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
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