Tuesday 1 November 2011

Diana Damrau Thielemann Strauss

Richard Strauss orchestral lieder. CD. Poesie. Diana Damrau with Christian Thielemann conducting the Munich Philharmonics. 2011

From the dazzling coloratura of Amor to the innigkeit of Morgen and the broad expressiveness of Zueiningung.
In this, her best disc until now, Diana Damrau sings a wide selection 22 of Richard Strauss´ songs accompanied by the Strauss-specialist Christian Thielemann, the leading Strauss conductor of our times. Diana Damrau has the legato lines this music demands as well as perfect textual understanding and projection. Together with perfect coloratura lines when when in demand, which are the songs she does best. In the heavier sungs, like Zueinigung she does sound slightly strained, but nevertheless her overall control is admirable.
Thielemann is simply perfect, sumptuous, detailed, as we know him in Richard Strauss, such as accompanying Renée Fleming on her Strauss disc.
I only have one problem with this disc: I simply do not really find Diana Damrau´s voice attractive. What some calls a silvery timbre, I find dry. Diana Damrau cannot be faulted for this, as she really uses what she has to perfection on this disc.
Small quibbles aside, this is an excellent introduction to Richard Strauss´ songs.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average): 4

Saturday 29 October 2011

DVD: Tcherniakov Khovanshchina from Munich

Khovanshchina. DVD. Bayerische Staatsoper, July 2007. Prod: Tcherniakov, Cond: Nagano. Cast: Burchuladze (I Khovansky), K-V Vogt (A Khovansky), Dosifey (Kotscherga), Golitsyn (Daszak), Doris Soffel (Marfa).

In brief: The best production I have seen from Dmitri Tcherniakov. And perhaps the best Khovanschina on DVD. Perhaps. But not all may agree.
I saw this production in Munich right after the opening in 2007 with a cast identical to the DVD and I still remember the skewed view from 2nd row, far left gawking at the stage vertically divided into several chambers, when characters not current in action or pivotal characters not directly present in the opera (such as Czar Peter) engage in secondary actions of importance to the stage drama.
The staging is highly political, as is indeed the opera, set around the 1682 Moscow uprising, but focusing on the struggle for power between various political and religious fractions. Sufficiently abstract to survive Tcherniakov´s update to a timeless desolate world dominated by sad concrete.

Much an ensemble opera, Doris Soffel as Marfa, the old beliver, a role truly requiring a deep contralto stood out together with the psycopathic eerieness of Klaus Florian Vogt, while Paata Burchuladze is way past his prime in the important part as Ivan Khovansky. I see now, that in my review of the 2008 performance I wished for René Pape to take on the role of Ivan Khovansky in the future. Now we know that he will indeed perform in Khovanschchina within a couple of seasons, but as Dosifey, leader of the old-believers.

In all unfairness, Kent Nagano is no Claudio Abbado, and his transparent, analytic approach does not really release this music. For some, and almost also for me, this may be reason enough to prefer Abbado´s DVD.

As for the DVD competition, no one comes even close to the  musical standards set for this work by Claudio Abbado in the 1989 recording from the Vienna State Opera, however a DVD is more than music alone and the Vienna production is rather uninteresting. If you can stomach the Vienna production, which is actually not that dull, this is the winner. The only alternative on DVD is the rather dull and unmoving Barcelona production.

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

Paata Burchuladze: 3
Kotscherga: 4
Doris Soffel: 4
Daszak: 4

Vogt: 4
Nagano: 3

Tcherniakov: 5

Overall impression: 4

DVD: Marthaler Bayreuth Tristan with Theorin and Smith

Tristan and Isolde. DVD. Prod: Marthaler, cond: Peter Schneider. Bayreuth 2009. Cast: Iréne Theorin (Isolde), Robert Dean Smith (Tristan), Michelle Breedt (Brangäne), Jukka Rasilainen (Kurwenal), Robert Holl (Marke).

I reviewed this production in detail when I saw it in Bayreuth (with the same cast) in 2008 and my opinion of both singers and staging essentially remains the same. With the notion, however, that Marthaler wins by the DVD transmittion, while some of the singers lose:
Marthaler´s sets are still drab and nothing you´d really want to look at. But the close-up filming focusing of the faces of various characters tend to shift the attention from the fact that we are inside an Eastern-European nightmare to the characters themselves: Isolde, the archetype of a hausfrau, with the shy though polished smile; Brangäne, the typical 1950´s lady, upholding conventions; Tristan, a man without any passion, who only loves Isolde because he has to. People caught in the conventions of the time, not really capable (or wanting?) of passionate love.This is the kind of staging that Marthaler always does, and it does have it´s merits. Though, it still takes more from Wagners timeless, mythical drama than it gives.

What Marthaler wins on the DVD, Iréne Theorin looses, with audible straining in the middle and occasionally the higher register. But her acting is wonderfully restrained and exactly how one imagines a Eastern-European hausfrau looks. Ditto for Brangäne, but I will never learn to love Michelle Breedt´s shrill voice. Also Rasilainen seemed tired, while Robert Dean Smith is a fine, though passionless Tristan.

While Peter Schneider certainly knows his way with the score, also he lacks passion and the sense of contrapunct essential to release the score.

Certainly a DVD worth watching, but the Tristan DVD competition is becoming rather stiff. With this, I have reviewed 10 Tristan DVDs, and for one-set owners I´d recommend one of Daniel Barenboim´s three magnificent productions. This set will mostly appeal to Tristan or Wagner afficionados.

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

Iréne Theorin: 4
Robert Dean Smith: 4
Jukka Rasilainen: 3
Michelle Breedt: 3
Robert Holl: 3

Marthaler: 3
Schneider: 4

Overall impression: 3

Friday 28 October 2011

DVD: Mattila Met Salome

Salome. DVD. Production: Jürgen Flimm. Cast: Karita Mattila (Salome), Ildiko Komlosi (Herodias), Kim Begley (Herodes), Juha Uusitalo (Jochanaan), Joseph Kaiser (Narraboth). Conductor: Patrick Summers.

Jürgen Flimm´s extraordinarily successful Salome production takes place a fictional totalitarian environment on the verge of a desert. The technical wood and glass constructions of the sets leading to Jochanaan´s underearthly prison resembles the grotesque and meaningless world of Franz Kafka and this half-desert setting complete with orthodox Jews and semi-naked executioners resonates extraordinarily well with the eeriness and perversion of the piece.

When the production opened in 2003, Karita Mattila scored one of the biggest successes of the past decades at the Met as Salome.
Karita Mattila´s Salome is a spoiled child who gradually slips into insanity. In the end you cannot help feeling sorry for this sick girl, who has been raving around the sets increasingly drunk and desperate for attention. The childlike naivity of the character fits Karita Mattila´s general mix of naive and shy stage appearance uncannily well, probably a major contributing factor to her success in this role. I cannot remember having seen such a tour de force performance and with such committed acting and emotional nakedness on stage. Vocally, she hits all the notes despite of the staging requiring her to assume the most impossible physical positions. However, being around 50 years, and her voice is beginning to show strain and I believe she has retired the role from her repertoire.

As expected, the cameras closed in on Herodes face at the end of the Dance of the Seven Veils instead of filming the naked Karita Mattila on stage (as she indeed was at the Met). However, this turned out to be entirely unimportant - the emotional nakedness of her Salome was simply devastating and is without doubt one of the great operatic performances of the past decades. Though, I´d expect it to have been even better in 2003.
The rest of the cast was generally fine, Juha Uusitalo the traditional wild Jochanaan in his company debut,
Kim Begley a rather dry-voiced, but convincing Herodes, and Ildikó Komlosi a somewhat better-than-usual looking Herodias.

Patrick Summers didn´t ruin it in the pit, however some intensity and perhaps a couple of ideas would not have been way off target.

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

Karita Mattila: 5
Juha Uusitalo: 3-4
Kim Begley: 3
Ildiko Komlosi: 4

Jürgen Flimm´s production: 4

Patrick Summers: 3

Overall impression: 4

Thursday 27 October 2011

Andreas Kriegenburg


German. Born 1963. Carpenter by trade. Wellknown in German theatre. Protege of Frank Castoft. Detailed biographic information here.
Directorial approach: Comedy-existentialist physical theatre.
Major achievements in opera: Wozzeck at the Bavarian State Opera 2008 was his breakthrough in opera. He will direct of the Munich Ring 2012.


Otello, Deutsche Oper Berlin 2010:

Tosca, Frankfurt 2011:




All posts on mostly opera related to Andreas Kriegenburg

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Claus Guth


German. Born 1964. Biographical and performance details on Claus Guths website

Directorial approach: Simplistic, often dark and with a psychoanalytical edge.
Major achievements in opera: Major breakthrough with Nozze di Figaro in Salzburg 2006. One of the most sought-after directors of today. Director of the Hamburg Ring.


Nozze di Figaro, Salzburg 2006:

Un ballo in Maschera, Amsterdam 2008:

Die Meistersinger, Barcelona Liceu 2009:

Hamburg Ring- Götterdämmerung 2011:

Parsifal, Liceu Barcelona 2011:



Saturday 15 October 2011

Nino Machaidze Romantic Arias

Nino Machaidze: Romantic arias. Sony 2011

Nino Machaidze, born 1983 in Tblisi, Georgia came to fame overnight as a late substitution for Anna Netrebko as Juliette in the 2008 Salzburg production of Romeo and Juliette partnering Rolando Villazon - also released on DVD. I was in Salzburg that summer, watchin the production in one of the plaza´s of the Old City, remembering all the fuss about her - her Angelina Jolie-like looks, her being somewhat overparted for the role, but generally doing well.
And after Salzburg has taken her to all the major houses, mainly in lyrical coloratura parts, especially Gilda and Juliette.
Admittedly it is difficult to be exposed like this, and as a young performer you have to be really careful. I cannot point my finger, as an outsider, to anything in particular that Nino Machaidze shouldn´t have done in the past three years, but listening to this, her first solo CD with Sony, is a major disappointment.

She is audibly strained in all the arias, with a wide unpleasant vibrato in both top and upper middle register. On top of that about half of her top notes are widely off-pitch. It takes away the attention from everything else and I have to admit it is really not pleasant to listen to this CD. And she is only 27. The publicity and her Angelina Jolie-good luks will sustain her career for a bit, I suppose. But in 5 years she will have a voice in ruins. Unless something radical happens.

Filles de Cadiz from Romantic Arias

Overall impression (scale from 1-5, 3=average): 1-2

Dmitri Tcherniakov


Russian. Born 1970. Biographical details here

Directorial approach: Simplistic, political.
Major achievements in opera: Breakthrough with Boris Godunov and Khovanschchina in 2005-7. Widely regarded as one of the most talented directors of his generation.


Boris Godunov, Berlin 2005-7:

Khovanschchina, Munich 2008:

Don Giovanni, Aix-en-Provence 2010:

Simone Boccanegra, London ENO 2011:



Aleksandra Kurzak Gioia

Aleksandra Kurzak: Gioia. CD Decca. 2011

Polish coloratura Aleksandra Kurzak (born 1977) just released her first soloalbum with Decca, where she chose to present highlights from the coloratura repertoire - Rosina, Gilda, Adina, Violetta, Lucia, Lauretta, Adele, Musetta. Plus the Polish accent Hanna’s aria from Stanisław Moniuszko’s “The Haunted Manor”.

Kurzak is a no-nonsense performer, with wonderful low notes combined with the full coloratura range. I remember reading somewhere that she used to sing the C (above the high C) but because she needed to develop her middle register her highest note now is  "only" the G (above the high C obviously).

I always feel it pointless to compare such mixed discs too heavily with the great artists of the past. A disc like Gioia is much the musical equivalent of a business card for Aleksandra Kurzak and she shows what she can do with the repertoire she currently performs on stage. 
She tackles the characters non-sentimentally face-on, whether it is Gilda or Lucia, the approach is roughly the same. Some may perhaps miss interpretatory depth and variation in characterization. However, she hits the notes better than most and sounds largely unstrained and her voice quality would seem to make the full range of lyric soprano roles possibilities for her.
No, she doesn´t deliver final interpretations of any of the performed arias, and neither does she eclipse the great from the past. But the disc is enjoyable as it is.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average): 4

Monday 10 October 2011

Stefan Herheim


Norwegian. Born 1970. Cellist. Lives in Berlin. Biographical details and full list of productions here

Directorial approach: Deconstructionalist, often interpolating multiple actions on stage

Major achievements in opera: Major breakthrough with Parsifal in Bayreuth 2008.


Parsifal, Bayreuth 2008:

Rusalka, Bruxelles 2008 (Dresden 2011):

Eugene Onegin, Amsterdam 2011:



Lohengrin, Berlin 2009
Lulu, Copenhagen 2010 (seen, but not reviewed)

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Martin Kusej


Austrian. Born 1961. Gained prominence as opera director in the past 10 years. Comes from the spoken theatre. Detailed biographic information here or on Martin Kusejs webpage.
Directorial approach: Simplistic, stark, dark.
Major achievements in opera: International breakthrough with various Mozart-stagings in Salzburg - Don Giovanni 2002 and Clemenza di Tito 2003.


Macbeth Munich 2008:

Rake´s Progress, Vienna 2008:


La clemenza di Tito, Salzburg 2003
Lady Macbeth from Mtsensk, Amsterdam 2006Don Giovanni, Salzburg 2006
Elektra, Zurich 2006
Magic Flute, Zurich 2007
Genoveva, Zurich 2008
Rusalka, Munich 2011
The Flying Dutchman, Amsterdam 2010


Monday 3 October 2011

DVD: Selma Jezkova (Dancer in the Dark)

DVD. Selma Jezkova. Prod: Kasper Holten, cond: Michael Schønwandt with the Royal Danish Orchestra. 2010. Cast: Ylva Kihlberg (Selma)

Poul Ruders adaptation of Dancer in the Dark was met with unaimously negative reviews from the Danish press after the 2010 world premiere. In fact, Dancer in the Dark - the opera is only loosely based on Dancer in the Dark - the move, and in fact Poul Ruders originally suggested the opera to be named Selma Jezkova. A proposition rightly vetoed by Intendant (and director) Kasper Holten for strategic purposes.
Indeed, Selma Jezkova is a very dark work. Where Björks singing occasionally lit up the movie, nothing lightens up the opera, where the story of Selma Jezkova, whose only desire is to save money to pay
for eye surgery for her son, comes to a tragic end. Poul Ruders score mixed the melodic with the abrupt, even incorporation a few musical-style elements.

I am more often than not, not crazy about modern opera, which I feel often fails to transmit emotions to the audience the way (some of) the 80-90+ year old works do. Equally with Ruders. The story is horrible. But I am not moved. It certainly is not the fault of Ylva Kihlberg, who has for long been my favourite soprano at the Royal Danish Opera. She gives everything she has to the character. I am not sure it is the fault of Kasper Holten either, rather realistically telling the Ruders story in 7 scenes and only 70 minutes.
Is it too short? Would it be more moving if we had more time to know the characters? Maybe. Or maybe opera is just not the optimal medium to tell a realistic story of a poor factory worker in the 21th century.

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

Ylva Kihlberg: 4
Kasper Holten: 3
Michael Schønwandt: 4

Overall impression: 2

Saturday 1 October 2011

Karita Mattila in superb Katia Kabanova DVD

DVD. Katia Kabanova  Teatro Real (Madrid) 2008. Prod: Robert Carsen, cond: Jiří Bělohlávek. Cast: Karita Mattila (Katya), Miroslav Dvorský (Boris), Dalia Schaechter (Kabanicha),  Guy De Mey (Tichon), Natascha Petrinsky (Varvara).

What more do you need to make an opera DVD than a stunningly beautiful staging, a divine heroine, great supporting cast and a superb conductor?
You do the following:
1) Hire Karita Mattila to play Katia, one of her best roles which she inhabits as no one else today. Even in her late forties, she convincingly portrays the feeling of this young woman with a sincerity that clearly moves the audience. If, she vocally may be a bit stranged in the upper range, her emotional intensitiy more than outweighs it.
2) Hire Robert Carsen, known for esthetic as well as minimalistic production. Here, the major part is played by the river Volga as the production is bathed in the most beautiful blue light, everything taking place on or in the water
3) Hire someone like Jiří Bělohlávek, who makes the score flow
4) Hire adequate supporting cast. No disrespect meant, but in Katia Kabanova, it is really Katia, who counts. Worth mentioning that Dalia Schaechter is a less ominous Kabanicha than most, but vocally fresh, not unimportant in what is often a post-retirement role for great dramatic sopranos of  the past.

The only DVD alternative, Christoph Marthaler´s Salzburg production is also superb and recommendable with an entirely different socio-realistic, but effective take on the opera. And while Angela Denoke is outstanding as Katia, she still has one level to go to to reach Karita Mattila.

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

Karita Mattila: 5
Robert Carsen: 5
Belohlavek: 5
Everyone else: 4-5

Overall impression: 5

Friday 30 September 2011

DVD: Magnificent Elektra with Theorin, Westbroek, Meier, Pape

Elektra. DVD. Prod: Lehnhoff, cond: Gatti with the Vienna Philharmonics. Salzburg, 2010. Cast: Irene Theorin (Elektra), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Chrysothemis), Waltraud Meier (Klytemnestra), René Pape (Orest).

They really did assemble the best cast imaginable last years Elektra in Salzburg. Eva-Maria Westbroek, superb neurotic acting and vocally blooming delivers a Chrysothemis in the league of Karita Mattila and Cheryl Studer. Waltraud Meier as luxury casting in this role often taken by singers well into retirement, here, for the first time, you hear how this role may be sung. These two formidable ladies almost tend to oversing Irene Theorin, who by all means delivers a great performance, dramatically as well as vocally. The only question mark I´d place after her Elektra is the almost permanent wobble she has in the middle register. After all, now that her interpretation is preserved on DVD, I hope she will not sing this part too often. In fact, as Eva-Maria Westbroek will take on Isolde in 2012, we here have an Elektra trio where all three singers currently sing Isolde on the major stages.

René Pape is easily the finest Orest available on DVD, and if a finer is available on CD we will have to look at recordings before the area of stereo recordings.

Gatti´s slow, broad conducting does not leave much to be desired. Nikolaus Lehnhoff, well known for his minimalistic, dark, brooding Wagnerian interpretations, lived up to expectations with an equally minimalistic, dark, brooding Straussian interpreation.
Among the commercially Eletra DVD´s available, I shall put this at the top, narrowly defeating the Abbado/Kupfer production from the Vienna State Opera, an even darker staging. But for those with patience, it may be worth seeing what comes out of Patrice Chéreau´s production at the Met in a couple of seasons. Because Chéreau has what Lehnhoff doesn´t - the ability to make the interpersonal drama com alive.

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

Irene Theorin: 4
Eva-Maria Westbroek: 5
René Pape: 5
Waltraud Meier: 5

Daniele Gatti: 5
Lehnhoff: 4

Overall impression: 4-5

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Kaufmann Lohengrin DVD with Harteros, Richard Jones from Munich

Lohengrin. DVD. Bayerische Staatsoper München 2009. Production: Richard Jones. Conductor: Kent Nagano. Cast: Jonas Kaufmann (Lohengrin), Anja Harteros (Elsa), Michaela Schuster (Ortrud), Wolfgang Koch (Telramund), Christoph Fischesser (Heinrich).

Richard Jones´ production of Lohengrin in Munich was The Wagnerian Talk of the Season 2009-10 mainly as this was Jonas Kaufmann´s debut in the title role. As well as his first major role in a new production in his home-town Munich, where he was never recognized until he undisputedly had made his name elsewhere.

It seems like Richard Jones concept evolves around an ironic interpretation of the bourgeois dream, of a traditional living and family, with Elsa and Lohengrin quite literally building a house together dressed as carpenters. A house, which Lohengrin eventually sets on fire when he leaves. Now, I have seen several productions by Richard Jones, which work. Most notably a superb Rusalka in Copenhagen a couple of seasons ago. Thus speaking, he is capable. So, one wonders what òr who on earth made him think that extracting all the interpersonal drama replacing it with something as boring as watching people building a wooden house works? To be answered clearly: It does not work. Some free advice: Forcing a fixed idea onto an opera with no seeming interest in the personal relations almost never works.

Jonas Kaufmann was exactly the stellar Lohengrin he was made out to be - romantic, present, and with a barytonal sound, that I honestly prefer. He doesnt always sound entirely effortless, but neither did Domingo in his prime. Please, could we see Jonas Kaufmann in another production?
Anja Harteros received unanimous praise for her Elsa, both during the run of performances and for this DVD. As for this DVD, I simply do not agree. She has the bloom and the legato lines, but for me, the two major detractors about her singing is 1) she basically leaves me cold and 2) she is singing out of tune. As for 2), she may have had an off night, as her intonation has been spot-on the times I have heard her live, but "einsam in trüben tagen" was about 1/4 note flat more often than not. Admittedly she warmed up during the 2nd act, but I am really allergic to singers being flat.
The former Munich opera intendant found the originally contracted Waltraud Meier too old for the part and replaced her with the passable, but nothing more, Michaela Schuster. Crazy. However, the new intendant does not agree, so now one may see Waltraud Meiers Ortrud in Munich.
 Also crazy that the producer didn´t chose another night for filming Telramunds major scene, Act 2 scene 1, as the otherwise competent Wolfgang Koch was about a tact behind the conductor at several of his outbursts.

Kent Nagano is far better here than on his previous DVD from Baden-Baden, less restrained, with more passion - hovewer his transparency will never put him in the league of great Wagnerian such as Thielemann or Barenboim, just two mention two currently active.

So unless you are a die-very-hard fan of Jonas Kaufmann, look elsewhere for a Lohengrin on DVD.

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

Jonas Kaufmann: 5
Anja Harteros: 3
Michaela Schuster: 3
Wolfgang Koch: 3
Christoph Fischesser: 3-4

Richard Jones: 2
Nagano: 3

Overall impression: 2 - because on DVD the director really does count

Monday 26 September 2011

Anna Prohaska Sirene

Anna Prohaska: Siréne. CD. Deutsche Grammophon. 2011. With Erich Schneider (piano).

Anna Prohaska (born 1983) is hardly an insider-tip anymore, presenting her first solo CD for Deutsche Grammophon.

She studied at Hans Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin and I remember when she graduated with maximum honours not more than a couple of years ago. Already as a student, she became a member of the Berlin Staatsoper, where I have heard her in various minor roles (such as the shepherd in Tannhäuser, a flower maiden in Parsifal) and in 2008 as a water nymph in Rusalka in Salzburg. Admittedly local Berliners gathered she was destined for stardom before I did, and only recently in Salzburg  did I hear her for the fist time in a leading role, as Despina in Cósí Fan Tutte.

And destined for stardom I am convinced that she is, perhaps more convinced than with any other soprano her age. Because not only does she have a beautiful voice - a very beautiful voice, with a wonderfully dark middle register and effortless top notes. But there is also something very technically solid about her singing, displaying a fabulous technique with completely even shifts between lower and upper register, and a style which at times is almost altmodisch resembling the style of Dorothea Röschmann.

The theme of this recital (hardly an enviable task having to come up with original themes for recitals) is Siréne, waternymph. Not that I´d immeditialy associate her voice with the fleeting spirits of a waternymph, but nevertheless she is outstanding in this program ranging from Purcell and Dowland over Schubert and Schumann to Szymanovski. Best perhaps in the classic german songs such as Schuberts Des Fischers Liebesglück.

I remember once reading an interview with Daniel Barenboim, a frequent collaborator of Anna Prohaska´s, stating that after 30 minutes of singing he would know if a young soprano was eventually destined for Wagner or Mozart. In the case of Anna Prohaska, I´d be curious to hear his opinion.

Not to be missed.

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

Saturday 24 September 2011

Mojca Erdmann, Mozarts Garden, Mostly Mozart, Mostly Sweet

Mojca Erdmann: Mozarts Garden or mostly mozart. CD 2011. Deutsche Gramophone

If one upcoming soprano is marketed for stardom it is the German lyric soprano Mojca Erdmann. With the same manager as Anna Netrebko, the ways for major contracts seems paved, such as Zerlina both in Baden-Baden this summer and in the new upcoming Met production this fall.

Initially named "mostly mozart" for the German release, the international release will be called "mozart´s garden". A more catching title, agreed for this all-Mozart program ranging from Zaide to Magic Flute.

From the accompanying material to the CD we learn that Mojca Erdmann loves Mozart more than anyhing, that Mozart makes her cry and that she loves flowers. And this is how Deutsche Gramophone markets her: Sweet, sweet sweet. She also looks sweet, of course.

And, almost needles to say, she sings sweetly as welll. And she does have a beautiful voice, especially in the high register. What I miss, is individuality, personality. She sings Pamina as she sings Zaide. Sweetly, clearly concentrating on the beautiful sound over the textual drama. And, though the voice indeed is beautiful, to my taste her use of a certain slow vibrato is excessive in the middle register, and more than once this specific quality reminded me of some pop singers attempting opera.
Though perhaps unfair (to Mojca Erdmann), it is almost impossible not to compare her to Anna Prohaska, also German, also in her mid-twenties and with overlapping repertoire on stage.

Personality, obviously, is something to develop. But I would expect to see more at this stage of her career if she eventually is to become truly loved by audiences. Publicity may go some (a long) way, but eventually it is her personality that will make her career.

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

Friday 23 September 2011

Wonderful Christian Thielemann in Salzburg Die Frau Ohne Schatten

© Monika Rittershaus for Salzburger Festspiele
Die Frau Ohne Schatten. Grosses Festspielhaus, August 17th, 2011, Salzburg Festival. Christian Thielemann conducts the Vienna Philharmonics. Director: Christoph Loy. Soloists: Anne Schwanewilms (Kaiserin), Stephen Gould (Kaiser), Wolfgang Koch (Barak), Evelyn Herlitzius (his wife), Michaela Schuster (Amme).

  • Maximum points to Christian Thielemann for a marvellously conducted performance, powerful and detailed and with the uncut version.
  • Minimum points to Christof Loy for his non-staging, placing the action in the famous recording studio Sofiensaal at the time of the first recording of the opera (1955), creating a static and ineffective staging adding no more to the opera than a concert performance. And, for some obscure reason, the end takes place in the middle of a Christmas concert. Or indeed, adding less, as the secondary daily day drama between the characters singing Barak and his Wife is both annoying and redundant. To reduce Richard Strauss´ epic fairy-tale to this is simply a shame. Christof Loy is well-known for his static stagings (among the recent a rather superb Lucio Silla), but this is by far the most extreme he has taken his directorial approach. The next step would indeed be a concert performance. A golden opportunity for a magnificent DVD thus wasted, as Die Frau really is a conductors opera and some may well feel that Thielemann surpasses both Sawallisch and Solti on previous DVDs (Sawallisch perhaps but not Solti, imho....)
  • All singers were good, but none were real standouts. Anne Schwanewilms, who originally trained as a mezzo, has a simply wonderful voice and etwas altmodisch way of singing almost vibratoless in the middle register, though the voice may be in the smaller range for the Empress. Always dramatically effective, though not overly nuanced vocally was Michaela Schuster, while Stephen Gould delivered the best I have heard him do and in any respect ways above his rather dismal Siegfried in Bayreuth a couple of seasons ago. Evelyn Herlitzius received the second biggest ovation (after Thielemann) for a Wife of Barak (a somewhat vocally tired Wolfgang Koch), probably not to be seen much better today, despite occasional straining especially in the upper register. And I must admit to simply not really liking her voice.
Opening of Act 3:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Christian Thielemann: 5
Christof Loy: 1
Stephen Gould: 3
Evelyn Herlitzius: 3
Anne Schwanewilms: 4

Michaela Schuster: 3-4
Wolfgang Koch: 3
Overall impression: 4 (because the conductor is really the crucial point in this opera)

Thursday 18 August 2011

Salzburg Iolanta and Rossignol with Anna Netrebko and plenty of Russian talents

Rossignol/Iolanta double bill. Concert performance. August 15th, Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg.
Ivar Bolton conducts the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg. Performers: Julia Novikova, Julia Lezhneva, Antonio Poli, Andrei Bondarenko (all Rossignol), Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, Alexei Markov, Evgeni Nikitin, John Relyea u.a.

What most will not find surprising:
  • That Iolanta is a role perfectly suited to Anna Netrebko´s darkly coloured soprano, and Tchaikovsky´s somewhat squared phrases suit her perfectly
  • Though Piotr Beczala by all means did well, he was pulverized by Netrebko, both dramatically and vocally, especially in the duet. That he used the score, as opposed to her, did not help either
  • Alexei Markov (Robert in Iolanta) was stunning and deservedly received the biggest ovation of the evening (Netrebko excluded)
  • Also in live concerts(as opposed to on DVDs) John Relyea comes off as wobbly and shaky, but he gets point for his acting and for having learned the part by heart
  • Julia Novikova (the nightingale) has a too big vibrato especially in the middle register, preventlng the Nightingale from sounding truly beautiful
  • On the other hand Julia Lezhneva was impressive as the cook
  • Andrei Bondarenko, the newly appointed winner of the Song prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, whom many felt should also have won the main prize, used his warm lyrical barytone to portray the Emperor of China.
  • Both Evgeni Nikitin and Antonio Poli mad the most of their relatively small parts

Muti with the Verdi Requiem in Salzburg

Verdi Requiem. Grosses Feststpielhaus, Salzburg Festival. August 15th. Riccardo Muti conducts the Vienna Philharmonics. Soloists: Krassimira Stoyanova, Olga Borodina, Saimir Pirgu, Ildar Abdrazakov.

  • Muti conducted not without nuance, but his version of the Verdi Requiem is still mainly brisk and powerful
  • I still wonder to what extent the Vienna Philharmonics could actually play this piece without a conductor, though obviously someone has to coordinate between orchestra and choir
  • Olga Borodina was in booming voice, seemingly oblivious to fellow colleagues as well as the conductor and absolutely NOT blending in with Krassimira Stoyanova´s distinctly different vocalism and significantly smaller voice.
  • Well done by Saimir Pirgu, while Abdrazakov did not have an exceptional day
  • I spotted a total of 5 women in the orchestra (one concert master, the rest strings). This does not indicate all five are members of the Vienna Philharmonics as the orchestra often hire "seasonal employers" for the Salzburg Festival.
  • After the soprano´s initial "libera me", in the orchestral pause a cell phone went off...
  • Grosses Festspielhaus was sold out despite the distinctly antisocial hour of this concert (11 am). Later I found out that this day is a national holiday in Austria, which does not influence the hour of the concert as the Vienna Philharmonics traditionally play several series of concerts at this hour.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Salzburg 2011 - Claus Guth Cosi Fan Tutte in a major revision

@ MonikaRittershaus for Salzburger Festspiele
Cosí fan tutte. August 16th, Haus für Mozart, Salzburg Festival. Prod: Claus Guth. Cond: Marc Minkowski with Musiciens du Louvre. Cast: Maria Bengtsson (Fiordiligi), Michele Losier (Dorabella), Anna Prohaska (Despina), Alek Shrader (Ferrando), Christopher Maltman (Guglielmo), Bo Skovhus (Alfonso).

It is a major revision of his 2009 staging of Cosi Fan Tutte presented by Claus Guth at this years
Salzburg Festival. A pity really, that the 2009 version is already preserved on DVD, as this "new" version is more closely related to the rest of Guth´s Da Ponte trilogy (Nozze di Figaro, 2006 on DVD and Don Giovanni from 2008).
In 2011 we see the plain interior of a white house, complete with the staircase from Nozze di Figaro. The party from 2009 is over and now all excesses have been dispersed with leaving a pure psychoanalytical room, the looming pine forest (also seen in Don Giovanni) gradually dominating the house, while the two girls are increasingly covered in  (symbolical) dirt, as the two black-clad angels of Alfonso and Despina lurk around and occasionally freezes the action. Those familiar with his Nozze di Figaro will immediately nod in recognition. However, really touching, it is never. And though the theatrical assemblances to both Nozze and Don G are obvious, it is not so obvious exactly what to make of them.
But a major revision it certainly is - I don´t remember having seen such fundamental changes in the conception and execution of a work between seasons before, compared to what is on the DVD this is a substantially different production.

As always with Guth, those prefering a bubbly comedy should look elsewhere, but judging from the big applause (as opposed to the booing when this production opened in 2009), the Salzburger audience seems to have learned  this lesson - after all Claus Guth initiated his Da Ponte cycle in 2006, which is now completed and all three Da Ponte operas may be seen at this years festival.
Curiously, a Japanese tourist continued to take photographs using his flash during the performance, which was quite annoying - I could see exactly who it was, and where he was seated (on the balcony, while I was on the parterre). Why someone didn´t stop this, I simply fail to understand. Germans/Austrians are not exactly known to restrain themselves when it comes to operatic etiquette. But perhaps too many tourists were present..

This time, it was not the Vienna Philharmonics playing, instead Marc Minkowski brought his Musiciens du Louvre in a fresh take on the score.

Vocally, Maria Bengtsson was disappointing - a slim voice with a nasal sound, shaky coloratura, strange shifts in tempo and seeming to hold somewhat back. Michele Losier, who will perform in Faust later this year in both London and New York, was a fine Dorabella, however the standout of the female cast was clearly Anna Prohaska, with superb Mozartean style and sense of characterization and crystal-clear singing. My guess: In five years she will be singing the Mozartean repertoire everywhere.

Among the males, both Bo Skovhus and Christopher Maltman brings weighty stage presence, though Maltman occasionally acts more than he sings. Also Alek Shrader seems on his way to more major assignments with convincing acting and unstrained vocalism.

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

Christopher Maltman: 4
Bo Skovhus: 4
Alek Shrader: 4
Maria Bengtsson: 3
Michele Losier: 4
Anna Prohaska: 5

Marc Minkowski: 4

Claus Guth: 3-4

Overall impression: 4
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