Thursday, 27 November 2008
Doing this, he was the first conductor, other than James Levine, to conduct Tristan at the Met since Erich Leinsdorf in 1974. Daniel Barenboim has brought his own cast, which includes Katarina Dalayman and Peter Seiffert in the title parts as well as René Pape.
Much discussion has focused on Peter Seifferts use of an eletronic earpice prompter. Apparently he used this ear-plug prompter for previous Tristan performances at the Berlin State Opera. I had no idea they used this kind of electronic equipment in Berlin, however, I suppose, why not?
On Tristan and Isolde, Daniel Barenboim has this to say: "Tristan is an opera about death. And it is that death, the fear of death and the looking for death as the only possible way to solve the entanglement in which they find, this is, if you want, the locomotive, the motor of the opera. There is nothing more democratic in the world than death. In the end, it comes to everyone, rich and poor, good and bad, and is one of the things that we all have to deal with. ... He who spends his life without thinking about death misses out on one of the most forceful dimensions of human existence."
Daniel Barenboim rearranged the orchestra during the rehearsals to have the wood-winds and brass to the right and the strings to the left, an arrangement he also used at La Scala last season, which obviously must have required a bit adjustments for the musicians.
Nevertheless Daniel Barenboim got glorious reviews (New York Times, Financial Times, Epoch Times. Dallas Morning News reviewed the performance with Waltraud Meier).
René Pape, quite as expected. It may not speak top well of the qualities of the other performers, though few will disagree that René Pape is in his own class as King Marke.
As Barenboim´s chosen leads Peter Seiffert and Katarina Dalayman had cancelled numerous Tristans with him over the past two years in Berlin, neither of them were really expected to complete the run, and in this respect they fully lived up to expectations. Gary Lehman replaced Peter Seiffert on occasion, and lo! behold a miracle: Waltraud Meier replaced Katarina Dalayman once, in what was probably her only appearance as Isolde at the Met. On the other occasion the part was taken by Linda Watson.
There is no video footage of Barenboim in this production, so instead René Pape as King Marke, who, Barenboim and Waltraud Meier apart, has always been the only really compelling reason to watch this production, right from the opening in 1999:
Posted on YouTube by layne867
Tuesday, 1 July 2008
Tristan and Isolde.Production: Dieter Dorn. Recorded live from the Metropolitan Opera 2001. Cast: Ben Heppner (Tristan), Jane Eaglen (Isolde), René Pape (King Marke), Katarina Dalayman (Brangäne), Hans-Joachim Ketelsen (Kurwenal). Conductor: James Levine. Further details here.
If Tristan and Isolde had been a staged oratorio for bass and (mezzo)-soprano, this would have been a fine performance indeed.
The smooth, polished sound of James Levine´s Metropolitan Opera Orchestra makes for meditative listening - at some point even approximating the effect of a sleeping pill.
Beautiful, it most certainly is. Engaged and passionate, it most certainly is not. And with this score, it really does make all the difference. Just listen to Daniel Barenboim to appreciate exactly what James Levine lacks here. Or listen to James Levine himself conducting Puccini or Verdi...
Katarina Dalayman and René Pape both look entirely out of place in this setting. René Pape had his major international breakthrough in this production with his beautifully sung and convincingly acted King Marke. As Brangäne, Katarina Dalayman is more peripheral to the drama, but nevertheless superb. René Pape sings for approximately 15 minutes, Katarina Dalayman for slightly more. Now only three hours are left...
Jane Eaglen and Ben Heppner both look and (inter)act like two whales on stage. René Pape´s King Marke must be insane to seemingly want this woman. It simply does not make sense. And it does not only have to do with her size, though obviously it doesn´t help her credibility either.
Some may argue that Jane Eaglen and Ben Heppner are vocally solid, if not splendid, and I suppose they are, to a certain extent. However, this post relates to a DVD production, and it simply does not make sense to have to "watch" it with closed eyes. That said, I have listened to the radio broadcast with the same cast, and while I find neither protagonist to deliver shattering interpretations, they do come across vastly better when the visual element is taken out. But again - I am commenting on a DVD production.
Those not familiar with this 1999 Dieter Dorn production either from the house or this DVD, may have seen it on the HD telecast earlier this season. I rather like this much maligned minimalistic and quite aesthetic production relying heavily on light effects, however this DVD clearly illustrates the increased dramatic and interpretative demands placed on the singers by the almost naked stage. Which are truly only met by King Marke. And Brangäne. Unfortunately not enough to make a production of Tristan and Isolde work.
Some of Tristan and Isolde may work without a Tristan. And some of it may work without an Isolde. But without both a Tristan and an Isolde, the only thing working is King Marke´s lament. 12 minutes...
No matter what standards one may expect of the Metropolitan Opera, this DVD falls far short of them. In my humble opinion, obviously. And no disrespect intended towards the involved artists.
But why oh why did the Metropolitan Opera ever release this thing?
10 of the 15 minutes worth watching on this DVD (King Marke´s lament, first part):
The bottom line (scale from 1-5, 3=average):Jane Eaglen: 1
Ben Heppner: 2
Katarina Dalayman: 4
René Pape: 5
Hans Joachim Ketelsen: 3
Dieter Dorn´s production: 3
James Levine: 3-4
Overall impression: 1
Monday, 5 May 2008
Today another cancellation was announced as Waltraud Meier replaces Katarina Dalayman as Isolde. No disrespect towards Katarina Dalayman whose Isolde I was quite curious to hear, having accepted that Daniel Barenboim initially chose to cast this Tristan with his upcoming Metropolitan Opera debut Tristan and Isolde pair Katarina Dalayman and Peter Seiffert (now: Ian Storey and Waltraud Meier as in the Chéreau La Scala Tristan earlier this season).
But I´d be lying if I said I was disappointed by this last cast change, which is almost too good to be true: I almost didn´t buy a ticket for this sold-out performance since Waltraud Meier wasn´t singing Isolde....
Monday, 24 March 2008
Theo Adam (d), Peter Schneider (c). Cast: Klaus Florian Vogt (Parsifal), Kurt Rydl (Gurnemanz), Katarina Dalayman (Kundry), Franz Grundheber (Amfortas), Eglis Silins (Klingsor)
The Dresden Parsifal (more info here) in short: This is not a Parsifal production worthy of the Dresden Semperoper. And I am referring mainly to the staging of Theo Adam dated 1988: With a few exceptions it genuinely looks like something from Wagner´s own productions in Bayreuth: Dull and gloomy with the singers basically standing passive on stage and singing to the audience with no interaction apart from the demonic energy Kurt Rydl infused into the scenes with Gurnemanz. No traces of personenregie here.
It seem like this production adheres to most of Wagners stage directions (except that Amfortas in stead of Kundry dies in the end) and thus should be ideal for those adverse to the new tendencies of Regietheater. But I suspect, based on the unenthusiastic applause and sporadic boos, that even more traditionally inclined operagoers were not impressed by this staging, despite the realistic representation of the various symbols such as the Spear and Grail and placing Klingsor on top of a castle build on skulls, shaking in its foundation (not intended) whenever he moved.
In short: It was a long night. As I am opposed to booing, the only thing left was to have some drinks (several needed) during the intermissions. It was still a long night.
On the positive side, Klaus Florian Vogt is fabulously secure and with a beautifully clear voice as Parsifal. I cannot remember the last time I´ve heard this part sung with so much ease. He did not seem strained at any point at all. And, not unimportantly, he is definitely no wimp to look at. There is, however, a certain eeriness to his appearance, which I´ve also noted in other productions, making him dramatically completely unconvincing as an innocent boy. However, the same eeriness suited him quite well as Walther in Bayreuth last year and as Andrei Khovansky (who is in fact a maniacal killer) in Khovanschina last year in Munich. As well as in the Lohengrin production from Baden-Baden (also on DVD). If I met this guy with (or without as a matter of fact) a bow in his hand, I would most likely fear for my life.
Most dismaying, Katarina Dalayman is just not a good Kundry – she has the kind of regal quality to her singing which may make her a fine Brünnhilde and Isolde – but Kundry is no disengaged Queen: Dalayman does have the top notes, but she is no compelling presence on stage, to put it mildly. The second act scene between her and Parsifal was completely disengaging – both standing on each side of the stage delivering their monologues.
And what happened with the orchestra? I know Peter Schneider as a more than competent conductor in this repertoire, but this was just not good. There was no flow, the music sounded fragmented, it didn´t keep together at all.
Curiously, I had expected this to be a house in which there was no applause after the 1st act (like in Munich) or at least an attempt not to applaud after the 1st act (like Vienna and Bayreuth): But no. There was applause as well as curtain calls after the first act (like Berlin State Opera).
Now, this production is 19 years old and is almost revived every year, Semperoper being one of the oldest and most esteemed Wagner houses in the world. It would do the house (and the unsuspecting public) good to have a new Parsifal production. As soon as possible.
Curtain-call photo from left: Kurt Rydl, Franz Grundheber, Katarina Dalayman, Klaus Florian Vogt
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
It may sound chauvinistic but I don’t think many opera houses in Europe can muster a cast of such excellence with mainly home-grown singers. There was hardly a weak link. ...Hans-Peter König’s Hagen was the most formidably sung since Gottlob Frick’s time.......Lars Cleveman was the young Siegfried a year ago and he was scheduled to sing his older incarnation at some later performances but due to illness he was called to step in at the premiere with only six hours’ notice. Small of stature, he created a lively, cheerful and carefree boyish Siegfried and the brutality of his murder became even more disgusting than usual. He seems to have lungs of steel and vocal cords of the same material, allowing him to produce heroically ringing high notes. His stamina is also admirable....
Saturday, 15 September 2007
Waiting for the complete Stockholm Ring, which will show in January 2008, here is my take on the Stockholm Walküre, which I attended last October at the Royal Opera in Stockholm:
Director Staffan Valdemar Holm´s take on this work (based on this Walküre) is largely psychoanalytic. He is not interested in politics and human evolution, but creates a world very similar to what I would´ve imagined to be that of Strindberg and Ibsen. The scenography is by Bente Lykke Möller and the setting is middle to late 19th century, ie. Wagner´s own time.
The first act is takes place in a large kitchen, with dinner plates on the wall, and reminded me distinctly of Nora´s world in Ibsen´s “A doll´s house”. Second act takes place in a room with 19th century romantic paintings on the walls and a pool table in the middle. The room is dark, and through the windows the snowclad mountains can be seen. It´s almost too much Strindberg. The Valkyries were all clad in black dresses in the same dark room with concrete walls and the same windows. Dressed as in the 1850´s (pictured at the bottom of the page).
The cast was quite good: Nina Stemme was wonderful as Sieglinde, Hans-Peter König had the voice for Hunding, but is not a very menacing stage present (as in his Bayreuth Hagen), Endrik Wottrick was a shrill and disappointing Siegmund (as he was in Bayreuth this year), while Martina Dike made a fine Fricka. I had really looked forward to Katarina Dalayman´s Brünnhilde – she seriously has potential to be really outstanding in this part - unfortunately she had cancelled the performance and was replaced by the vocally inadequate and not very interesting Carolyne Whisnant. Terje Stensvold made an excellent Wotan. I continue to be amazed at this man, who started his international career in his end-50´s after 30 years of (relative) anonymity at the Royal Norwegian Opera. And next year he has several engagements in London, Vienna and Berlin lined up. His voice was huge and quite steady throughout the entire range.
German conductor Gregor Bühl was conducting the Royal Swedish Opera orchestra. And disappointingly, the orchestra did not seem to perform according to international standards. Curiously, loudspeakers were placed on the wall next to our seats and they were transmitting the orchestral sound with about ½ seconds delay – which was extremely annoying. The orchestra sounded flat and uninspired throughout, which is my major reservation with this Stockholm Ring so far.
To summarize: The singers generally belong to the top-end of “the usual suspects”, the director´s concept seems interesting, but the orchestra did not quite match the other aspects of the production. Hopefully this will have improved before the premiere of the complete cycle in January.
By the way, the Stockholm opera has implemented the e-tickets, which you may order via internet and print out at home. Excellent service for out of town visitors.
All photos by: Mats Bäcker