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)
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