only focus on the main roles and therefor skip the smaller roles.
The roles of the woodchopper and the broom-maker were sung by Michael Eder and Tom Martinsen. Eder's dark and profound bass voice suited the role very well and sounded rough and bossy. Martinsen's light tenor has a very light and focused timbre which also worked very well with that role.
Tichina Vaughn as witch was definitely a highlight. Her profound and dramatic voice was simply marvelous to listen to. While having a very dramatic quality in her voice it still has a very beautiful soft and even timbre. It was a pity that she did not have more to sing after the first act because I would have loved to her more of her.
Same is valid for Christoph Pohl who performed the role of the mistrel. His elegant and incredibly beautiful baritone voice is simply magnificent. The noble timbre of his voice together with his highly tasteful phrasing make his performance really wonderful. I am always impressed by the balance and the even transitions between his registers. It really was a pleasure to listen to him.
The male protagonist, the son of the king, was sung by Daniel Behle who also has a very beautiful voice. His youthful tenor voice has a very lyrical quality on the one hand and also already a dramatic timbre on the other hand. He definitely is one of the greatest tenor hopes of the present. I could imagine him as a very good Lohengrin already and he will sing David in Bayreuth next year. His performance was really touching and showed great artistry.
Finally Barbara Senator sang the female lead, the goose girl, with a fullbodied soprano that has a very clear and shiny upper register. Her voice is very youthful and has a bright and pleasing timbre which suited the role of the young naive girl quite well. Her performance was simply lovely and did not fail to convince with a great voice and good acting skills.
Alltogether it was a solid performance with some really good performances and simply lovely music. Especially the sad third act really touched me and almost made me shed a tear. Therefor I give 8 stars to this beautiful production and really entertaining evening.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Giacomo Meyerbeer, Les Huguenots - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 29th November

At the moment we experience a new renaissance of the great French Grand Opéra and the Deutsche Oper Berlin is regularly bringing up new productions of that genre. After Dinorah and Vasco da Gama they now put Meyerbeer's most famous opera on the stage. Widely known, rarely performed. That is the fate of Les Huguenots which is a huge epic piece of Wagnerian dimensions. It really deserves the name of a Grand Opéra with all its big choir scenes, lush scenery and highly demanding roles. Even though the incredible amount of repetitions and coloratura passages is sometimes a bit tiring, the incredible drive of the ensemble scenes and the elaborated melodies is simply impressive and it was a genuinely exciting evening.
The production led by David Alden is really magnificent. He knew how to create an utterly exiciting performance from the very first note to the very last one. The way he conducts the characters around the stage and delivers their emotions and the drama of the plot was so well done that it was just thrilling to watch. His intensive understanding of the roles and their relations in combination with the marvelous stage (Giles Cadle) and the beautiful costumes (Constance Hoffman) worked out incredibly well. The sceneries were smartly put together and created a very convincing and touching atmosphere. As did the costumes that really looked amazing with great sense for the characterisation of the different roles.
But not only optically the production was able to convince, also the musical part was mindblowing. Michele Mariotti conducted the ravishing score with great passion, precise accuracy and highly rousing drive. I did not see much of him from my place, but what I saw was really refined conducting technique. His cues and his whole conducting looked very clear and controlled. The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin followed his lead almost perfectly and gave a ravishing performance full of passion and wonderful contrasts. No matter if the music was dramatic, soft or sweeping, the orchestra always hit the right tone and simply played marvelously. In a great French opera the choir has a big part as well of course. The Chor (und Extrachor) der Deutschen Oper Berlin were in perfect shape and performed the demanding choir part without any problems. I have not heard this choir so balanced for quite some time.
The sheer amount of different roles is quite a challenge for every house, but the Deutsche Oper easily found appropriate singers for all of them. Due to the fact that there are so many of them I will only point out the most important ones (which is already quite a lot anyway). However even the smallest roles were performed on a very very high level.
I definitely have to mention Irene Roberts who sang the role of the page Urbain. I do not know why but pages always seem to have very interesting roles even thought their characters are not crucial for the plot. Roberts sang this highly demanding role with ease and lovely joy of playing. Her warm and soft mezzo showed great power and flexibility. She definitely did a wonderful job with that cheeky role.
Marc Barrard sang the role of the Count Nevers. His baritone suited this style of French opera very well. The voice is strong and focused, but also has a very slender and clear timbre. He sang and played the role really convincingly and was a good casting choice without doubt.
As Count Saint-Bris we had the pleasure to hear Seth Carico who gave a wonderful performance. His virile imposing baritone voice was very impressive. His noble heroic timbre conveyed the details of his character marvelously and his whole performance was more than solid.
The role of Marcel was sung by Ante Jerkunica. His dark and profound bass voice also was quite impressive. The power of his voice together with the threatening timbre suited his character very well. In combination with the solemnity of his choral-like songs it created a great and intensive effect.
Patrizio Ciofi was singing the role of the Queen, Marguerite de Valois. She managed the many coloratura passages and the great range of the role well, even though everything seemed very risky to me. Her voice tends to sound rather thin and she seems to need a lot of body movement to accomplish the demands of the role. Her singing always seems dangerously close to screaming and to her losing her voice. However she managed to get through the whole thing with dignity. She did not really convince me, but it genuinely was no bad performance.
However Olesya Golovneva did not fail to convince me in the role of Valentine. Her voice has a very dark and soft timbre and a wonderful balance between the registers. She managed all the low and high parts of the role without problems and sounded lovely throughout the evening. Her performance was very convincing and definitely is showing great talent. I never heard her name before, but I will definitely remember it now after this really glorious performance.
Finally the male protagonists, Raoul de Nangis, was sung by famous tenor Juan Diego Flórez. What can I say, his bright tenor has a very light and clear timbre, but also the power and the easy top that is required for this role. He through around with his famous high notes, but also did not fail to really touch with his performance. His voice seemed to have grown over the last few years and possesses a very heroic quality in his timbre now. I genuinely could not imagine this role to be sung better by anyone at the moment and I am sure he will go on being highly successful with it in the near future whereever he will perform it.
I think it is clear that this was a spectacular evening with great music, impressive staging and a simply heartbreaking story. The success shows that the Deutsche Oper is doing the right thing with reviving the Grand Opéra and they already announced that they will have a production of Meyerbeer's Le Prophet next season. I can only say that this seems to be the right choice after this wonderful production of Les Huguenots. Therefor I give 9 stars to this epic performance with all its glory.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Giacomo Puccini, Turandot - Oper Leipzig

Performance 27th November

As second part of my Leipzig trip and opera no. 4 of my november opera marathon I attended a performance of Puccini's final opera in the new production in Leipzig. The production is led by director Balázs Kovalik who transferred the plot into a futuristic regime. This idea worked out really well and during the whole evenin Kovalik elaborated this admittedly weird plot into a understandable and touching story. Kovalik showed great understanding of the characters and their unique relation with eachother. He was able to bring out the emotional content of the plot and managed to create a really impressive production. The spectacular stage by Heike Scheele helped a lot to support the central idea of the production with its futuristic honeycomb design and the smartly placed paths within the scenery. The costumes by Sebastian Ellrich sometimes looked a bit weird but also suited to the futuristic placement of the plot.
Matthias Foremny led a muscially truly impressive evening with sheer power as well as delicate fragility. He worked out the ruthless brutality of the score and also the beautiful vocal lines that are so typical for Puccini. The Gewandhausorchester did a great job playing the music with intensive power without being too brutal or unmusical at any time. It was a real pleasure to hear the magnificent contrast between huge moments and wonderfully delicate parts of the score. Also the Chor der Oper Leipzig was amazing and managed the highly demanding choir part of the opera very well. No matter if the sweet cantilenes to the moon or the excitement when the executioner comes (including a high c sharp for the sopranos!!), they always sounded brilliantly clear and balanced.
After his lovely performance in Lucia di Lammermoor the day before Sehong Chang was able to convince once again as a mandarin. His huge dignified bass voice suited the role magnificently and it was a pleasure to listen to him. Also the three ministers Ping, Pang & Pong, sung by Jürgen Kurth, Dan Karlström and Patrick Vogel sounded very good. The highly ironic parts of these characters were brought out very well and the beginning of act 2 was very entertaining.
Martin Petzold as emperor Altoum did not really convince and seemed not totally comfortable with the role. I had the feeling that it did not really suit his voice even though he did not have any serious issues. It was just a matter of suitability of the role.
Randall Jakobsh was an impressive Timur with a powerful and solemn voice that was full of radiance. His curse after Liú's death literally gave me goosebumps and was simply marvelous. I was truly ipressed by the sheer power and the elegance that he was spreading at the same time.
Speaking of Liú, her role was performed by Olena Tokar who has the most gorgeous soprano voice one could wish for. Her light lyric timbre and her beautiful phrasing were really magnificent and I was truly touched by her performance. Even though she already gave a truly wonderful performance I think that her Liú will grow even bigger and more impressive with years coming. So I would love to hear her again in this role in the near future.
The male lead was performed by Leonardo Caimi who also gave a flawless performance. He has everything the role calls for: power, the bright top and the stamina to endure this demanding role until the very last note. His strong, bright tenor voice has a very elegant and focused timbre and a seemingly easy top. His "Nessun dorma" was marvelous and showed that he is a first-class performer who really has the voice for such a role.
Finally the title role of Turandot was sung by dramatic soprano Jennifer Wilson who was a stunning heroine. She needed some time at the beginning to warm up but once she was ready she simply through around with high b flats, bs and cs like a laserbeam. Without any problems she managed to manoeuvre through this highly dangerous role and convinced with a steely focused dramatic voice that does not fear any highnotes at all. Brava, simply brava!
Alltogether it was a brilliant performance that gave me goosebumps several times. If you have the chance to see it: GO! It is definitely worth the journey to Leipzig and therefor I give 9 stars to the futuristic Turandot of Leipzig.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Monday, 28 November 2016

Gaetano Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor - Oper Leipzig

Premiere performance 26th November

For day 3 of my november opera marathon I chose the premiere performance of Donizetti's bloodcurdling story which is based on Walter Scott's "The bride of Lammermoor". The production suffered a severe setback last week due to an accident of the female protagonist who suffered a ligament rupture. The Oper Leipzig has my greatest respect for reacting immediately and changing the production together with director Katharina Thalbach. Lucia now sang from a wheelchair most of the time and was driven around by Thalbach herself as the appearance of her death mother / witch / whatever. This worked out pretty well and actually suited the story quite interestingly. Thalbach's staging was quite conservative in general and showed a very naturalistic approach. Unfortunately it also ended up being a bit boring everynow and then. The production did not really succed to thrill the audience totally. The beautiful stage by Momme Röhrbein looked really amazing with the naturalistic display of a Scottish landscape. Also the historic costumes by Angelika Rieck (including kilts) gave a lovely impression and suited the roles.
Anthony Bramall led the musical part of the evening and conducted a very slim and clear version of the score with great sense for the support of the singers and the beautiful belcanto lines. The Gewandhausorchester Leipzig played with great passion and marvelous unity. The orchestra was able to create the wonderful tension of the beautiful phrases that simply carried away the audience. The Chor der Oper Leipzig also gave a good performance with a very balanced elegant sound and clear accuracy during the great ensemble scenes.
In the smaller roles of Normanno, Alisa and Lord Arturo Buchlaw we heard Dan Karlström, Sandra Janke and Sergei Pisarev. Karlström and Pisarev convinced with clear and flexible tenor voices, while Janke's mezzo voice sometimes could have been more flexible. however she did good job with the role.
In the role of the priest Raimondo Sejong Chang knew how to convince the audience with his mighty dark voice. His timbre has great radiance and the required dignity for the role and that is why he earned a lot of applause for his truly fine performance in the end.
Lucia's evil brother, Lord Enrico Ashton, was performed by Mathias Hausmann who doubtlessly gave the performance of the evening. His flexible and sonorous baritone voice has such a beautiful timbre and his highly musical phrasing suited the role perfectly. He showed great understanding of the belcanto techniques and was able to give a really convincing performance.
Tenor Antonio Poli as Edgardo di Ravenswood unfortunately was not able to convince as impressively as Hausmann. Poli sang the role without any serious issues, but failed to show real passion for the role. His acting was dreadful and of such a mannered style that it simply did not appear seriously anymore. His cheesy operatic gestures looked like a parody of an opera performance and seemed really inappropriate. Even though his vocal performance was pleasing and showed a decent voice he did not really convince during this performance.
The title role was sung by young soprano Anna Virovlansky who did a great job despite her handicap. Her voice is flexible, well balanced and has a relatively dark timbre for this role. She sang her lines very beautifully with great passion and commitment. Only the very top notes always seemed a bit uncomfortable and were cut short. I personally think that this is not a role that suits her voice very well. She manages the part without any serious issues and is able to impress with her coloratura but it simply does not seem totally appropriate. Nevertheless it is highly thankworthy and impressive that she sang this highly demanding role after her accident and that endurance definitely earned her standing ovations after the performance.
Alltogether an entertaining evening that was wether really good nor really bad, but simply a lovely evening with great music and a solid performance. Therefor I give 7 stars to the new production of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Oper Leipzig.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, Un ballo in Maschera - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 25th November

Being back in Berlin for an intensive week of operas I also attended the Verdi opera about the assassination of King Gustaf of Sweden. The production is still a remain of the times of Götz Friedrich who was responsible for it. Being almost 23 years old the production still does not fail to convince with great conduct of the plot with all its drama. Friedrich understood how to accomplish great effects with little effort and fill the evening with subtle details. The stage and the costumes were created by Gottfried Pilz and Isabel Ines Glathar. Both looked beautiful and especially the great finale with the ball worked really well with the elegant costumes, but also the abbandoned scenery for the love duet with its skulls and the horrifying lonliness was very effectful.
The musical lead was done by Ido Arad who conducted the detailed spirited score very elegantly with great sense for phrasing and supporting the singers. Sometimes he could have worked out the contrasts a little bit more, but alltogether he showed great musicality. The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin followed his lead wonderfully and played passionately and very accurately. Everything sounded very nice and pleasing. Also the Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin sounded great and sang brilliantly with elegance and great sway.
The smaller roles were sang by Simon Pauly (Christian, the sailor), Gideon Poppe (the senior judge) and Robert Watson (a servant). All three of them did a very appropriate job with solid vocal performances. The two villains Count Horn (Florian Spiess) and Count Ribbing (Ben Wager) also sounded great with their dark profound voices. Their laughing scene in the third scene was simply lovely to watch with their highly ironic behaviour.
The role of Oscar seemed to have more importance than in usual production which I think is more than appropriate. Especially when sung by Heidi Stober who has a gorgeous soprano voice. She managed the jumpy lines without any problems and was simply a very very good choice for the role. Her clear timbre and the flexibility of her voice are simply perfect for this quite demanding role that has a very prominent role in this opera.
Also the role of Ulrika, the fortune teller, is a very important role even though she does only have one scene. Ronnita Miller also seemed a perfect choice for this special role. Her profound and dark voice suited the wisewoman wonderfully. She really had this diabolic radiance that is important for the second scene. Miller really made the audience shiver with her utterly exciting and convincing performance
The first protagonist of the love triangle was Roman Burdenko as Renato. His baritone voice is a mix of lyrical and also quite heroic qualities which worked very well with that role. He played the seemingly betrayed husband very well and his elegant timbre helped to convey his character through the music.
His wife Amelia was sung by recent Tucker Award Winner Tamara Wilson who was my main interest this evening. Her powerful voice combines power, vocal beauty and a very smooth transition between her registers. Her shiny clear top was as impressive as her dark and warm lower voice. She gave a really refined performance and seemed not to be bothered by any difficulties of the role at all. I hope she will be careful with her instrument because she is definitely a voice that is made for this kind of roles. I would love to see her in some Wagner and I really hope that she will be around more often in Europe.
The protagonist, King Gustaf, was sung by Korean tenor Yosep Kang who also is one of the great tenors of our time. His powerful clear tenor has everything you could wish for. He is not afraid of any high notes and not only his singing but also his acting is simply marvelous. He sang and played so passionately that it was a joy to watch him. He performs with such ease that one could believe that it is not that difficult at all. I can only say it is always a pleasure to hear him.
Alltogether it was a great night with great drama, wonderful singing and a genuinely convincing production. That is why I can give 9 stars without any doubt. Bravo!
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde - Oper Graz

Performance 20th November

As second part of my weekend in Graz I saw the new production of Richard Wagner's epic love story between Tristan and Isolde. An opera that never fails to get my attention with its drug-like impact. The production led by Verena Stoiber is showing some interesting ideas, but fails to really make sense in the end. She indicates that Tristan and Isolde do have some sort of failing marriage at from the beginning of the opera. At some moments this idea works quite well, but most of the time it creates plenty of contradictions. Those many contradictions become more and more disturbing during the evening and leave the audience bored and irritated in the end. Even though the modern elegant stage by Sophia Schneider (also responsible for the costumes) and Susanne Gschwender looks really great with its cold, but very chic beachhouse, the production simply fails to promote the plot. However, while the optical charms of the production did not succed to convince me, the musical part managed to do so.
Robin Engelen led the performance with great musicality and dramatic sense. He had full controll over everything and was able to still stay very flexible during the whole evening. Especially during the famous love scene he kept the tempi very adjustable so that he could totally bring out the passion and the excitement of the scene. Only the volume level was sometimes a bit too high which made it difficult for some of the singers at certain moments. The Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester played very passionately with great emotion and impressive accuracy. They managed to created that strange suction which is so typical for Wagner's Tristan. Also the gentlemen of the Chor der Oper Graz did very well during their appearances in the first act.
The small roles of Melot, young sailsman & shepherd and the navigator were sung by Manuel von Senden, Martin Fournier and Dariusz Perczak. All three of them sang very appropriately on a good level, but especially Fournier convinced with a youthful balanced tenor voice.
Markus Butter sang the role of Kurwenal with great passion and full of enthusiastic energy. His virile and heroic baritone voice has a very pleasant timbre and enough flexibility to sing the role excitingly and convincingly. Dshamilja Kaiser also gave a magnificent performance as Brangäne and really impressed me with her singing. Her creamy mezzo voice has a gorgeous warm timbre and also the dramatic weight for a Wagner mezzo role like this. She really gave a flawless performance from the low parts of the role to the shiny top notes. BRAVO!
As King Marke we heard Guido Jentjens who was probably the least pleasing performer of the evening. His voice lacked the authority and the grave dark timbre that is so essential for this role. Even though he sang every note it simply did not convince me in the end.
The Tristan of this performance was performed by Zoltán Nyári who was the biggest surprise for me. I have never heard this name before but his performance was simply incredible. His powerful tenor voice has everything the role calls for: power, flexibility, an easy top and the stamina to keep going until the very last line. Nyári is definitely a name to remember and I am sure that we will hear it more often in the future.
Also the singer of Isolde, Gun-Brit Barkmin, surprised me. Not being impressed by her Chrysothemis last year in Vienna I did not have great expectations, but she definitely proved me wrong. Her youthful focused soprano might not be the biggest, but she sang the role so elegantly and emotionally that I simply had to like it. She has a very easy top and a very flexible voice that is able to do very beautiful phrasing without losing the drama of the role. If she is careful enough with her voice and does not try to sing such roles in houses that are too big she will definitely be a very very successful Isolde during the next few years.
Alltogether musically the performance was enormously pleasing, but when it comes to the production itself it fails to convince. A pity to mix the wonderful musical potential of the performance with such an inadequate staging. Therefor I can only give 8 stars even though the musical part would definitely earn 9.
Reviewed by Daniel Url