Anja Silja as the Countess in Viennath 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.