Showing posts with label michael schönwandt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label michael schönwandt. Show all posts

Friday, 6 November 2009

Copenhagen: Disappointing Eugene Onegin

Natalya Kreslina and Audun Iversen
Eugene Onegin. Royal Danish Opera, September 6th 2009. Production: Peter Konwitschny. Cast: Audun Iversen (Eugene Onegin), Natalya Kreslina (Tatiana), Jenny Carlsted (Olga), Niels Jørgen Riis (Lenski), Gustav Belacek (Gremin). Conductor: Michael Schønwandt.

I sincerely do not hope, this is what the Royal Danish Opera gets (rather: Has chosen) instead of the originally promised new Peter Konwitschny production of Die Frau Ohne Schatten, which he, most unfortunately, has withdrawn from: His 1995 production of Eugene Onegin, immediately recognizable to train-afficionados as it is modeled on the Leipzig train station in the concrete sense, and the cruelty of rigid social structures in the abstract sense.

Am I unable to love Eugene Onegin outside the context of Tchaikovsky and Pushkin? I hope not. Quite as expected, Peter Konwitschny clearly rejects that universe, and, as always in his stagings, outer circumstances (such as social and political structures) is a major determinant of character outcomes, thus there are neither any entirely good nor entirely evil characters. Konwitschny clearly and intelligently explained this point of view in a local newspaper before the premiere. Based on Konwitschny´s theoretical arguments, this is a both exciting and moving production of Eugene Onegin. Based on actually seeing this production in the theater, unfortunately, it is not.

What is it about then? I am not sure. We see the Leipzig Train Station with people moving in and out (modern dress, obviously). The audience is part of the tale, as Gremin and Tatiana move to a balcony and Onegin in front of the orchestra pit at certain points. Theatre within the theatre. Society makes Onegin and Tatiana what they are, Tatiana ultimately left alone while Onegin returns to the ranks of spectators. All of this leaves me extra-ordinarily non-moved, though I would not be surprised if Audun Iversen goes on to have a major career.

At this point, I would normally say that at least Michael Schønwandt and the Royal Danish Orchestra saved the evening. Unfortunately they did not as Schønwandt chose a very transparent reading of the score cementating this as a rather boring evening.

What makes this all the more irritating is the fact the Peter Konwitschny really does know how nail it (Michael Schønwandt as well): Their almost-beyond-praise production of Elektra, without doubt the best performance I have seen in my 25 years as a regular visitor to the Royal Danish Opera, will come up this Spring. As they say: Now is the time to look to the future.

The bottom line:

Audun Iversen: 4-5
Natalya Kreslina: 4
Jenny Carlstedt: 3-4
Niels Jørgen Riis: 3-4
Gustav Belacek: 3-4

Peter Konwitschny: 1

Michael Schønwandt: 3-4

Overall impression: 2

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Hamburg: Revival of the infamous Konwitschny Meistersinger in which the music suddenly stops in the middle of Hans Sachs monologue

Meistersinger. Hamburgische Staatsoper, December 20th 2008. Production: Peter Konwitschny. Cast: Alan Titus (Hans Sachs), Edith Haller (Eva), John Treleaven (Walther), Georg Zeppenfeld (Pogner), Jochen Schmeckenbrecher (Beckmesser), Jürgen Sacher (David), Katja Pieweck (Magdalena). Conductor: Michael Schønwandt. Further information here.

With this 2002 production of Meistersinger, Peter Konwitschny has in fact succeeded in creating a maximum of controversy with a minimum of means. As it is during the first 255 minutes of this 260 minutes opera, nothing really happens: A wooden platform is placed center-stage. The characters wear period costume. A screen projects various images of Nürnberg behind the platform. None of the characters are particularly characterized, perhaps attributable to the revival status of the production. The various interactions seemed rather uninspired.

Then, with 5 minutes to go comes Konwitschny´s coup-de theatre: In the middle of Hans Sachs´ infamous "deutsches volk" monologue, the Meistersinger suddenly start to interrupt, talking loudly between themselves. The music stops. One of the masters asks Hans Sachs if "he really knows what he is singing" and then a discussion between the various characters on the essence of being German begin. Asked whether he just couldn´t remove the phrase, Danish conductor Michael Schønwandt finally answered "in Denmark we also removed the phrase immediately after the second world war". After about 5 minutes of discussion, the music started again.

Are you really allowed to do that? Stop a performance of Meistersinger to discuss the text in front of the audience? Why not, I suppose. However, only non-Germans may wonder, whether the topic of discussion is even relevant, more than 50 years after the conclusion of the Second World War. It is highly relevant and highly controversial, even today. Now, whether there is anything inherently nationalistic in Hans Sachs monologue from the hand of Richard Wagner, I sincerely doubt. But that seems to be besides the point.

Of the singers, Edith Haller, whose Gutrune was one of the few highlights of last years Bayreuth Ring, looks like a jugendlich-dramatisch soprano star of the future. Her Eva was simply superb, especially her upper register truly shines. The other highlight was Jochen Schmeckenbrecher, for once a Beckmesser singing all the notes: No yelling or sprechgesang. Furthermore he was rather funny. Not to forget the fine Pogner from Georg Zeppenfeld.

As I am extensively familiar with usual-suspects-Wagnerians John Treleaven and Alan Titus, I can´t say they disappointed as Walther and Sachs, respectively. Which I probably would have said did I not know them. Furthermore the coordination between Michael Schønwandt and Alan Titus was appallingly poor, something I am inclined to blame Alan Titus as he repeatedly set his own tempi, which were markedly different from everyone elses.

Major applause to Michael Schønwandt, well-deserved as he is a fine conductor, with whom I am extensively familiar with as he is Chief Conductor at the Royal Danish Opera. However, I suspect the performance to have been underrehearsed as the essential flow somehow was lacking.

One of the most talked-about Wagnerian productions of the past decade. Based on a 5-minutes discussion inserted in the middle of a monologue. Rather well-done of Konwitschny. Not to forget, the topic of discussion is highly relevant.

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

Alan Titus: 2
Jochen Schmeckenbrecher: 4
John Treleaven: 2
Edith Haller: 5
Georg Zeppenfeld: 4
Katja Pieweck: 4
Jürgen Sacher: 4

Peter Konwitschny´s production: 3

Michael Schønwandt: 4

Overall impression: 3-4

Photo from the website of the Hamburg State Opera

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Copenhagen Rosenkavalier

Rosenkavalier. Royal Danish Opera, Copenhagen Opera House. October 5th 2008. Production: Marco-Arturo Marelli. Cast: Ann Petersen (Marschallin), Gisela Stille (Sophie), Elisabeth Halling (Octavian), Lars Woldt (Ochs). Conductor: Michael Schønwandt. Further information here.

Marco Arturo Marello´s old Hamburg staging of Rosenkavalier opened the season at the Royal Danish Opera. Marello is as elegant as ever, however for those familiar with glitzy new Marello productions such as the new Vienna Capriccio, it is hard not to find this Rosenkavalier dusty. Even for those not familiar with aforementioned Capriccio, this Rosenkavalier is still slightly dusty. It is, however, elegant.

The central concept is the passing of time. The floor is almost perpetually in motion from right to left. In the beginning we see the Marschallin and Octavian in her bed placed right-side on the otherwise naked stage. And in the end, said bed reappears from the right- side, now with Octavian and Sophie in it. Full circle.

Marello makes the same choice as Robert Carsen did a couple of seasons ago in Salzburg when chosing between Viennese nostalgia or Viennese decadence: Viennese decadence it is, placing the Rosenkavalier around the time of it´s composition (1911), immediately before the outbreak of the First World War. Those not accepting that times are changing are left on the fringes of society. Such as Baron von Ochs.

Rosenkavalier, if any, is a conductors opera. As regular readers may have noticed, it is far from a favourite work of mine, however when the walzes truly lift off it can be an excellent experience.
It is hard for any of the four lead singers to completely ruin a Rosenkavalier performance. It is very easy for the conductor. In that respect Michael Schønwandt is first-rate, and I was astonished to learn that this was the first time he conducted Rosenkavalier. Everything in this piece seems to show off his strengths – he is a magnificent Straussian, as is the orchestra and he has the just right touch of elegant lightness to make Rosenkavalier sparkle.

Of the four leads, Lars Woldt (the only imported singer) as Ochs clearly was the best. A rather young Ochs, but he has the crucial low notes.

Next season will see a new Peter Konwitschny staging of Die Frau Ohne Schatten, undoubtedly a seasonal highlight for the Royal Danish Opera.

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

Ann Petersen: 4
Gisela Stille: 3-4
Elisabeth Halling: 4
Lars Woldt: 4

Marco-Arturo Marelli: 4

Michael Schønwandt: 5

Overall impression: 4

Monday, 7 July 2008

The Copenhagen Ring on DVD: Review

The Copenhagen Ring DVD

The Copenhagen Ring DVD (Der Ring des Nibelungen). Royal Danish Opera, Copenhagen 2006. Production: Kasper Bech Holten. Cast includes: Stig Andersen (Siegfried), Irene Théorin (Brünnhilde), Stephen Milling (Hunding), James Johnson (Wotan). Conductor: Michael Schønwandt. Further information here.

Overview and general comments

This 7 DVD set contains "The Copenhagen Ring" - the complete Nibelungen Ring, recorded from the three live Ring cycles performed by the Royal Danish Opera in 2006 in the new opera house located directly on the Copenhagen waterfront. The bonus material consists of a 30-minutes conversation between director Kasper Bech Holten and the Queen of Denmark (see below). The accompanying booklets include sections by Kasper Bech Holten on the production concept as well as background information on the cycle. Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Danish.

"The Copenhagen Ring" is described in details here with plenty photographs.

In brief, this was labeled The Feminine Ring, as the story is told in flash-backs from Brünnhilde´s point of view, spanning the 20th Century. While the Feminine viewpoint does not seem central in the final concept as it appears on DVD, the history-telling of the 20th Century does indeed: From the roaring 20´s of Rheingold to the hermetically closed and conservative 50´s via the liberation of the 60´s in Siegfried to the cruel Balkan-like partisan war of the 90´s in Götterdämmerung.

First of all, The Copenhagen Ring this is a very theatrical Ring. The tempi are high. Myriads of things take place simultaneously on stage. No one just hangs around passively in a corner. That the impression of this Ring indeed was stronger on DVD than live, may perhaps be attributed to the very close-up camera shots revealing the extraordinary detailed stage direction.

In brief, the musical side was an unequivocal success: Michael Schønwandt´s Royal Danish Orchestra sound was gloriously transferred to DVD, with even greater power and more lucidity than I remembered it from the live performances.

The singers were all excellent actors and looked their parts. Furthermore, the singing was never less than average and casting of many of the crucial characters were on the highest international level (Stephen Milling, Stig Andersen, Irene Théorin etc.).

However, the most controversial aspect of this Copenhagen Ring DVD release undoubtedly will be the actual filming, as The Copenhagen Ring approximates a film in its own right rather than a recording of a live operatic performance:

18 cameras were used, several providing views not accessible for the audience (from the prompters box, from above, from the side-stage, from under the tables, from the bottom of Mime´s sink etc). Everything was filmed very close up, closer than in any other operatic DVD I have encountered. And a tremendous amount of clips were applied - especially in Rheingold, I gather the camera angles were changed at least once every 5 seconds, providing a very flickering image. Furthermore several of the close-ups were shaky and initially off-focus, distinctly reminding of the works of Dogme-film directors such as Lars von Trier applying very close-up shots with hand-held cameras at odd angles.

Several of the singers turned out even better actors on the DVD than I remembered them in the theater, and on DVD nuances in the stage direction I never noticed before suddenly became apparent. Even the smallest wrinkle is seen, not always desirable though, and singers like Stig Andersen actually look older with the stage make-up. There is a distinct in-your-face effect to all this, which I suspect potential audiences will disagree wildly about.

Did I like the filmic aspect then? I am not sure, which, however mainly is of interest to myself. The question is, may the potential/actual buyers like it? Some undoubtedly will not. I´d especially predict younger audiences to find this high-tempo story-telling fascinating. For sure, it is never boring and will make a great introduction for those unfamiliar with the work.

I must admit to finding these quick camera shifts quite stressful making it almost impossible to focus on the music. By far the worst in Rheingold. But then I suppose it´s better being irritated than bored... Finally, one has to realize this is virtually a film on its own right and does not give an impression of how it was to be in the audience (as an audience member when this DVD was recorded, I should know).

The production of this Copenhagen Ring DVD is a major achievement from a relatively minor opera house. And impressive to have this released on DECCA instead of the odd backyard company I had expected...But local-patriotism aside, The Copenhagen Ring more than holds it´s own on the relatively small Nibelungen Ring DVD market. First and foremost I am positively surprised of the high musical quality of this Ring.

With an eye on the DVD competition, the only other demythologizing Ring production on DVD is the Stuttgart Ring, which The Copenhagen Ring DVD exceeds in both production and musical quality.

The only true traditional Ring on the DVD market is the Schenk/Levine Metropolitan Ring, which I cannot recommend despite some fine moments.

Of Kupfer´s two DVD Rings, the Barcelona production has the superior staging (but with very disappointing musical quality), while both staging and orchestra is superb in the other Kupfer Ring conducted by Daniel Barenboim in Bayreuth, not to be touched musically.

However the Danish Royal Orchestra perform on such high level that those not caring to look at Harry Kupfer´s naked Bayreuth Festival stage for 14 hours, may prefer The Copenhagen Ring.

Audi´s futuristic Amsterdam production is extremely beautiful, but so different from Kasper Bech Holten´s approach, that comparisons do not make sense (The Copenhagen Ring singers in general are slightly better than the Amsterdam team, though Haenchen´s orchestra is fine). And lastly, Patrice Chéreau´s Bayreuth Centenary Ring with the superb stage direction, slightly disengaging conducting, unfortunately has a disastrous casting of Siegfried. Again, very different.

As I do not necessarily mind looking at an empty, dark stage for 14 hours, as well as being a huge admirer of Daniel Barenboim, the Kupfer/Barenboim Ring still takes first place on my shelf. But after that, the field is entirely open..

I´d strongly recommend The Copenhagen Ring for the theatrical approach and musical quality. Indeed, the musical quality is so high that for those preferring modern productions with high tempi and easy-to-follow storytelling, I wouldn´t hesitate to recommend this as a first choice Nibelungen Ring on DVD. It may serve as a great introduction to the Nibelungen Ring for those not familiar with the work or with Wagner, as well. A comprehensive review of all commercially available Nibelungen Ring DVDs may be found here.

The Copenhagen Ring may well hold it´s own on the DVD market, also for those "only" intending to own one DVD version of the Nibelungen Ring.

Promotional video from Decca:

The individual operas - Rheingold

The staging of the Rheingold is described in detail here.

A panoramic waterfront view of the new Copenhagen Opera House at dusk is shown before every performance. We then see Queen Margrethe of Denmark take her seat in the Royal Box just before the Rheingold begins (she attended cycle 2 as did I, but despite repeatedly freezing the screen, I didn´t manage to catch a glimpse of myself on row 14, when the cameras swept the floor section).

Irene Théorin now takes center stage. She is in the attick of her family´s mansion and she rummages through memorabilia in order to understand her past (in Götterdämmerung we learn that this takes place the exact moment Hagen and Gunther has left to kill Siegfried).
She starts remembering, disappears through the floor and the flash-back begin...

The Rheingold fits on one DVD. During the interludes, footage of Brünnhilde and her past is shown, probably attempting to highlight the Feminine story-telling aspect of the production.

Highlights from this Rheingold (with photos) include: The 1920´s Charleston-clad Rhinemaidens in the swimming-pool; Alberich tearing out the heart of the Rhinegold; Loge, the journalist, constantly looking for his lighter; Wotan cutting off Alberich´s arm to get the Ring in a torture-chamber; Wotan killing Loge, who knows too much; Lastly the impressive orchestra conducted by Michael Schønwandt.

The individual operas - Walküre

The staging of Walküre is described in detail with photographs here.

Highlights from the Walküre (with photos) include: The claustrophobic home of Sieglinde; Stephen Milling´s formidable Hunding; James Johnson´s cynical as well as charming Wotan; Brünnhilde appearing in the misty blue light to foretell Siegmunds death; the fine singing of Iréne Theorin; the fact that Hunding survives; and (again) the gloriously transferred orchestral sound..

Many, including director Kasper Bech Holten, has named the moment Wotan tears off Brünnhilde´s wings the greatest of the Ring. I must confess to the minority view of never have thought anything particular of that scene...

Walküre, in my opinion, is the least successful of the four stagings, mainly due to the fact that the drama between Siegmund and Sieglinde vs. Wotan and Brünnhilde never seemed to function at quite the same level as the core political dramas in the other installments.

A 30-minute bonus feature included director Kasper Bech Holten in conversation with Queen Margrethe of Denmark (an avid Ring follower and very enthusiastic about this Ring) on the production, which the Queen has seen numerous times. Kasper Bech Holten appears very enthusiastic and engaging, hilariously interrupting the Queen, who doesn´t seem to take offense, numerous times....Kasper Bech Holten once again confirms that the sets for this Ring have indeed been thrown away, so there will definitely not be a revival.

The individual operas - Siegfried

The staging of Siegfried is described in detail here.

Highlights from Siegfried (with photos) include: The orchestra; Mime´s doll-house; Stig Andersen´s formidable Siegfried; Bengt-Ola Morgny´s pathetic Mime; Wotan as a tourist at Neidhöhle; Wotan realizing that time has indeed passed when visiting the decaying Erda of Susanne Resmark in a nursing home.

The individual operas - Götterdämmerung

The staging of Siegfried is described in details here.

Highlights of Götterdämmerung (with photos) include: The prologue with the Norns as frustrated opera-goers located in the audience (and spotting my previous boss on the DVD in a front-row seat); the formidable ice-cold and psychopathic acting of Peter Klaveness as Hagen; the shocking murder of hostages during Hagen´s call; Hagen´s murder of Alberich; Brünnhilde breaking down in Siegfried´s death scene; Ylva Kihlberg´s Gutrune; Michael Schønwandt´s orchestra; Stig Andersen´s world-class Siegfried.

The singers

Generel comments: There are no truly weak links among the singers, not even wearing international (as opposed to local-patriotic) glasses. All singers futhermore were excellent actors.

Wotan: Johan Reuter, despite a beautiful voice and convincing acting he seemed almost too naive as the young Wotan and somehow didn´t quite make the impression I´d expected him to.
James Johnson does not have a particularly large voice, which furthermore is almost approaching a true barytone. An excellent actor with a considerable talent for comedy and irony as well as vocal characterization. A very convincing portrait.

Brünnhilde: Irene Théorin´s Brünnhilde was even more convincing on DVD than live, the close-up shots revealing her as a vastly more convincing stage actress than I was aware of from sitting in the audience. And in her absolutely best voice, with a glowing middle register and a reasonable vibrato, she hits all the notes, most on pitch as well. Only in Götterdämmerung did she occasionally seem to tire vocally. Clearly among the best on DVD.

Siegfried: Superb performance from Stig Andersen. Truly a world-class Siegfried. He may be slightly strained on the top, which however does not detract from his performance as he is a formidable stage actor as well. Unfortunately the make-up makes him look even older than he (and Siegfried) is. Also fine as Siegmund (taking over the role from the originally scheduled Poul Elming).

Sieglinde: Solid performance from a Gitta-Maria Sjöberg with a distinguished golden glow in her middle voice. Not a large voice, and essentially lyrical, but capable of conveying the necessary drama.

Hunding: Stephen Milling´s truly evil and menacing Hunding was one of the highlights of the entire cycle and is beyond competition on on DVD (as well as on stage).

Hagen: Dramatically, Peter Klaveness is a splendidly terrifying and psychopathic Hagen. Unfortunately he is vocally underpowered and shaky. But this is clearly to be preferred to the opposite combination.

Alberich: Sten Byriel was dramatically convincing, but lacked some vocal power as well.

Fricka: Randi Stene was a stylish and elegant Fricka in all regards.

Erda: Vocally the part is slightly too low for Susanne Resmark´s maximal comfort. But she is a formidable as well as courageous stage actress and the scene from Siegfried showing her decay is unforgettable.

Mime: Bengt-Ola Morgny fits the image of Mime´s small and constricted mind exceedingly well.

Gutrune: Ylva Kihlberg has a very unique middle voice and is perfect as the white trash Gutrune.

Gunther: Guido Paevatalu is convincing as the white trash paramilitary Gunther, slightly more so dramatically than vocally.

Loge: Michael Kristensen was slick as Loge and vocally fine as well, though I missed some edge in the characterization.

Fasolt/Fafner: Stephen Milling demonstrated himself capable of an almost unbelievable dramatic change between his soft Fasolt and mesmerizing Hunding. Christian Christiansen, though not entirely on this level, was nevertheless a solid Fafner.

Waltraute - Fine performance from Anette Bod.

Others of note:

Both the Rhinemaidens, Valkyries and Norns were fine. Powerful performance from the choir in Götterdämmerung, revealing many of the choristers to be excellent stage actors as well.

The conductor and orchestra

Michael Schønwandt´s approach to Wagner does occasionally tend to be too passive for my taste. Just by observing him on the podium you immediately get an impression of a more light-hearted approach as opposed to watching the more heavy Wagnerians such as Daniel Barenboim.
With that in mind, I was positively surprised that Michael Schønwandt´s approach to the Nibelungen Ring stayed firmly away from Wagner light and instead he displayed some of the most forceful and pointedly conducting I have heard from him. And good to hear him apply the necessary force behind the brass section in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.

Most importantly, Michael Schønwandt has an exceptional understanding of the structure of the work and manages to build up tension over long stretches of the score, instead of blowing out the fortissimos at every potential occasion. He creates a very detailed and balanced orchestral sound, where the wood-winds stood particularly out, sometimes even as audible as the brass section. More brass and density in the string section would still have been welcome, but these are artistical choices, obviously.

The tempi were firmly located in the middle (faster than Barenboim and Levine, slower than Haenchen and Boulez), occasionally verging on the fast side, particularly in the more grandiose sections (such as the prelude to Siegfried Act 3) where he keeps the tempo up. The sound was rather closely recorded (and in splendid sound quality as well), which helps create a dynamic sound image. Furthermore the coordination between the pit and the singers is virtually perfect and the sound is well balanced over-all.

Encouraged by all this, I then made the mistake to try some point-to-point comparisons with Daniel Barenboim in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung - and in that respect Michael Schønwandt´s reading does come out rather Wagner light, though...But so does everyone else´s. And though the Royal Danish Orchestra has become an international-level operatic orchestra, it really is quite unfair to compare them to the mighty Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. Apart from the fact, that this is one of the competing Nibelungen Ring DVDs on the market, and potential buyers may be interested in a take on the different approaches to the score:

In this respect, Michael Schønwandt is: More engaging than Pierre Boulez (Bayreuth); much more engaging and dynamic than James Levine (MET); simply better than Bertrand de Billy (Barcelona); slower than Hartmut Haenchen who is too fast in an otherwise well-played performance (Amsterdam); more brilliant than Lothar Zagrosek (Stuttgart). That leaves Daniel Barenboim (Bayreuth), who is untouchable. But then Harry Kupfer´s accompanying staging is substantially different from Kasper Bech Holten´s.

In brief - The highlights and lowlights

The highlights: Stephen Milling´s Hunding. Stig Andersen´s Siegfried. Iréne Théorin as Brünnhilde. Ylva Kihlberg as Gutrune. Susanne Resmark´s Erda in Siegfried. Michael Schønwandts orchestra. The detailed stage direction and sense of drama applied by Kasper Bech Holten and the production team.

Among the most powerful scenes: Wotan cutting off Alberich´s arm, Wotan visiting the frail Erda in Siegfried, the murder of civilians in Götterdämmerung

The lowlights: No element may be singled out as a lowlight. The controversial aspects, I´d predict to be:
The non-traditional staging (as always).
The non-traditional production of the DVD.

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

The ratings are given in comparison to the other Ring DVDs available, and the superb acting skills of several of the singers weigh in heavily here. After all it is a visual medium:

Johan Reuter: 3-4
Michael Kristensen: 3-4
James Johnson: 4
Stig Andersen as Siegfried: 5
Stig Andersen as Siegmund: 4
Irene Théorin: 4
Gitta-Maria Sjöberg: 3-4
Stephen Milling: 5
Sten Byriel: 3-4
Randi Stene: 4
Ylva Kihlberg: 5
Peter Klaveness: 4
Guido Paevatalu: 3-4
Susanne Resmark: 4
Anette Bod: 4

Kasper Bech Holten´s staging: 4
Michael Schønwandt and the orchestra: 4.5

Overall impression: 4

Other reviews of The Copenhagen Ring DVD:

Politiken (in Danish)
Jyllandsposten (in Danish)

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Copenhagen Ring - Götterdämmerung

This post is part of a series of posts on The Copenhagen Ring, consisting of:
The Copenhagen Ring - overview and concept.
The Copenhagen Ring - Rheingold.

The Copenhagen Ring - Walküre.

The Copenhagen Ring - Siegfried.
The Copenhagen Ring - Götterdämmerung.

Reviews of The Copenhagen Ring DVD here.

Götterdämmerung. Premiere in 2006. Part of The Copenhagen Ring Cycles 2006. Royal Danish Opera. Michael Schønwandt, conductor. Kasper Bech Holten, director.

Cast on The Copenhagen Ring DVD: Stig Fogh Andersen (Siegfried), Irene Théorin (Brünnhilde), Peter Klaveness (Hagen), Guido Paevatalu (Gunter), Ylva Kihlberg (Gutrune), Anette Bod (Waltraute), Sten Byriel (Alberich). Further information here.

The action has now been brought up to present time heavily inspired by the situation on Balkan in the 1990´s. Gunther and Gutrune are white trash and everything about them is cheap - from Gutrune´s bleached hair to Gunther´s general looser-attitude and cheap whisky, which he pours into Siegfried upon his arrival..
Hagen is the mean killer - of innocent civilians as well as of Alberich as soon as he has extracted the necessary information from him. It only seems natural that Siegfried choses Gutrune - an 18-year old knowing nothing of the world, having not chosen Brünnhilde himself, now suddenly with all these possibilities..
And it is only towards the end of this Götterdämmerung that the core concept of the entire production emerges as we now see Brünnhilde in the attic (as Gunther and Hagen have left to kill Siegfried) striking the match as she did in the beginning of Rheingold - the four operas representing a flash-back through her past history in an attempt to understand how things may have come to this. "The male logic has failed - now it is time for the female" it seems with the the tetralogy ending as Brünnhilde appears center stage holding hers and Siegfried´s small baby in her arms pointing towards a new beginning. All the others, obviously, are dead...

Stig Andersen continued his impressive performance of Siegfried - except for the premiere performance, where he was replaced by Christian Franz. This meant some changes to the production, since Siegfried at one point arrives on stage driving a car and Christian Franz does not have a drivers licence...
Tina Kiberg and Iréne Théorin alternated the Brünnhilde - two very different but interesting portraits - Kiberg´s being the more lyrical as opposed to Théorin´s larger and more dramatic voice who is to appear on the DVD. Peter Klaveness undoubtedly was intended as a very evil Hagen - and succeeded more so dramatically than vocally..Ylva Kihlberg literally shone as Gutrune. Guido Paevatalu also in a voice that didn´t quite match his acting skills while Anette Bod as Waltraute was convincing in both departments.

Last, but not least, the perhaps greatest achievement of this Cycle: The orchestra with Michael Schönwandt. After all I have heard Michael Schönwandt conduct 50+ Wagner performances over the past 20 years and I know that the heavy handed Wagner approach with plenty of brass and strings is just not his style, instead emphasizing the detailed structure and transparency of the score. But, even without the slightest hint of local-patriotism, I was hugely impressed with what was no doubt orchestra playing on a high international level -continuously flowing, never monotonous and even the major poignant sections such as Siegfried´s Funeral march and the Ending was pulled off magnificently.

The staging step by step with photographs:

The norns, here as members of a German Richard Wagner association, discuss Wagner performances in the prologue:

Siegfried and Brünnhilde when everything is still going well:

Hagen with Gunther:


Gunther, Gutrune and Hagen (below):

The ubiquitous New Carlsberg Glyptotek Walkure Rock:

Waltraute trying to convince Brünnhilde to give up the Ring:

Alberich - the blackboard is full of the lessons he has tried to teach Hagen...

The happy and not-so-happy couple:

The Rhinemaidens - appear in Siegfried´s dream:

As Hagen and Gunther go out to kill Siegfried, we now realize that the entire Ring Cycle has been a flash-back of Brünnhilde´s mind, as she enters the attic of the family home and starts to unravel her family´s past in an attempt to understand her present situation and herself:

Siegfried remembering. With Gunther and Hagen:

Iréne Théorin as Brünnhilde:

Brünnhilde reconciles with Gutrune. This is A Feminine Ring, after all:

Brünnhilde sets the attick on fire:

In the end, we see Brünnhilde, with hers and Siegfried´s child. The "male" logic and values have failed and it is now time for the female approach:

All photos from the Royal Danish Opera and the website of The Copenhagen Ring

The Copenhagen Ring - Siegfried

This post is part of a series of posts on The Copenhagen Ring, consisting of:
The Copenhagen Ring - overview and concept.
The Copenhagen Ring - Rheingold.

The Copenhagen Ring - Walküre.
The Copenhagen Ring - Siegfried.
The Copenhagen Ring - Götterdämmerung.

Reviews of The Copenhagen Ring DVD here.

Siegfried. Premiere 2005. Part of The Copenhagen Ring Cycle 2006. Royal Danish Opera. Michael Schønwandt, conductor. Kasper Bech Holten, director.

Cast on the Copenhagen Ring DVD: Stig Fogh Andersen(Siegfried), Bengt-Ola Morgny (Mime), James Johnson (Wanderer), Susanne Resmark (Erda), Irene Théorin(Brünnhilde), Christian Christiansen (Fafner), Steen Byriel (Alberich), Gisela Stille (Woodbird). Further information here.

We are now in the 1960´s. In 1968 to be exact. Mime´s house - a dollhouse - is horizontally divided into three levels - the basement, the living room and Siegfried´s room in the attic, complete with guitars and posters of rock stars.
Siegfried is the rebellious teenager and no hero, of course. A rebel yes, but very much the product of the society he rebels against. Mime is a mr. Smith, subdued, typing along on his typewriter, quite obviously not harbouring a healthy personality. I had expected to discover Sieglinde´s body in the basement, this does not happen however...
As seems to be the current trend among Ring directors (seen in both the recent London and the current and previous Bayreuth Ring), Hagen lurks around Fafner´s lair, while Wotan visits as the innocent tourist taking photographs around Neidhöhle (as he is not allowed to interfere, though he does his best to do so anyway).
Fafner, though completely harmless himself, lives underneath the ugly, deserted, chemical toxic wasteland he has created with the power of the Ring.
Who does the woodbird represent? Here the answer is Brünnhilde (my answer is Wotan, but I suppose that is besides the point..).

Wotan and Alberich are now grumpy old men, Wotan with an alcohol problem as well. In one of the best scenes of the Cycle, Wotan returns to Erda to realize that they both have grown old and time has indeed passed them by, but nevertheless he cannot let go, neither relinquish the power to Siegfried, though in the end he accepts the necessity to do so and breaks the spear himself. And already from the beginning it is obvious that the relationship between Siegfried and Brünnhilde does not last - as the imbalance in experience as well as the lack of free choice on the part of Siegfried is obvious from the start.

Stig Fogh Andersen delivered a superb performance both dramatically and vocally as Siegfried. Bengt-Ola Morgny also convinced as Mime (actually I don´t remember having ever seen a bad Mime). James Johnson continued as the Wanderer, while Iréne Theorin and Tina Kiberg split the Brünnhildes - again the more lyrical approach by Kiberg versus the more dramatical portrait by Théorin, the latter to be seen on the DVD.

The staging step by step with photographs:



Siegfried in his room in the attic:

Siegfried asks Mime about his parents:

The forging of Nothung:

Mime at Fafner´s lair:

Mime and Alberich quarelling:

Fafner with Siegfried:

Wotan comes back to visit the ageing Erda:

Wotan (Wanderer) with Siegfried:

Again..The Walkure Rock - Siegfried and Brünhilde:

All photos from the Royal Danish Opera and the website of The Copenhagen Ring.

The Copenhagen Ring - Die Walküre

This post is part of a series of posts on The Copenhagen Ring, consisting of:
The Copenhagen Ring - overview and concept.
The Copenhagen Ring - Rheingold.

The Copenhagen Ring - Walküre.
The Copenhagen Ring - Siegfried.
The Copenhagen Ring - Götterdämmerung.

Reviews of The Copenhagen Ring DVD here.

Die Walküre. Premiere 2003. Part of The Copenhagen Ring Cycles 2006. Royal Danish Opera. Michael Schönwandt, conductor. Kasper Bech Holten, director.

Cast on The Copenhagen Ring DVD (scheduled for release July 2008): Stig Fogh Andersen (Siegmund), Gitta-Maria Sjöberg (Sieglinde), James Johnson (Wotan), Irene Théorin(Brünnhilde), Stephen Milling (Hunding), Randi Stene (Fricka). Full cast information here.

We have now moved forward from the 1920´s of Rheingold to the conform and frozen 1950´s. Everything literally takes place within confined boxes- even Hunding and Sieglinde´s home only occupy a small fraction of the stage, which then turns around to expose a hill covered in flowers later in Act 1. Sieglinde is a nervous and insecure German hausfrau, but being part of a A Femine Ring she does manage to pull the sword and hand it to Siegmund.
We see Wotan in his command centre, on the bridge, moving around with casts of Siegmund and Sieglinde beneath him. On both sides of the stage the bookshelves are present, reminding us, that this is part of Brünnhildes recollection of her past. Not a man of action, Wotan does not kill the one Hunding on stage I´ve seen that truly deserves to die...
The emerging of Brünnhilde within a blue mist to warn Siegmund is one of the most beautiful scenes of the Cycle. Curiously the lights used to achieve this quite spectacular effect, according to Jesper Kongshaug (the light director), comes from one of the few artificial light sources stronger than the sun (!).
The huge black wings of the Valkyries are one of the easiest recognizable features of the production, with Wotan symbolically tearing them off Brünnhilde as she goes to sleep.

The Walküre Rock was loosely inspired by the cupula of the New Carlsberg Glyptotek (an art museum in Copenhagen), and (unfortunately for me, as I find it rather ugly) is to reappear virtually unaltered in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung...

It was in this Walküre that Plácido Domingo appeared once in the new opera house in 2006 - apparently stepping into the staging without problems after virtually no rehearsals.
Originally Poul Elming was scheduled as Siegmund, but he pulled out at short notice due to illness and was replaced by Stig Andersen, who thus sang Siegmund and Siegfried both on stage and in the DVD production. Tina Kiberg´s lyrical (and better looking) Brünnhilde alternated with Iréne Théorin´s more dramatically inclined one. A mix of the best of these two interpretations would really have been something..Iréne Théorin will appear on the DVD, the right choice in my opinion. James Johnson created a convincing Wotan opposite Randi Stene´s elegant Fricka. Gitta-Maria Sjöberg´s Sieglinde I have seen only once (as both Iréne Théorin and Eva Johansson also appeared in the part) and remember very little about.

But the absolute highlight of this Walküre (and perhaps of the entire cycle) was Stephen Milling as Hunding. The meanest characyter I have ever seen on stage - perhaps with the exception of the late Aage Haugland, but nobody else even comes close...

The staging step by step with photographs:

The meanest Hunding alive:

Sieglinde and Hunding´s house has turned 180 degrees to expose a flowery hill on which we see Siegmund and Sieglinde:

Wotan and Brünnhilde - at that brief moment where everything is going well (they believe)..

Before Fricka enters on Wotan´s commando bridge:

Brunnhilde in front of the casts of Siegmund and Sieglinde:

Brünnhilde to foretell Siegmund´s death:

The appearance of Brünnhilde from the blue mist was one of the most beautiful scenes in the entire cycle. Note the bookshelves of Wotan´s attic at both sides emphasizing the whole cycle as a flash-back of Brünnhildes mind:

Modeled on the New Carlsberg Glyptotek we see the Walkure Rock - my biggest objection to the staging of the entire cycle as I simply finds it unattractive. Unfortunately it reappears in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung:

Wotan arrives to punish Brünnhilde:

Wotan´s goodbye to Brünnhilde:

Photographs from the Royal Danish Opera and the website of The Copenhagen Ring.

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