Sunday, 24 April 2016

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde - Staatsoper Hamburg

Performance 22nd April

If the union ver.di strikes against Wagner, it barely seems to be a problem for the Hamburg State Opera. Due to ver.di’s strikes, it was not possible to show the planned production by Ruth Berghaus. So the opera was held as a concert staging. A circumstance which was very well received, judging by the standing ovations and bravo calls, which already commenced after the second act and were repeated at the end of the performance. Seemingly those who didn’t return their tickets were not dissapointed.
Kent Nagano conducted the Philharmonische Staatsorchester Hamburg with clear as well as precise movements. Depending on the musical situtation his conduction was soft and graceful or full energy and determination. The cues for the singers were given meticulously so that the contact between Nagano and the singers did’nt break at any time. Nagano conducted with sensitivity towards the accoustics of the house. For example he animated to the musicians to play a bit quieter when Lioba Braun stood behind the orchestra so that she was heard well and clear. The orchestra reacted immediatley to Nagano’s instructions and showed a wide spectrum of tonality. A special shout out to the group of oboes. Especially the solo-parts of the third act played by Thomas Rohde (solo-oboe) and Ralph van Daal (English horn) showed their competence. Similarly convincing was the bass clarinet (Kai Fischer) and the wooden trumpet (Stefan Houy) from behind the scene, as well as the clear sound of the strings. All in all the orchester created a full and together sound, equipped with emotion and dynamics.
The position of the singers in front of the orchestra and the concert staging excellent comprehension of the text conveyed by the singers, so well infact, that subtitles were not necessary. Also the singers – especially Ricarda Merbeth and Stephen Gould – showed an amazing presence on stage interacting with one another as if on a set. The singers weren’t sitting on stage all the time but entered the stage depending on the scene. Stephen Gould sang the title role Tristan. He showed a very present baritone-like sounding middle and depth and also had no problems with the top tones, which were more brightly coloured. At his side: Ricarda Merbeth as Isolde. She had a bright, clear, for the role amazing vibratoless soprano, which was really nice to hear for the audience. She played in a diversified fashion and with passion. Just like Stephan Gould she was able to maintain the same quality and strength of voice all through the performance. Lioba Braun sang the role of Brangäne. Her metallic souding Mezzo fitted perfectly to the sound of the other soloists and at the same time posed a great contrast to Merbeth’s Isolde. She knew how to change the sound and colour of her voice in the right moments. Werner Van Mechelen as Kurwenal, Wilhelm Schwinghammer (König Marke) and Jürgen Sacher in the role of Melot were convincing in the same way. The two members of the opera studio – Daniel Todd (Hirt, Stimme eines jungen Seemanns) and Zak Kariithi (Steuermann) – completed the excellent ensemble of the evening. Only the choir singing from behind a wall, which was built on the stage to block out noise from back-stage, wasn’t heard well. Presumeably this was due to the improvised concert staging.
Before the performance a very good introduction to the plot and the music was given by Volker Wacker.
This evening showed that opera can also work without - the oftentimes disruptive – staging. The music in itself is enough.
10 stars.
Reviewed by Katharina Schiller

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov, Der Goldene Hahn – Deutsche Oper am Rhein

Performance 15th April

Rimski-Korsakov’s last opera is an opera according to a fairy tail by Alexander Pushkin. “The Golden Cockerel” is a magical and funny satire with references to the reality of the Russian czardom. Dmitry Bertman emphasised exactly this two aspects of a funny fairy tail and a political satire with great humour. The whole production was very theatric as there is a focus on acting and exaggerated mimic art but which was still appropriate to the opera. According to the magically stile of this opera the setting was not precisely defined. While the king’s and his soldiers clothing makes think of the 1970’s and refer to the reality, the costumes of Queen von Schemacha and the astrologer were out of any time and stayed in a fairytale character (costumes and set design: Ene-Liis Semper). Eva Bodorová appeared in an impressive golden costume as the cockerel with a very accurate and clear voice. Cornel Frey as the  astrologer had a highly difficult part to sing. Rimski-Korsakov himself called this role a tenor altino as it is written in the extremely high register. Frey sang and played his role convincingly and flawless. In my opinion did the two voices of prince Gwidon (Corby Welch) and prince Afron (Roman Hoza) not match perfectly together as Hoza drifted in his singing away from the magical ambience and presented a tone colour which you would expect in an Italian opera but not in a Russian satire. Nonetheless both played their roles as the failure sons of King Dodon more than well. King Dodon is originally written for a bass voice but in Düsseldorf he is cast by the Russian baritone Boris Statsenko. He is a real win to this production. Statsenko was doing his acting, singing and dancing so easily so it was great fun seeing him on stage. Neither the heights nor the lower register were making him any trouble and he was able to use his voice to precisely interpret the king’s emotions and thoughts. This King Dodon was not only a stupid funny clown but showed his anger about his even stupider sons, his despair about the enemies and his lust towards Queen von Schemacha. All in all was Statsenko a multifarious king. Sami Luttinen in the role of the king’s follower General Polkan came with a rich and trembling bass voice. The second act were full of dancing and golden costumes. The young soprano Antonina Vesenina gained in the course of her first appearance quickly more and more confidence and showed the audience a lively queen with an unfettered singing. The Chor der Deutschen Oper am Rhein was not that confident in some parts but this will surely be better in the next shows. Especially the men had could have more power in their singing. The Düsseldorfer Symphoniker under Axel Kober played very mellow and had a bit of mysticism in their tone which topped of the whole production just perfectly nice. I give 9 stars for this entertaining high-quality production.
Reviewed by Christine Arnold

Monday, 18 April 2016

Giacomo Puccini, Manon Lescaut – Bayerische Staatsoper 

Performance 15th April 

Dynamic, gripping, entertaining, funny, touching – all that is Hans Neuenfels’ staging of this opera without needing huge scenery or a great number of properties. Because of the lively stage direction of the figures, even the choir, and their interactions among themselves and lastly a young, attractive and devoted main cast the whole production is visually appealing and a big success.
Roland Bracht embodied the rich and old Geronte di Ravoir and his acting was really credible, when he could barely keep in step with the pleasureloving Manon or collapsed on a chair, heavily breathing. Those situations of slapstick were quite amusing.
Reliably sung was the part of Manon’s brother by Rodion Pogossov, but he could not always win through against the loud orchestra.
Very passionate was the dedicated performance of Brandon Jovanovich’s Des Grieux, who enacted the loving student in his youthful audacity pretty convincing. Jovanovich has a strong middle register which allowed him to assert himself during all the doublings of the vocal parts in the orchestra that are so peculiar to Puccini’s music. Also this tenor had the stamina to unfold the whole role as far as the finale, even if some of his highest notes sounded a little bit thin.
Ermonela Jaho draw an incredibly vivid portrait of Manon Lescaut’s character and was the actual highlight of this all over satisfying evening. From the very beginning of the opera she appeared as the confident and seductive woman utterly persuasive and expressed her obsession for luxury as well as her real love for Des Grieux and her regrets at the end of the opera deeply fascinating. Her vocal shaping of Manon was simply amazing in its variety in expression and control of volume from beautifully soft but still clearly audible piano parts to emotional outbursts without any noticeable struggle through all registers. Jaho earned the most applause at the end of the evening deservedly and seemed visibly grateful for the frenetic cheering.
A suitable base for these extraordinary vocal performances was created by the Bayerisches Staatsorchester under the baton of Asher Fisch, who showed a sensibility for the musical peaks and knew when he had to stimulate the orchestra for raptures or when he had to make room for the singers. Together with the Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper and the solo vocalists the outcome of Fisch’s conducting was a homogenous sound with thrilling highlights.
For a really pleasing overall package, the entertaining staging and an outstanding cast of the title role I give 8 stars.
Reviewed by Lukas Leipfinger

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 10th April

As finale part of the Strauss-weeks performances I saw one of my absolute favorites and probably Strauss' most popular opera: Der Rosenkavalier. A piece that often whose difficulties are underestimated very often. Not just musically, but also in terms of acting it is quite difficult to perform without making it sound and look cheesy and cheap. To me as Austrian this production (by the late Götz Friedrich) is a very Prussian Rosenkavalier. At times I felt that it is as Austrian as Angela Merkel. It probably shows how little our dear German neighbours actually know about us. The stage and costumes (Gottfried Pilz & Isabel Ines Glathar) looked beautifully and elegant, but worked with so many cheap clichés that I was a bit bored after some time. However, Friedrich had some very interesting ideas that showed that he really thought about the plot. For example the detail that the Feldmarschallin puts some perfume into the silver rose was a lovely detail that created a link to the first scene of act 2. Some ideas were really great but still I was not totally happy with the production.
Musically Ulf Schirmer was a conductor who is quite familiar with this music and especially with the delicate Viennese soul of the opera, due to his former position in Vienna. He did a good job and showed that he knows the score very well. The performance was clear, subtle and elegant. The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin also did a brilliant job realising the ideas of Schirmer. The performance was totally under control and yet highly musical.
The cast also feature some brilliant singing and lovely musicality. Of the smaller roles I have to mention three people. Fionnuala McCarthy was an incredibly elegant Marianne Leitmetzerin with a slim focused voice and a very attractive look. The role of the Italian Singer has always been a very interesting role with an extremely short appearance and still everyone is waiting for it and is waiting for a great performance. Matthew Newlin did a very good job in this role with a very clear and bright tenor voice. His timbre reminded me of great Mozart tenors and I imagine he would be great in some Mozart leads. Stephanie Lauricella sang the role of Annina and was marvelous in it. Her strong and warm mezzo soprano has a very erotic and seductive timbre which suited the role perfectly. She definitely is worth more than such a small role. I thought that her performance was simply brilliant and a marvelous experience.
Michael Kupfer-Radecky sang the role of Faninal with his Wagner-proven baritone voice. His timbre is warm with a very noble sound. But not only his strong instrument, also his acting was very good. His portrayal of the desperate father with the nervous outbreaks was very convincing.
Faninal's daughter, Sophie, was performed by young soprano Siobhan Stagg who has a lovely voice that was simply perfect for this role. In addition to her shiny bright soprano she has enough stamina to be heard over the orchestra without any problems. I was especially impressed by the beauty of tone in her upper register which had this magic Straussian silvery timbre.
Albert Pesendorfer sang the role of Baron Ochs with a very dark bass voice. I sometimes thought his voice was too heavy for the role and wished that his singing would sound a little bit easier but my overall impression was very good. His accent and everything suited the role very well even though I missed the distinct Viennese accent during the first act. However during the other two acts it was there as if it has always been there.
Daniela Sindram as Octavian was simply the performance of the evening. The sound of her voice, her phrasing, her acting, everything was simply perfect and totally convincing. Sometimes I almost forgot that it is just an opera due to her ravishing performance. Her voice combines power, a beautiful timbre and a great talent of musical phrasing and acting. What a great portrayal!!
Last but not least, the secret leading role, the Feldmarschallin, was sung by Michaela Kaune who jumped in for Anja Harteros (being ill once again). Kaune has sung this role before and did a wonderful job. Her portrayal was simply elegant, noble and very touching. She sang the role really well and showed great understanding of the character. Unfortunately her stamina was not as impressive and sometimes I would have liked to have a fuller sound in her voice. Her upper register, while being wonderfully soft during the delicate parts, was just a little bit thin from time to time. Nevertheless she gave a wonderful performance and was rewarded affectionate applause.
Alltogether it was a lovely evening and a nice performance. Therefore the Rosenkavalier production at DOB gets 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Antonín Dvořák, Rusalka – Aalto-Theater Essen 

Performance 8th April 

Italian, French and German are the languages the most beautiful and famouse operas are written in. Antonín Dvořák did not follow this tradition and wrote the Czech opera “Rusalka” with its popular “song to the moon”. The Aalto-Theater Essen staged a revival of its last year premiered Rusalka.
The Dutch director Lotte de Beer showed a well-thought-out production set and connected to the time of its first performance in 1900. At this time Sigmund Freud released his Psychoanalysis. Lotte de Beers production is full of references to mental institutions of the early 20th century and even a background actor examines Rusalka’s not talking situation. The old folktale came with great new stage technique. This production probably shows every little moveable part of Aalto-Theater’s stage floor. Very impressive came the third act with a whole new setting with cells of the mental institution which came out of the stage ground.
Not only the stage design and created fearful atmosphere was prominent but also the musical performance was overall at a very high standard. Almas Svilpa as the water goblin Votnik came with a warm-hearted bass voice which sounded broad and massive but still very clear and precise. Definitely noteworthy is Leonie van Rheden as the kitchenboy. Light and without any strain in her voice performed she a sprightly kitchenboy. Together with Christina Clark and Marie-Helen Joël did she act to this as one of the three insane and dreamy wood sprites. Their habitat as well as Rusalka’s and the water goblin’s were marked by white  bathtubs. Into this bathtub world came the witch Jezibaba (Jordanka Milkova) to cut Rusalka’s fin into two human legs. By the side of Sandra Janušaitè as Rusalka came Milkova’s voice slightly weak and too less empathic. By contrast Janušaitè: she was the acting and singing highlight of the evening. She showed Rusalka’s diverse feelings in the opera. From the euphoric naïve young mermaid to the unfortunate woman with lovesickness which makes her mad. She used her very clear and voluminous soprano voice with light elegance and shaked the audience away with her great voice. Likewise her softener tones did she show in the “song to the moon”. Gerri Prießnitz conducted at this evening the singers and the Essener Philharmoniker which created a magical atmosphere with a modest interpretation of the score. Apart from a few parts in which the Opernchor des Aalto-Theaters did not match perfectly together, appeared the choir ones more in a good and solid manner as always. Jeffrey Dowd gave an impersonal and slightly clinical prince. He performed with severe tone in the lower and upper register but the high notes made him some trouble by what he could not stand the power of Janušaitè.
Over all is this Rusalka production definitely worth to watch. There were two outstanding soloists with Sandra Janušaitè and Almas Svilpa and an interesting setting with a deeply psychological draft which hits the time of the first performance perfectly. Therefore 7 out of 10 stars.
Reviewed by Christine Arnold

Friday, 8 April 2016

Gioachino Rossini, Il Turco in Italia - Landestheater Salzburg

Performance 3rd April

 “Costa Crusies“ is written on the front of the cruise liner that dominates the scenery of Marco Dott’s staging. The Allucsion to the Costa Concordia which foundered in 2012 is clear. Also some assumptions why the ship foundered is presented on stage. The adequate stage design and costumes were created by Karl-Heinz Steck. The setting suggests that the acting persons are on the ship, too: Don Geronio as captain, Don Narciso as chief officer und all the other as guests on the trip. Therefor the team used some clichés: Asians taking pictures with their mobile phone, a mother with her grown-up son, treated by her as if he were under 10, a group of drunken people, who would have fit better to a party on Mallorca and so on. Selim didn’t arrive with a ship in “Italia” but, of course, with a helicopter. For this purpose the supertitles were adapted. Using the revolving stage different places on the ship were presented to the audience: sun terrace, the captain’s bedroom or the bridge. As a direction mistake the scene of Don Narciso’s aria “Tu seconda il mio disegno“ could be seen: the singing gets secondary and in centre of the attention is the couple on deck. After the masked ball at which all were dressed as sea dweller or something like that there was a clear quotation from “Titanic”. Both: from scenery and musical. This could also be a definitely hint to the end of the production: the cruise line founders. At the same time the poet Prosdomico sings about the “lieto fine”. That’s why the end of the production seems to be absolutely unexpected and not really understandable. A production that shows some weaknesses and one that loses some esprit in the course of the evening.
Adrian Kelly has been in charge of the artistic direction of the concert as well as playing the pianoforte, which he both coped superiorly with. The Mozarteum Orchester provided the usual good quality, too. Especially the brass section and its soloists were playing excellently. Unfortunately, the orchestra was too loud for the singers depending on the position of the singers and their vocal range, which at last could hardly be heard. Simon Schnorr was convincing as Prosdocimo. He played his role discriminatingly and precisely. The baritone also could bring in his abilities as an actor convincingly. Hannah Bradbury sang the role of Fiorilla. The coloraturas didn't seem to be a problem for her. All lyric phrases were sung self-confidentially and well-shaped. Her rival: Rowan Hellier as Zaide. During the argument with Fiorilla Hellier convinced with a dramatic voice otherwise with a warmer and lyric voice. Unfortunately, both Pietro di Bianco (Selim) and Sergio Foresti (Don Geronio) were struggling with the coloraturas, which haven't been sung precisely. But they were convincing in the parlando. Don Narciso was sung by Carlos Cadoso. The tenor, who according to his biography has already sung a lot of roles by Rossini, coped very well with that role. He coped easily with coloraturas as well as high notes. Only in a low range in the parlando he could hardly be heard accompanied by the orchestra.
A production, that shows weaknesses and excellences, which amused the audiences. 7 stars.
Reviewed by Katharina Schiller

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde - Berliner Philharmoniker, Philharmonie Berlin

Performance 3rd April

A very special operatic evening took place last sunday in the prestigious Philharmonie Berlin with a concert of the Berliner Philharmoniker bringing their Tristan from the Baden Baden Easter festival in a concert version into their home concert hall. Sir Simon Rattle gathered an incredible cast with some of the finest singers around together with one of the leading orchestras of the world. Rattle and his orchestra proved that they are such a leading ensemble with an exemplary performance including a great dynamic range and highly musical phrasing. The prelude already showed that there is a reason why the orchestra has such a marvelous reputation. The orchestral performance was ravishing, full of passion and very accurate at the same time. Especially during the second act the orchestra revealed such a high level of musicality and a great sense for the dramatic action. The sheer power of the orchestra during the great dramatic outbreaks was as impressive as the soft chamber music like attitude during the love scene.
The cast was simply wonderful and even the smaller roles were cast very well. Roman Sadnik gave a very solid performance as Melot with a very focussed and plain timbre. His diction was excellent as well and every syllable exemplarily distinct. Thomas Ebenstein sang the role of the sailor and the shepherd. I was genuinely impressed by the youthful beauty of his tenor voice. But not just his pleasant timbre, also the power of his voice were remarkable. This voice is not made for such small roles and I hope to hear him again in a bigger role soon.
Stephen Milling's Marke was very powerful, solemnly and full of despair. His huge daunting bass voice has a remarkable dark timbre and his performance was really dramatic and very touching. Only sometimes I had the feeling that the very top parts of the role was not totally comfortable for him, but he did a great job anyway.
In the role of Kurwenal we heard Michael Nagy who has a very powerful instrument. One would not think that such a lean young man could sing with such power and volume. But it is not just the power, but also the flexibility and warm timbre of Nagy's voice that convinced me. He gave a brilliant performance and a great portrayal of the role.
British mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly sang the role of Brangäne. She was very good in the lower and middle sections of the part but seemed to reach her limits in the upper parts of the role. Nevertheless she gave a wonderful and touching performance. Especially the Brangäne calls during act 2 were sung very beautifully and brought up a very intimate atmosphere.
Stuart Skelton truly was one of the great highlights of the evening singing the role of Tristan. Being able to sing this role is already an achievement, but singing it so easily and powerfully as Skelton did, that is simply high artistry. His voice is very clear and bright in the upper register and has a very dark timbre in the lower register. The sheer power of his voice was exceptional and he was definitely not afraid of high notes. The intensity of his performance during the third act genuinely gave me goosebumps and showed the inexhaustibility of his stamina. This tenor is a voice to remember and will surely be very successful in the future.
The other great highlight of the evening was Eva-Maria Westbroek as Isolde. Originally being scheduled to sing this role in Bayreuth last year, she would have been a better choice than the singer who did it in the end. Her voice is the perfect blend of powerful stamina and beauty of tone. Especially in the middle register her full-bodied voice is simply beautiful. She does have the power, the dramatic musicality and the voice to sing this role and she gave a magnificent performance. Only the very top notes seemed not totally under control. If she manages to solve those tricky parts she will be hard to top in this role currently.
Alltogether I really had a magic night with this marvelous piece of music and an incredible performance by all participants. Therefor I give 9 stars to this lovely evening.
Reviewed by Daniel Url