Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Controversial sociology report: Conflicts in a professional symphony orchestra

Sociology major Mille Buch Andersen, University of Copenhagen recently submitted her thesis: "Internal conflicts in the Danish National Radio Symphony orchestra", which has caused significant controversy and debate in the Danish press.

In brief, Buch Andersen conducted interviews with selected orchestra musicians aiming to describe the nature of conflicts and how they are solved in a 100 member professional symphony orchestra (the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra - RSO - one of the Danish top professional orchestras). The initial hypothesis was that there would be major internal conflicts between the musicians, both within and between the various sections of the orchestra, as well as between the musicians and the conductor. During the interviews with the musicians, Buch Andersen discovered relatively few major conflicts of this type (excerpts shown below), since the musicians generally had significant respect for their colleagues position and difficulties within the orchestra hierarchy. On the contrary, she uncovered the presence of major conflicts between the individual musicians and the management.

When Buch Andersen then submitted the thesis with the above conclusions, she was asked by the University (allegedly after complaints from the management of the Danish RSO) to withdraw the thesis due to "methodology problems", while at the same time the management for the Danish RSO claimed that Buch Andersen had been illoyal in her research agenda, since conflicts between musicians and the orchestra management was out of scope for the thesis (only conflicts between the musicians were to be analyzed).

Buch Andersen then felt she was forced to withdraw the thesis and change the conclusions. The core issue (unanswered) in this debate thus centers around the question if the University succumbed to pressure from a "private" enterprise, due to concerns on future working relationships between the "industry" and University regarding thesis work. Finally, Buch Andersen´s (altered) thesis was accepted. And a couple of weeks later the orchestra manager was fired - completely unrelated to this incident, the Danish Radio claims.

For Danish speakers, the thesis can be downloaded here:

The below excerpts are from interviews with (anonymous) members of the orchestra when asked on which conflicts they, as musicians, perceive in the orchestra and how these can be related to the structure of the orchestra (the angle of the thesis is organizational sociology). 42 (of the app. 100) musicians contributed to these interviews. Generally Buch Andersen found it difficult to get the confidence of the musicians and describes spending months to get the confidence of some of the musicians (with some she never achieved that).

One musician states: "It is a small collective, where we look after each other and always are on guard" - "many colleagues have grown up together... and we have gotten used to things, which others would probably find crazy" "it´s almost like a caste system" "a closed oyster" another musician describes the milieu.

On working with conductors in general:

"Of course it doesn´t work if we all talk all the time..then the rehearsals don´t move on.....You have to be aware that total anarchy doesn´t develop...there isn´t time for that"

"Our job is simply to do what we are told! There is no room for democracy! Not at all! So it´s very authoritarian in a way, professionally authoritarian, that is."

"and occasionally "totally stupid" decisions are made [by the conductor] and you have to accept that, even though it irritates me....But oppositely, sometimes an order is given that for you is obvious but not for others, and then they may just continue to ignore the order and just go on playing as they see fit, and that is really irritating, since these people ruin it for everyone else"

"It should not be too relaxed, definitely not....One man stands up in front of 100 really professional musicians, who each have an opinion on how things should be done...and then he is supposed to have a really well-thought approach to the music. Otherwise you simply cannot conduct....So it´s also important to have conductors of a certain standard here....You cannot expect us to play with a mediocre conductor...not an orchestra with our standard..."

"A conductor may be both unpleasant and unfriendly, but at the same time excellent...To be a nice person is not necessarily a sign of quality, in this regard...They may be the friendliest people in the world, know everyone´s first name etc...if they don´t know their stuff, it doesn´t matter."

If the conductor is less-than-excellent:

"You get irritated...since we then play below our normal standard, which is very unpleasant...A good conductor brings something to the music.. Then it´s really exciting "

"First thing is that the discipline is gone, we start to talk and play unfocused and the quality drops within 10 minutes....It doesn´t work out well...We get through, but it´s not so pleasant to listen to.."

Internal causes of conflicts between the musicians:

"Some conflicts arise because those musicians sitting in the rear seats never get praise from above. Like for those playing a solo, people come up to you and tell you how beautiful you play. But for those just sitting there night after night, playing the right notes and never getting a word of praise, it´s easy to feel unimportant"

"If we didn´t have these rotations [between positions in the front and back] I think I would have quit. In the back you think: What am I doing here? I am completely unimportant. Of course that isn´t true, we all contribute, but sitting in the front makes you want to contribute a little extra."

"One of our colleagues is very strong-minded. Like, he looks at the conductor and then he plays and doesn´t care what the other people in his group do. That is very irritating"

"He was very solistically orientated and didn´t work well in a group. So it was a relief when he quit."

And between brass/woodwind and "others" (presumably the strings):

"and obviously the brass section versus the rest of us, simply because they make so much noise compared to us. And the musicians sitting just in front of them...that is really frustrating. And then maybe the conductor tells them to play louder, and then all others tell them to stop. Then they get pissed off... "

"Some have a power base - maybe they have a noisy instrument, things like that - that can be really irritating. And if they are not sensitive to their surroundings, then it becomes really irritating."

"Some probably consider themselves superior to others. I suspect several of the solo woodwind players sitting in the middle of the orchestra and having small soli and being heard all the time...I suppose they feel they have a special status within the orchestra...and that causes some problems because they get away with things others don´t - like small-talk during rehearsals etc. And if you are a really good musician, then it´s difficult to do something about, because the orchestra on the other hand really needs someone to play these soli really well.

"Yeah, the solo brass and woodwind. Some of them discard an entire symphony if there are not good soli for their instrument. And their behaviour is a bit aristocratic at times".

On the consequences of the competitions (in which several members of a section normally participate in order to become principal, assisting principal etc..):

"Such things can be really painful...sometimes conflicts have been going on in a section for more than 10 years...musicians not talking to each hatred..and nobody really takes care of it."

"We all know, that the competitions are not objective. It´s a subjective thing. And everything may happen....It may vary according to the jury...and there may be internal issues, intrigues etc. So it´s absurd to say that the best musician always wins."

On working conditions in general:

"Scheduling is terrible. Many late rehearsals, which tear on the family. Many changes. We ought to have our schedule many months in advance."

"You feel like you are on call 24 hours a day, since our rehearsal schedule comes out so late, and with all the changes...That is a major cause of conflict."

"The management has all the power. Incredible in 2006, but that´s the way it is..the management practice is as it was 100 years modernization at all.."

On the management:

"This orchestra will never move forward - maybe just 1% more - but the potential is so much is crashed by bad treatment from the management...never mind the´s about respect - human respect."

"The way you are treated vary enormously. People high up in the hierarchy are greeted at gatherings, the others not.....terms like "upstairs" and "downstairs" have literally been used. For example during dinners. "Upstairs" is the management, of course..and maybe the principals, soloists, musical director, and that´s it! And everyone else is considered second-rate."

"Musicians may to be phoned up at home from the management if they perform less well in a solo during a concert...this is very counterproductive, and make the musicians afraid instead of inspired".

If all members on the orchestra dream of becoming soloists:

"No - I honestly don´t think so, but it´s in our education, that it´s "finer" to be a soloist, which, of course, is not true. But it runs deep in most people, and in some orchestras you may chose to underline this - not a functional hierarchy, but also a human hierarchy build on solo vs. non-solo. You are simply worth more to the decision-makers. And it´s absurd, because the hierarchy in an orchestra has never been between people in my opinion - it´s a functional hierarchy - a definition of tasks when things have to move along and 100 people do not have the time to talk, then you assign some people who make some fast decisions."

La Scala Chéreau Tristan premiere directly on TV

Patrice Chéreau with Waltraud Meier and Matti Salminen (no - it´s actually Ian Storey!) from the Tristan rehearsals

The premiere of the Chéreau/Barenboim Tristan (details here), which opens the Scala season next Friday, will be transmitted directly on Arte: December 7th, 7 pm (CET) - details here

Sunday, 25 November 2007

New Don Carlo opens in Copenhagen

Filippo and the Inquisitor, Act 3.

Don Carlo (Ital. 4-act). Royal Danish Opera, Copenhagen Opera House, November 18th 2007. Production: Kasper Bech Holten. Cast: Stephen Milling (Filippo), Nikolai Shukoff (Carlo), Tommi Hakala (Posa), Irene Théorin (Elisabetta), Randi Stene (Eboli). Conductor: Michael Schønwandt. Further information here.

Artistic director of the Royal Danish Opera Kasper Bech Holten´s new production of Don Carlo has opened at the new waterfront Copenhagen Opera house.

We look at the near future in a totalitarian state, the main theme being the conflict between state and religion. The spotlight rightly is centered on Filippo: Inherently insecure, he pushes his son and wife away from him. Dominated by his ancestor Karl V, whose portrait appear everywhere on the sets. Receiving applause of the people in true Pol Pot fashion in the Auto-da-fé, watching bomber planes on a screen.
Don Carlo is fixed on Elisabetta, more as a protest against his father than resulting from genuine affection. Quite appropriately he is recaptured by the Inquisition taking leave of Elisabetta in a Copenhagen Airport-approximation and forced to continue to live in his fathers totalitarian regime. Posa is obviously an intellectual (he wears glasses..) who opportunistically tries his luck with both Filippo and Carlo before eventually succumbing to the Inquisition in a Guantanamo-looking courtyard. Eboli is Filippo´s Minister of Information.

Generally, Steffen Aarfing´s sets look like a mixture between military camps in Cambodia, the exerior of the Barbican Center, the Guantanamo Bay and Copenhagen Airport. Dominated by concrete moving walls and dusty colors they fit the images of a totalitarian state rather well.

Kasper Bech Holten is a very thorough stage director. Nobody just hangs around on stage and the relations between the main characters are obviously based on thorough research and work out astonishingly well. Best in the case of Filippo, less well for Eboli, whose characterization was more difficult to understand (fine performance by Randi Stene, though). As a minor irritation, Filippo (the sensitive soul..) is playing the cello playing just before "Ella giammai m´amo" .

The evening belonged to Stephen Milling. Simply one of the best Filippo´s to be heard anywhere: Rock solid, though a bit rough over the entire vocal range combined with a very convincing presence on stage. And the nothing less but brilliant decision was made to include the intensely beautiful lacrymosa duet (later to be used by Verdi in the Requiem), where Filippo and Carlo sing together lamenting the death of Posa.

Sten Byriel´s sneaky Inquisitor wisely dominates by cunning and not by in vain trying to overpower Stephen Milling. Though a bit more power and ring to the role would not have been entirely off the hook. Cleverly seen, the Inquisitor also sings the part of the Monk.

Irene Théorin was Elisabetta, and although she convinced in the last act, her voice seems to have moved towards the Brünnhilde and Isolde´s and has lost some of the lyric glow.

Nikolai Schukoff isn´t exactly a strong Don Carlo-presence and furthermore he looks like a teenager actually making Stephen Milling (about 40) look like his father.

Tommi Hakala was a rather fine Posa. Hardly his fault, that Verdi decided to shoot him five minutes (and one aria) before he actually dies, during which time he was hanging around Carlo´neck looking quite stupid.

Led by conductor Michael Schönwandt, the orchestra simply played brilliant throughout, with subtle shifts in dynamics, brilliant balancing between woodwinds and brass and with almost perfect precision. I have rarely heard better orchestral playing at this house.

A major achievement for the company and a pleasure to watch a production with such a detailed analysis of the main characters motivations. The days where the Royal Danish Opera was a provincial second-rate company are clearly over. The London Royal Opera in will be hard pressed to match this production in terms of sheer musical quality, when their new Don Carlo opens later this season...


Friday, 23 November 2007

Salzburg Festival 2008: The programme is out and tickets are now available..

UPDATE July 2008: Detailed information on the 2008 Salzburg Festival opera programme including radio transmissions here.

The programme for the 2008 Salzburg Festival is now available online (as well as tickets..).

Highlights include:

Otello - new production by Langridge, cond. Riccardo Muti, singers a.o. Antonenko (O), Poplavaskaya (D) and Àlvarez (I)

Romeo & Juliette - w/Netrebko&Villazon

Don Giovanni - new production by Claus Guth, cond: Billy, Don G: Christopher Maltman

Duke Bluebeard´s Castle - new production by Simons, cond. Eötvos, w/Struckmann, De Young

Rusalka - new production by Wieler/Morabito with Camilla Nylund and Piotr Beczala

The Magic Flute - Repremiere of Audi´s staging

As usual various concerts and recitals with a.o. Vienna & Berlin Philharmonics, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Kryzstian Zimmermann, Maurizio Pollini, Vesselina Kasarova, Elina Garanca a.o. - more info on the Festival website here

Muti will conduct "A german requiem" and Esa-Pekka Salonen will conduct Mahlers 3rd Symphony, both with the Vienna Philharmonics.

Simon Ratttle will conduct Messiaen´s Turangalila Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonics.

Gustavo Dudamel and the Símon Bolívar Youth Orchestra will be orchestra in residence.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Strike threatens the season opening at La Scala: Chéreaus Tristan in danger of cancellation

The worker´s strike at the Scala opera in Milan is now threatening the 2007-8 Season opening on December 7th, featuring Patrice Chéreau and Daniel Barenboim´s new production of Tristan and Isolde. This will be Patrice Chéreau´s first Wagner production since the Ring in Bayreuth 1976, having turned down to offers to stage Tristan and Isolde there with Barenboim in the meantime - productions which then went to Ponnelle and Heiner Müller.

In a dispute over a new national collective agreement, the strike of the Scala employees have already led to cancellations of performances Verdi´s Requiem and Cosi Fan Tutte.

As I have a ticket for the 20th december, I am, as of now, quite calm. Perhaps the 20th December will in fact turn out to be the opening night..

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Schlingensiefs "opera ghost train" in Sao Paolo

Work in progress...from Schlingensief´s official webpage
For some obscure reason (or could it be as simple as the weather?) German installation artist cum Bayreuth Parsifal director cum etc. etc., Christoph Schlingensief has chosen Brazil to premiere a substantial proportion of his new works.

This spring, it was The Flying Dutchman in Manaus, and now it´s the installation "Opera ghost train" in Sao Paolo. Described as an "opera voyage for both ears and eyes" this event may be visited until the 3rd of December. In Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Daniel Barenboim at 65: On Chereau´s Tristan, Bayreuth and the Berlin subway...

Daniel Barenboim interviewed by Tagesspiegel on his 65th birthday (excerpts in my translation):

How is it going with Tristan and Isolde [to be premiered at La Scala on December 7th, directed by Patrice Chéreau]?

DB: Oh, very good. I must say that Chéreau is a damned talented director (laughs). You probably did not know that "Tristan" is a kind of symbol of our friendship, because Chéreau should have made it with me in Bayreuth in 1981. But back then, he was honest enough to say: I cannot manage it. For five years he was directing the "Ring" on the Green Hill and then immediately afterwards "Tristan" - then Wagner's tetralogy would have become a Pentalogy! I understood that very well. In the nineties, there was another attempt, which didn´t work out for personal reasons, so we have both now talked of "Tristan" for 26 years. Unbelievable!

Have your views of the piece changed?

DB: Well, of course, now I have a little more experience with the score (laughs). And perhaps it is quite good, having done other thins for a quarter of a century, to get back to the starting point. I am very happy working with this piece. Especially because Chéreau´s analysis of the text is exceptionally accurate and based on this knowledge of the text, each character of the piece, so to speak is "fine-tuned". Because he is a gifted actor, he can also give the singers countless valuable advice. I think I don´t reveal too much by saying that Chéreau has understood that this opera is not just a chamber play. What happens between Isolde and Brangaene, between Kurwenal and Tristan, is only made clear, when the public is also involved, including the area of the choir. In addition,Tristan doesn´t exactly die on a rubber boat in this production.....

Speaking of that , what do you say to the current situation in Bayreuth, to the attempts to find a successor to Wolfgang Wagner?

DB: Actually nothing (laughs). Perhaps just this: Bayreuth is an exceptional place so that the artistic quality of his extraordinary place must remain. It must not happen that the level drops. Then the Richard Wagner Festival will lose its existence.

Can structural squabbles like this influence the artistic quality?

DB: The danger is there, of course. Anywhere. You live in Berlin, I live in Berlin, we know what we are talking about.

You are now 65…

DB: Yes, now I can ride the subway in Berlin at half price!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Tristan in Munich: Breathtaking

Tristan and Isolde. Bavarian State Opera, November 11th 2007. Production: Peter Konwitschny. Cast: Waltraud Meier (Isolde), John Treleaven (Tristan), René Pape (Marke), Michael Volle (Kurwenal), Daniela Sindram (Brangäne). Conductor: Kent Nagano.

In brief, this Konwitschny staging of Tristan and Isolde at the Bavarian State Opera was one of the most overwhelming and moving operatic experiences in memory.

To start with Waltraud Meier and René Pape , whom words simply do not do justice in the parts, which they have truly redefined.

Waltraud Meier´s identification with Isolde is almost legendary. Today she furthermore was vocally on top, effortlessly throwing out the high C´s as well as presenting her entirely compelling Isolde, detailed beyond description. As the only truly compelling female stage presence in the Wagner repertoire on stage today, I am only happy that it would seem she may perform this part for quite some time yet. She was deservedly greeted with standing ovations.

What Waltraud Meier did with Kundry in the 1090´s, René Pape has done with King Marke over the past 10 years: Entirely redefined the part and moving it onto center-stage in a very dignified portrait of the not-so-old-King who, for once, is not a whimp. Needless to say, he can also sing all the notes. A King Marke at this level, I don´t expect to see from anyone else in my lifetime.

Even John Treleaven (contrary to my expectations based on his dismal Siegfried in London 10 days ago) managed to get reasonably through the Tristan. While he did not approach the level of the others, he was more than passable. And in very fine voice too. I suppose the lower range of singing for Tristan suits his voice better than Siegfried, and who would not be inspired to act his best next to Waltraud Meier?

Michael Volle was just excellent as Kurwenal, both in voice and in acting (he still had that aged rock star look from the Eugene Onegin of the day before). Daniela Sindram was a fine Brangäne, although a bit characterless, but that seems to suit the character well.

Lastly Kent Nagano, whom I usually find too constrained and passive in Wagner was excellent. The orchestral flow moved continuously throughout, with all the dynamic tempo shifts his Onegin lacked. And light years better than his Parsifal earlier this year. Deservedly ovations to him as well.

Not to forget Konwitschny´s immensely moving staging. It is released on DVD with Waltraud Meier, which doesn´t entirely do it justice. In the theater you are completely blown away:

The first act takes place on a ship within a quadrangular section of the stage. Isolde and Brangäne are sipping cocktails and a geometrically shaped fish is seen in the background. You almost sense, that this is not real. The same applies to the act two lovers placed on a yellow sofa in front of red trees. The black steps seen on the photo below are present throughout the opera and this is where Tristan and Isolde descend (to death) and change into all-black outfits when discovered by Melot. In the third act, Tristan is alone in a stark concrete room lit by a single light bulb (the reality?), while images (from his youth?) are projected on a screen. When Isolde arrives, they both descend in front of the set, where the liebestod is sung. The opera ends with a backdrop of Marke and Brangäne in front of two white coffins. Immensely moving.

One of the finest stagings of any opera I have been so privileged to see.

Photographs from the company website

Monday, 12 November 2007

Is this a compliment?

While you apparently have to be a genius to understand AC Douglas´ blog, my blog seems to operate on high-school level. Meanwhile I´ll try and figure out how to interpret this rating scale.

The new Eugene Onegin in Munich: Hidden homosexual love, although Onegin mainly loves himself..

Eugene Onegin. Bavarian State Opera, November 10th 2008. Production: Krysztof Warlikowski. Cast: Michael Volle (Eugene Onegin), Olga Guryakova (Tatiana), Christoph Strehl (Lenski), Elena Maximova (Olga). Conductor: Kent Nagano.

Polish director Warlikowski sees Eugene Onegin as a drama of suppressed homosexuality and a desire to break out from society, main sources (according to himself) being Tchaikovsky´s autobiography, Brokeback Mountain and Warlikowski´s own childhood in a suburban working class ghetto in Poland.

This Bavarian State Opera production was in many ways quite successful - at least with half the audience, since boos and bravos were almost equally distributed.

Set in the conformist 50-60´s, the opera starts with Tatiana´s family in front of the television watching the quintessential Communist sport: Figure skating. Onegin and Lenski come straight from Brokeback Mountain, carefully eyeing out each other and not really interested in either Tatiana or Olga. Naturally, Onegin doesn´t want Tatiana - and it seems like she is more interested in breaking out of her conformist environment than in the person Onegin as well.

The duel scene takes place in bed ("I´ve always imagined it as a bed scene", says Warlikowski), where a baffled Onegin shoots Lenski as he makes advances, while a group of cowboys watch through the windows and performing a semi-naked cowboy dance afterwards (rewarded by massive boos from the audience). The rest of the opera takes place in Onegin´s dream, the stage bathed in red light as he reaches out to Tatiana for help (Warlikowski from the programme notes: "How can he love her? He doesn´t even know her"). She seems right to refuse him, since he obviously is bad news, but not much worse than her husband, who continuously tries to stop her from chain-smoking.

This concept is helped a lot by an excellent Michael Volle, who looks like a retired rock star as Onegin (a look that also worked for his Kurwenal the following day) and he both sings and acts very well. I´ve never really taken to Olga Guryakova, whom I find rather impassive.

So was Kent Nagano in the pit, although the orchestra played well. Elena Maximova was a fine Olga. Christoph Strehl was (a rather small-voiced) Lenski, but he very believably acted out his hidden love for Onegin.

We are far from Pushkin´s drama, but as a mix of Tchaikovsky´s life-story with a touch of Onegin, much of it actually worked. Although those looking for the "real" Onegin are definitely better off obtaining a DVD copy of the MET Onegin with Dmitri Hvorstovsky/Renée Fleming or Barenboim´s Salzburg Onegin, both from last season, where you get exactly what this productions fails to deliver: Emotional drama.

Another review of this production from ionarts here.

All pictures © Wilfried Hösl, courtesy of the Bavarian State Oper

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Part 13 (The Bayreuth Succession): Smoke screens...and Jürgen Flimm enters the stage

After the Board of Directors did not really address the issue of Wolfgang Wagners successor at their much anticipated meeting last Tuesday, German medias have been overflowed by various statements from and around the protagonists:

According to Jürgen Flimm, Wolfgang Wagner´s wife Gudrun is the real administrator of the Festival, since W Wagner has advanced Alzheimers according to a German music critic (quoted from Times Online)

Schmidt from the Friends of Bayreuth now states, that Wolfgang Wagner´s immediate retirement is not warranted and that his previous statements to that account are misquoted ( from Kurier)

Apparently Wolfgang Wagner has lawyers looking into the whole matter of his succession, since it has been claimed that he himself may actually have the power to appoint his own successor and that the Board of Directors has no legal authority in that matter (from Kurier)

And Jürgen Flimm (director of the 2000-Bayreuth Ring and intendant of the Salzburg Festival) is quite critical of the Festival Administration in an interview with DasErste (excerpts in my translation below):

"You are treated badly there [in Bayreuth] as a director" says Jürgen Flimm. "You sign the contract, and from there you will be treated badly. Anyone can confirm this."

"Wolfgang belongs to a totally different generation. A generation, used to ways of which we - and I am also not quite young myself [he is 66] - are not used. His is a generation of warlords and lieutenants. And he also belongs to a generation of people who got wonderfully along with the Nazis. "Uncle Wolf" was there - and gave them cameras as gifts. There are films by Wieland, made for "Uncle Wolf". This is a different way of thinking! Wieland and Wolfgang simply grew up in another atmosphere, with the awful Houston Stewart Chamberlain [husband of R. Wagner´s daughter Eva and friendly with Hitler. Died 1930] among others, and raised by Winifred, who was on excellent terms with Hitler. And they spent their formative years in an atmosphere like that".

"Schlingensief had his luck with the Parsifal [Flimm is definitely ironic here] only because Martin Kušej left. Kušej could not endure to deal with the Wagners and eventually got up and left. The same thing with Lars von Trier. He came to Bayreuth, presented his concept and then strangely vanished."

"Katharina will have problems with her mother," says Jürgen Flimm. "Gudrun Wagner is the strong woman on the hill and does not exactly have the best influence on the Festival-to put it mildly. Everybody knows this, and many who have worked there say that Gudrun at the moment is the main problem of the Festival. Wolfgang is old - that you can not blame him. Gudrun is leading the Festival. Can Katharina detach herself from this very strong woman?"
And he continues: "Eva is a major international opera manager who knows the theater business. She has, for example, been a representative of the New York Metropolitan Opera and is running things excellently at the Festival in Aix-en-Provence. Eva is a great musical theater manager!"

Indeed! Looks to me like Jürgen Flimm may consider teaming up with Eva Wagner-Pasquier. His comments on Wolfgang Wagner are pretty harsh for a Salzburg Festival intendant with no interest in the matter, other than enlightening the public, obviously......

It is very difficult to get an idea what is exactly going on right now..I have a clear feeling that smoke is being layed out and that things may not be what they seem...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

BAYREUTH breaking news (sort of..): No decision as yet...( Bayreuth Succession part 12)

The Board of Directors of the Bayreuth Festival held their long awaited meeting tonight regarding a possible successor to Wolfgang Wagner (88) as head of the Bayreuth Festival.

According to Der Spiegel:

Wolfgang Wagner was not present at his meeting, but his lawyer stated that he had no plans to retire.

Several Board members publicly expressed doubts of the suitability of the K Wagner/Thielemann/Ruzicka constellation.

No decision regarding Wolfgang Wagner´s successor was made

All members of the Wagner family interested in leading the Festival were invited to present their concepts to the Board of Directors at a later meeting.

So it seems this docu-soap may continue for some time...

Sunday, 4 November 2007

The Bayreuth Succession part 11: Peter Ruzicka talks about his role in the team...

Previous episodes of this Wagnerian docu-soap may be read here, and for new readers the background of this unique Wagnerian docu-soap is written up here.

Seems like the protagonists have been exceptionally quick (!) to follow my advice from last episode, in that Katharina Wagner and Peter Ruzicka have now given an interview to a non-tabloid magazine, Tagesspiegel (my translation).

Peter Ruzicka [in response to a statement from the interviewer, that his main role will be that of an administrator as opposed to artistic director]:
"I left the Salzburg Festival because I wanted to have more time to compose my own works. I would have said no to everyone else, besides the Bayreuth Festival. But the Wagner Festival is of major national importance, and if I am able to help out here, it is of the utmost importance not to lose this national icon."

Katharina Wagner says: " I have chosen not to comment on the malicious gossip from the past few weeks regarding the health of my father, even if that was difficult. I prefer to use my time to work on creating a concept for the Bayreuth Festival of the future. That Peter Ruzicka will help out here is absolutely wonderful for Bayreuth. He is the best."

The Nordbayrische Kurier reports that the Chairman of the Board of Directors [of the Bayreuth Festival] Toni Schmid, has been saying that the leadership of the Festival may not even be debated on Tuesday´s meeting. And it is in fact not listed high on the official menu, according to which the meeting is only a routine one focusing on standard-issues such as garden maintenance.

The most obvious conclusion to make from this statement is, that nobody wants to loose on Tuesday, and since it seems certain that Wolfgang Wagner will only cede his place to Katharina unless he be proven incapable of leading the Festival (which I doubt can be legally proven at this point), insiders may just have judged the Thielemann-K Wagner ticket not strong enough to gain the majority vote at the meeting. Which is exactly why Peter Ruzicka enters at this point...

The Bayreuth Succession episode 10: Peter Ruzicka enters the scene

Previous episodes of this Wagnerian docu-soap may be read here, and for new readers the background of this unique Wagnerian docu-soap is written up here.

For some obscure reason, the main protagonists of this drama continue to communicate their statements to the German tabloid press. This time Katharina Wagner chooses the tabloid Bild (to be published in Mondays edition) to announce the cooperation with Peter Ruzicka alongside herself and Thielemann as candidates for the Festivals future leadership:

"I am happy, that with the cooperation of Ruzicka and Thielemann, the best in their respective fields will help assure a good future for the Bayreuth Festival. This team is really capable of doing it, and this is the best possible solution for the Festival", says Katharina Wagner.

Now, Peter Ruzicka is not just the guy next door: Apart from being a composer and conductor, he was artistical director of the Salzburg Festival from 2001-6.

So why bring him in? Obviously Katharina´s main advisers (presumably her father would be among them) have judged the ticket Thielemann-K Wagner uncertain to gather a majority of votes on Tuesday. Therefore Ruzicka. Wonder if he really will be satisfied to play a "strictly administrative" part and not be involved in artistical decisions, as Katharina Wagner has stated previously that any collaborator would have to. I would very much doubt that.

I am not going to quote the numerous comments in German press and newsgroups guessing on the outcome on Tuesday: In fact one´s guess is not better than the others..

But if I may offer one (free!) piece of advice to the protagonists: If you don´t want your lives to be scrutinized in the tabloid press, you may consider alternative sources of spreading your information (although it is understandable if the Katharina Wagner-Christian Thielemann team is not too fond of Der Spiegel after they launched a very sharp anti-Thielemann campaign in 2001 accusing him of conservatism and right-wing sympathies among other things).

London ROH Ring - the high (and down)lights

To be remembered from the Warner/Pappano London Ring:

Stephen Milling´s superb Hunding.

Sir John Tomlinson´s eminent dramatic presence as Wotan with emphasis on the Walküre monologue.

That Plácido Domingo still beats everyone else as Siegmund.

The extensive Plácido Domingo-Ring-coverage from mad musings of me

That Siegfried is equivalent to a long waterdeprived walk in the desert if inadequately casted..

The London Warner/Pappano Ring: Götterdämmerung

Götterdämmerung. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. November 2nd, 2007. Production: Keith Warner. Cast: John Treleaven (Siegfried), Lisa Gasteen (Brünnhilde), Kurt Rydl (Hagen), Peter Coleman-Wright (Gunther), Emily Magee (Gutrune), Mihoko Fujimura (Waltraute), Peter Sidhorn (Alberich). Conductor: Antonio Pappano.

Somewhat surprisingly, Keith Warner doesn´t seem to tie the loose ends together in this Götterdämmerung. In the array of directors, from whom Keith Warner seems to have been inspired, Tankred Dorst of the recent Bayreuth Ring may now be added as their Götterdämmerungs looked remarkably similar on several points, such as presenting a Gibichungen Hall with a large white sofa and golden statues of the old norse, which are set on fire at the end with modern-clad people as spectators.
The white door wall from both Walküre and Siegfried serves as backdrop for the Norns as well as a suspended floor for several of the Gibichungen scenes. Perhaps not a particularly original concept from Warner, but neither a boring one.

Since it´s quite obvious that John Treleaven gives everything he has as Siegfried, I´ll cut him some slack and refer to the Siegfried post for further details. And while Lisa Gasteen displayed a beautiful steady voice (top-notes apart) in large parts of the opera, the chemistry between her and Siegfried simply was not there.
What worked, in fact, was the three Gibichungen: Peter Coleman-Wright as probably the best Gunther I have seen on stage. Emily Magee as a superbly acted Gutrune, who unfortunately often was off-pitch. And Kurt Rydl as an exceptionally fine Hagen: Superb acting and steady voice. He obviously had a very good evening and clearly the best individual performance of the evening. Extraordinarily beautiful singing was delivered by Mihoko Fujimura, though virtually devoid of drama. The Norns were fine, included rising-star Marina Poplavskaya, as was the chorus.

Antonio Pappano
continued his brisk, light-headed conducting, which somehow didn´t quite come out as well here as in the other installments, though the majority of the audience seemed to disagree with me based on the endless cheering. Standing ovations from the entire auditorium, however, was reserved for Sir John Tomlinson, who joined in at the curtain calls wearing a suit.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Superb Sibelius/Salonen/LA Phil at the London Barbican

Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Los Angeles Philharmonics: Sibelius 2nd Symphony; Return of Lemminkainen; Salonen´s Wing on Wings. Barbican Centre, November 1st 2008.

Esa-Pekka Salonen is currently touring (some of) Europe with the Los Angeles Philharmonics playing his first ever complete cycle of the Sibelius symphonies including works by additional Finnish composers such as Kaija Saariaho and himself under marketed as Sibelius Unbound.

Salonen´s own superb composition Wing on wing from 2004 is a piece for orchestra and two sopranos plus the loud-speaking voice of architect Frank Gehry of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. for which this piece was written. The sopranos had to literally run between the stage and balcony to make their wordless solos on time in this very accessible piece focusing on rhythm and rich string textures. If had been told this was Stravinsky from the period of Firebird and Sacre, I would have believed them.

Sense of rhythm and energy are some of Esa-Pekka Salonen´s biggest assets as a conductor, and suffice to say that this evening´s Sibelius 2nd symphony as well as Lemminkainen´s Return were absolutely superb. Salonen brings this very special quality to Sibelius music, never just pretty, always with that dark undercurrent just beneath the surface.
And what a seriously superb orchestra the Los Angeles Philharmonics is: Razor-sharp precision in the strings, a stunning brass section and quite obviously very committed.

I assume this Sibelius cycle will be released on CD or DVD at one point, which will then be a clear must-have.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

The London Warner/Pappano Ring: Siegfried

Siegfried. October 31th, 2007. Royal Opera Covent Garden. Production: Keith Warner. Cast: John Treleaven (Siegfried), Gerhard Siegel (Mime), John Tomlinson (Wanderer), Lisa Gasteen (Brünnhilde), Peter Sidhorn (Alberich), Phillip Ens (Fafner), Ailish Tynan (Woodbird), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Erda). Conductor: Antonio Pappano.

Though admittedly not earth-shakingly original, and with obvious references to both Harry Kupfer and Gotz Friedrich, there are still many fine points in Keith Warner´s Siegfried, which basically evolves around a plane crashing into the now well-known "room of Wotans mind" with the ubiquitous spiral still present.

Among the several good points were: Illustrating Siegfrieds childhood by having him played by several actors during Mime's narration; Siegfrieds descent into a dream-world for his 2nd act narration with phony stars and plastic animals, in excellent accordance with the music; the woodbird is a plastic creation controlled by the wood-bird singer as well as by Wotan (I have always thought this the most logical interpretaton); Fafner is decapitated and appeared underneath the quadrangular Tarnhelm sub-stage; the Wotan-Erda scene takes place around the spinning wall also used in Walkure act 3.

So far, the best installment of Keith Warners Ring Cycle with an appealing combination of mythology and psychoanalysis.

John Treleaven simply isn`t cut out for Siegfried, no matter how much he tries. And he clearly does try. However, neither stage appearance nor voice may carry him safe through the evening. Though admittedly, one has to cut him some slack as Siegfried is not an easy part to cast. Neither does Lisa Gasteen really bring anything to the role of Brunnhilde, an uninteresting stage appearance, shaky upper notes and a too heavy vibrato.
Sir John Tomlinson, a magnificent Wotan in his prime, really does not have the voice for the Wanderer anymore with the extended legato-lines and high tessitura exposing his exact weak points. Though for his commitment and stage command one is willing to cut him quite an amount of slack. Catherine Wyn-Rogers is no more suited suitable as Siegfried Erda than Rheingold-Erda. On the positive side Gerhard Siegel makes a fine Mime, though relying extensively on sprech-gesang.

The orchestra continued the brisk, Hollywood-style playing with Pappano, sounding fine all the way, very precisely following the singers, but with relatively few nuances.
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