Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Berlin: Verdi Requiem with Barenboim, Villazon, Pape etc.

Earlier this week, two performances of the Verdi Requiem were given in Berlin, with the Berlin Staatskapelle conducted by Daniel Barenboim and with soloists Anja Harteros, Sonia Ganassi, Rolando Villazon and René Pape (more here).

Generally there was praise to everybody involved in particular the male soloists and Daniel Barenboim, but overall reviews were very positive.


There was something touching to his performance, even though Villazóns famous subtleness has little power next to the sonorous René Pape and the soprano singers.

Berliner Morgenpost:

Rolando Villazón has recovered his cheerful singing and demonstrated his old skills undisturbed in a new garb. René Pape would have been sincerely missed if he did not take part in an occasion like this...

Monday, 25 February 2008

Rolando Villazon speaks about his absence, his vocal crisis and his plans for the future including no heavy roles and fewer performances

An interview with Rolando Villazon in the March edition of the German opera magazine Opernglas (my translation):

Ursula Ehrensberger from Opernglas met the singer in Berlin.

Mr. Villazón, we have missed you! Where were you in recent months?

Rolando Villazón: I was at home and also on an island, with my family, but also with my books. I also missed the stage, but I wanted to recover my inner strength, to load the inner volcano again to be able to give hundredandfifty percent without suffering.

Did you have, to use a modern word, a "burnout"?

Rolando Villazón: Maybe you could call it that, although I personally do not use this word. I have always said, that I myself do not set the limits in what I am doing; borders will emerge by themselves. And so it was: There was suddenly a limit, I couldn´t meld in with the rhythm of my performances, didn´t have the usual intensity, but I was at a point where it was physically not going forward. The voice is very wise, and it said, "Either you listen, or I will never work." At first I tried with a break of five weeks, as the doctors had advised me, but when I came back, nothing was improved. And so I decided to make not only a break of five weeks, but about five months. I know that it was quite risky, doing what I have done. The biggest step was to accept that I needed a break. But when I had done it, it was wonderful to step down from the mountain and analyze it from the distance, to detect the dangers and risks on that mountain, so they are not repeated in the future. Something similar may happen to anyone. And if there's something interesting in all this, it is not because I am a famous opera singer, but because I am a human being.

Was the danger for you maybe exceptionally high because you are so intense in all that you are doing ?

Rolando Villazón: That will remain, I promise you! Even though the price may be a shorter career. In recent months, I had plenty of time to read, which is one of my favourite hobbies, and I have read the letters of Seneca. One said: "Do not be afraid of difficult times, because they may never come." That is why you shouldn´t worry, but enjoy the present. What do you win? Time. And when the desperate moments then come, you will just have to suffer. It belongs to every life. But we should not stop doing the things that are important. I try every time I go on stage, to sing as if it was the most important performance of my life, the first and the last, both in one. That will not change: I want to "die" on the stage. What will change is the rhythm, with which I perform. The time between the performances need to be longer.

In what direction do you want to go now? It has been the impression that your voice has become heavier and more dramatic.

Rolando Villazón: One of the changes will also include to distance myself from my dreams of singing heavier roles, at least for now. Previously, I have always said: "I will sing Otello, even if it is the last thing I do." Now I sing Werther, Roméo, Rodolfo, Alfredo - and it should stay that way. And I am considering to add some baroque roles. I would also tend to go in the other, lighter direction, and further develop the softness of the voice. If the voice itself moves in a certain direction, it is okay, but I will not push. I was scheduled to sing Cavaradossi in a large new "Tosca" production at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden. But I had decided to abstain from it and then discussed it with Maestro Barenboim. He agreed and suggested to me to sing Lenski in the new "Eugen Onegin" production in the autumn of 2008, which more ideally fits my voice. I immediately agreed with enthusiasm.

Full interview in German here

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Konwitschny Don Carlos or Hey Posa, is that my pizza?

Don Carlos (French 5-act). Vienna State Opera 2004. Production: Peter Konwitschny. Cast: Ramon Vargas (Don Carlos), Iano Tamar (Elisabeth), Nadja Michael (Eboli), Bo Skovhus (Posa), Alastair Miles (Phillippe). Conductor: Bertrand de Billy. Further information here.

German director Peter Konwitschny´s staging of Don Carlos at the Vienna State Opera is now released on DVD and in short: It´s genuinely recommendable, though long...

Peter Konwitschny´s stagings range from the sublime (Elektra, Tristan, Flying Dutchman) to the weird and incomprehensible (Parsifal, Lohengrin). This Don Carlos definitely borders on the sublime and is clearly based on a very thorough study of the text.

This is the complete original 1867 French version recorded live at the Vienna State Opera in October 2004 with myriads of extra music for those familiar with the shorter Italian versions including the reinstated Act III ballet, here called "Eboli´s Dream", where Eboli and Carlos lives in a bourgeois milieu, a happily married Philip and Elisabeth comes for dinner, and Posa of Posa´s pizza delivers the pizzas..

The concept is very convincing - from the open star-covered space in Act I in which Carlos and Elisabeth first meets, to the confined grey environment in the very minimalistic staging of the following acts. I thought the controversial auto-da-fe, played out between the audience (who had left their seats) and "television reporters" in the foyer of the Vienna State Opera following the arrival of Elisabeth and Philip all the way onto the stage worked brilliantly. I have previously seen this production in the theater and this whole auto-da-fé business, allowing audiences to walk back and forth between the auditorium and the foyer really was quite an experience.

Followed by a well-thought out execution of Philip´s monologue with Eboli lying in his bed and the blind Inquisitor inadvertently stepping on her dress preventing her from leaving the room. Eboli dreams of a future with Carlos, as shown in "Eboli´s Dream", mentioned above. However, in the end she gets murdered by the Inquisition. Posa is both intellectual and near-sighted, always trying to seize whatever possibility comes his way. Surprisingly, the ending is optimistic, with the monk (recognized as Carlos V in disguise as he drops his "crown" on the floor in the first act) rescuing the lovers.

Nadja Michael is a brilliant actress and very beautiful as well. Her voice is huge, however I am slightly bothered with her vibrato in her upper ranges. Ramon Vargas sings beautifully as Carlos, but comes across rather anonymous on stage. So does, unfortunately, Alastair Miles as Philip. Iano Tamar makes a fine Elisabeth, but is no match for Karita Mattila in the Paris Châtelet production. Bo Skovhus convinces as the intellectual (= he wears glasses) Posa. All accompanied by the brilliant chorus and orchestra conducted by Bertrand de Billy.

This is the only alternative to the Paris Châtelet production for a French Don Carlos on DVD, and in terms of staging, the more innovative of the two. The casting of the Châtelet production has a slight edge, particular regarding Karita Mattila´s Queen and José Van Dam´s King. But both these versions, in my opinion, are vastly more interesting than the Italian versions available on DVD, which is somewhat unfortunate for those who, like me, prefer the Italian Don Carlo.

The auto-da-fe as it has never looked before:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Ramon Vargas: 3-4
Alastair Miles: 4
Iano Tamar: 4
Bo Skovhus: 4
Nadja Michael: 4

Peter Konwitschny´s staging: 5

Bertrand de Billy: 5

Overall impression: 5

Starry DVD Don Carlos from the Paris Châtelet

Don Carlos. Paris Châtelet 1996. Production: Bondy. Cast: Karita Mattila (Elisabeth), Roberto Alagna (Don Carlos), Thomas Hampson (Rodrigo), Waltraud Meier (Eboli). Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Further information here.

Luc Bondy is the director of this very elegant and stylish Don Carlos production, recorded live at the Châtelet Opera, Paris in 1996. The sets are simple, no attempts at showing "contemporary relevance" in the dressing, and following the libretto more or less closely. Here, Elisabeth is sleeping in Philip´s bed during the monologue - in Konwitschny´s Vienna production Eboli sleeps there. And Don Carlos is saved at last as well. Perhaps the highlight of this production is the very beautiful "lacrymosa" scene (later to be incorporated into the Requiem) in which Philip and Carlos lament the death of Posa.

A starry cast was assembled for this production lead by the superb Karita Mattila as Elisabeth and the equally fine Waltraud Meier as Eboli both with plenty of stage charisma as well as brilliant singing. It´s often been said that Waltraud Meier does not fit in well with this sort of repertoire, but here she seems more than fine. Together with Karita Mattila´s Act 5 aria, she got the biggest applause after the "Don Fatale" aria.

While Thomas Hampson was a rather anonymous Posa (why does he need to have such long hair?), José Van Dam was good, although a bit dry-voiced as Philip and dramatically very convincing. Eric Halfvarson´s Inquisitor scrambled around the floor and while rather flat vocally, he was a genuinely menacing dramatic presence. And finally Roberto Alagna... there is something very sleek about both his presence and singing here that frankly irritates me. But not the audience judged by the raptuous reception he got. Fine performance also from the orchestra conducted by Antonio Pappano.

In short, musically this performance is superior to the Konwitschny staging from Vienna, although the latter may boast of a more imaginative staging.

Karita Mattila with Elisabeth´s big Act 5 aria:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Roberto Alagna: 4
Karita Mattila: 5
Waltraud Meier: 5
Thomas Hampson: 4
José Van Dam: 4

Luc Bondy´s staging: 4

Antonio Pappano: 4-5

Overall impression: 4-5

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

High-quality Meistersinger revival at Deutsche Oper Berlin

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Deutsche Oper Berlin, February 16th 2008. Production: Götz Friedrich. Cast: Robert Holl (Sachs), Stig Andersen (Walther), Michaela Kaune (Eva), Markus Brück (Beckmesser). Conductor: Peter Schneider.

You only needed to hear 3 bars of the prelude to realize, that this was going to be a musically excellent performance. Conducted by Peter Schneider, the orchestra played up to their best. And in this notoriously difficult piece as well..In fact, it´s not that difficult to get through, but to Schneider´s reading is not as light-hearted brilliant as Thielemann or as dramatic as Barenboim, but falls somewhere between these two categories and he more than holds his own here.

The production is Götz Friedrich´s old one from 1993, also available on DVD. While it probably doesn´t offend anyone, neither does it excite, being equally boring on DVD vs. in the house.
Lenus Carlson (singing Kothner) was the only member performing this evening of the original cast of 1993 and according to an interview, the cast rehearsed with Friedrich 6 hours a day for two months before that premiere. "Don´t give me that Juillard-shit" - Götz Friedrich apparently told Carlson, whenever he did something that didn´t please him, which according to Carlson did not happen very often, though.

Robert Holl is a rather good Hans Sachs. Not under real pressure at any point and holding his way throughout. Also fine singing from Stig Andersen as Walther as well as Markus Brück´s both funny and well-sung Beckmesser and Michaela Kaune´s almost ideal Eva, whom all received major applause from the audience.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Karita Mattila´s Salome

Karita Mattila´s Salome documented with the below video clips from her 2003 Paris Salome debut and audio clips from the Metropolitan 2004 run of performances of Jürgen Flimms´s production, revived in 2008/9. Review of the 2009 Met performance here.

Karita Mattila is the best Salome I´ve heard since Ljuba Welitsch, The timbre of Mattila´s voice is just incredibly moving in a way that´s difficult to explain, but which is apparent from the video clips below.

Confrontation with Jochanaan - Paris (James Conlon conducts, Falk Struckmann is Jochanaan)

Final scene - part 1:

Final scene - part 2:

Posted by Operalou on YouTube

Salome, Final Scene Part 1, Metropolitan 2004, Audio with clips from the production:

Salome, Final Scene Part 2, Metropolitan 2004, Audio with clips from the production:

Salome, First Confrontation with Jochanaan, Metropolitan 2004, Audio with clips from the production:

Salome, Second Confrontation with Jochanaan, Metropolitan 2004, Audio with clips from the production:

McVicar with triumphant L´Incoronazione di Poppea in Copenhagen

L´Incoronazione di Poppea. Royal Danish Opera, February 14th, 2007. Production: David McVicar. Cast: Tuva Semmingsen (Nerone), Ylva Kihlberg (Poppea), Sine Bundgaard (Drusilla). Lars Ulrik Mortensen conducts Concerto Copenhagen.

This David McVicar production of L´Incoronazione de Poppea is a co-production between the Royal Danish Opera, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Opera de Strasbourg, Berlin State Opera and Bruxelles La Monnaie.

L´Incoronazione di Poppea opened last month as the first baroque opera to be staged at the new waterfront Copenhagen Opera House, as opposed to the baroque-stage The Old Stage. It scored a major success with both audiences and critics alike resulting in a sold-out run of performances.

First of all, it is a stilistically elegant and very aesthetic production. Simple set designs of a spare blue/metallic backgound with a leopard-skin covered sofa serving as the only decoration. David McVicar succeeds in bringing the figures alive and infuses drama into the piece, which at times also is very very funny, especially in the scenes involving mezzo-soprano Susanne Resmark showing off her major comic talent as Nero´s wife Ottavia´s old maid Nutrice and tenor Gert Henning-Jensen (Poppea´s maid Arnalta - here depicted as a drag-queen).

There is more than a hint of decadence to David McVicar´s concept, showing a cocaine-sniffing, unsympathetic Nero (fabulously sung and acted by Tuva Semmingsen), who looks (and acts) suspiciously like Prince (the rock-singer). McVicar´s twist of placing the Act II discussion of the philosophers´ in a TV-studio makes exceptional sense and clearly contributes to showing the timelessness of this 400-year old piece. Those familiar with previous David McVicar stagings such as Rigoletto, Manon, Salome, Nozze di Figaro or Giulio Cesare will know that this examination of a civilization in decay is a central theme of David McVicar´s work. Nevertheless this Poppea counts among his finest works.

The brilliantly sung Poppea by Ylva Kihlberg clearly does not love Nero (why would she?) - she is focused only on becoming an Empress, in which she of course succeeds. Sine Bundgaard sang beautifully as Drusilla (the new lover of Poppea´s ex-husband), one of the few genuinely sympathetic characters. Trine Bastrup Møller was very funny as well as in good voice as Valletto/Amor. A close to ideal casting of this opera.

Excellent performance in the pit from the period ensemble Concerto Copenhagen conducted by the tireless Lars Ulrik Mortensen from the cembalo. Their enthusiasm for this music was clearly communicated to the audience, without doubt a key factor to the success of this production.
In short a performance of the highest international class and another reminder that the times in which the Royal Danish Opera was a back-water company are over.

Sold on ebay: Bayreuth Parsifal 2008 ticket for 452 Euros

For reviews of Stefan Herheim´s 2008 Bayreuth Parsifal - link here

The first black-market ticket for the Bayreuth Festival 2008 was sold on ebay today: Original price 159 Euro.. sold for 452 Euros. Considering that this is the new Parsifal production, I´d honestly have expected prices to go higher, which I am sure they will in a couple of months time. Last year, one ticket for Schlingensief´s Parsifal production was sold for 800 Euros..

For the sake of the buyer I hope the seller has disguised his/her identity sufficiently, though I wouldn´t be too sure since both the location of the ticket, category, performance date and orientation in the auditorium was mentioned. If the Box Office of the Bayreuth Festival manages to discover the identity of the seller, the ticket will be revoked, and the buyer denied entrance. Last year, several tickets were withdrawn from ebay, after the Box Office discovered the identity of the seller, and subsequently contacted them.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Inga Nielsen (1946-2008), distinguished Danish soprano

Inga Nielsen, the most distinguished Danish soprano of the recent 50 years, died yesterday in Copenhagen.

Inga Nielsen grew up in the United States, and started out in the lyric coloratura soprano repertoire, working her way up in the 1970´s through various German opera houses. Highlights from this part of her career includes Konstanze (Die Entführung aus dem Serail ) in both Salzburg and at Covent Garden with Georg Solti. She was also a flower-maiden in Karajan´s Parsifal recording.

Inga Nielsen sings "Marter aller arten" - from The Abduction from the Seraglio, Salzburg 1988:

My first meeting with Inga Nielsen took place around 1985 - I was 13 and played in a local youth orchestra. She was scheduled to sing Vier letzte lieder with us at the local Town Hall in Gentofte, where she impressed everyone with her pleasant and friendly manners as well as her beautiful singing.

The immediate quality of Inga Nielsen´s voice is the freshness and clarity. In the 1990´s she made a highly successful switch from the lyric to the lyric-dramatic/dramatic repertoire and managed to preserve that exact freshness despite both a heavy repertoire and heavy singing schedule.

I vividly remember her visiting Copenhagen as an eerily moving and crystal-clear on-pitch Salome, a part she also recorded on a highly acclaimed CD conducted by Michael Schönwandt with her husband Robert Hale as Jochanaan. The photographs of her Salome (and her Norma) are still on display in the foyer of the Berlin State Opera.

Unfortunately I never heard her as The Empress (Frau Ohne Schatten), a part she sang to major acclaim in several major houses including Vienna and Los Angeles. Other major successes in the later years included Chrysothemis, Tosca, Norma as well as Schönberg´s Erwartung and especially Elsa (Lohengrin) a part I heard her sing in Peter Konwitschny´s staging in Hamburg. It was in this role she made her last performance at the Royal Danish Opera last year.

Recently a superb CD with highlights from her 50+-years recording career has been issued, which displays Inga Nielsens incredible versatility ranging from Marguerite in Faust to Richard Wagner. Strongly recommended.

We have lost a unique voice and musical personality. May she rest in peace.

Inga Nielsen and Plácido Domingo in the St Sulpice duet from Manon:

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Glyndebourne Tristan on DVD: Brilliant orchestra in a static production with superb singing mainly from Pape and Skovhus

Tristan and Isolde. Glyndebourne 2007. Production: Lehnhoff. Cast: Nina Stemme (Isolde), Robert Gambill (Tristan), René Pape (King Marke), Bo Skovhus (Kurwenal), Katerina Karneus (Brangäne). Conductor: Jiří Bělohlávek. Further information here.

Nikolaus Lehnhoff´s production of Tristan and Isolde, seen for the first time in Glyndebourne 2003 and revived 2007, is both beautiful and aesthetic. A (semi)-abstract staging, it is set on and around a semicircular womb-like set of rings on a backdrop of changing colours within the blue-white-red color spectre on which the characters move slowly around.

In theory, an excellent backdrop for a meditative approach aiming to expose the inner roots of this work. However, I was left with an impression of a static piece as opposed to a flowing and dynamic one and the concept provided me with no insights into the characters motivations or actions. Dynamic interaction or exploration into the motivations of the characters clearly is not high on Lehnhoff´s agenda. Compared what Patrice Chéreau may achieve with the piece, one cannot help feeling disappointed with Lehnhoff.

Swedish soprano Nina Stemme made her debut as Isolde when this production was new in 2003 to major international acclaim. And she is indeed a fine Isolde, both warmly sung and finely characterized, both vocally and dramatically. However, a shrill quick vibrato mares the upper mid-range of her voice, becoming increasingly disturbing under pressure, which prevents me from fully enjoying her interpretation. And though a fine actress, I miss a certain capacity to go over the edge. Nevertheless, Nina Stemme sings the part well and is vastly superior to 99,9% of the Isoldes on the circuit today, that is : Everyone except Waltraud Meier. Something you unfortunately cannot say of Robert Gambill, who simply disappoints as Tristan, both vocally and dramatically, even without expecting anything like a Melchior-level performance.

The real highlights are René Pape´s marvellous King Marke followed by Bo Skovhus´ fine Kurwenal, who also succeeds in appearing alive in this production as opposed most of the other protagonists, René Pape excepted. Katerina Karneus made a fine Brangäne as well, with a firm and round voice.

And then the magnificent playinh from the London Philharmonic Orchestra superbly conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek. Rarely have I heard such inspired and magnetic orchestra playing in this repertoire, especially from a non-Germanic orchestra. I am embarrassed to admit to my limited knowledge of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Jiří Bělohlávek made the music flow, had attention to detail without being tedious and succeeded in creating the long lines, making the piece come alive.

A 60-second highlights of the DVD may be seen here:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Nina Stemme: 4
Robert Gambill: 2
René Pape: 5
Bo Skovhus: 4-5
Katerina Karneus: 4

Lehnhoff´s production: 4

Jiri Belohlavek´s conducting: 4

Overall impression: 4

MET Eugene Onegin on DVD: Unforgettable

Eugene Onegin. Metropolitan Opera 2007. Production: Robert Carsen. Cast: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Onegin), Renée Fleming (Tatiana), Ramon Vargas (Lenski). Conductor: Valery Gergiev. Further information here.

This is without doubt the most exciting performance I have seen from the Metropolitan Opera, in addition to being one of the best operatic DVDs ever to have been issued.

Robert Carsen´s simplistic sets provide the ideal background for a production with the focus on Dmitri Hvorostovsky´s marvellous Eugene Onegin. He is simply the Eugene Onegin of the century: Ideal in both physical appearance and voice: The haughty manners, perfectly smooth legato lines combined with superb acting, way above his usual standard, perhaps influenced by Renée Fleming´s moving Tatiana. They have superb chemistry on stage and the final scene is simply unforgettable. Also a fine though slightly dry performance from Ramón Vargas as Lenski.
Where I would have expected Valery Gergiev to sparkle in the pit, I rather found him slightly hollow, in what approached an off-night by his own standards.

They bring this story alive in one of the most searing operatic performances I have ever witnessed. Helped by Pusjkin´s great and eternally relevant story of love and rejection.

My only complaint is that this is spread out on 2 discs, while it could very well have fitted into one.

Initially I though, this would be the undisputed best DVD version of Eugene Onegin for years to come. However, merely a couple of months later, the dark, brooding 2007 Salzburg production conducted by Daniel Barenboim emerged, meaning that two of the best operatic DVDs on the entire operatic DVD market are 2007 productions of Eugene Onegin. And yes, Barenboim does beat out Gergiev in musical depth. And Peter Mattei is the equal of Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Both versions are essential viewing.

Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the final scene:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Dmitri Hvorostovsky: 5
Renée Fleming: 5
Ramon Vargas: 4

Robert Carsen´s staging: 5

Valery Gergiev: 4

Overall impression: 5

Bayreuth Festival - practical information

Due to the increasing number of readers accessing this site to get practical information on the Bayreuth Festival I have created a new post "Bayreuth Festival" collecting all my writings on the practical issues related to visiting the Bayreuth Festival, based on my attendance of the 2007 Bayreuth Festival.

Furthermore a label "Bayreuther Festspiele - practical information" has been created (link here and also from the right side bar).

Saturday, 2 February 2008

The Bayreuth Succession part 16: A new company, lost letters and the resignation of Gottfried Wagner´s leadership ambitions

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.

Exerpts from Kurier:

Katharina Wagner and Wolfgang Wagner have jointly founded the "BF media GmBh" - (BF = Bayreuther Festspiele), a company with the purpose of "the commercial exploitation of rights and products in the field of performing arts, especially musical theater". [ehh..what?]
The laywer Stefan Müller explains that the company is funded 1) for tax reasons, but probably more importantly as a vehicle for 2) transferring economical risks for certain arrangements away from Wolfgang Wagner´s personal assets and to this fund. As an example of such activities, concerts in Tokyo by Bayreuth Festival participants were mentioned. With the new company, the enomic risks would now be transferred to the "BF Medien GmbH". The company's purpose has been deliberately broad in the outset, Mueller said in an interview with the Nordbayerischer Kurier. Concerts, internet, host games, and much more could come along. Katharina Wagner will be Chief executive. [Just another step on her way to cementate her position as the legitimate heir]

Gottfried Wagner (60) , son of Wolfgang Wagner claims that he is not interested in Bayreuth Festival Leadership [wise decision since he wouldn´t stand any chance of getting it should he be thus inclined...]

He is, however interested in the fate of the 278 letters of Winifried Wagner, which he claimed "his uncle and father manipulated and modified to get through the denazification process after the war" [probably true].
And that in the future the complete Festival Archives should be opened [agreed, but I fear it will never happen, and there are also quite a few letters in Munich which Winifried Wagner gave to a relative, that I´d very much like to see examined in public]

Apparently Gottfried Wagner has some kind of hausverbot on the Green Hill, but the interviewer didn´t succeed in finding out whether he was actually allowed to show up at this summer´s Festival or not [he probably doesn´t know it himself].

Furtwängler and Barenboim

Direct quote from Furtwängler, at his denazification trial [he was eventually cleared of all charges] (from Ardoin´s The Furtwängler record) :

"I knew Germany was in a terrible crisis; I felt responsible for German music, and it was my task to survive this crisis, as much as I could. The concern that my art was misused for propaganda had to yield to the greater concern that German music be preserved, that music be given to the German people by its own musicians. These people, the compatriots of Bach and Beethoven, of Mozart and Schubert, still had to go on living under the control of a regime obsessed with total war. No one who did not live here himself in those days can possibly judge what it was like.
"Does Thomas Mann [who was critical of Furtwängler’s actions] really believe that in 'the Germany of Himmler' one should not be permitted to play Beethoven? Could he not realize, that people never needed more, never yearned more to hear Beethoven and his message of freedom and human love, than precisely these Germans, who had to live under Himmler’s terror? I do not regret having stayed with them."

From a recent fascinating article (highly recommended) on Daniel Barenboim in TimesOnline (full article here)

"So how does Barenboim reconcile his reverence for Furtwängler with the fact that Furtwängler conducted for Hitler throughout the war, even after Jews in his own orchestras had been sent to their death?

“I have thought about this all my life. I don’t think Furtwängler was an active Nazi. But he belonged to a generation that still believed one could close one’s eyes to bad things and live through art. They viewed music as separate from life. Which also explains how Hitler was moved to tears by a performance of Lohengrin, and then that same evening was able to send thousands to the gas chambers. "

“Our challenge in the 21st century is to use music not only as an escape from life – in the sense that you come home fed up, put on music, and forget your troubles – but also as a way of making sense of the world. Music is not an alternative to living; it’s a model for living.”

Furtwängler in the Third Reich: 500 private letters now released

A biography on Furtwängler´s widow, Elisabeth Furtwängler , who at 97 is still alive, has just been released.
The following is translated from Berliner Morgenpost (link here):

"One might assume that all about Wilhelm Furtwängler has already been written. Far from it, and with the first book about Elisabeth Furtwängler, his 25 years younger widow, we now become aware of how little we previously have known about Furtwängler, the man.

Klaus Lang, an expert on Furtwängler is the author of this Elisabeth Furtwängler biography, with the subtitle "The 95-year old girl", which is held largely in the form of dialogue - far more than just a portrait it is a journey through families, orchestral and contemporary history.

For decades Lang has been in close contact with the now 97-year-old great-grandmother, and she has entrusted him with precious documents, never before made public: A poem, dedicated to her mother Kathinka by Kurt Tucholsky and 500 love letters, written by her and Wilhelm Furtwängler in the years 1941-1954.

This book also contributes to the ongoing debate about Furtwängler role in the Third Reich. The infamous handshake with Goebbels in April 1942 has often been interpreted as a pact between Wilhelm Furtwängler and Hitler's Germany although it has long been clear that this is a misinterpretation.

Read and be amazed: "My archenemy Richard Strauss" he is called in a letter, although Furtwängler enthusiastially conducted his symphonic pieces.
The background of this enmity is the following: In 1934 Furtwängler was vehemently defending Hindemith, which led to his resignation from all his Berlin Offices. But Strauss, then president of the Reich Chamber of Culture, stabbed hin in the back by congratulation Goebbels at the same time of his "greeat cultural speech" - in a telegram that Furtwängler in a letter called "disgusting".

Above all, however, Elisabeth Furtwängler remains key figure. "Fu", as she fondly called her husband, would have shot himself, had he known of the Holocaust, she assures in the book. The following is perhaps the most significant statement in the whole book, which summarizes Furtwängler´s reactions after the couple in Switzerland shortly before the end of the war had been told everything about the concentration camps "Wilhelm hugged me and said:" We can, when we think of it, never, never more have a feeling of happiness'. He was appalled that, there were such Germans pigs and could not calm down. " His love letters show the famous musician´s tender side. "Loving you gives me a feeling of a power, which I have not previousl known" he writes in the perhaps most touching letter dated 19 April 1942. "

Originally by Kirsten Liese for Berliner Morgenpost

Friday, 1 February 2008

Christof Loy with new Lucio Silla in Copenhagen

Lucio Silla. Royal Danish Opera, The Old Stage. January 2008. Production: Christoph Loy. Cast: Michael Kristensen (Lucio Silla), Susanne Elmark (his sister), Mariselle Martinez (Cecilio), Simone Kermes (Giunia), Agneta Eichenholz (Cinna). Conductor: Andreas Stoehr with the Royal Danish Orchestra.

Lucio Silla is Mozart´s 7th opera, 2,5 hours long and written when he was 16 years old. I believe this statement sums up why anybody would even think of staging this opera today: From a musicologists viewpoint the early Mozart is mainly interesting in that is points forward to the late and from an isolated musical and dramatical viewpoint, few will disagree that an individual masterpiece is is not. This season saw the Danish premiere of Lucio Silla at The Old Stage (as opposed to the new Copenhagen Opera House) of the Royal Danish Opera.

German director Christof Loy, a specialist in Mozart and baroque opera including an excellent Alcina in Munich last season, succeeds in peeling the layers off Lucia Silla leaving the essentials behind: A powerful man loves a woman, who doesn´t love him and the man she does love tries to kill the powerful man, who in the end forgives them all in a Sarastro-like manner. Musically the arrow pointing to Don Giovanni is obvious in several of the orchestral fragments, the recitatives are generally interesting, but the arias, for most part, seem to be lacking in variation. But again, any other 16 year old who could even match this?

And why does this take 2,5 hours: Mainly because the main characters sing several arias each on the same subject before moving along.The work could easily have been shortened by 50% without loosing any dramatic elements.

Much praise to Christof Loy for making this (almost) not boring, a success mainly due to the convincing dramatic interaction between the main characters. The sets are simple and very aesthetic held mainly in black-and-white, the time of the action is unspecified, though the characters are wearing suits.

Michael Kristensen convinces as Lucio Silla, the Sarastro-look-alike, in the end alone in the spotlight, left by all. Also a fine performance from Susanne Elmark as his sister, a very pleasant lyric soprano and elegant stage manners. Chilean mezzo Mariselle Martinez was Cecilio, German soprano Simone Kermes his beloved Giunia and Agneta Eichenholz his fried Cinna, all fine. The Royal Opera Orchestra was effectively conducted by Andreas Stoehr.

But most of all Christoph Loy is to be congratulated with successfully making this Roman music drama debatable quality work.

DVD: Superb Moses and Aron from Vienna

Moses and Aron. Vienna State Opera 2006. Production: Reto Nickler. Cast: Franz Grundheber (Moses), Thomas Moser (Aron). Conductor: Daniele Gatti. Further information here.

This is the first DVD version of Schönberg´s Moses and Aron, recorded at the Vienna State Opera in 2006.
Reto Nickler was brought in as a last-minute substitute for Willy Decker, at a point where the set decorations had already been made, and succeeds in communicating the basic conflict of the opera: The "pure faith" (represented by Moses´ sprechgesang) vs. the essential "communication" to convince the people (represented by Aron´s placid tenor lines).

A cylinder makes up the center of the otherwise bare stage encompassing a.o. the "magic staff "and the "blood-red Nile" via computerized projections. The letters I-C-H (transl: "me") makes up the center of the production dancing around the golden calf, together with video projections of various seemingly unrelated events, such as the Vienna Opera Ball...

Superbly acted and sung performances as both Moses by Franz Grundheber, and Thomas Moser in the tremendously difficult part as Aron. Clear and precisely conducted by Daniele Gatti. I find it difficult to imagine a better performance of this work.

And as an addition, there is a 45 minute interview with the protagonists, including Franz Grundheber reading from the third act, which Schönberg never put to music, in which Moses finally triumphs over Aron , as opposed to the opera´s ending, where Moses is the the loser.


The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Franz Grundheber: 5
Thomas Moser: 5

Reto Nickler´s production: 5

Daniele Gatti: 5

Overall impression: 5

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