Saturday 30 August 2008

live opera reviews


Forza del Destino, Paris Bastille Opera


Cosi fan tutte, Salzburg
Die Frau Ohne Schatten, Salzburg
Iolanta, Salzburg


Eugene Onegin, Royal Danish Opera
Rake´s Progress, Royal Danish Opera (in Danish)


Boris Godunov - London ENO
Don Carlo - Norwegian Opera, Oslo
Don Carlo - Royal Danish Opera
Elektra - London Royal Opera
Eugen Onegin - Berlin State Opera
Fidelio - Berlin State Opera

Jenufa, Bavarian State Opera
Les Contes d´Hoffmann - London Royal Opera
Lohengrin - Berlin State Opera
Rosenkavalier - Royal Danish Opera

Partenope - Royal Danish Opera
Partenope 2 - Royal Danish Opera
Tosca - Zurich Opera House
Tristan and Isolde - Paris Bastille Opera
Turandot - Berlin Deutsche Oper
Walküre - Hamburg State Opera


Aida - Berlin State Opera
Capriccio - Vienna State Opera
Contes d´Hoffmann - Royal Danish Opera
Death in Venice - Barcelona Liceu
Doktor Faust - Berlin State Opera
Don Carlo - Berlin State Opera
Don Carlo - Copenhagen Royal Opera
Don Carlo - Vienna State Opera
Don Carlos - Vienna State Opera
Don Giovanni 1 - Berlin State Opera
Don Giovanni 2 - Berlin State Opera
Don Giovanni 3,4 - Berlin State Opera
Don Giovanni - Salzburg
Duke Bluebeard´s Castle - Salzburg
Elektra - Berlin Deutsche Opera
Eugene Onegin - Bavarian State Opera
Faust - Choregies d´Organge
Flying Dutchman - Bavarian State Opera
Forza del Destino - Vienna State Opera
Hänsel and Gretel - Berlin Deutsche Oper
Lucio Silla - Royal Danish Opera
L´Incoronazione di Poppea - Royal Danish Opera
Magic Flute - Berlin Subway
Magic Flute - Salzburg
Meistersinger - Berlin Deutsche Oper
Meistersinger 1 - Berlin State Opera
Meistersinger 2 - Berlin State Opera
Otello - Salzburg
Parsifal - Bayreuth
Parsifal - Dresden Semperoper
Parsifal - Paris Bastille Opera
Parsifal - Vienna State Opera
Pélleas and Mélisande - Berlin State Opera
Pique Dame - Vienna State Opera
Ring des Nibelungen (complete cycle) - Royal Opera, Covent Garden
Rosenkavalier - Berlin Deutsche Oper
Rusalka - Royal Danish Opera
Rusalka - Salzburg
Salome - Malmö Opera
Tannhäuser - Berlin State Opera
The Gambler - Berlin State Opera
Tristan and Isolde - Bayreuth
Tristan and Isolde - Berlin State Opera
Tristan and Isolde - La Scala, Milan
Tristan and Isolde - Teatro Real, Madrid
Tristan and Isolde - Bavarian State Opera
Walküre (concert) - Barcelona Liceu


Arabella - Vienna State Opera
Alcina - Bavarian State Opera, Munich
Ballo di Maschera - Paris Bastille Opera
Boris Godunov - Berlin State Opera
Boris Godunov - Vienna State Opera
Die Frau ohne Schatten - Dresden Semperoper
Don Carlo - Berlin State Opera
Elektra - Royal Danish Opera
Fidelio - Royal Opera, London
Fidelio - Bavarian State Opera, Munich
Khovanshchina - Bavarian State Opera, Munich
Lohengrin - Royal Danish Opera, Copenhagen
Lohengrin - Paris Bastille Opera
Lohengrin - Vienna State Opera
Macbeth - Dresden Semperoper
Manon - Berlin State Opera
Maskarade - Royal Danish Opera
Meistersinger - Bayreuth Festival
Otello - Vienna State Opera
Parsifal - Bayreuth Festival
Parsifal - Berlin State Opera
Parsifal - Bavarian State Opera
Parsifal - Vienna State Opera
Parsifal - Zurich Opera
Ring des Nibelungen (complete cycle) - Bayreuth Festival
Ring des Nibelungen (complete cycle) - Berlin Deutsche Oper
Salome - Berlin State Opera
Simone Boccanegra - Paris Bastille Opera
Thaïs (concert performance) - Royal Opera, London
Walküre - Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm
Walküre 1st act concert - Bavarian State Opera, Munich

Thursday 28 August 2008

DVD: The Barenboim Salzburg Eugene Onegin

Eugene Onegin. Salzburg Festival 2007. Director: Andrea Breth. Cast: Peter Mattei (Eugene Onegin), Anna Samuil (Tatiana), Ekaterina Gubanova (Olga), Joseph Kaiser (Lenski), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Gremin). Conductor: Daniel Barenboim with the Vienna Philharmonics. Further information here.

Just as it seemed the Metropolitan Opera had released the ultimate Eugene Onegin DVD earlier this year, it is seriously challanged by the release of Andrea Breth´s production from last years Salzburg Festival conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

The enourmous stage of the Grosse Festspielhaus in Salzburg is utilized to the maximum with a revolving circular stage and in fact, I find Andrea Breth´s glittering-dark staging near-ideal.

Updated to the middle of this century, Eugene Onegin is set on an estate in an unspecified location with more than an added touch of psychoanalysis. The opening is bizarre: Male workers submissively queue up to have their heads shaved by Madame Larina on the estate. This pattern continues: In Andrea Breth´s Eugene Onegin, the women are in charge: Olga is the one taking the initiatives with Lenski and surely she won’t suffer long after his death. And though Onegin initially rejects Tatiana, he is clearly the weaker character of the two. A playboy at heart, he is pushed around and she is right to finally reject him as he is bad news. Even the old nurse Filipevna pops up eerily in the corner from time to time. The changing images of woods and interiors made possible by the circular stage are simply superb and futhermore Andrea Breth´s individual characterizations are excellent.

Anna Samuil has a very distinct and immediately recognizable clear soprano and though she may occasionally seem slightly limited in expression, both vocally and dramatically, as this Tatiana she is very convincing, not least in the letter scene.

Peter Mattei is the modern Onegin, in splendid voice and fittingly cool acting. Ekaterina Gubanova is a rich-voiced Olga compared to whom Joseph Kaiser is more anonymous, but nevertheless more than adequate Lenski. Ferruccio Furlanetto convincingly delivers his one aria.

Daniel Barenboim with the Vienna Philharmonics is even better than Gergiev at the MET, in a far more subtle, yet sumptuous reading. But make no mistake: Daniel Barenboim is fully capable of pulling all the stops when required as well. Though he doesn´t quite reach the expected intensity in his rather slow approach to the final scene.

Peter Mattei with Onegin´s aria:

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

Peter Mattei: 5
Anna Samuil: 4
Ekaterina Gubanova: 5
Joseph Kaiser: 4
Ferruccio Furlanetto: 4

Daniel Barenboim: 5

Andrea Breth´s production: 5

Overall impression: 5

The Salzburg Festival


Benvenuto Cellini 2007 (d: Stölzl, c: Gergiev)
Romeo et Juliette 2008




Wednesday 27 August 2008

Riccardo Muti in Salzburg: Otello

Maria Luigia Borsi with Riccardo Muti and Aleksandrs Antonenko

Otello. Grosses Festspielhaus. Salzburg Festival, August 21st 2008. Director: Stephen Langridge. Cast: Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello), Maria Luigia Borsi (Desdemona), Carlos Àlvarez (Iago), Stephen Costello (Cassio). Conductor: Riccardo Muti with the Vienna Philharmonics. Further information here.

Where Riccardo Muti´s operatives in Brahms seemed to be piano, forte and fortissimo, for his Otello he skipped the piano and immediately pushed everyone back in their seats with the initial chords. I don´t remember having ever heard such loud orchestra playing. And he is impeccably precise as well. Which, of course is vastly preferably to being vague, restrained and imprecise. But what about all the details and subtleness in Verdi´s score? With Riccardo Muti I failed to hear them, though I did not think he overpowered the singers to an unreasonable degree. After all this is not exclusively a singers opera.
Upon repeated listening or listening to the radio broadcasts, I am not surprised that some find the conducting loud, square and to a certain extent, superficial. But in the theater you were blown away by the sheer force and intensity.

Riccardo Muti allegedly was in charge of all aspects of this production including the hiring of the singers. And despite a commendable effort Aleksandr Antonenko is vastly overchallenged as Otello, despite a fine start. His top notes gradually disappeared through the acts, though he keeps up his acting until the end. The problem, of course, is that a great performance of Otello ultimately depends on a great Otello..

Carlos Àlvarez is solid as Iago, if ultimately not particularly memorable. Maria Luigia Borsi, previously unknown to me, was Desdemona in her only scheduled performance (the rest were sung by Marina Poplavskaya). She was simply superb, with excellent floating high notes and pianissimi as well as engaged acting and deservedly recieved the biggest ovation from the audience. Stephen Costello both looked and sang exactly as I imagine Cassio would have done.

Of Stephen Langridge´s staging I am not so uniformly negative as the majority of reviewers seem to have been. While the detailed personal instruction and ultimately the drama is rather absent, I find the sets entirely adequate for a quasi-modern Otello - wooden, square and simple, thematically based on fire and water (photographs here). An appropriately neutral background to allow the music to shine. The not unlikely reason Riccardo Muti hired him, after all he is the star conductor of Salzburg this season, is he not?

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

Aleksandrs Antonenko: 3
Maria Luigia Borsi: 4
Carlos Àlvarez: 3
Stephen Costello: 3-4

Stephen Langridge´s production: 3

Riccardo Muti with the Vienna Philharmonics: 4

Overall impression: 3

Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustavo Dudamel in Salzburg

Símon Bolívar Youth Orchestra in Salzburg. Conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustavo Dudamel. August 22nd 2008, Schule des Hören. Further information here.

Glossy brochures and exhibitions as well as champagne receptions, coupled with hysterical and entirely uncritical applause is what met this orchestra in residence the Salzburg Festival.

I must confess to feeling more than a bit uneasy about the Símon Bolívar Youth Orchestra - or rather about the way this orchestra is marketed. Or, truth be told, mainly about the way the underlying musical system of Venezuela from which this orchestra is created is praised by seemingly uncriticial journalists and audiences alike.

Having traveled extensively in South America including Venezuela, I have learned that things are rarely what they appear on the surface and I am honestly appalled at the apparent lack of critical journalism relating to the coverage of this orchestra.
Unless, of course, the ravishing praise is indeed a result of in-depth, independent research done in Venezuela by journalists chosing not to mention this fact in their articles..
I will reserve my unconditional praise for the musical-educational system of Venezuela until after I´ve read such reports meeting minimum standards of critical journalism.

Musically, however, I have only positive things to say about the Símon Bolívar Youth Orchestra. Especially since the orchestra had skipped the self-promotional Venezuelan national flags and costumes for this television-recorded semi-rehearsal with Nikolaus Harnoncourt at the University Aula in Salzburg.

The enthusiasm of the players is contageous. Opposed to the increasingly professionalism of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Símon Bolívar Youth Orchestra is clearly still a youth orchestra complete with numerous wrong notes, false entries and unnuanced playing. But the sheer enthusiasm seems virtually unbeatable.

A 2-hour rehearsal of Beethoven´s 5th symphony with Nikolaus Harnoncourt was on the programme. Gustavo Dudamel sat next to Harnoncourt translating his English instructions to Spanish for the orchestra members. The overall title of these sessions are (translated) "School of listening" and we basically heard Harnoncourt repeatedly rehearse relatively few phrases demonstrating what difference rather simple suggestions may do to the audience perception of the work.

By the way - since Harnoncourt apparently is in town, may I suggest he walk 100 meter, cross the road and conduct Claus Guth´s new production of Don Giovanni at the Haus für Mozart?

Salzburg Festival - the tickets

I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough: Tickets for the Salzburg Festival should be bought at the official Salzburg Ticket office/Salzburg Festival webpage and not at any of the numerous secondary outlets spread out throughout the city of Salzburg for the following reasons: The official ticket office provide both the cheapest (read: sold at the official rate) and most readily available tickets.

Contrary to the Bayreuth Festival, getting tickets for the Salzburg Festival is easy and does not require any queuing, despite what various internet-based touts will try and tell you. You just need to be cool and wait. Tickets will eventually re-appear on the Salzburg Festival website for all the sold-out performances - starting one week to one day before the performance. And even if they do not appear on the website, it pays to ask at the ticket office. They put up signs for available performances every day, but return tickets are normally also available for the performances labelled "sold-out" or not on the list at all.

However, almost all tickets are outrageously expensive in Salzburg ranging from 70-360 Euro. The 360 Euro tickets may always be had. The difficulty is to get the ~70-100 Euro seats, but this is not impossible. Curiously, several people still pay outrageous amounts such as 1000 Euros for tickets for the most popular operas via ebay, which is completely unnecessary.

Within the city of Salzburg, several ticket agents may be found, obviously adding a varying commission to the official rate - entirely legal it seems as they operate in the open. Exactly how much above the offical price they charge depends on the show – I saw a Japanese-looking gentleman with a 450 Euro ticket take an originally priced 150 Euro seat at the Riccardo Muti Brahms Requiem, while another agency “only” charged a 50 Euro commission on Otello tickets. Not to mention the 1200 Euro asked for most opera tickets on ebay..

Future Salzburg Festival-goers may be advices to check out the exact venue of their preferred performances in order to decide their ticket-buying strategy: The Grosses Festpielhaus is the major venue with the most seats and thus the highest availability of return tickets, which always appear here. The Haus für Mozart and the Felsenreitschule are the other two operatic venues and are smaller – ie. they sell out faster and returns are harder to get.

At both Felsenreitschule and Haus für Mozart a very limited number of standing tickets are available, but as they are sold together with all other tickets they have disappeared months before the Salzburg Festival. Returns may of course be available but are not worth basing a trip upon.
All my tickets for the this years Salzburg Festival (all the operas minus Romeo and Juliette plus Brahms Requiem) were such last-minute acquisitions.

Salzburg Festival - audiences and dress code

It´s no secret, that the Salzburg Festival is a sort of summer playing ground for the rich and famous who dress accordingly. Premieres are major social events with numerous gawkers hanging around the street. Paparazzi´s photographing during intermissions is very common as well. Unless being Austrian or very well updated with Mitteleuropean celebrity gossip, you may recognize very few if any of these people, though.

A section of the audience (~20 %) arrive in glitzy evening dresses, matinée performances or not. 40% wear less glitzy (read: relatively old-fashioned) dresses. ~10% wear informal clothing. The rest wear something in-between.

All photographs from the 2008 Salzburg Festival.

Salzburg Festival - Grosses Festspielhaus

Grosses Festspielhaus is the biggest of the three operatic venues of the Salzburg Festival (the others being Felsenreitschule and Haus für Mozart) with 2179 seats (no standing room). 100 meters wide, the stage is one of the biggest in the world. Hewn into the surrounding Mönchsberg rock it was opened in 1960 (with a Herbert von Karajan-conducted Rosenkavalier). The cheapest seats (for the most expensive productions) are located behind pillars and cost about 20 Euro. Visibility is fine from virtually every seat in the house.

Selected previous productions on DVD: Numerous - among others I´d recommend: Rosenkavalier 2004(Robert Carsen), Eugen Onegin 2007 (Daniel Barenboim), La Traviata 2005 (Netrebko/Villazon), Don Giovanni 2006 (Martin Kusej), Zauberflöte 2006 (Audi), Benvenuto Cellini 2007 (Stölzl/Gergiev), Elektra 2010 (Lehnhoff/Gatti)

All photographs from the 2008 Salzburg Festival productions in the Grosses Festspielhaus: Duke Bluebeards Castle, Zauberflöte and Otello as well as Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem.

Salzburg Festival - Haus Für Mozart

The previously known Kleines Festspielhaus emerged after an extensive renovation in 2006 as Haus Für Mozart - one of the three operatic venues of the Salzburg Festival (the others being the Grosses Festspielhaus and Felsenreitschule).

Located immediately next door to the Grosses Festspielhaus and in the same building as the Felsenreitschule, the Haus für Mozart has 1.495 seats and 85 standing room places. Apart from the standing room tickets (which are sold in advance exactly like all the other seats), the cheapest seats are on the 2nd balcony, with fine view. Beware, the slope of the parterre is almonst non-existent, so small people may well risk spending 360 Euro for a ticket and see almost nothing of the stage. Apart from the balcony, the Karl-Böhm-Saal serves as the main location during intermissions.

Selected previous productions on DVD: Nozze di Figaro (2006, Guth/Netrebko), Entfürung aus dem Serail (2006, Herheim),.Don Giovanni 2008 (Guth)

The view from the balcony:


The backstage (just before Claus Guth´s Don Giovanni):

Photographs from 2008 Salzburg Festival productions in the Haus Für Mozart: Rusalka and Don Giovanni.

Salzburg Festival - Felsenreitschule

Felsenreitschule, located immediately next door to the Grosses Festspielhaus and in the same building as Haus für Mozart has 1.412 seats and 25 standing room places and is the third operatic venue of the Salzburg Festival (the others being Grosses Festspielhaus and Haus für Mozart). Standing room tickets are sold in advance exactly like all other seats. The view is fine from all seats. The stage is exceptional as it is framed by stone arches and subsequently not very deep, which may both be a limitation as well as an advantage depending on the production.

Located in the same building as Haus Für Mozart, the Karl-Böhm-Saal serves as the main venue during intermissions.

Selected previous productions from Felsenreitschule on DVD: Clemenza di Tito (2003, Kusej), Die Gezeichneten (2005, Lehnhoff), La Damnation de Faust (2000, Fura Del Baus), Mozart Gala 2006, Romeo et Juliette (2008, Machaidze/Villazon).


Salzburg Festival - the city

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