Friday 27 June 2008

Karita Mattila

Karita Mattila
Karita Mattila as Salome (Metropolitan Opera 2004)


Karita Mattila, Finnish soprano. Born 1960, Somero, Finland.
Education: Sibelius Academy, Helsinki. Further studies with Vera Rozsa.
Winner of the first Cardiff Singer of the World competition 1983.

Karita Mattila´s career initially centered around Mozart (Pamina, Countess, Donna Elvira) with debuts at Covent Garden (1985) and the Metropolitan Opera 1990 (Countess). A heavy performance schedule during these early years led to a vocal crisis requiring surgery on her vocal chords in 1992, one of the reasons she currently limits her annual performances to about 50. Karita Mattila´s career seemed to have reached a plateau in the early 90´s, however in the mid-90´s she re-emerged in the lyric-dramatic repertoire with highly acclaimed interpretations such as Chrysothemis (Salzburg 1995) and Elsa (Paris 1996), and she is now one of the absolutely leading sopranos of her generation with performances in all major opera houses, in particular the Metropolitan Opera.
Karita Mattila is reknowned for the beauty and versatility of her lyric-dramatic voice, with an exceptionally beautiful middle register as well as for her extraordinary stage ability and range of expressivity. Karita Mattila is also an admired recitalist and exponent of new music, particularly that of compatriot Kaija Saariaho, who also wrote a song cycle for her, Quatre Instants in 2002 as well as an opera Emilie du Chatelet in 2010.

Karita Mattila on the profession:

"It doesn't do any harm if you look good and take care of yourself. I lost 40 pounds through Weight Watchers when I was 22 and I am glad I did it. I wasn't fat, but I was plump, and I didn't feel comfortable. It has been an eternal battle. It has nothing to do with vanity; it's just to serve your work by looking the part."
"I don't break my contracts for personal reasons because I owe it to my audience to be there. If it has already been announced that I will be singing there, then I think it would be very unprofessional for me to cancel."

There is always room at the top, and it is very windy, meaning that it is harder to be at the top than on the way up."


Elsa (Lohengrin) - Paris Bastille Opera 1996 (d: Carsen), Metropolitan Opera 1998, 2006 (d: Robert Wilson). Her immensely beautiful middle register and secure top made Karita Mattila the ideal Elsa, a role she now seems to have retired from her repertoire. She was unsurpassed in this role, possibly her finest to date.

Chrysothemis (Elektra) - according to Mattila, this role in Salzburg 1995 marked her transition from Mozart to the heavier lyric-dramatic repertoire, for which she is reknowned today. She seems to have retired this part as well.

Fidelio - Metropolitan Opera, London ROH (MET premiere 2001, d: Flimm) - also on DVD. One of Karita Mattila´s signature roles, which she continues to perform worldwide.

Katya Kabanova, Jenufa, Emilia Marty - Karita Mattila has a special affinity for Janacek´s heroines, which she continues to perform at major stages worldwide, as in the DVD released Katya Kabanova in Madrid 2008

Salome - Paris Bastille Opera 2003 and Metropolitan Opera 2004 and 2008 (also on DVD). Karita Mattila´s Salome is among the most admired operatic performances of the last decade. Sound clips from the 2004 Met performance and video clips from her Paris Salome here.
Review of Karita Mattila´s 2008 Met Salome, which was also transmitted live in HD and released on DVD.

Puccini heroines - Tosca (Met Opening Season 2009 released on DVD and Bavarian State Opera 2010), which she sang to mixed reviews and now seems to have retired. Manon Lescaut (among others Metropolitan Opera 2008, also released on DVD).

Previously, Karita Mattila had major successes in the Italian repertoire such as Elisabeth in Don Carlos (d: Bondy, Covent Garden and Châtelet - also on DVD) and Amelia in Simon Boccanegra (d: Stein, c: Abbado, Salzburg and Firenze - also on DVD) as well as Ballo di Maschera. Other successes include Hanna Glawari (Merry Widow), Tatiana, Arabella and Lisa (Pique Dame).

Karita Mattila has been working closely for over a decade with finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, creating Emilie in Emilie du Chatelet in 2010.


Karita Mattila has previously stated she will probably sing Sieglinde in the future.
There have been speculations of Karita Mattila singing Isolde, to which she has replied: "Maybe, maybe, one day. But -- not without a Tristan. I have a feeling you can't do that opera without a Tristan."


Strauss: Orchestral Songs, Four Last Songs (Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonics, 2999, DG). Karita Mattila has had an extensive collaboration with Claudio Abbado, who considered her voice ideal for a wide range of repertoire.
Karita Mattila - Live in Helsinki (2007, Ondine) - A stunning recital performance of songs by Rachmaninov, Saariaho, Dvôrak, and Duparc.
Gurrelieder (Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonics 2002, EMI)Meistersinger (Solti 1998, Decca) Overall I´d recommend this as the version to own.
Jenufa (Bernhard Haitink, Covent Garden 2002, Erato)Karita Mattila recently released a successful jazz CD, as well as previous cross-over recordings.

Full discography here.


Meistersinger (Levine, Metropolitan Opera 2001, d: Schenk)
Don Carlos (Pappano, Paris Châtelet 1996, d: Luc Bondy)
Fidelio (Levine, Metropolitan Opera 2001, d: Flimm)
Simon Boccanegra (Abbado, Firenze 2002, d: Stein)
Manon Lescaut (Levine, The Met 2008)

Salome (Summers, The Met 2009)
Katya Kabanova (Behlohavek, Madrid 2009)
Tosca (Colaneri, Metropolitan Opera 2009)

Full discography here.

Karita Mattila as Salome (Lev Dodin production, Paris Bastille 2003):

Karita Mattila as Elsa (Lohengrin, Paris Bastille 1996, Robert Carsen´s production):


Fidelio, ROH London 2007


All posts on mostly opera related to Karita Mattila
Karita Mattila complete performances at the Metropolitan Opera
Wikipedia biography on Karita Mattila

Thursday 26 June 2008

The Konwitschny Don Carlos in Vienna

Don Carlos. French 5-act. Vienna State Opera. June 24th 2008. Director: Peter Konwitschny. Cast: Ain Anger (Philippe II), Iano Tamar (Elisabeth), Ramón Vargas (Carlos), George Petean (Rodrigue), Nadia Krasteva (Eboli). Conductor: Bertrand de Billy. Further information here.

Peter Konwitschny
´s controversial production of Don Carlos is described in detail in my previous post on the Vienna DVD of this production. And the main reason to see this live was my curiousity about two aspects of the production: The auto-da-fe and how it was managed logistically (as it is played out partly in the foyer of the Vienna State Opera) and the ballet sequence Eboli´s Dream - featuring Eboli´s wishful scenario of herself, pregnant with Carlos child, inviting Philippe and Elisabeth, the happy couple, for dinner while Posa ends up delivering pizzas...
Does the production make sense? In my opinion yes. And the auto-da-fe was spectacular (see below).

This version includes all the music Verdi ever wrote for Don Carlos and that is... a lot. And in the French version, so different from my favourite Italian of the day before, Don Carlos comes off rather as French Grand Opera. However, discussing preferences of the Italian vs. the French version is futile. Suffice to say: The complete Don Carlos is very long indeed...

All singers looked their parts and were rather good actors as well, so, for once, the drama as Verdi intended it, was believable. Starting with Nadia Krasteva, who looked absolutely stunning as Eboli. No wonder that Philippe has an affair with this woman. However, vocally she is more than slightly shaky, with a heavy vibrato ruining both middle register and top. But, looking like that she may not even have to build her career around her voice...
Iano Tamar has received excellent reviews for this Elisabeth - I am not entirely sure why: She looks just fine, although not too interesting, but vocally I find her characterless and with a rather dry voice.
Ramón Vargas is entirely believable as Don Carlos, though the part may be slightly too taxing for his comfort, and the love story of Carlos and Elisabeth (for once) is believable. Despite the fact that King Philippe, as usual I may say, easily is the best-looking as well as most interesting man on stage. Ain Anger is a superb actor, managing the switch from an almost Hunding-like cruelty in the first Act to his breakdown in the fourth. Furthermore, he looks quite dashing as well. Vocally, I am not sure, as he is quite young: Not with the René Pape-sort of beautiful voice by far, but nevertheless with quite some power and height. With a slightly more focused voice he could well move on to have a major career.
George Petean´s Rodrigo I remember very little about.

Bertrand de Billy seemed rather at ease with this grand French operatic style in a well-conducted performance.

And how was the infamous auto-da-fe managed?

Towards the end of the first intermission (right before the auto-da-fe) the arrival of King Philippe of Spain and Elisabeth within 20 minutes was announced via loudspeakers. Audiences were invited to watch the arrival of these celebreties from the foyer of the Vienna State Opera or from within the auditorium. Doors were kept open throughout the Auto-da-fe making it possible to watch the arrival of some of the dignitaries and subsequently watching the rest of the auto-da-fe from the inside of the auditorium. Right after the Auto-da-fe the second (and last) intermission of the evening took place. Highly entertaining. Illustrated below:

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

Ain Anger: 4
George Petean: 3
Ramon Vargas: 3
Iano Tamar: 3
Nadia Krasteva: 3-4

Bertrand de Billy: 3

Peter Konwitschny´s production: 5

Overall impression: 4

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Vienna: Don Carlo or The unjust troubles of King Filippo of Spain

Holender´s endless speech in front of the Auto-da-fe

Don Carlo. Italian 4-act. Vienna State Opera. June 23rd 2008. Director: Pizzi. Cast: René Pape (Filippo II), Franco Farina (Carlo), Norma Fantini (Elisabetta), Thomas Hampson (Posa), Stefan Kocan (Grand Inquisitor), Luciana d´Intino (Eboli). Conductor: Marco Armiliato. Further information here.

First of all, this traditional Don Carlo production is so old it hardly matters who the director is, as the drama relies entirely on the chosen singers and thus may vary considerably.

In brief, the casting of Filippo, Posa and the Grand Inquisitor was exceptionally strong, while the casting of Carlo was exceptionally weak, leading to the following take on Verdi´s drama:

"King Filippo II of Spain is indeed a troubled man– first of all, he is the unfortunate father of an idiotic son, who constantly bothers him, rebelling against him as well as trying to steal his wife. That Filippo does not have him killed indeed testifies to his noble nature. Secondly, he is also burdened by a mentally troubled wife, who apparently seems to prefer Carlo to himself, not to mention dare sneak around behind his back. Now, why Filippo chooses Eboli does not make sense either and has to be attributed to some sort of psychological stress. Now why doesn´t he just get rid of both these women and get a decent one? Shouldn´t be too difficult. Just look at him. And he is the freaking King of Spain as well…"

I would much prefer to elaborate on Franco Farina´s strong points rather than dismiss him as already done by the Viennese press: After all, he was hired as a last-minute replacement for Sartori. And first of all, nobody expects him to be an even remotely credible alternative to René Pape´s Filippo. Any sort of anonymous interpretation would have worked fine considering the stellar casting, Thomas Hampson not the least, around him.
But unfortunately Farina manages to draw a considerable amount of negative attention to himself: Wooden and stiff stage presence, no charisma, and on top an intolerably wobbly voice with a strange sliding attack on all notes in the middle and high register. And his strong points? Well, the voice IS rather large. And the low register not entirely useless.. But I do predict him to literally be chopped liver as Otello for Riccardo Muti in Salzburg (one performance only) this summer.

In brief, no surprise from René Pape´s thoroughly commanding and dashing Filippo, entirely unmatched on stage today. In Vienna he delivered a much more troubled portrait than usual (Berlin, Munich), as he has probably been left to his own devices here. Not to mention hitting those top notes straight on in Ella giammai m´amo and in piano as well, where basically nobody else is able to hit them at all.

Thomas Hampson was absolutely magnificent. I have never seen him better. His often overly sensitive-sentimental style genuinely irritates me (Amfortas, Boccanegra, Macbeth, Mandryka, French Posa etc..). But this Posa was absolutely dashing as well as commanding -intellectual as opposed to emotional. A real man for once, not a wimp. Agreed, Hampson is no ”true Verdian barytone” (who is?) – but who cares when he performs like this? Indeed, if Elisabetta for some strange reason really does not want Filippo, what about Posa?

The highlight of the evening was the scene between Posa and Filippo – Hampson being the only Posa I have seen to truly stand up to René Pape in this scene, both vocally and dramatically making the friendship with Filippo both credible as well as the core of the drama. Which, unfortunately, cannot be said of his friendship with Carlo. Why o why does this magnificent man sacrifice his life for this Carlo? A riddle indeed…

Unfortunately, these may be Thomas Hampson´s last performances at the Vienna State Opera in the foreseeable future due to his involvement in the Herberstein affair. [ Hampson´s partner, Austrian aristocrat Andrea Herberstein is involved in a financial scandal concerning possible fraud related to a zoological park on her family´s estate in Austria. The case was presented at the Graz court during the last months and extensively covered by Austrian press, which in general treated Thomas Hampson very respectfully, repeatedly admiring his excellent German (which is indeed excellent). Hampson himself was not charged with anything, though his role in this affair has been extensively debated. Throughout the trial Hampson publicly supported his family and was been present at the courthouse as well. In July 2008 a verdict was finally reached and Andrea Herberstein was sentenced to 15 months in prison (having to serve 5 months). Several of the serious Austrian media indicate Thomas Hampson may allocate to the US hereafter, thus leaving the Vienna State Opera as well].

The other positive surprise was Stefan Kocan (previously unfamiliar to me, but definitely looking like a man of the future) as the Grand Inquisitor: Finally a true profundo bass, with adequate power, no wobble and stunning low notes. In fact the first time I have seen this scene work with René Pape, who always tends to completely overpower the sorry Inquisition (the worst in fact being at the MET in 2006, no names mentioned). Bizarrely, a cell phone started ringing exactly after the announcement "Il grande inquisitore", thus announcing his arrival..

Of the others Luciana d´Intino is a real Verdian spinto mezzo and vocally a great Eboli. Unfortunately her presence on stage is rather tame. Norma Fantini´s Elisabetta I know well from Berlin: She both looks and acts fine, and her voice has a distinct timbre and a beautiful middle section, but the top notes are shrill and marred by a vibrato that almost makes her sound flat.

The true low-point of the evening was the on-stage presentation of an honorary award by General Manager Ioan Holender to a Dr. Springer immediately after the Auto-da-fe with the entire cast present on stage. Holender literally spoke for 20 minutes non-stop in what has to be one of the most boring speeches I have heard in my entire life. The only performer on stage smiling politely after more than 5 minutes of this never-ending story was Franco Farina, which speaks well of his manners, but also leads me to believe he does not understand German.
The consequence being: The prolonged performance thus ended at the exact time it began to rain outside.

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

René Pape: 5
Thomas Hampson: 5
Stefan Kocan: 5
Franco Farina: 1
Norma Fantini: 3
Luciana d´Intino: 4
Production: 3
Marco Armiliato: 4

Monday 23 June 2008

Vienna: Anja Silja and Martina Serafin in Nemirova´s new Pique Dame

Anja Silja as the Countess in Vienna

Pique Dame. Vienna State Opera. June 22th 2008. Director: Vera Nemirova. Conductor: Andris Nelsons. Cast: Marian Taleba (Hermann), Martina Serafin (Lisa), Anja Silja (Countess), Albert Döhmen (Tomski and Pluto). Further information here.

Rumours had it that Vera Nemirova´s production of Pique Dame, which opened at the Vienna State Opera earlier this season, included elements of necrophilia. In fact it does not. The production revolves around the Russian society of today, emphasizing class barriers and the noveau riches. A grey building interior (seen above) serves as both boarding school, salon and gambling hall portraying the development of society (in Russia ?) over the past 50 years. Where Hermann´s love for Lisa initially seems sincere, it soon looses out to his ambitions to rise in society and be part of these noveau riches commissioning dragshows for their parties. Regarding the necrophilia, Hermann does rape the old Countess and apparently she dies during the act. While this admittedly does not make him overly sympathetic, it doesn´t make him a necrophiliac either.

Martina Serafin has a fascinating voice centered around a distinctly beautiful middle register. In addition, she looks striking on stage. So why does she not have a bigger career than she already has? Perhaps because she is slightly strained at the top and has to push for the high notes, which are occasionally fluttering? Or perhaps since her stage presence, despite her striking looks, did not seem that engaging? But all singers have strong and weak points and considering the current competition these issues hardly seem overwhelming. Furthermore I am not convinced that the role of Lisa is optimal for her and I´d like to hear her in more dramatic repertoire.

What Martina Serafin may lack in charisma, Anja Silja, who just seems to go on forever, has in spades. Her performance was the highlight of the evening. This ”second” career of hers has since quite a while proved even bigger than her ”first”, her being virtually first choice around the world in her current repertoire. I honestly have never cared for her voice, which I´ve always found too unstable in the middle and top, but these issues really are not important nowadays. Her presence and dramatic abilities are immense, and voice apart, she really must have been something on a stage in the 1960´s. No wonder Wieland Wagner thought so too. Her second-act scene remembering the past, followed by the confrontation with Hermann was the highlight of the evening. And her appearance in the stall section at the end of Act 1 reminded distinctly of the auto-da-fe scene in Konwitschny´s Don Carlos. No wonder, since it is staged by Vera Nemirova..

After canceling last years Salzburg Benvenuto Cellini on short notice, and now (on equally short notice) this Pique Dame, I wonder in how many of his scheduled appearances American tenor Neil Schicoff does actually appear nowadays? For this run, he was replaced by Marian Taleba – a fine tenor by all means, with ringing topnotes and what seemed a quite large voice.
However, it has never made any sense whatsoever to me that Lisa choses Hermann, a compulsive gambler and half-maniac over Yeletsky, good-looking, rich etc. This is either an inherent weakness in Tchaikovsky´s work or in my imagination, and not intended as a punch at Marian Taleba. Though I must admit to never having seen a really dashing Hermann (honestly, which tenor is? ), Marian Taleba was as fine as any.

Boaz Daniel was made to look rather bookish and and intellectual (maybe that is the reason) as Yeletsky, but was in glorious voice in what is virtually a one-aria part. Now, why doesn´t HE have a bigger career?

30-year old Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons made his debut at the Vienna State Opera replacing the ailing Seiji Ozawa. He deservedly received plenty applause. I always wonder how much influence such last-minute replacement conductors may yield over a top-class orchestra well familiar with the work at hand such as the Vienna State Opera orchestra. Take Rosenkavalier for one. It virtually plays itself here in Vienna does it not? I believe, even I could conduct an honorable performance of this work here…

But the conclusion stands: The orchestra sounded good with Andris Nelsons, thus I conclude that Andris Nelsons is a good. He will, by the way, conduct the new production of Lohengrin in Bayreuth 2010, where he on the contrary will have nowhere to hide, if he in fact does turn out not to be very good indeed.

Only after this performance did I realize fully HOW ridiculous Ian Holender´s (Vienna State Opera general manager) fear of downtown rioting football fans bothering the opera guests were. The reason: All the operas currently on the schedule in Vienna end well before the football games do… Yesterday evening was one of the ”dreaded” performance nights: Spain vs. Italy, played at the Vienna football stadium. The city center full of football fans. But as the match was only in the 55th minute when the opera ended, the entire Vienna city center was completely deserted for at least 30 minutes afterwards…And with 30+ degrees, it simply was too hot to make trouble before performance start.

That apart, the Pique Dame attendance did not seem exceptionally low, as I noticed only scattered empty seats in the floor section.

Sunday 22 June 2008

Capriccio in Vienna: Opera magic

Capriccio. Vienna State Opera. June 21th 2008. Director: Marco Arturo Marello. Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Cast: Renée Fleming (Countess), Bo Skovhus (Count), Angelika Kirchschlager (Clairon), Michael Schade (Flamand), Adrian Eröd (Olivier), Franz Hawlata (La Roche). Further information here.

In brief: Marco Arturo Marello´s new Capriccio at the Vienna State Opera is a perfect synthesis of all the elements of an opera production, creating the exact kind of theater magic you hope for every time you go to the opera, but which you may experience only a handful of times throughout an entire operatic life..

The Vienna press has been overflowing with praise for this production as well as for Renée Fleming´s Countess with phrases like ”best new production at the Vienna State Opera since I do not remember when”, ”Renée Fleming is the Countess of Richard Strauss´ dreams” etc. For once, I completely agree.

Marco Arturo Marello clearly sees Capriccio as a conversational piece (as did Richard Strauss). The staging is exquisitely beautiful, opening and ending with the two combatants (poet and musician) set at tables at each side of the stage, gradually flashing back the action to an imaginary baroque setting with glitzy costumes having the Countess, Count and Clairon move around in between an interchanging background of mirrors and baroque paintings. With the final scene taking place in a beautiful mirror-covered bluish room with a piano (pictured above). Is it traditional? No, not really. First of all, it is edgy, but also light. But most importantly, it is never sentimental.

For me, Renée Fleming´s appeal has never been the beautiful voice as an isolated phenomenon, and sometimes (yesterday as well) I find her sound to be too covered, bordering on the nasal in her middle-upper register, an artistic choice I suppose, as she didn´t sound like this 8 years ago. But my fascination with Renée Fleming is based on the complete package she delivers: Her exquisite, poised and elegant stage appearance and (most importantly) just genuinely moving dramatic abilities, combined with exquisitely phrased singing and legato lines. And she more than lived up to the ridiculously high expectations surrounding her first appearances at the Vienna State Opera since 1995.

In short, Renée Fleming´s Countess was completely fascinating. First of all, she was in superb voice. And she once again showed really why she primarily is a Richard Strauss soprano – the exquisite phrasing, the legato lines.. and not least, the superbly varied acting: She was both funny, elegant and stylish, but here (with Bo Skovhus) also decadent and childish, showing more edge to her acting that I´ve previously experienced.

But what fascinated most was in fact the way she was singing: A completely different interpretation compared to her 2004 Paris Countess. Here in Vienna, her interpretation went fully along with Marello´s concept of Capriccio as a conversational piece and she emphasized the sprech-gesang element throughout the evening, at the expense of creating a creamy sound, but instead gaining considerable edge to the characterizaion, indeed conversing with the others on stage (and quite clearly being more sympathetic towards the composer as opposed to the poet).

That Renée Fleming did not insist on flashing the beautiful voice in a house where she had not performed in 13 years, in my opinion testifies to her commitment as a serious artist. In fact, I have never before heard Renée Fleming sing like this anywhere, sacrificing the optimal sound in order to gain in characterization. A positive surprise, indeed. Only in the second half of the closing monologue did she apply the full force behind the voice and create her usual sound.

In the magazine of the Vienna State Opera, she mentioned the 51 roles she had been singing, and her wish to concentrate on a few of those (Tatyana, Marschallin and Countess) rather than learning new ones for the future. But she DID mention a desire to sing Ariadne in the future, and also Elsa in Lohengrin, as the only two potential new roles.

But this was not only Renée Flemings night. It was a genuine team effort.

Bo Skovhus was absolutely hilarious as a hypomaniac, half-neurotic (fully intentional) Count. He emphasized the sprech-gesang element as well, and fluttered around the stage constantly engaging the others in the action whether singing or not, demonstrating a considerable comical talent. And while his chemistry with Angelika Kirchschlager was somehow lacking (intentional or not?), it was superb with Renée Fleming, the two of them moving around on stage like spoiled, decadent children.

For some reason, Marello made the Clairon of Angelika Kirchschlager (a very beautiful woman) quite masculine and un-sexy, mimicking one of Kirchschlagers usual pants roles, her shiny pants almost symbolically visible under the dress at almost all points and bossing around with everybody. All done in splendid voice, clearly demonstrating why she, in my opinion, is the best mezzo-soprano on stage today in her fach, with a lustrous, even and powerful voice throughout the entire range.

There was not one single weak or even half-weak link in the cast. All were as good actors as singers: Franz Hawlata, a fine singer-actor as long as he doesn´t venture too far out on the Wotan-Hans Sachs path, managed the tricky balance of being funny but not overly ridiculous as La Roche. Both Adrian Eröd and Michael Schade were fine as the two combatants, but given the choice, I´d go with the conductor..

First of all, Philippe Jordan looks like a movie star. Secondly (and in that order, mind…) he conducted a superb performance abandoning the light conversational approach so often applied to this piece, for a more pointed, edgy interpretation, completely matched by the happenings on stage. Again, without sentimentality. And the orchestra just played marvellously.

Intermission or no intermission? The Vienna State Opera didn´t seem to be able to decide: Half of the performances with, half without. Starting without. Ending (yesterday) with. Does the potential drinks sale revenue from an intermission not play a part here? Since the house was, of course, packed. But more surprising, there was not one single empty seat to be seen anywhere, and all standing room spaces was full as well…

This was one of the truly rare nights were everything – stage direction, set designs, singing, acting and music – just blended perfectly together to create something that I´ll have to name theater magic failing to find a better expression. The performance seemed to literally take only minutes. And it´s Capriccio. Mind you, I do not even like Capriccio..

If ever a production deserves to be recorded for DVD it is this one. This was the last performance of the run (with no cancellations by any of this stellar cast for the entire run), but it will be revived next season in September-October. A very good excuse to plan a trip to Vienna..

Photographs from

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..

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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