Monday 16 March 2009

Wieland Wagner´s 1965 Bayreuth Ring - rare rehearsal footage

Fascinating and rare rehearsal footage from Wieland Wagner´s legendary 1965 Bayreuth Festival Ring, conducted by Karl Böhm

Rheingold with Theo Adam, Gustav Neidlinger, Wolfgang Windgassen etc:

Walküre Act 1 with Léonie Rysanek and James King:

Walküre 2 with Martti Talvela etc:

Götterdämmerung - including Birgit Nilsson, Josef Greindl, Anja Silja:

Published by ringburg on YouTube.

Sunday 15 March 2009

Malena Ernman, operatic mezzosoprano and pop princess

Swedish operatic lyric mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman (born 1970), whom some may remember as a stunning Miss Julie in Philippe Boesmans opera in Aix-en-Provence (or on DVD), just won the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest Final with "La Voix", a rather strange mix of Nessun Dorma and synthesizer pop. She will now represent Sweden in the Eurovision final in Moscow.

Upcoming engagements include Cenerentola in Frankfurt and Stockholm as well as Dido in Wien.

Malena Ernman in the Eurovision Song Contest with La Voix:

And Malena Ernman at her "normal job" as a rather superb Nerone (Agrippina) with René Jacobs from Paris Theatre Champs-Elysées (cast includes Antonacci and Miah Persson):

Saturday 14 March 2009

The alternative MET Anniversary Gala

I hereby present "The alternative Metropolitan Opera Anniversary Gala" introducing 10 top artists: 8 singers, 1 director and 1 conductor. All active today enjoying high-profile careers - everywhere else but at The Met. All artists have in common that they have never appeared at the Met, for more, or rather less, obvious reasons.

Artists known (at least to me) to make their debuts in upcoming seasons such as Miah Persson, Annette Dasch, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Nadja Michael etc. are excluded.

Anna Caterina Antonacci as Carmen:

Emily Magee as Gutrune in Götterdämmerung:

Veronique Gens as Donna Elvira:

Anne Schwanewilms as Carlota in Die Gezeichneten:

Anna Larsson in the Mahler 3rd symphony with Claudio Abbado:

Irene Théorin as Turandot:

Petra Lang as Venus:

Johan Reuter in Maskarade:

And the conductor Mariss Jansons with the director Martin Kusej in Lady Macbeth from Mtsensk:

Thursday 12 March 2009

René Pape to cancel MET 125th Anniversary Gala on Sunday

Due to illness René Pape will not appear at the MET Gala this Sunday. Instead, John Tomlinson will sing from Boris Godunov and James Morris will sing Wotan. And John Relyea will sing "Veau D´Or".

Furthermore, René Pape will be replaced by Kwangchul Youn in the April 4th premiere of Lohengrin in Berlin.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Berlin Parsifal: Domingo redeems himself in knock-out performance from Barenboim and Waltraud Meier

Parsifal. Berlin State Opera, March 9th. Director: Eichinger. Cast: Plácido Domingo (Parsifal), Waltraud Meier (Kundry), Robert Holl (Gurnemanz), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Amfortas), Christof Fischesser (Klingsor). Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Further information here.

There were two major differences between the performance of March 6th and that of yesterday: First, and most importantly, Daniel Barenboim simply nailed it. And secondly, Plácido Domingo proved that he can sing the part of Parsifal, substituting Fridays lack of preparation with a performance it is hard not to admire.

You simply do not sustain a 40+ year top career gaining you virtually legendary status without putting in a considerable amount of hard work combined with keen self-insight and criticism. Mainly for these reasons I was not surprised that Plácido Domingo had improved vastly from his performance last Friday.
Admittedly, Plácido Domingo doesn´t look and move like (some of) his 30 years younger colleagues, but he still sings better than anyone I have heard live in the part. Vocally he is at least as solid as on the 2005 Thielemann-recording, and while he may still have relied on prompting for parts of Act 2 (audible only twice even from the front row seats, which is quite normal), it didn´t significantly detract from this performance. Even if I still don´t think Parsifal brings out his true dramatic strengths (whether 40 or 70 years old), it was hard not to find his performance impressive. Though I´d expect the Simon Boccanegra he returns to the Berlin State Opera with this upcoming October will show him in an even better light.

How often do you sit in the audience, watch a singer and think: I don´t think this part has ever been better performed in the entire history of the work? It is such with Waltraud Meier´s Kundry, whose charisma and plain ability to project the character is beyond description and kicks any vocal deficiencies into oblivion.

It is also such with René Pape´s Gurnemanz. That is: Had he been there. And it is both unfair and unrealistic to expect that veteran Wagnerian (and previous Bayreuth-Hans Sachs), the not overly charismatic Robert Holl substituting at short notice, should suddenly aspire to perform at that level. His was an honorable and solid, though not overly exciting Gurnemanz.

I wouldn´t be surprised if Christof Fischesser went on to bigger things as he is a plainly superb Klingsor, even more secure at this second performance.
Hanno Müller-Brachmann repeated his beautiful and lyric interpretation of Amfortas from Friday.
Also a well-sung performance from Andreas Bauer as Titurel, coming off to the worst possible start as the curtain went up about 2 minutes too early during the Act 1 transformation music exposing him drinking from a waterbottle under the changing sets.
And a minor quibble on a related note: I would rather have the spear not changing hands from Klingsor to Parsifal at all, than to see all sorts of non-convincing spear appearances, especially when, as yesterday, the spear appeared from a hole in the floor next to Domingo, before Klingsor had even thrown it. Bernd Eichinger is obviously no opera director. But he is a film director. Could he not have made that exchange (even when it works) look more convincing?

Now to the real star of the evening:

While I admit to having been seduced by Christian Thielemann´s glitteringly, beautiful Parsifal, compared to Daniel Barenboim´s quite obvious understanding of the deeper structures of the work, Thielemann now seems superficial. Key elements in Barenboim´s reading being string rubato and accentuation as well as emphasis on the contrapunctual elements, of which, it turns out, there are quite a few. The disturbing, underlying elements of the work are exposed far below the glittery beauty in performance, with echoes lingering on for days.
Daniel Barenboim is slow, though for most parts it is a relative slowness as his Act 1 clocks in at 1:50 – exactly as Thielemann´s in Vienna last year. And curiously he even paced both sets of Transformation music considerably faster than usual.
Basically I would just like to know how he does it. How does he see those connections within the music that apparently no-one else sees? How does he approaches the score? I may just have to become a music journalist and interview him to get the answers..To summarize, I have never heard a better conducted Parsifal.

Massive applause to everyone from an unusually mixed audience, including a large fraction of Spanish-speaking visitors as well as the usual loud misunderstood hissings from semi-studied self-proclaimed expert Wagnerians at those (me included) applauding after Act 1 (which is perfectly acceptable, but requires an entire post to explain).

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

Plácido Domingo: 4-5
Waltraud Meier: 6
Robert Holl: 4
Christof Fischesser: 5
Hanno Müller-Brachmann: 5

Daniel Barenboim: 6

Overall impression: 4-5

Monday 9 March 2009

DVD: Met Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut. Cast: Karita Mattila (Manon), Marcelo Giordani (des Grieux). Conductor: James Levine. Further information here.

Not a production adding to Peter Gelb´s image of The Met as a modern opera house, this Manon Lescaut looks mostly like the dusty interiors of a museum, and by the way has already been released on DVD decades ago with Plácido Domingo and Renata Scotto.

As Manon, Karita Mattila pretty much misses the boat sounding downright odd in her normally brilliant middle register, though once again demonstrating astonishing range of expressivity, particulary in an entirely convincing "sola, perduta, abbandonata". Partnered by committed, though perhaps not particularly elegant, singing from Marcello Giordano and a solid performance from Dwayne Croft was as voice as Manon´s brother.

All accompanied by a dynamic and spirited performance by James Levine.

And now The Met could use a new production of Manon Lescaut. Please.

Karita Mattila "In quelle trine morbide":

Berlin: Success for Angelika Kirchschlager debut as Carmen

Carmen. Deutsche Oper Berlin, March 8th 2009. Production: Schumacher revision of 1979 production. Cast: Angelika Kirchschlager (Carmen), Massimo Giordano (Don José), Michaela Kaune (Micaëla), Raymond Aceta (Escamillo). Conductor: Yves Abel. Further information here.

Not even 3 months ago, director Jürgen Gosch had to cancel this new Carmen at the Deutsche Oper due to illness, leaving the house with two choices: Either cancelling the whole thing or mounting a revival of the old 1979 production. They chose the last option and mounted a so-called "refreshened" version of their drearily realistic 1979 Carmen production. As I have not seen the originial version, I may not comment on exactly what constituted the "refreshments", though suffice to say the production looked drearily realistic and is better forgotten than mentioned.

I believe the house had offered a refund to ticketholders, however I came for Angelika Kirchschlager´s Carmen. Originally scheduled a couple of searons ago at the London Royal Opera (where she was replaced by Anna Caterina Antonacci), this performance marked her debut in the role.

And in short, Angelika Kirchschlager is a wonderful Carmen. Not the obvious choice of role for her as a predominantly lyrical mezzo-soprano basing her career primarly around such parts as Octavian (Rosenkavalier), her approach is nevertheless far from timid. Though essentially a lyrical voice, she clearly puts characterization over beautiful sound and projects well throughout her entire range. The dramatic punch some may miss in her interpretation, she makes up for with distinctive characterization. And she never forces her voice. Furthermore, her acting is fabulous in what is probably her most challenging part on stage as yet. This Carmen is certainly not a slut, she is an ordinary, elegant woman insisting on her freedom. In an accompanying interview Angelika Kirchschlager stated that: "There is nothing in Carmen, I do not see in myself. The figure is only positive." And this is exactly how she plays it.

Local favourite and ensemble member Michaela Kaune sang a touching Micaëla while American bass Raymond Aceto made an excellent impression with a both voluminous and steady voice and seems destined for greater things in the future.

Major applause also for Massimo Giordano. He has the notes, he looks fine, but ultimately I found him relatively uninteresting, mainly due to the lack of expressivity and engaged acting.

A bit more punch from Yves Abel in the pit would have contributed greatly to the creating of drama on-stage as the orchestra played almost too nicely. But they played well.

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

Angelika Kirchschlager: 5
Massimo Giordano: 3-4
Michaela Kaune: 4
Raymond Aceto: 4-5

The staging: 2

Overall impression: 3-4

Sunday 8 March 2009

Munich: Karita Mattila and Christian Thielemann in all-Strauss program

The past 4 days (March 5-8th) Karita Mattila and Christian Thielemann have appeared together in three concerts with the Munich Philharmonics in Munich. Karita Mattila´s contribution to this all-Strauss programme was to sing Drei Hymnen.

Volker Boser writes in Abendzeitung (not online):

You have to thank Christian Thielemann for finally allowing us to see this extraordinary Finnish soprano live again. The three Hölderlin-Hymnen op. 71 requires the utmost level of excellence to bring off: The voice is like an instrument and has to go against the explosions of the orchestra. As Karita Mattila did this with wonderful legato, blooming high notes and the utmost distinction, she was simply tremendously convincing. Not only Munich, but also Christian Thielemann lay at her feet.

Berlin: Magdalena Kozena in Octavian role debut

Rosenkavalier. Berlin State Opera, March 7th 2009. Production: Nicolas Brieger. Cast: Angela Denoke (Marschallin), Magdalena Kožená (Octavian), Sylvia Schwartz (Sophie), Peter Rose (Ochs), Hans-Joachim Ketelsen (Faninal). Conductor: Asher Fisch. Further information here.

The main interest in this revival of Briegers stylish Rosenkavalier production at the Berlin State Opera was Dorothea Röschmann and Magdalena Kožená in their role debuts as Marschallin and Octavian, respectively. In the end, Röschmann cancelled her participation and was replaced in all performances by Angela Denoke.

Magdalena Kožená´s stage presence is a mixture of neurotic hyperenergy and shyness, not entirely inappropriate for an Octavian. And her voice is clearly among the most beautiful lyrical mezzo-sopranos on stage today, light as well as even. However, as Octavian she is stretched beyond her vocal limits, almost retorting to shrieking out the high notes and with seemingly no vocal reserves left. Bearing in mind the relatively small size of this house, any attempts at this part at a larger house would seem hazardous. As she is clearly no comic actress there may not be many operatic parts suitable to showcase her immense vocal qualities. I believe ms. Kožená has previously stated that she considers lieder singing her strongest asset, a field where she is matched by few.

Rather superb performance from the slightly cool-voiced Angela Denoke as the Marschallin, capturing the essence of the part with extraordinary vocal characterization in addition to looking great and acting well. A slight unsteadiness towards the top is of far less importance here than in the heavier repertoire (Leonore-Fidelio, Kundry etc.), she unfortunately takes on as well.
Also Sylvia Schwartz, a company member who was declared indisposed due to a a muscle fiber neck injury, made a very fine Sophie. Peter Rose is as fine an Ochs as any and while subtlety may not be Asher Fish´s strongest asset, the piece does move along in a refreshingly no-nonsense reading.

The bottom line:

Angela Denoke: 4-5
Peter Rose: 4-5
Magdalena Kozena: 4
Sylvia Schwartz: 4

Brieger´s production: 4

Asher Fish: 4

Overall impression: 4

Saturday 7 March 2009

Berlin: Embarrassingly underprepared Domingo as Parsifal with Meier, Salminen and Barenboim

Parsifal. Berlin State Opera. March 6th 2009. Cast: Plácido Domingo (Parsifal), Waltraud Meier (Kundry), Matti Salminen (Gurnemanz), Christof Fischesser (Klingsor), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Amfortas). Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Further information here.

The Parsifal production of the Berlin State Opera is by film-maker Bernd Eichinger from 2005 and described in detail at my last visit two years ago. In brief, Eichinger sees Parsifal as a journey in time. Furthermore, he doesn´t really seem to know anything about directing opera, making Parsifal a display of filmic sets, leaving the singers free to create the characters. Which is why the appearance yesterday of three leads, all new to the production, didn´t really make any difference, despite a minimal rehearsing time.

As Parsifal, Plácido Domingo was notoriously underprepared, relying heavily on audible prompting, especially in the second act. Famous for his acting skills, he had no connection with the character at all, seemingly stretching himself to the maximum to get through it alive and pronounce the words at least partially correct. Has he ever been dramatically convincing as the innocent fool? I suspect not. But yesterday he was painfully unconvincing, almost downright terrible, I (as a staunch Domingo-Wagner fan) am very sorry to say. The tones, however, were beautiful and probably not to be heard better by anyone today in this part. In a concert performance he would have been stunning. However, is it really possible to watch a performance with no chemistry between Plácido Domingo and Waltraud Meier? I wouldn´t have thought so, but apparently it is.

Plácido Domingo has chosen to sing this role again in public. And hats off to him for not cancelling the performance in front of a sold-out house. But he should have been better prepared as this was far below his own standards.

Waltraud Meier was simply stunning as Kundry. Her magnetic stage presence and dramatic projections make me hope she can continue at least 1o years more with this part. That she may have choked on a couple of high notes I find entirely unimportant in the bigger picture, and furthermore the entire middle-lower register, occupying the majority of the part was as beautiful as ever.

The major draw-back to this evening, of course was René Pape´s cancellation and in my book I suspect these performances will go down as "the Berlin Parsifals René Pape didn´t sing". I would be lying if I said he wasn´t heavily missed.

That said, Matti Salminen was a rather smashing substitute. Salminen´s voice ages well and remains firm, entirely avoiding the vibrato marring the singing of colleagues such as John Tomlinson, Kurt Rydl and Samuel Ramey. Furthermore, he was in fine vocal shape and he is an intellingent singer, fully knowing that extended legato-lines and ringing top-notes (René Pape´s major strong points) are not his aces, converting some of these to sprech-gesang or cunning pianissimi letting Barenboim´s orchestra overshadow him (best example in the Gesegnet sei section, at which point I suspect he was down-right exhausted as well). Not unimportantly, Matti Salminen has the required stage authority and apart from he-who-was-not-here I don´t think a better Gurnemanz is around.

Hanno Müller-Brachmann is an Amfortas way above average with a warm, rounded, slightly lyrical approach. Also quite superb Christof Fischesser as Klingsor, though he was occasionally thrown off guard by Barenboim´s rugged tempi. Both on the highest international level.

Daniel Barenboim doesn´t really make things easy either. The orchestra hasn´t played Parsifal in two years and I strongly suspect he didn´t waste too much time rehearsing it either. On top, he applied some peculiar accentuations and rather rugged shift of tempi, not fully incorporated within all sections of the orchestra and which threw the singers off guard, contributing to the sense of unease prevailing in this performance. But he does get beneath the glittering beauty of a Thielemann Parsifal to the closest I can imagine to the core of the work.

However, the evening as a whole didn´t really take off. Still, a Parsifal vastly superior to the one in Bayreuth, but inferior to previous performances of the same production at this house.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 4=average):

Plácido Domingo: 3
Waltraud Meier: 5
Matti Salminen: 5
Hanno Müller-Brachmann: 5
Christof Fischesser: 5

Daniel Barenboim: 5

Overall impression: 4

Thursday 5 March 2009

damn, double damn

Worst possible (well almost) opera news of the week (the season??, the year??):
Matti Salminen replaces René Pape in the Barenboim-conducted Berlin Parsifal on Friday. Notwithstanding I am a big fan of Salminen, and Plácido Domingo and Waltraud Meier are both appearing as well, I must admit I shall probably have to sell my ticket. Which at least shouldn´t be a problem.

And, as of Wednesday, a look in the comments section will reveal that he will be replaced by Robert Holl Monday. And by Robert Holl also next Thursday with Gergive at the Barbican.

Well...opera is only entertainment after all. I suppose that is the rational way to go about this. But I would be lying to say this isn´t a major disappointment.
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