Showing posts with label zurich opera. Show all posts
Showing posts with label zurich opera. Show all posts

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Disappointing Meistersinger from Zürich

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Zurich Opera 2003. Production: Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Cast: José Van Dam (Sachs), Peter Seiffer (Walther), Petra-Maria Schnitzer (Eva), Matti Salminen (Pogner), Michael Volle (Beckmesser), Brigitte Pinter (Magdalene), Christoph Strehl (David), Gunther Groissböck (Nightwatchman).

It is not the first time, that otherwise quite inventive stage directors seem to freeze and revert to previous times static theatre when faced with Meistersinger. While it is perhaps not surprising that no-one seems to have truly decoded this piece, why not at least give it a try? Katharina Wagner did, with mixed, but nevertheless interesting results. Nikolaus Lehnhoff, as seen here? Well, suffice to say, we are light years from his production of Tristan and Isolde, to be seen at Glyndebourne around the same time.

Nikolaus Lehnhoff´s style is easily recognizable though; simplistic, geometric sets in stylish colours and characters in period costumes; just take a look at the abstract blue second act with a massive stair-case which could easily have been re-used for his Lohengrin. The best are the equally abstract 3rd act sets, including and excellent amphitheatre excellent ballet.  However, when the answer to the question "what did you learn from this staging regarding the characters and their relationship?" is "nothing", then the raison d´être for this DVD eludes me. Especially as none of the singers were stand-outs either:

Peter Seiffert, sings Walther like Tristan, though not without strain. His real-life wife Petra-Maria Schnitzer is better vocally, though not exactly youthful. Is it really that difficult to cast these two characters? After all this is not Tristan and Isolde.  Also as Magdalene we see the rather mature Brigitte Pinter and while Matti Salminen brings his usual command to Pogner, he is not in optimal vocal shape.  Age notwithstanding, I have seen much better performances from him recently.

José Van Dams strong point is his characterization of Sachs. The voice? Rather too dry, however his strong stage presence and the experience he brings to the role makes up for a lot.

Best of all however: Michael Volle, in a role he repeated in Bayreuth a couple of years later: Vocally strong, always interesting and never ridiculous. A better Beckmesser is not to be seen today.

Finally, Franz Welser-Möst presents a rather swift reading, which is not bad at all, especially as he keeps momentum throughout. However, the competition is stiff, and he does not reach the level of neither Barenboim, Thielemann nor Levine on competing DVDs.

Final scene:

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

José Van Dam: 3-4
Peter Seiffert: 2
Petra Maria Schnitzer: 3
Michael Volle: 5
Matti Salminen: 4
Christoph Strehl: 4

Lehnhoffs production: 3
Franz Welser-Möst: 3

Overall impression: 3

Sunday, 3 March 2013

jonas kaufmann shines in film noir version of tosca

Tosca. DVD. Zurich Opera House 2009. Production: Robert Carsen. Conductor: Paolo Carignani. Cast: Emily Magee (Tosca), Jonas Kaufmann (Cavaradossi), Thomas Hampson (Scarpia).

Looking back at what I wrote when I saw this production in Zurich in 2008 during the same run which was filmed for this DVD, I see that my impressions of the DVD remain largely the same as my impressions of the live performance:

Another production-within-a-production, which Robert Carsen likes so much, as evidenced by his previous stagings of works such as L´incoronazione di Poppea, Don Giovanni and Contes d´Hoffmann. While this type of staging may not seem entirely inappropriate for a diva-esque play like Tosca, it nevertheless defuses some of the tension inherent in both music and libretto.

We begin in the empty audience in front of an empty stage: That is, we look at an empty auditorium in front of an empty stage, the real audience being, obviously, seated in the audience...
Cavaradossi paints on the wall of the theatre (Act 1), is tortured in a chamber adjacent to the stage (Act 2) and finally dies on the centre stage (Act 3). 
Carsen succeeds in creating a film noir atmosphere, which admittedly is a little bit too artificial for my tastes: Just take the freezing cuts in the middle of the otherwise very intense Tosca-Scarpia scene, placing Tosca directly under the spotlight, while completely defusing the tension between her and Scarpia. Clearly a matter of style outranking matt

Some may want to buy this DVD on the strengths of Jonas Kaufmann alone, completely understandable as he is the best Cavaradossi I have seen, on stage or on DVD. However, unless you want to own two DVDs with Kaufmann as Cavaradossi, the one from London with Angela Gheorghiu and Bryn Terfel is the better choice.

However, the cast is as fine here in Zürich as anywhere, and while Emily Magee is a bit mature as Tosca she has the appropriate diva-like manners and the role lies well for her.

I like Thomas Hampson´s elegant Scarpia, though he occasionally seems to lack a bit of bite. But rather refreshing seeing a production which avoids turning Scarpia into a monster.  

Carignani is on top of things in the pit and there is plenty to admire in this stylish production, though, at least for me, it is not the first choice.

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

Jonas Kaufmann: 5
Emily Magee: 4
Thomas Hampson: 4

Robert Carsen´s staging: 4
Paolo Carignani: 4

Overall impression: 4

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

DVD: Zurich Parsifal

Parsifal. Zürich Opera 2007. Production: Hans Hollmann. Conductor: Bernhard Haitink. Cast: Christopher Ventris (Parsifal), Yvonne Naef (Kundry), Matti Salminen (Gurnemanz), Michael Volle (Amfortas), Rolf Haunstein (Klingsor), Andreas Hörl (Titurel).

This Parsifal was recorded live at the Zurich Opera House in April 2007 during the run of performances, of which I attended one.

Hans Hollmann´s production is from 1996 and has now been replaced. Hollmann presents what I consider an essentially religious view of the work: Mist and light. Water, purification? Abstract, quadratic and aesthetic designs. Hollmann says: "Wagner presents only possibilities - Parsifal can never be wholly fathomed by interpretation."

Well said. However, Hollmann seems to have restricted, rather expanded on Wagner´s work, though the simplicity of the sets rather act as a backdrop for Wagner´s glorious music. Not the worst interpretation at all, but also not ideal: In both Act 1 and 3 we are in a 19th century class-room. Mist, water. On the wall : Wasser. Later: Blut. The knights are blind. In Act 2 a mirror flips in Klingsors imaginary castle surrounded by candelabres. We could be in Musée des Art et Métier in the middle of an Umberto Eco novel.

Bernhard Haitink was never a favourite of mine, though he probably is the raison d´etre for this DVD. Some find him close to ideal in this repertoire. To me, he lacks a certain ggrandiosity and above all the sense of dynamics. Both Barenboim and Thielemann, among the presently active conductors have this. Haitink lingers too long in the middle ground without approaching the extremes. Valery Gergiev, coincidentally, presents with much the same type of reading on his newly released Parsifal CD.

Yvonne Naef is a wonderfully darkvoiced and secure as Kundry, but rather restrained on stage and nowhere close to Waltraud Meier´s definitive Kundry. Christopher Ventris is a fine Parsifal, but the best performances come from Matti Salminen and Michael Volle.
Salminen has one of those voices which just ages wonderfully well: No wobbles a la John Thomlinson, but instead he has kept his firm steady tone, His stage presence, of course, is intact.
And Michael Volle, just about ideal for Amfortas and probably the best Amfortas I have heard live.
Adequate justification for a DVD? Probably not. Why would one return to this version, now that we have Barenboim/Kupfer? Not for Salminen, who can be seen on the Baden-Baden DVD with Waltraud Meier, though I do find Haitink superior to Kent Nagano. And next month we will see the new Met Parsifal with JonasKaufmann and René Pape, probably to be released on DVD as well, which will be a strong competitor unless the staging turns out to be completely hopeless..

The flowermaidens:

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

Christopher Ventris: 4
Yvonne Naef: 4
Matti Salminen: 4-5
Michael Volle: 5

Hans Hollmann´s production: 3

Bernhard Haitink: 4

Overall impression: 3

Thursday, 5 April 2012


Genoveva. DVD. zurich 2008. Prod: Martin Kusej. Conductor: Harnoncourt. Cast: Juliane Banse (Genoveva), Martin Gantner (Siegfried), Shawn Mathey (Golo), Cornelia Kallisch (Margaretha), Alfred Muff (Drago).

When Robert Schumann moved to Dresden in the 1840´s he got acquainted with Richard Wagner, who rather bluntly told him that he thought the libretto for Genoveva  was rubbish. Obviously this strained their relations for a while, though Schumann greatly admired Wagner and was quite influenced by Lohengrin, which in fact had it´s world premiere in 1850, the same year as Genoveva. Apparently, the rather negative reception of Genoveva dissuaded Schumann from trying to write another opera and Genoveva thus remains his only opera, only sporadically performed, even today.

Based on the medieval legend of the faithful wife Genevieve of Brabant, who are entrusted to her husband´s squire Golo, while Siegfried, the husband goes away, the plot evolves around Golo´s love for Genevieve including lies, betrayals and the obligatory witch. With a happy ending.

Allegedly, Robert Schumann did not want to create an action-filled work, but rather tableau's of various moods, and indeed it is the static nature of the work, which poses the greatest challenge to the listener.

Not at all helped by Martin Kusej´s production, which, for once, seems to miss the mark: A white room. A chair. A sink. The four protagonists remaining on stage throughout. An allegory to the repressive society structures behind the apparently blissful world of Romanticism, which eventually leads to revolution, Martin Kusej says. Interesting on paper, much less so in the theater.

Fine singing from the leading quartet, Martin Gantner a noble Siegfried, Shawn Mathey a torn Golo, Juliane Banse a strong and righteous Genoveva with Cornelia Kallisch a somewhat shrill Margaretha.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt has been a champion of the work for decades and it seems only right that he´d conduct which is the world premiere DVD recording. Though not even he manages to infuse some drama into Genoveva.

Genoveva production trailer:

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

Juliane Banse: 4
Shawn Mathey: 4
Martin Gantner: 4
Cornelia Kallisch: 3

Nikolaus Harnoncourt: 3
Martin Kusej´s production: 3

Overall impression: 2

Monday, 13 April 2009

Zurich Tosca: Magee, Kaufmann and Hampson in (too) stylish Carsen production

Tosca. Zurich Opera, April 9th 2009. Production: Robert Carsen. Cast: Emily Magee (Tosca), Jonas Kaufmann (Cavaradossi), Thomas Hampson (Scarpia). Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Further information here.

All the ingredients were there: As starry cast, a stylish director as well as a beautiful (and sold-out) auditorium. Nevertheless, the evening never really took off.

Canadian director Robert Carsen apparently was inspired by Cavaradossi´s remark to Tosca “like Tosca in the theatre” after she instructs him on how to play dead. Thus, his Tosca is a theater-in-the-theater production, a concept Robert Carsen has tried earlier with his Hoffmann´s Tales in Paris, and generally a more intellectually rewarding than emotionally thrilling staging concept. Furthermore, this apparently is not a new production, as it appears it has been seen earlier in Barcelona, though information in this regard is not exactly forthcoming from the Zurich Opera website or magazine (read: it seems to be non-existent).

Combined with the creation of stylized Hitchkock-Hollywood images, the result is a production, which emphasizes form over substance, unfortunately draining it of drama. The overly stylized movements by Tosca, artificially coordinated with the music beneath a moving spotlight during the confrontation with Scarpia virtually draws the tension out of this, the perhaps central scene of the entire opera, briefly reminiscnet of the extreme aesthetism of Robert Wilson.

In brief, we are in a theater. As Act 1 opens we look at an operatic theater from the back of the stalls – plenty of chairs, Cavaradossi decorating the auditorium, while the curtain (of the theater-within-the-theater) finally goes up under the Te Deum to display Tosca in full stage regalia. For Act 2 we move backstage to a smoking Scarpia beneath a large VIETATO FUMARE sign, staring at a large painting of Tosca. All in a very aesthetic mix of period costumes on a virtually bare (back)-stage.

Tosca is a stylized 1950´s hollywood diva. A superficial diva, who enjoys both the spotlight (literally) and the attention from Cavaradossi as well as Scarpia while distractedly looking at the programme notes of this evenings Tosca performance..Theatre within theatre indeed.

While Cavaradossi, the only genuine character in this set-up, is the real victim: Presumably intended to be younger than Tosca (he is in real life as well), he is the only one displaying genuine emotions in his unconditionally love for Tosca and sings about his loneliness to a pitch-black auditorium from the naked stage in Act 3, into which Tosca finally jumps with her audience now vanished. It is both aesthetic and stylish. However, compelling music theater it is unfortunately not.

Despite the presence of the undisputed leading Cavaradossi of the day in Jonas Kaufmann. What does he not have? Nothing it seems. In looks and acting, he is the perfect romantic hero. He even has that barytonal glow to his voice, which does make him push for the top (as Plácido Domingo always has), but has the benefits of gaining more punch to his interpretation.
Thomas Hampson´s lyric baritone does not, on paper, seem ideal for Scarpia, though he projects the dramatic lines of the part surprisingly well. As a villain, however, he does not convince, though I am not sure Scarpia is really intended as such in this production, rather as a man, fighting with another man over a woman.
The vastly underrated Emily Magee made her role debut as Tosca, and sings the part better than anyone I can imagine today, Karita Mattila apart. The lack of emotional connection with her character may probably mainly be attributed to Carsen´s approach of the work, and it would be interesting to see her in another production. At the Met, perhaps, where her debut has been more than overdue for about a decade?
Effective, though not overly detailed, playing from the orchestra under Carlo Rizzi.

An evening, where, unfortunately the sum was somewhat less than the individual parts put together.

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

Jonas Kaufmann: 5
Thomas Hampson: 4
Emily Magee: 4-5

Robert Carsen´s staging: 4

Carlo Rizzi: 3-4

Overall impression: 4

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Zurich: Tristan and Isolde with Nina Stemme and Ian Storey

Tristan and Isolde. Zurich Opera, December 18th 2008. Production: Claus Guth. Cast: Nina Stemme (Isolde), Ian Storey (Tristan), Michelle Breedt (Brangäne), Alfred Muff (King Marke), Martin Gantner (Kurwenal). Conductor: Ingo Metzmacher. Further information here.

For this new Zurich Opera production of Tristan and Isolde, German director Claus Guth chose to play out the love affair (rather: The alleged love affair) between Richard Wagner and Mathilde Wesendonck in the Zurich villa of Mathilde and her husband Otto. An idea, which both geographically and historically makes sense. Otherwise, however, it doesn´t really make sense, as this is, of course not what Tristan and Isolde is about at all.

However, Claus Guth, previously known from productions such as Figaro and Don Giovanni in Salzburg, Ariadne in Zürich and Walküre in Hamburg, is a superb stage director creating convincing theatrical drama by simple, yet powerful images. A photo gallery from the production here.

This new Zurich Tristan and Isolde takes place in and around Otto and Mathilde Wesendoncks Zurich villa. Brängane is Isoldes psychological double, making Act One flicker between dream and reality, starting as Otto Wesendonck (King Marke) takes leave of his wife (Isolde) in the bedroom upon which the entire act is framed.

For the second act, the bourgeois party of the Wesendoncks, characters intermittently freezing, while Tristan and Isolde circle each other as well as King Marke within shades of blue make for compelling images. The revolving stage is spun around continuously to reveal the various rooms of the Wesendonck villa culminating with Tristan and Isolde being exposed in front of Otto and his friends in the gentlemen-only cigar room during said party. For King Marke, there may be a happy end to the story as he ultimately reaches out to Brangäne after Isolde collapses next to Tristan at the lavish dinner table, following Tristan and Kurwenals long Third Act Scene, which takes place right outside the villa.

Again, conceptionally this is hardly what Richard Wagners Tristan and Isolde is about. But it nevertheless makes for rather compelling theater.

Ian Storey´s Tristan has previously been heard at La Scala, where he made his debut in the part in 2007 (also released on DVD) and at the Berlin State Opera. As on those occasions, Ian Storey does look the part. Here in Zurich he was audibly indisposed, coughing several times during the second act duet. And as a house representative appeared in front of the curtain before the third act, stating that Storey was indisposed, but would nevertheless continue, you knew you were up for some genuine Act 3 drama: Could he make it until he died? Yes, but only just. Indisposed or not, Storey´s Tristan was much similar to the above two occasions, with a vibrato too heavy for my taste. But, as said: He does look the part, which certainly counts for something.

Nina Stemme has become a much celebrated Isolde, after making her 2003 Glyndebourne debut in the part (available on DVD). And I would say approximately 95% of a random sample of the audience though her Isolde was entirely compelling. I belong to the 5%, who have never really taken to Nina Stemme´s voice, which has become increasingly dry and with a widened vibrato over the past years. That said, she certainly can sing the part, complete with effortless high C´s, though entirely effortless it was not for her. Furthermore she is a very convincing actress, radiating considerable warmth on stage. But no doubt, she does tear on her reserves with Isolde.

Of the rest Martin Gantner made a very convincing Kurwenal, Michelle Breedt a somewhat shrill Brangäne. Alfred Muffs King Marke was rather strange, either he was sharp or flat, virtually never on pitch and with a very uneven vibrato.

Ingo Metzmacher presented a fascinating reading of the score. With clarity obviously being a major aim, he relied heavily relying on the wood-winds and provided myriads of details I cannot remember ever having noticed before. A rather brisk reading, as well. Immensely different from the approaches of the likes of Barenboim and Thielemann, but nevertheless more than valid.

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

Nina Stemme: 4
Ian Storey: 4
Michelle Breedt: 3
Alfred Muff: 2
Martin Gantner: 5

Claus Guth´s concept: 5

Ingo Metzmacher: 4-5

Overall impression: 4

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

DVD: Zurich Don Giovanni with Simon Keenlyside

Don Giovanni. Zurich Opera House 2006. Production: Sven-Eric Bechtolf. Cast: Simon Keenlyside (Don Giovanni), Eva Mei (Donna Anna), Malin Hartelius (Donna Elvira), Anton Scharinger (Leporello), Alfred Muff (Commendatore), Piotr Beczala (Don Ottavio), Reinhard Mayr (Masetto), Martina Jankova (Zerlina). Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Further information here.

I will admit straightaway to being less than impressed with Sven-Eric Bechtolf´s production of Don Giovanni for the Zurich Opera. The setting is simply a 1930-50 upper-class nightclub, in which the characters enter and exit throughout the opera. Apart from being rather unaesthetic, it´s also plainly uninteresting. Yes, the characters do interact convincingly with one another, but somehow the entire affair never lifts off.

Of the singers, Simon Keenlyside and especially Piotr Beczala stood out.
Simon Keenlyside, by all means is a fine Don Giovanni, singing and acting far above average. That his slightly wooden-sounding baritone doensn´t entirely appeal to me, is probably less important in this context: He does indeed cut a convincing figure on stage.
Even more so Piotr Beczala, who for once managed to make Don Ottavio´s arias something of a highlight. Anton Scharinger provided contrast to Simon Keenlyside in both apparent age and vocal colour (him beeing a bass-baritone as opposed by Keenlyside´s high baritone), but not much more.

Malin Hartelius, an excellent Rosenkavalier-Sophie, simply does not have the vocal power for a Donna Elvira, and seems strangely cast in this part as a high lyric soprano. Almost equally underpowered and seemingly not at ease with Mozartean style was Eva Mei as Donna Anna.

Franz Welser-Möst reminds that Don Giovanni is not an easy work to conduct. Admittedly I am not an easy customer either with my preferences for the likes of Barenboim and Furtwängler. And in that context, Welser-Möst for once provides an appropriately slow reading. However, he fails to maintain the appropriate tension, which results in dragging on as opposed to being poignant. Admittedly it is not easy....

Various excerpts from the production:

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

Simon Keenlyside: 4
Anton Scharinger: 3
Eva Mei: 3
Malin Hartelius: 3
Piotr Beczala: 4-5

Martina Janková: 4
Reinhard Mayr: 3

Sven-Eric Bechtolf´s production: 3

Franz Welser-Möst: 3

Overall impression: 3

Monday, 17 November 2008

Renée Fleming´s Arabella on DVD

Arabella. Zurich Opera 2007. Production: Götz Friedrich. Cast: Renée Fleming (Arabella), Morten Frank Larsen (Mandryka), Julia Kleiter (Zdenka), Johan Weigel (Matteo). Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Further information here.

Götz Friedrich´s Arabella production is a bit dusty, but nothing compared to a traditional dust-covered staging and, as all Friedrich´s output, is modern in the outlook. A stylized, minimalistic, however not too interesting production, which will, I suppose, offend very few.

Obviously Renée Fleming is the star of the evening, and those liking the way Renée Fleming sounds on her recent Richard Strauss disc with Christian Thielemann will most likely admire her Arabella, at least from a vocal point of view.
I must admit I am rather un-taken with her Arabella, finding her artificially sophisticated and mannered in both acting and vocal execution. Her Arabella is much more the sophisticated lady than the young girl. Personally I much prefer the Arabella of Karita Mattila or Adrianne Pieczonka, however fans of Renée Fleming´s current sound will not be disappointed.

Young dashing Danish barytone Morten Frank Larsen was a last-minute replacement for Thomas Hampson, which should be enough to cut him some slack. His voice is rather steady and if he manages to expand on his top register and control the incipient wobble he might have a great future. Did I mention, he looks great as well? However, his scheduled Jochanaan and Scarpia later this season, doesn´t strike me as the most ideal path to take from a vocal point of view.

A great future also could be in the making for Julia Kleiter, who more than holds her own next to Renée Fleming. She has a beautiful lyrical soprano and looks convincing in trousers as well as in her short girlish appearance.

My main reservation with this DVD, however, lies with the orchestra. The lush Straussian sound is simply not here. I am not sure Franz Welser-Möst may be entirely blamed for this as his Arabella in Vienna last year was both lush and vivid.

Renée Fleming/Julia Kleiter "Aber der richtige":

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

Renée Fleming: 4
Morten Frank Larsen: 4
Julia Kleiter: 4-5
Johan Weigel: 4

Götz Friedrich´s production: 3-4

Franz Welser-Möst: 3-4

Overall impression: 4

Saturday, 8 November 2008

DVD: Thomas Hampson as Macbeth in Zurich

Macbeth. Zurich Opera 2002. Director: David Pountney. Cast: Paoletta Marroccu (Lady Macbeth), Thomas Hampson (Macbeth), Roberto Scandiuzzi (Banquo), Luis Lima (Macduff). Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Further information here.

That an opera production is weird is no problem as such. However, David Pountney is simply not at his best with this Zuric Macbeth staging. He has created several superb stagings of lately, such as Peter Grimes and Turandot, however for some reason, this Macbeth misses the boat. And rather surprisingly it is not even stylish, normally a trademark of Pountney´s.

That Banquo´s blood is green is simply odd. However, there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for that, and it does fluorescate rather intriguingly when smeared all over Macbeth and the lady...But in an unaesthetic way oddly corresponding with the rest of the sets.
Furthermore, I do not get any insights into the characters motivations or relationships. I do not doubt that David Pountney has the ideas. He just doesn´t convey them to the audience.

Thomas Hampson
is a highly intellectual singer, always performing immense amounts of background searches for his characters apart from speaking some of the best German I´ve ever heard from a native English-speaker. Furthermore he looks rather good - in the documentary, that is. As Macbeth he both looks and appears irritating and pathetic. Perhaps because his character, Macbeth unfortunately is irritating and pathetic- almost bordering on a self-parody. And because they made him wear a wig, which simply does not suit him. Vocally, this is not his turf either - there has to be more ring to the part to make it work.

Roberto Scandiuzzi may have been a good singer once. Paola Marroccu could have been a great Lady Macbeth now, had she not been consistently flat and had her voice not had a distinctly grainy quality not really to my liking. However, she is not at all uninteresting and creates genuine drama on stage. The audience seemed to adore her.

Franz Welser-Möst = As reliable as ever.

Recommended? Not really.

Banquo-Macbeth duet:

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

Thomas Hampson: 3-4
Paoletta Marroccu: 3
Roberto Scandiuzzi: 2
Luis Lima:2

David Pountney: 2

Franz Welser-Möst: 4

Overall impression: 2

Saturday, 1 November 2008

DVD: Zurich Rigoletto with superb Leo Nucci

Rigoletto. Zurich Opera House 2006. Production: Gilbert Deflo. Cast: Leo Nucci (Rigoletto), Elena Mosuc (Gilda), Piotr Beczaka (Duke), Laszlo Polgar (Sparafucile), Katharina Peetz (Maddalena). Conductor: Nello Santi. Further information here.

From director Gilbert Deflo I expected a stylish, minimalistic production with period outfits. Which is what he provides, though the gowns were not as lavish as in his Paris production of Manon, and the setting not as stylish as his L´Amour de trois Oranges or Ballo di Maschera. But nevertheless, stylish it is, leaving ample space for the characters to shine.

In that respect, Leo Nucci is close to unbeatable as Rigoletto, even at 65. Perhaps not vocally, as he is past his prime, but dramatically his characterization is simply unbeatable, by far the best available on DVD. His is a multifacetted portrait and indeed the center of the opera.
Elena Mosuc has a fuller and darker voice than many Gilda´s, refreshingly free of the all-to-saintly colouring often associated with the part. I was rather surprised to see her re-enter the stage and take a solo-bow after the Caro nome..though probably a better solution than to remain fixed in an unnatural position for endless minutes waiting for the applause to stop. To round up the cast is Piotr Beczala, close to ideal as the Count.

Nell0 Santi looks more like a Sicilian mafioso than a conductor, however it is quite apparent from the start that he knows how to make this piece flow.

Leo Nucci - "Cortiggiani":

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

Leo Nucci: 5
Elena Mosuc: 3-4
Piotr Beczala: 4

Gilbert Deflo´s production: 4

Nello Santi: 4

Overall impression: 4

Friday, 17 October 2008

DVD: Lulu from Zurich

Lulu. Zurich Opera House 2002. Director: Sven-Eric Bechtolf. Cast: Laura Aikin (Lulu) etc. Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Further information here.

This is Sven Bechtolf´s first opera staging, a source of stress to conductor Franz Welser-Möst until he met Bechtolf at the first rehearsal, the latter arriving fully prepared and familiar with the opera from A to Z, including the score.
Quite possibly, this is also Bechtolf´s best staging to date, at least the best I am familiar with. In the accomanying 30 minutes documentary, we hear about all the fun the cast seemed to have had during rehearsals, and they do indeed seem a very solid team. All singers are equally fine actors as singers, a prerequisite for success (in any opera, really)..

Becholf´s Lulu is a girl abused by Schön at the age of 12. As a consequence of this abuse she mirrors herself in the men around here. Eerie film footage to that effect is shown at interludes, and Bechtolf illustrates this split-personality by introducing the body double, to be used extensively in his later Pélleas and Mélisande staging. Another idea, frequently used in his later productions, are leaving characters confined to wheelchairs, probably symbolising psychological immobilisation/isolation.

When Lulu is killed by Jack the Ripper/Schön in the end, a child doll is killed first and Lulu is then dragged into the corner and covered by litter. The message is clear: Lulu was killed years ago, as a child. Only her shallow surface has remained.

In Laura Aikin Bechtolf has a superb performer, giving everything on stage, including semi- nudeness in what may be her finest achievement as yet.

Franz Welser-Möst, as always, is far more than merely competent, however when he has to compete against Boulez and Andrew Davis it´s hard not to somehow end up with the shortest straw.

One may argue endlessly whether the two act (uncompleted as Berg wrote it) or the three act (completed by Cerha) is to be preferred. This Zurich DVD presents the two act version. The Glyndebourne DVD is of the three act version. Cases may be made for both.

Overall I´d still prefer the Glyndebourne production with Christine Schäfer provided the Boulez/Chéreau Paris production will not be released, but this Zurich production is highly recommended for an alternative take on this fascinating work.

Laura Aikin is Lulu:

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

Laura Aikin: 4

Sven-Eric Bechtolf: 4

Franz Welser-Möst: 4

Overall impression: 4

Saturday, 4 October 2008

DVD: Tannhäuser in Zurich - a nightmare

Tannhäuser. Zurich Opera House 2003. Director: Jens-Daniel Herzog. Cast: Peter Seiffert (Tannhäuser), Roman Trekel (Wolfram), Solveig Kringelborn (Elisabeth), Isabelle Kabatu (Venus), Walther (Jonas Kaufmann), Alfred Muff (Hermann). Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Further information here.

In brief, I find this production virtually unbearable to watch, reflected in the extraordinarily low overall rating below.

First of all, the camera work is quite easily the worst I have yet encountered in opera, jumping back- and forwards between backstage shots of the characters in their dressing rooms (even in the middle of the opera), overhead shots of the pit, close-ups of the sweating Peter Seiffert (whom we also see putting on his final costume during the ouverture before he heads downstairs) and Franz Welser-Mösts wedding ring, shots from the stage aiming at performers waiting backstage etc etc. Furthermore, fans of Jonas Kaufmann, beware: During his only aria we do not see him at all, as the camera only focuses on the faces of Tannhäuser and Elisabeth. Extremely annoying..

This moving back and forth between pre-production and performance shots, takes away a significant part of the potential pleasure of the staging, which I cannot even describe properly due to the odd camera angles. The sets are simple, the stage is bare, but aesthetic it is not. I simply cannot imagine that, visually, this DVD will appeal to anyone.

Musically things are rather better, though not exceptional. Solveig Kringelborn does make a rather fine Elisabeth (though I personally find her irritating), not entirely matched by Isabelle Kabatu as Venus. Fine performance from Roman Trekel (slightly neurotic) and Peter Seiffert (equally boring). Franz Welser-Möst is more than competent though not overly imaginative.

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

Peter Seiffert: 3
Solveig Kringelborn: 3
Roman Trekel: 3
Isabelle Kabatu: 2

Franz Welser-Möst: 4

Jens-Daniel Herzog: 2

Overall impression: 1

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Elektra on DVD: Superb Eva Johansson in Kusej staging from Zurich

Elektra. Zurich Opera House 2006. Director: Martin Kusej. Cast: Eva Johansson (Elektra), Melanie Diener (Chrysothemis), Marjana Lipovsek (Klytemnestra), Alfred Muff (Orestes). Conductor: Christoph van Dohnanyi. More details here.

Martin Kusej´s Zurich production of Elektra is surprisingly traditional - while the exterior may have changed from Ancient Greece to a proxy-swinger-orgy complete with the standard dose of nudity/seminudity, the core remains: Elektra, at the center of a society, rotten with depravity.

Everything all takes place in a room with a buckly floor lined by seven doors, polstered on the outside. Transvestites, Parisian Cabaret dancer look-a -ikes, nudes (and semi-nudes) constantly exit and enter the part-brothel, part-asýlum, part-swinger club room. The psychopathic mother, the dreamily unrealistic sister, the repugnant stepfather, the eerie brother all seem to belong in this place of sadism, incest and suicide. The recognition scene is beautiful - when the roof opens, a silvery shimmer descends on the blue room.

Elektra in semi-punk hooded sweater and baggy pants appear the sanest of them all. And Eva Johansson is simply a superb Elektra, probably her best part. Her tendency to neurotic and wild acting suits the part perfectly, as does the sometimes shrill ring to her occasionally sharp tone. With almost no vibrato, she is virtually on pitch throughout and nails the high C like few others. I cannot imagine a better interpreter of the part on stage today.
Marjana Lipovsek´s very strong Klytemnestra is not as decadent as often seen, and the former mightly Queen has now most of all become a Drag Queen.

Next to these hyperintense women, Melanie Diener is refreshingly human as Chrysothemis.
Christoph von Dohnányi has a no-nonsense approach to the score - stringent and with clear lines.

Compared to the other Elektra DVDs on the market, I personally prefer this one together with the Kupfer/Abbado production from Vienna. The alternatives are the Götz Friedrich film with Leonie Rysanek and the MET 1980 production with Birgit Nilsson/Leonie Rysanek.

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

Eva Johansson: 5
Melanie Diener: 4
Marjana Lipovsek: 4-5
Alfred Muff: 3

Christoph von Dohnanyi: 4
Martin Kusej: 5

Overall impression: 4-5

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Der Rosenkavalier on DVD: Nina Stemme, Vesselina Kasarova and Malin Hartelius in Zurich production

Rosenkavalier. Zurich Opera House 2004. Production: Sven-Eric Bechtolf. Cast: Nina Stemme (Marschallin), Vesselina Kasarova (Octavian), Malin Hartelius (Sophie), Alfred Muff (Ochs). Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Further details here.

The staging is modern, but opposed to Robert Carsen´s superb Salzburg production from the same year I simply don´t understand Sven-Eric Bechtolf´s concept:

It begins in a white Japanese-style room with a few naked tree trunks and big windows making up one of the walls. The Marschallin and Octavian seem to be of the same age - possibly because Nina Stemme is a conceptionally rather young Marschallin.

For Act 2 we are in a kitchen, complete with traditionally clad chefs. Apparently Sophie is some sort of maid (but clad in a shining dress), who hides behind a door when Octavian arrives to present the Rose. Fitting into the surroundings, Octavian ends up hurting Ochs with a kitchen knife.

In Act 3 we are back in the initial white Japanese room, where a tent has now been erected and Ochs is served by servants wearing beetle masks. The Act 3 ensemble is a mixture of chefs, beetle servants, sevants with wings, skeletons and Mariandel in a fairy-tale princess dress with a half-moon shaped diadem...

The unifying concept: I honestly cannot tell.

Malin Hartelius is a superb Sophie, with ethereal high notes and convincing as the naive girl, who stands up to Ochs as well. Also Vesselina Kasarova is among the very best Octavians - beautiful, with an entirely unstrained voice as well as funny.

While the Marschallin is better suited to Nina Stemme than her heavy Wagnerian roles (read: Isolde), she still has a timbre I don´t take to and her voice has clearly deteriorated over the past few years. Furthermore, I see none of the worldly wisdom and varied acting of the great Marschallin´s here.

Franz Welser-Möst conducts a fine performance, but unfortunately the DVD competition is exceptionally strong - Carlos Kleiber and Semyon Bychkov both with the Vienna Philharmonics as well as Georg Solti from Covent Garden.

For a modern production of Rosenkavalier, Robert Carsen´s 2004 Salzburg production is strongly recommended. For a traditional Rosenkavalier one of the Carlos Kleiber-conducted Otto Schenk productions (I´d personally prefer the one from the Vienna State Opera) or the Georg Solti-conducted production from Covent Garden are the top available choices.

Vesselina Kasarova, Malin Harterlius and Nina Stemme with Hab´s mir gelobt:

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

Nina Stemme: 2-3
Vesselina Kasarova: 4
Malin Hartelius: 5

Sven-Eric Bechtolf´s prodution: 2

Franz Welser-Möst: 4

Overall impression: 2

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Ariadne dies on Naxos

Ariadne auf Naxos. Zurich Opera House 2006. Production: Claus Guth. Cast: Emily Magee (Ariadne), Elena Mosuc (Zerbinetta), Roberto Saccá (Bacchus), Michelle Breedt (Composer), Michael Volle (Music teacher). Conductor: Christoph van Dohnanyi. Further information here.

For those familiar with Claus Guth´s staging of Nozze di Figaro in Salzburg 2006, it should come as no surprise that his Ariadne auf Naxos is to be taken very seriously. It is, in fact, a tragedy.

The prologue is acted out in front of a massive grey curtain, from which the singers appear and disappear. Theater within the theater... The blind music master tries to find his way around, the major-domo yells his orders from the balcony box and the Composer gets increasingly desperate and eventually shoots himself through the head. Though there are no decorations, it´s nevertheless very interesting and alive, due to the detailed and intelligent direction of the singers, all in modern dress.

The second act (the real play) takes place in a restaurant. In fact, the restaurant is an exact replica of the famous Kronenhalle restaurant, located a few blocks from the Zurich Opera House.This seemingly strange setting fits surprisingly well with Hugo von Hofmannsthal´s libretto. Ariadne is sitting alone at a table in the virtually empty restaurant waiting for her lover. The nymphs are servants. The dead composers ghost appears from time to time. Very fittingly, Zerbinetta is at another table having a party with her friends, trying to cheer Ariadne up. But Ariadne is inconsolable, and eventually commits suicide with an overdose of pills and sings her final duet with Bacchus as she is dying.

Emily Magee is simply a superb Ariadne. She has everything this part asks for: The looks, the acting skills and the necessary dramatic vocal expression as well as a beautiful tone. Probably the finest performance of her career.
Elena Mosuc isa wonderful Zerbinetta, fuller in tone than most of her colleagues, perhaps not so sharp in the coloratura, but dramatically convincing.
Michelle Breedt is dramatically perfect as the desperate Composer, though her voice is not particularly beautiful and tends to be shrill at times. Another fine performance from Michael Volle, this time as the blind music teacher.

The orchestra with Dohnanyi was quite forceful and energetic in accordance with Claus Guth´s interpretation: This is no Strauss light.

Presently the only modern Ariadne production available on DVD.
A most refreshing and intelligent approach from Claus Guth. Highly recommended.

The bottom line:

Emily Magee: 5
Elena Mosuc: 4
Roberto Saccá: 4
Michelle Breedt: 3-4

Claus Guth´s production: 5
Christoph van Dohnanyi: 4

Overall impression: 5

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Zurich Fidelio DVD: Mainly for fans of Jonas Kaufmann

Fidelio. Zurich Opera House. Production: Jürgen Flimm. Recorded 2004. Cast: Camilla Nylund (Leonore), Jonas Kaufmann (Florestan), Laszlo Polgar (Rocco), Alfred Muff (Pizarro). Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt. More information here.

Fidelio must be an exceptional inspirational source to director Jürgen Flimm, as this is his second DVD production of Fidelio in almost as many years, this time from the Zurich Opera 2004, while his first Fidelio DVD dates from the Metropolitan Opera 2002.

While his MET production is set in an unspecific 20th century police state, the Zurich production is more abstract, with no apparent political messages. The sets are simple and blue, changing to yellow (the colour of optimism, surely) in the final scene. A wooden table is virtually the only requisite on stage. Costumes are approximately dated to the early 19th Century. The production is rather aesthetic with a cool silver glow to it, however if Flimm intended to communicate any profound messages (or just any messages), they have escaped me.

Camilla Nylund has an essentially lyrical and rather small voice with a silvery sheen. She boths looks and acts well and is well-matched with Jonas Kaufmann´s Florestan. However, mainly due to the lack of dramatic expression in her voice, I ultimately found her Leonore rather uninteresting.

Not so with Jonas Kaufmann, who thanks to his solo contract with Decca now looks on his way to tenor-stardom. Fully deserved as well. One of his trademarks of course is, that he is rather good-looking. But more importantly, he is an excellent actor with the ability to identify completely with the character on stage. His voice is rather dark and expressive, and he sounds slightly strained at the top, which however does not detract from his performance at all. In Fidelio, he basically has only one aria to sing, and that he sings well. If I were to bet on only one of the younger tenors, I´d put my money on him.

There were no weak links in the supporting cast.

I found Harnoncourt´s tempi on the slow side, but more importantly his approach to Fidelio seemed rather light-hearted, which some may prefer. Not me, though.

This seems a DVD for Fidelio afficionados or Jonas Kaufmann fans. For those only in need of one version, I´ll recommend Flimm´s superb staging from the Metropolitan Opera with Karita Mattila, René Pape and Ben Heppner which for 2/3 of the leads is better cast (I´d take Jonas Kaufmann over Ben Hepper anytime) as well as having the sumptuous full-scale Beethoven of James Levine.

Jonas Kaufmann´s one aria in his one-aria part:

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

Camilla Nylund: 3
Jonas Kaufmann: 5
Laszlo Polgar: 4
Alfred Muff: 4

Nikolaus Harnoncourt: 3
Jürgen Flimm´s staging: 3

Overall impression: 3

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Pelleas and Melisande on DVD in experimental Zurich staging with body doubles

Pélleas and Mélisande. Zurich Opera 2004. Director: Sven-Eric Bechtolf. Cast: Isabel Rey (Mélisande), Rodney Gilfry (Pélleas), Michael Volle (Golaud). Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Further information here.

Those disliking experimental stagings /Regietheater, may opt to stay away as this Sven-Eric Bechtolf production from the Zurich Opera is an example of highly experimental Regietheater.

I am not at all certain I understand the directors intentions, but two main aspects stand out: The frosty concrete environment and the continuous presence of body doubles..

Body-sized mannequin doubles of the characters are virtually present on stage at all times. The characters move around carrying their respective doubles in wheel-chairs when they are not lying in the corners, often interacting with the body-double of themselves or others as opposed to the live characters. The frosty concrete environment is desolate. Psychologic coldness/isolation perhaps?

In the beginning Pélleas and Mélisande address their body doubles - later they address each other. Golaud mainly interacts with Mélisandes double, though Mélisande is present. The live Mélisande interacts with the live Arkel as well. The live Golaud kills the live Pélleas. In the end, the living Mélisande leaves playing with a golden ball, leaving her body double on stage. Anyone familiar with the opera not getting the psychological message?

Fine performance from Franz Welser-Möst in the pit. Isabel Rey is a fine, delicate Mélisande. Rodney Gilfry however does not have the air of the innocent dreamer if that is how one sees Pélleas, but seems an ordinary man just like Michael Volle´s excellent Golaud.

Did I like it? In theory yes, the splitting concept seemingly fine for this work. But somehow it just seemed to be spelled out to pointedly. If I understood it at all, that is. And all that frosty concrete and the wheelchairs are just so ugly to watch. I´d still prefer Peter Stein´s production from the Welsh National Opera, which also benefits from the superb conducting of Pierre Boulez.

A video clip from the staging below:

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

Isabel Rey: 4
Rodney Gilfry: 3
Michael Volle: 4

Franz Welser-Möst: 4
Sven-Eric Bechtolf´s staging: 3

Overall impression: 3-4

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Renée Fleming finally with Arabella on DVD

Excerpt from Renée Fleming´s portrait of Arabella ("Aber der richtige") from the DVD just released from the Zurich Opera House:

The production is an old one by Götz Friedrich. Danish barytone Morten Frank Larsen was a last-minute replacement for Thomas Hampson as Mandryka. Welser-Möst conducts.

Renée Fleming really shines in Richard Strauss´ music as virtually nobody else on stage today. 50 years ago, she would have had some tough competition, though:

Lisa della Casa also with "Aber der richtige" from Arabella.

As an afterthought (see comment one), there is another singer of today, who belongs here:

Karita Mattila again with "Aber der richtige" from Arabella (production from Paris). The beauty of her middle register is just immense..

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Superb Thomas Hampson in Busoni´s Doktor Faust on DVD

Busoni: Doktor Faust. Zurich Opera House, 2006 (released 2008). Production: Klaus Michael Grüber. Cast: Thomas Hampson (Faust), Gregory Kunde (Mephistopheles), Sandra Trattnigg (Duchess). Conductor: Phillippe Jordan. Details here.

Doktor Faust was unfinished at the time of Busoni´s death in 1924 and the version used in this recording is the one completed by his pupil Jarnach presented at the world premiere in 1925. The work has been slowly gaining recognition and has long been regarded a cult opera, along the lines of Palestrina and Cardillac. Only in the 2000´s was Doktor Faust performed at the Metropolitan Opera and this season it may be seen at the Berlin State Opera.

Busoni worked on Doktor Faust for more than twenty years, and deliberately aimed at distancing himself from Goethe´s version. In Busoni´s version, Faust is a university professor, despairing of live, looking for a higher meaning. Three students present Faust with a magic book. He then conjures up several serving spirits and amongst them chooses Mephistopheles. In exchange for his post-mortem services, Mephistopheles gets rid of Faust´s creditors as well as Gretchen´s (whom he seduced before this opera starts) brother.

All this may be seen as a prelude to the real story of Busoni´s Doktor Faust, which in essence starts when Faust turns up at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess and by conjuring up images from the Old Testament (such as Samson and Dalilah, Salome and Jochanaan) seduces the Duchess and eventually leaves her. A year later he receives notion of her death and Mephistopheles presents him with her (and Fausts) dead child, turns it into straw - sets fire to it - and Helen of Troy appears from the ashes. Faust now acknowledges the meaninglessness of everything he has strived for. But too late. The students reappear and claim the book, while predicting Faust´s death that same evening. At night a beggar appears with a child - Faust recognizes her as the Duchess. Faust accepts the child and his spirit is transferred to the child before he dies.

Klaus Michael Grüber´s staging is both simplistic and aesthetic, underlining the static quality of the work as well as smoothing the transitions between the various scenes. The protagonists often wear extravagant costumes, contrasting with the austere background.

The cornerstones of this performance are Thomas Hampson as well as conductor Philippe Jordan. Many ideas are presented in this work, and Faust´s character is vastly complex, but the complexity seem to be grasped by Thomas Hampson, in one of the finest performances of his entire career. Vocally secure, dramatically convincing. Easily the best performance I have seen (of many) by him.

In a bonus interview Thomas Hampson, who also performed the role at the MET some years ago, furthermore discusses the work in detail calling it a masterpiece in impressively good German.

To my knowledge this is the only DVD version of Doktor Faust.

Promotional video:

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

Thomas Hampson: 5
Gregory Kunde: 4-5
Sandra Trattnigg: 4

Klaus Michael Grübers staging: 4-5

Phillippe Jordan: 4-5

Overall impression: 4-5

Sunday, 9 March 2008

New Peter Grimes on DVD: Superb Pountney production from Zurich

Peter Grimes. Zurich Opera 2005. Production: David Pountney. Cast: Christopher Ventris (Peter Grimes), Emily Magee (Ellen Orford), Alfred Muff (Balstrode). Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Further information here.

Director David Pountney really does get to the core of Peter Grimes as I see it: Not a drama of the changing of the sea or a specific English fisherman-village portrait, it is rather a universal story of someone being pushed out of a community, for whatever reason we don´t know, and which eventually breaks him. In the unchanging stylish sets, the people of the village are suspended on chairs in the air, literally looking down on, as a metaphor of condemning Peter Grimes. It is a cold world, with everyone looking after himself, even Balstrode plays with the prostitute-girls in Act 3 like the other hypocrites of the village.

Both Christopher Ventris and Emily Magee are exceptionally well-cast as Peter Grimes and Ellen Orford. Ventris brings both sympathy and ambiguity to the character, who is, also from Britten´s hand, ambiguous in his harsh working methods vs. his dreams of simple domestic happiness with Ellen.

And Pountney brings almost biblical pathos to the final scene - Orford and Balstrode sit on each side of the stage with the two dead boys in their lap, while Grimes delivers his monologue leaning toward a white pole (cross).

Well conducted, though not overly dense, by Franz-Welser Möst this DVD is highly recommended. Of modern versions, the only alternative is the 2008 production from the Metropolitan Opera, equally highly recommended.

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

Christopher Ventris: 4
Emily Magee: 4-5
Alfred Muff: 4

David Pountney´s staging: 4-5

Franz Welser-Möst: 4

Overall impression: 4-5

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...