Friday, 29 July 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, Un Ballo in Maschera - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 27th July

As final visit to the Bayerische Staatsoper for this season I went to see Verdi's masked ball in the new production of this season. The production of Johannes Erath was very interesting and worked with very strong images that created a spooky atmosphere and some real goosebump moments. The mirrored stage (Heike Scheele) with the elegant circular staircase looked stunning and was used very smartly. Especially the scenes with Ulrica were extremely impressive with incredible effect. The costumes by Gesine Völlm were clearly inspired by American fashion of the early 20th century and they also were very elegant with flowing robes.
Daniele Callegari was conducting the performance with explosive power and spirited phrasing, but also kept down the volume during the more intimate parts. He supported the singers very well and was able to work out the contrasts between the serious and buoyant parts of the score very well. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester played thrillingly and very organically with great accuracy. From the powerful chords to the soft tremoli in the string section they were able to create an exciting musical basis for the plot. Also in very good shape: the Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper who sounded fresh and very balanced that evening.
The supporting roles were very well casted with appropriate singers. Joshua Owen Mills (Servant of Amelia), Ulrich Reß (Judge) and Andrea Borghini (Silvano) did a good job in their small roles. Also Anatoli Sivko and Scott Connor as Samuel and Tom were very entertaining with their dark voices and wonderful acting. They're laughing song (together with the choir) during the second act was simply hilarious.
Sofia Fomina as Oscar was quite an interesting case with a very light agile voice that also had quite some power in the upper register. It was quite impressive that she drowned Beczala's high notes during the great scenes in the first act when they sang together.
My absolute highlight of the evening was Okka von der Damerau as Ulrica. Her performance was simply glorious because even before she sang one note she captured the audience with her incredible presence in that stunning black dress standing on the staircase and looking down on the stage with her eyes glowing. Her entrance was probably the most thrilling part of the whole opera and her incredible warm and dark voice convinces with a very beautiful and beguiling timbre. Brava, simply Brava!
Franco Vasallo as Renato convinced with extreme power and a very easy top register which he utilised very well. He sang many impressive high notes and knew how to convey the emotions of his character through his singing. The good mixture of lyric and dramatic singing combined with the convincing performance was marvelous and suited the role very well.
Anja Harteros as Amelia also convinced with a very beautiful voice and a very emotional performance. Her aria at the beginning of the second act and her pleading to see her son once more was incredibly touching and her soft powerful voice sounded marvelously. Harteros accomplishes the perfect balance of dramatic outbursts and soft intimate parts. Her performances are always full of emotion and very convincing.
The protagonist Riccardo was sung by Piotr Beczala whose voice gained some weight and his timbre became a bit darker lately. He filled the auditorium with ease and his flexible voice had no problems with the quite tricky parts of the role. Only the very top of the upper register could still be a bit stronger and need a bit more of the heroic timbre but his performance was really good anyway.
Alltogether it was a lovely finale of my season in Munich and so I give 9 stars to the Ballo production of the Bayerische Staatsoper.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony 9 d-minor - Salzburger Festspiele, Großes Festspielhaus

Performance 25th July

In tribute to the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the great Austrian musician, his orchestra, the Concentus Musicus, played the final Beethoven symphony under the baton of Andrés Orozco-Estrada who was chosen to take over the performance after Harnoncourt's death in March 2016. Before the concert the president of the festival, Helga Rabl-Stadler, came onstage and said a few very touching words about Harnoncourt and the performance.
Orozco-Estrada had the honour to learn a lot of Harnoncourt and I have to say that he seemed to use all these things during the performance. I had the feeling that a lot of Harnoncourt's ideas and his was of conducting were flowing into the performance through the lead of Orozco-Estrada. He had full control over the orchestra and with great energy he managed to create a great interpretation with explosive energy and very delicate phrasing. Especially during the second movement with the edgy contrast between wild and soft parts he was able to show his skills.
The Concentus Musicus, undoubtly one of the leading ensembles with original instruments, followed his instructions marvelously and played so vividly that the audience was simply blown away by the sheer energy and the excitement of the performance. Except of some issues with the old brass instruments, which are not as reliable as the modern ones, the accuracy of the orchestra was impressive and showed the high level of professionalism.
Also the Arnold Schönberg Chor was a serendipity with great singing and balance between the different voices. As probably one of the best choirs in Austria it managed the difficulties of the piece without any problems and gave a more than solid performance.
The soloist quartett featured Regula Mühlemann jumping in for Genia Kühmeier who was ill. Mühlemann surprised with a very beautiful strong voice that convinced with great flexibility and an effortless top register. She managed her rather difficult part with grace and lovely phrasing.
Elisabeth Kulman sang the alto part with great finesse and her marvelous mezzo voice. Her timbre is warm, sonorous and convinces with a very beautiful sound. Especially her lower register has an beguiling timbre and quite some power.
The tenor part was sung by Steve Davislim who did a very good job with his balanced but strong voice. His tenor has both a youthful timbre and a heroic sound and he managed the part without any problems. Especially the march-like tenor solo in the final movement succeded wonderfully with great passion and drive.
The fourth solo part was sung by Florian Boesch with a baritone voice that has a very cultivated timbre. Sometimes he seemed to be a bit uncomfortable with the very top parts of the role, but he still managed it appropriately.
Alltogether it was a very energetic performance with great drive and most diverting. Without doubt it earns 9 stars.
 Reviewed by Daniel Url

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Joseph Haydn, Die Schöpfung - Salzburger Festspiele, Großes Festspielhaus

Performance 22nd July

The opening of this year's Salzburg Festival featured Haydn's Schöpfung (The Creation) with a stellar cast and a performance that opens a summer full of interesting performances. Before the concert started the festival president Helga Rabl-Stadler welcomed the audience to the Festival and explained why this piece is simply perfect to open a summer full of artistical creations.
The glorious performance was led by noone else than the future music director of the New York Metropolitan Opera, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who without any doubt is one of the leading conductors of his generation. He conducted with such passion and excitement that the performance could only become successful. His conducting is not only elegant, but also very clear and accurate. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe did a great job following his instructions and played vividly and with a great range of dynamics and articulation possibilities. The many small ornaments sounded really delicately and the orchestra simply convinced  with an impressive consonance.
Also the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks gave a marvelous performance and proved that it is one of the leading choirs in Europe. I rarely ever heard a choir with such balanced and well-rounded sound. From the great choir scenes to the more intimate passages they managed to convey the right emotions with a great organic performance.
The soloists of the evening also gave a strong performance with highly professional singing. Gerald Finley convinced with a sonorous beautiful baritone voice and probably the best diction of the evening. Every word was so understandable and well interpreted that his performance was very vividly and colorful.
Werner Güra's tenor also suited the music perfectly with his bright timbre and a seemingly effortless performance. This kind of music seems to suit his voice very well and he obviously looked very comfortable.
Hanna-Elisabeth Müller also gave a wonderful performance with her beautiful lyric soprano and a timbre that is both, beautiful and sustainable. Despite having a comparably light voice she still had no problems to fill the hall with her voice and convinced with a very fresh performance.
Alltogether it was a glorious performance which makes me hope for a great festival summer and many wonderful creations. 10 stars.

Reviewed by Daniel Url

Friday, 22 July 2016

Richard Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 19th July

Continuing the festival season I went to see the production of Wagner's Holländer. The production (I already saw it in Graz some years ago) was created by Peter Konwitschny and is an interesting mix of new and old. Stage and costumes were designed by Johannes Leiacker featured historical parts for the Holländer crew and more modern ones for the people of Daland's village. Everything looked really nicely and made sense alltogether (even the gym in act 2). The conduct of the roles was not as interesting as in other Konwitschny productions but still featured some interesting details and showed that Konwitschny has a deep understanding of Wagner's operas. The only deficit (and I really hated that idea) was that the orchestra stopped playing live after Senta's last line and we heard the music from speakers instead. I do not need to come to the opera to hear music from the speakers! I actually think that many people in the audience were quite offended by this fact.
Musically it was quite ambivalent due to the lead of Asher Fish who did not really convince me with his conducting. He did not seem to have full control over the orchestra and there simply were many inaccuracies. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester did its best, but simply could not convince that evening. The whole performance just did not sound passionately and as thrillingly as usually. Also the Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper was not really balanced that evening and sounded a bit uninspiredly. Sometimes the sopranos were covered by the rest and it just did not convince me during that performance.
Dean Power sang the role of the Steuermann and it was a pity that he did not sing more. His youthful bright tenor voice has a very pleasant fresh timbre and he seemed to feel very comfortable with that role. However he would definitely be worth a bigger role than that.
Okka von der Damerau was a luxurious Mary with her wonderful warm dark mezzo voice that is heard over the orchestra easily at any time. Her voice is not just powerful but also has a very beautiful timbre and her phrasing shows great musicality.
Wookyung Kim sang the role of Erik with a very Italian manner which seems appropriate for that role. Especially his aria during the final act was really nice with his bright tenor voice and his very elegant phrasing.
In the role of Daland we heard Wagner royalty Matti Salminen who still has a very powerful bass voice with a very dark timbre. He might not be as fresh as 10 years ago, but he still can pull it off very well and gave a wonderful thrilling performance.
American soprano Catherine Naglestad sang Senta which is one of her signature roles. Alltogether she did a good job despite of some moments when she seemed out of her comfort zone. Her voice has a very lyrical quality but is able to be very dramatic as well. While her top notes sounded brilliantly without effort, the lower register sometimes tended to have a very nasal timbre. I think that evening was not her best and she normally would be better.
The definite highlight of the evening was Johan Reuter in the title role. I simply cannot imagine this role to be sung better than Reuter did it that evening. His powerful dark baritone voice had everything it calls for: power, stamina, the grim timbre and the ability to convey the melancholy of his character. It was a more than pleasing performance by Reuter and I have to say, he definitely is the best Holländer I ever heard live.
The performance was a nice evening for sure with some really good singing and a production that is worth exploring it. That is why I would give 8 stars to it.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater

Performance 17th July

The Rosenkavalier production of the Bavarian State Opera is already decades old but still has an enormous effect on the audience thanks to the high quality of the production. Based on a concept of Otto Schenk it puts most current directors to shame due to the great conduction of the characters and the impressively elegant stage. Jürgen Rose (stage & costumes) did a very good job with the impressive rokoko look of the production with wonderful costumes that could right out of a history book. The whole production simply gives the impression to totally catch the spirit of the piece and it was really a pleasure to see it.
But not only the production, also the musical performance was amazing thanks to Kirill Petrenko who was able to create the special Viennese atmosphere. He has a great sense for that style of music and he totally caught the Vienese spirit of Strauss' marvelous score. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester also played thrillingly and sounded brilliantly. The accuracy that Petrenko and the orchestra showed during the performance was exceptional and made me forget that I was in a theatre.
The many small roles were casted on a very high level and showed the quality level of the Bayerische Staatsoper. In the small but prestigious role of the Italian singer we heard Yosep Kang who did a very good job. His tenor is strong, has a very pleasant bright timbre and his singing shows great phrasing and passion. Heike Grötzinger and Ulrich Reß showed why they both are in the Ensemble of the operahouse for years now with a great performance. Grötzinger was a great suductive Annina and Reß' bright clear tenor voice sounded lovely as well.
Martin Ganter sounded very bright and clear with exceptional diction. His voice sometimes even sounded like a tenor because of the light timbre of his voice. However he filled the auditorium easily with his voice.
Hanna-Elisabeth Müller was one of the highlights with her beautiful bright lyric soprano voice. Her voice is light, clear but still has enough power to be heard over the orchestra easily. The only thing I was missing a bit was the Straussian silvery timbre in the upper register. However it was a brilliant performance by Müller and she totally earned the applause in the end.
In the role of Baron Ochs we heard Austrian bass Günther Groissböck, who definitely is the Ochs of our days. His strong flexible voice as well as his great acting skills seem really perfect for the role and it was simply amazing to see and hear him. He definitely was one of the many highlights of the evening.
As Octavian Daniela Sindram knew how to convince with a very strong balanced voice. From the lower parts of the role to the top she always sounded very beautifully with great passion and phrasing. For me she is one of the leading Octavians at the moment because she is portraying it so well, vocally and acting-wise.
However, the lady of the evening was Anja Harteros as Feldmarschallin. Not only vocally she knew how to touch the hearts in the audience with her powerful beautiful voice. Her parlando was really great and she gave an exceptionally touching performance, especially during the finale of the first act. The audience went crazy in the end and thanked her with much applause.
Alltogether it was a marvelous performance and I really loved every single minute of it. Therefor I give my full 10 stars to the Rosenkavalier of the Munich Opera Festival.

Reviewed by Daniel Url

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen - Die Walküre - Festspielhaus Baden-Baden

Concert performance 10th July

For over a year now I had a ticket for the Walküre performance in Baden-Baden in which Jonas Kaufmann would have made his European debut as Siegmund. After already cancelling the first performance some days before he also had to cancel the second performance due to illness. The Festspielhaus managed to find appropriate replacement even though people were still disappointed that Kaufmann did not sing.
The performance led by Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Orchestra. While looking totally ridiculous he seems to have full control over the orchestra with an exceptional accuracy. Every chord was so accurate and balanced that the whole performance was simply ravishing. Especially the string section sounded really brilliantly with a very beautiful warm and balanced sound.
Of the Russian Valkyries some were really good and others not, but alltogether it was a solid performance of the 8 ladies. I especially want to pinpoint Oxana Shilova's Helmwige because of the exceptional Hojotoho shouts (rumour has it that all Brünnhildes once started out as Helmwige), but also the others were solid (Zhanna Dombrovskaya, Irina Vasilieva, Natalia Yevstafieva, Ekaterina Krapivina, Varvara Solovyova, Anna Kiknadze & Evelina Agabalaeva).
Mikhail Petrenko as Hunding was not really convincing due to the fact that he lacked the dark timbre of the role and also his diction was a bit too Russian. His performance was solid, but not really on the same level as the other performers.
Ekaterina Gubanova was an exceptional Fricka with such an elegant voice and such clear diction that it was a pity that she did not have a other scene. Her attractive sonorous mezzo voice which is also able to have that authorious intonation was perfect for this role and I enjoyed it very much.
Sieglinde was sung by Eva-Maria Westbroek who already is a veteran in this role. Her voice gained some weight over the years but also lost a bit of warmth. Now her voice sounds a bit more steely which is maybe a result of her Isolde. Still she is one of the leading Sieglindes of our times and sang the role with a very beautiful voice and a thrilling presentation.
Jumping in for Kaufmann Andreas Schager already had a difficult job pleasing the audience. After his performance in that role in Leipzig I was a bit prejudiced. Admittedly he did much better than in Leipzig, but he still seemed not to really know the role well enough. While definitely having the voice for it he just does not really show great understanding of the role and had too many rhythmical and textual issues. I hope that he will take his time to learn the role approriately soon because it would be a pity to leave his potential unused.
The undoubted highlight of the evening was René Pape as Wotan with a performance that earns the attribute legendary. Barely singing full performances of the role he was simply exceptional. His powerful sonorous bass voice has enough extension in the upper register to manage the high parts of the role without any problems and his lower register is simply perfect. His performance convinces with authority, a great interpretation and a voice that seems to be made to sing Wagner.
The titlerole was sung by Evelyn Herlitzius who also did a very good job this evening. While still not being able to sing appropriate Hojotoho shouts (but seriously, who is?) she was really great during the rest of her part. Of course her voice is not attractive and sometimes still crumbly, but as I experienced in her Ortrud performances during the last months her voice seems in better shape than during the last years. especially during the second act I was really impressed by her presentation and I have to say she gave a wonderful performance.
Alltogether it was still a very high level performance even without Kaufmann and it was definitely worth making the journey to Baden-Baden. Therefor I would give 9 stars to the performance and hope that Kaufmann will sing Siegmund somewhere else soon.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Richard Wagner, Lohengrin - Bayerische Staatsoper München, Nationaltheater

Performance 2nd July

Last saturday I started this year's festival season with a performance of Lohengrin in Munich. The production from 2009 led by director Richard Jones has a very clear concept with ideas (building the house for a new family etc.) that are very clear but not really elaborated. Very often you get the message, but question the link to the plot. The stage and the costumes were created by Ultz. Some of it looked beautiful, some of it a bit boring. Alltogether the production part was not really exceptional but also not really bad.
The musical part was better, but also not necessarily on festival niveau. Lothar Koenigs conducted the Bayerisches Staatsorchester very clearly but I missed the magic atmosphere in his interpretation. Very often it sounded practised and uninspired. Still the orchestra did a very good job with wonderful accuracy and drive. The Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper was very impressive and gave a wonderful performance. Very balanced, harmonious and with great élan they sang the many great choir scenes very beautifully.
What I want to mention are the four boys of the Tölzer Knabenchor who sang the vier Edelknaben that evening. I never heard those parts sung so beautifully and balanced. One was actually disappointed that they did not have to sing more.
Markus Eiche was a very luxurious Heerrufer with a very elegant strong baritone voice. His timbre is warm, pleasant and his diction was very good as well. Christof Fischesser was a solid Heinrich, but lacked royal authority. He managed the role appropriately but was not really convincing.
Evgeny Nikitin sang the role of Telramund and seemed not very comfortable with the high parts of the role. Very often his voice was covered too easily by the orchestra. While his lower register seemed more appropriate for this role his upper register just seemed too strained and too uncomfortable.
In the role of his wife on the other hand we heard Evelyn Herlitzius. I do not know why but her voice sounds so much better at the moment than the last years. While still having a very rough timbre she was in better vocal shape and sounded more balanced. Whatever she did during the last year, it seems to do a lot of good.
As Elsa we heard Anne Schwanewilms who seemed to have a very good day. Her fragile bright soprano voice suits the role perfectly and her performance was very convincing. Except of a few strained high notes she gave a wonderful performance with great passion and clarity.
The titlerole was sung by German tenor Klaus Florian Vogt who is one of the Lohengrin's of our days. While having a very light and clear voice he tends to sound a bit unnaturally and sterile. His voice suits the role quite well even though I sometimes would wish for a bit more Italian technique and more legato instead of the harsh Sprechgesang approach which is cultivated in Bayreuth.
Alltogether it was a good performance but not really exceptional what you would expect of the Munich Opera Festival. However I would still give 8 stars to Lohengrin at the Bayerische Staatsoper.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Giuseppe Verdi, Rigoletto - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Performance 30th June

For my final evening in Berlin I chose to see the production of Rigoletto at the Deutsche Oper with a very good cast and a quite interesting production. The production was led by Jan Bosse and had some interesting ideas but always switched from extremely conventional conduct of the characters to very smart ideas. Same was valid for the stage (Stéphane Laimé) and the costumes (Kathrin Plath). While the stage (mirroring the auditorium most of the time in a way) stayed the same most of the time the costumes featured some outfits that could have been taken from Saturday Night Fever and others that could have been from a period staging of the opera (Gilda's dress etc.). I think the main idea of the production was clear and obvious, but it could have been elaborated a bit more clearly and consequently.
Musically I experienced some surprises. The orchestra pit was extremely low and you were not even able to see the conductor Giampaolo Bisanti when he was down there. Still he managed to lead a very clear and transparent performance with great contrast between the dramatic and the intimate parts. The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin conveyed the atmosphere magnificently and sounded really brilliantly. The Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin on the other hand sounded a bit unbalanced and not totally focused at some point. Only the final representation of the wind by the choir in the final act worked out magnificently and almost gave me goosebumps.
The many very small roles were sung very appropriately by Rebecca Jo Loeb (a Page), Marko Mimica (a Court Usher), Álvaro Zambrano (Matteo Borsa), Thomas Lehman (Marullo), Elbenita Kajtazi (Countess Ceprano) and Andrew Harris (Count Ceprano).
Bastiaan Everink managed his two short appearances as Count Monterone very well with a powerful bass voice with very focused intonation and a very dramatic presentation. It was quite a surprise when he suddenly stood up from a seat in the middle of the real auditorium and started singing (one of the interesting ideas of the production).
Young mezzosoprano Annika Schlicht sang two roles, first she appeared as Giovanna (very well done, but it's just a small role), but later in the opera she sang the role of Maddalena. There she had the chance to show that her beautiful flexible voice is the right one to convey the sexual seduction of this role. A very warm and soft timbre as well as wonderful phrasing helped her to accomplish a great portrayal.
Albert Pesendorfer sang a very dark and creepy Sparafucile with his strong and profound bass voice. He really seemed like bad guy and his performance was very convincing, both vocally and acting-wise.
A real highlight was the Duca di Mantua performed by Yosep Kang. His bright and clear tenor has both power and a beautiful timbre. His phrasing and interpretation was really impressive and so he managed to make the whole role seem as if it was the easiest thing on earth. The famous aria in the final act sounded so easy and spirited that it was a pleasure to hear it. Bravo!
My main interest focused on Olga Peretyatko as Gilda. Peretyatko's voice probably is one of the most beautiful voices I ever heard and combines an extremely beautiful bright and clear timbre with an impressive technique and a thrilling performance. The sheer beauty of her singing in combination with the great presentation of the role makes her performance simply marvelous. Only some of the interpolated high notes seemed not to turn out as well as usually this evening, but that did not affect the overall impression at all. The only deficit is that her voice is so delicate that she is covered very easily during bigger scenes.
In the title role we heard George Gagnidze who was called indisposed because of some allergies in the beginning of the performance. However, I cannot imagine how he could do better. His strong flexible voice suited the role perfectly and his performance was really touching and ravishing. He was able to show so many shades of the character, both vocally and acting-wise, that I was really happy about his performance and he totally earned the great applause in the end.
Alltogether it was a very enjoyable evening with great singing and a very interesting production. Therefor I give 8 stars to the Rigoletto at Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Reviewed by Daniel Url