Sunday 30 December 2012

Patricia Petibon shines in a new Rigoletto in Munich

Rigoletto. Live streaming from Munich. December 30th, 2012. Production: Arpad Schilling. Conductor: Marco Armiliato. Cast: Joseph Calleja (Duke), Franco Vassallo (Rigoletto), Patricia Petibon (Gilda), Nadia Krasteva (Maddalena), Dmitri Ivashchenko (Sparafucile).
  • This new production replaces the infamous Planet of the Apes proction (by Dorris Dörrie), that I unfortunately never saw, but of which several famous Gildas (Diana Damrau, Anna Netrebko) spoke very negatively
  • According to Arpad Schilling, his interest in Rigoletto is to show the sliding transition between theatre and real life - ie. where the theatre stops and the real life begins. Why this applies specifically to Rigoletto is not entirely clear,  but perhaps he took his inspirations from the theatre-like scenes in the Duke´s palace between the Duke/Rigoletto (the actors) on one side vs. the noblemen (the spectators).
  • In any case, the production almost approaches a concert version, with a amphitheatre-like set up with the crowd/noblemen facing the spectators in the theatre, and the principal characters moving in front of either them or a huge curtain. This gives more than an element of Greek tragedy to the performance, underlined by the masks that comes on and off.
  • Definitely less controversial than last time around, but also less than fully engaging. However, the singing was top-notch:
  • Joseph Calleja is simply glorious as the Duke and I don´t think many better tenors are around. Except, of course, Jonas Kaufmann, that in addition has the stage charisma, the only thing Calleja lacks.
  • Patricia Petibon is a very moving Gilda, and an exceptional stage presence. I have heard many Gilda-sopranos explain that Gilda is a multi-faceted character that opposes her father as well as loves him, but Petibon is the first I have seen that convincingly brings this interpretation to the stage. On CD she has occasionally sounded overstretched and vocally approching the condition of Natalie Dessay, but not so here, where she was in fine voice in a role, which is not too heavy for her.
  • Though perhaps not overly charismatic, Franco Vassallo sings beautifully as Rigoletto.
  • In the pit Marco Armiliato was efficient, as were Ivashchenko and Krasteva as the "villains".
  • Despite fine and engaging performances from the singers, these theatre-within-theatre concepts often tends to become too artificial, draining the energy from the piece and this was not really an exception.
Production video:

Sunday 30 September 2012

Triple Carsen, triple DVD, triple show

Three productions by Robert Carsen, all already released on DVD, all previously reviewed here, opened the 2012-13 seasons in Paris and Venice:

Les Contes d´Hoffmann. Bastille Opera, September 12th 2012. Production: Robert Carsen. Conductor: Tomas Netopil. Cast: Stefano Secco (Hoffmann), Jane Archibald (Olympia), Sophie Koch (Giulietta), Ana Maria Martinez (Antonia), Kate Aldrich (Muse), Franck Ferrari (Villains).
  • An elegant theatre within the theatre production taking place during a performance of Don Giovanni, already released on DVD and reviewed in detail a couple of years ago. However with an entirely different cast of singers now presented:
  • Stefano Secco, is a competent, though neither very distinctive or individual Hoffmann. The same goes for Franck Ferrari´s villains.
  • Jane Archibald, the coloratura soprano who seems to be everywhere at the moment, most definitely has the notes for Olympia, but she also seems to lack a certain distinctiveness.
  • Individuality is something which Sophie Koch definitely has, though coupled with an at times somewhat excessive vibrato in the best performance of the evening together with:
  • Ana Maria Martinez, who has a quite exceptional voice with a very distinctive high-frequency vibrato. 

Capriccio, Opera Garnier, September 11th 2012. Production: Robert Carsen. Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Cast: Michaela Kaune (Countess), Bo Skovhus (Count), Adrian Eröd (Olivier), Joseph Kaiser (Flamand), Peter Rose (La Roche), Michaela Schuster (La Clairon).
  • An elegant production-within-production production (!) reviewed in detail here.
  • Was Deutsche Oper Berlin house diva Michaela Kaune really first-choice for this production? I somehow doubt it, as she doesn´t quite seem to have the name of carrying a big role like this in the season opening of Opera Garnier.
  • Nevertheless, though not the most distinctive singer, she was highly applauded for a beautiful and moving Countess. She lacks the glamour that Renée Fleming brought to the DVD, but then she also comes without Fleming´s at times irritating vocal manners.
  • Bo Skovhus now seems definitely past his prime, with an increasingly wide vibrato which comes with  increasingly neurotic stage manners.
  • Michaela Schuster is effective rather than glamorous, while Adrian Eröd sings with great beauty and warmth as opposed to the cooler Joseph Kaiser, underlining Madeleine´s choice, I suppose.
  • Philippe Jordan, as usual, was quite excellent and possibly received the largest applause of the evening.
La Traviata, Opera Fenice, September 26th, 2012. Production: Robert Carsen. Conductor: Diego Matheuz. Cast: Jessica Nuccio (Violetta), Ji-Min Park (Alfredo), Simone Piazzola (Germont).
  • Half the fun of a performance of the Teatro la Fenice opera of Venice is getting there (and away): Wandering the narrow streets besides the canals or perhaps even arriving with boat.
  • Chosen for the reopening of the opera house in 2004 (being reconstructed after a major fire), the production is already available on DVD and has already been reviewed in details on this site.
  • Perhaps for these historic reasons, firefighters were present in large numbers throughout the performance, especially on the upper level of the theatre.
  • The production remains innovative and interesting, though more so with the DVD cast than with the cast actually in the theatre: Ji-Min Park, not the most charismatic of singers never quite seemed to warm up, though Jessica Nuccio gave a quite moving., though not overly precise performance.
  • I must admit to not remembering much else about the performance.

Friday 31 August 2012

susanna phillips

Susannna Phillips. Paysages. CD 2011. Songs by Debussy, Messiaen and Faure. With Myra Huang (piano).

Susanna Phillips (born 1981) is a lyrical soprano, educated at Juillard School in New York City. A Metropolitan Council Award Winner and a first prize winner at the Operalia competition (both in 2005), she already has sung several parts (Musetta, Pamina, Donna Anna) at the Metropolitan Opera and is scheduled to return in the 2013 season as Fiordiligi as well as in a new production of Fledermaus.

Hats off to her for presenting an unusually challenging programme of songs by Debussy, Messiaen (Poemes pour Mi) and Faure for her first solo CD. Which was in fact the direct reason I noticed her disc in the first place - an internet search of recordings of "Poemes pour Mi" - there are not too many.
Messiaen composed this song cycle for his first wife in the 1930´s, at a time when his compositions were still very inspired by Debussy, thus the preceding Debussy songs seem very adequate.

Susanna Phillips has a lovely, warm and expressive voice with a technique to match especially Messiaen´s rather stiff vocal demands. It is also a quite distinctive voice, with a quite slow vibrato, and a rather nasal sound. Do I like the voice as such? I am not sure. But it is never unpleasant to listen to. Undoubtedly she does her best with the French diction, but I nevertheless fail to understand what she is singing. I don´t understand Renée Fleming´s French in her 2012 version of Poemes pour Mi either. However the French soprano Francoise Pollet demonstrates quite clearly (in the orchestral version with Pierre Boulez, the best on disc), that it is possible to understand the lyrics.

2012 interview with Susanna Phillips here.

Susanna Phillips as Donna Anna (with piano):

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


Tuesday 28 August 2012

Don Giovanni at the Met

Don Giovanni. Metropolitan Opera 2011. HD. Production: Michael Grandage. Conductor: Fabio Luisi. Cast: Mariusz Kwiecien (Don G), Luca Pisaroni (Leporello), Marina Rebeka (Donna Anna), Barbara Frittoli (Donna Elvira), Ramon Vargas (Ottavio), Mojca Erdmann (Zerlina), Joshua Bloom (Masetto).
  • When this production opened in 2011, critics generally rated it between "dull" and "disastrously dull". They are right.
  • Michael Grandage is a renowned British theater director and it was a reasonable assumption from Peter Gelb that he could provide interesting insights.
  • At opening night Mariusz Kwiecien was replaced by Peter Mattei, a fact many critics felt may have had significantly negative impact on Grandage´s vision.
  • For the HD transmission Mariusz Kwiecien was back and it was still dull.
  • Action takes place mainly in front of a set consisting of a three-tiered balcony mansion.
  • The relationship between the Don and Leporello is played out interestingly, though, with the latter a lesser sophisticated mirror of the former - but no really new insights here and seen many times before.
  • Musically it was superb, however.
  • Mariusz Kwiecien is a classy and elegant Don with a smooth, silky baritone. Top in the world for this part, together with Peter Mattei and Gerald Finley, in my opinion.
  • Luca Pisaroni presents with a roguesque, vocally solid Leporello
  • Excellent house debut for Marina Rebeka - a shining clear, almost steely soprano. A first-rate Donna Anna, only a bit more dynamics in her singing and acting and she would be among the greatest.
  • Barbara Frittoli is elegant as Elvira, unfortunately her vibrato has become rather wide
  • Mojca Erdmann disappointed as Zerlina with irritating acting and a shaky voice. I am not at all sure she is the rising star some have made her to be.
  • Joshua Bloom makes the most out of his opportunities as Massetto.
  • As does Ramon Vargas as Don Ottavio - not an easy part to make interesting.
  • Fabio Luisi was superb in a slow, grandiose reading of the score.
Marina Rebeka - non mi dir:

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

Mariusz Kwiecien: 5
Luca Pisaroni: 4
Marina Rebeka: 4-5
Barbara Frittoli: 4
Mojca Erdmann: 2
Joshua Bloom: 4

Michael Grandage´s production: 2
Fabio Luisi: 4-5

Overall impression: 3

Saturday 25 August 2012

salzburg festival theodora on dvd

Theodora. DVD. Salzburg Festival 2009. Production: Christof Loy. Conductor: Ivor Bolton with the Freiburger Barockorchester. Cast: Christine Schäfer (Theodora), Bejun Mehta (Didymus), Johannes Martin Krängle (Valens), Bernarda Fink (Irene), Joseph Kaiser (Septimus).

The story of Händel´s late (1750) oratorio "Theodora" in brief, is that of the Christian woman Theodora, who, persecuted by the Romans ultimately becomes a martyr for her faith with her lover Didymus.

With this staging, Christof Loy does not attempt to invite the audiences to identify with the characters but “exploring and experiencing the music and the works religious themes” in what he calls “almost like an installation” or a “performance process”. To achieve this, he lets the entire, massive stage of the Salzburg Festspielhaus depict the interior of a church and the staging unfolds as a rehearsal for a performance of Theodora. Not unlike his Frau Ohne Schatten from last years Salzburg Festival. But significantly more successful, though at times the singers almost seems to drown at the massive stage..

For me the real stand-outs in the cast were Joseph Kaiser´s dignified Septimus (= a main with a troubled conscience), Johannes Martin Krängle´s very believable Valens (=the villain). and Bernarda Fink´s wonderfully dignified Irene. For my tastes, Bejun Mehta´s Didymus is a tad too sentimental and feminine, and Christine Schäfer, despite dignified singing and great musician-ship, seems occasionally rather dry-voiced as Theodora.

However, the contrast of performing a small-sized baroque work in the massive Salzburg Festspielhaus is not at all interesting and most Händel admirers will love Ivor Bolton´s stylish performance with the Freiburger Barockorchester.
Despite not being created with a staged performance in mind, it is not, however the only Theodora on DVD and I must admit to vastly preferring Peter Sellars updated 1996 Glyndebourne production, infinitely more dynamic in addition to having the wonderful Lorraine Hunt as Irene.

Bejun Mehta and Christine Schäfer:
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Christine Schäfer: 5
Bejun Mehta: 4
Bernarda Fink: 5
Joseph Kaiser: 5
Johannes Martin Krängle: 4

Christof Loy:3
Ivor Bolton: 5

Overall impression: 4

Wednesday 22 August 2012

kristine opolais


Nationality: Latvian.
Born: 1979, Latvia.
Education and early career in brief: Educated in Latvia. Soloist 2003-7 at the Latvian National Opera.
Voice: Lyric-dramatic soprano.
Main repertoire includes: Puccini roles (Tosca, Mimi, Butterfly, Magda), Tatyana (Onegin), Rusalka, Jenufa.
Main events until now: Polina (The Gambler - Berlin State Opera 2008 and La Scala, also on DVD), Rusalka (Munich 2010 - also on DVD), Madame Butterfly (London 2011), La Rondine (highly praised Met debut in 2013)
Upcoming major events: Tosca (London Royal Opera) and Mimi (The Met) 2013.
Future performances here. Biography and website here.

Commercial releases:

The Gambler - Berlin State Opera 2008 (DVD)
Rusalka, Bavarian State Opera 2010 (DVD)
Suor Angelica 2012 (CD)

Selected links:

2008 interview with Kristine Opolais on her career
2010 Interview with Kristine Opolais mainly on Rusalka and her career.
2011 review of Madame Butterfly, London Royal Opera
2013 New York Times review of her Met debut

Rusalka, Song to the Moon, Munich 2010:

Madame Butterfly, final aria, London Royal Opera 2011:

Sunday 19 August 2012

Il Trovatore from The Met

Il Trovatore. DVD. Metropolitan Opera 2011. Cast: Marcelo Àlvarez (Manrico), Sondra Radvanovsky (Leonora), Dolora Zajick (Azucena), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Count Luna). Director: David McVicar. Conductor: Marco Armiliato.

It is by no means a bad Il Trovatore, which opened 2009 at the Metropolitan Opera. A well-known production first seen in Chicago 2006, the conservatively-inclined Metropolitan Opera was not taking too big a risk giving director David McVicar his house debut. Not that David McVicar´s style is too far from what would be deemed acceptable by Met audiences: His trademark is the character development and personal direction of the singers, often done with some updating of the setting, but rarely into present times.

Accordingly, this Trovatore is updated from the 15th Century to the Spanish Liberation War in the beginning of the 19th Century, inspired by a set of etchings "The disaster of War " by the Spanich painter Goya. A dark, rotating set, effectively conveying a dark period. Not at all experimenting or innovative in terms of sets, however David McVicar´s trademark, the personal direction of the singers, is seen to full in this production with the most developed characters I have ever seen in any production of Il trovatore.

Being given four lead-singers, none of which are known to be especially fine stage actors, makes McVicars achievements even more remarkable: 50% of them are outstanding, 25% are fine and 25% less so.

Best are Dolora Zajick and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. This is simply the finest thing I have seen Zajick do on stage: Vocally the rather low-lying part is perfect for her and she has the necessary heft. But what makes her Azucena truly outstanding is her portrayal of her as a shell-shocked woman, who has become insane, probably as a result of post-traumatic stress. Far from a villain, she, too is a victim. And Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who previously has shown that he can in fact act if sufficiently inspired, is a dashing as well as dramatically convincing Luna. Vocally, he may occasionally sound a bit strained, but my guess is that few will care.
Leonora has been the calling card of Sondra Radvanovsky for almost a decade, and she will probably divide the viewers of this DVD as she does in the theater. Her Leonora is rather like a neurotic school-girl than a noble lady, however this is as valid an interpretation as any. My reservations lie with her shaky intonation (admittedly seen worse than on this DVD) and a voice that occasionally seems to be rather out of her control, though definitely large enough for the part.
Points to Marcelo Alvarez for obviously trying to act on stage and not only stand and deliver his area. But no doubt he is hired solely based on his vocal capabilities, which, admittedly he has. Radvanovsky and Alvarez in the superbly directed final scene do fine. With the more dramatically inclined singers we will hopefully see in this production the coming years, this scene will be electrifying.

Marco Armiliato is a follower, rather than a leader here, not succeeding in bringing out the nuances in the score, unfortunately.

The DVD to own? Perhaps, but Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros will be appearing in the same work in Munich next year, which will probably be released on DVD as well.

Final scene:

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

Marcelo Àlvarez: 3
Sondra Radvanovsky: 3-4
Dmitri Hvorostovsky: 5
Dolora Zajick: 5

Marco Armiliato: 2
David McVicars production: 4

Overall impression: 4

Thursday 16 August 2012

isabel leonard


Nationality: American.
Born: 1982, New York City.
Education and career in brief: Juillard School, New York. Professional stage debut 2007 as Stéphano (Romeo et Juliette), also Met Opera debut 2007 in same role. Appears regularly at the Met in her main roles.
Voice: Lyric mezzo-soprano.
Main repertoire includes: Cherubino (Figaro), Dorabella (Cosí fan Tutte), Rosina (Barber)
Main events until now: Apart from Met appearances such as Dorabella, Zerlina, Rosina and Miranda (The Tempest) she sang Dorabella (Cosi fan Tutte, Salzburg 2009), Cherubino (Vienna 2011, Glyndebourne 2012), Rosina, Cherubino and Sesto (Paris Bastille 2009-11).
Upcoming major events: Rosina in San Francisco fall 2013. Dorabella at The Met.
Future performances here. Biography here.

Commercial releases:

Cosí fan Tutte, Salzburg 2009 (DVD)
Giulio Cesare, Paris 2011 (DVD)

Selected links:

2008 recital review in Washington Post
2010 interview with Isabel Leonard in New York Times on her life and career.
2012 profile in Opera News magazine
2012 interview on her Glyndebourne Cherubino
2013 - opera it girl Isabel Leonard

Dorabella with Smanie implacabile, Cosi Fan Tutte, Salzburg 2009:

Sesto, Giulio Cesare, Paris 2011:

Rosina, The Met 2012:

Monday 13 August 2012

anna prohaska


Nationality: Austrian.
Born: 1983, Neu Ulm. Germany.
Education and early career in brief: Hans Eisler Music Academy in Berlin. Company member at the Berlin State Opera from 2006.
Voice: Lyric soprano.
Main repertoire includes: Zerlina (Don G), Blondchen (Entführung), Despina (Cosi fan tutte). Sophie (Rosenkavalier), Anne Truelove (Rake´s Progress).
Main events until now: Despina (Cosi fan tutte, Salzburg 2011), Zerlina (Giovanni - La Scala 2011), Anne Truelove (Berlin 2010), Rosenkavalier (Sophie, Berlin 2012). Several concert performances with Abbado, Rattle, Boulez. Has signed exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophone - first CD "Sirene" released 2011.
Upcoming major events:

Future performances here. Biography here.

Commercial releases:
Sirene (2011) - first solo CD with Deutsche Grammophone

2011 opening concert of the Salzburg Festival (DVD)
Frohe Weihnachten - Christmas Songs on DG (2012)
Lulu-Suite with Pierre Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonics (2012)
Enchanted Forest - second solo CD with Deutsche Grammophone (2013)

Selected links:

Review of Anna Prohaska´s first solo CD on Deutsche Grammophone
Reivew of Anna Prohaska´s Wigmore Hall debut 2012

In Don Giovanni, La Scala 2011:

Lulu Suite with Claudio Abbado, Lucerne 2010:

Friday 10 August 2012

janai brugger


Nationality: American.
Born: Darien, IL, United States 1983.
Education and early career in brief: Masters from University of Michigan. From 2010 with the Los Angeles Opera Young Artist programme.
Voice: Lyric soprano.
Main repertoire includes: Too early to say. Has until now sung Juliette and Musettea professionally on stage.
Main events until now: Musetta at the Los Angeles Opera 2012 and Liu at Metropolitan Opera 2012.
Winner of Metropolitan Opera National Auditions 2012 and winner of all the 1st prizes in Operalia 2012.
Upcoming major events: We shall see.
Future performances here. Biography and website here.

Selected links:

2012 interview with Janai Brugger after winning the Metropolitan Opera National Councils Auditions
2012 article by Janai Brugger on her voice and training
2012 interview "10 questions" to Janai Brugger
2012 interview about her Met debut in Turandot

Janai Brugger with Rusalka´s song to the Moon, Chicago 2009 with piano:

Friday 20 July 2012

live oranges

The love for three Oranges. Bastille Opera, 13th of July 2012. Production: Deflo. Conductor: Alain Altinoglu. Cast: Charles Workman (Prince), Patricia Fernandez (Clarice), Alain Vernhes (King of Clubs), Vincent Le Texier (Tchelio), Marie-Ange Todorovich (Fata Morgana), Nicolas Cavallier (Leandre).
  • This outstanding production is already available on an equally outstanding DVD.
  • Disappointingly the DVD with the close-ups is more outstanding than actually attending a performance in the theatre, where the big auditorium of the Bastille Opera seems to drown many details of the production.
  • I already reviewed Deflo´s pantomime-inspired production in details for the DVD production and among the principal characters, Charles Workman as the principal repeats performance.
  • Interestingly, there were quite a few children in the opera.
  • A true ensemble opera: No singers mentioned, none forgotten.

Peter Mattei - Great Baritone Arias

Peter Mattei - Great Baritone Arias. 2011. Lawrence Renes conducts the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.
Peter Mattei (born 1965 in Sweden) has been internationally active for more than a decade, performing at all the major operatic venues in a variety of high-profile roles. Yet, for some reasons he is not (yet) a house-hold name. Perhaps it is a combination of his reluctance to take on too many engagement and too many roles. And then there is the (lacking) recordings as this 2011 solo recital disc is in fact his first.

On stage Peter Mattei´s  main calling cards are Don Giovanni (title role), the Figaro Count and Eugene Onegin and these we do have on DVD, though the Don Giovanni is from 2002 and hopefully the La Scala Opening performance from 2011 with Daniel Barenboim will be released at some point.
There is universally agreement that in his core repertoire, Peter Mattei is among  the very few best in the world, and subsequently he sang title role in the two most prestigious openings of Don Giovanni last year: At the opening evening of the La Scala 2011-12 season with Daniel Barenboim and at the premiere of the new Don Giovanni production at the Metropolitan Opera (though substituting for an ailing Mariusz Kwiecien).

Peter Mattei has a very exceptional voice characterized by a formidable open sound, a strong high register, and a very distinctive middle register with a sound almost bordering on the metallic. Combined with a very straight delivery, for me, at least, his may be the most attractive voice in a repertoire which includes Simon Keenlyside, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Mariusz Kwiecien among the prominent interpreters.

On this disc we have three excerpts from Don Giovanni including a Deh, vieni probably not to be heard more beautiful. Another of his calling cards, the Count in Figaro is represented with "hai gia vinto la cause" as well as Figaro´s "Se vuol ballare" sung with the elegant voice underlining why his calling card i the Count and not Figaro. The elegance continues in the two arias from Eugene Onegin.
I have heard Peter Mattei´s Posa (Don Carlo) live, a role he should sing more often, here represented with "O Carlo ascolta".  The same goes for Valentin in Faust, where it is clear he would be among the top performers of the role, did he just opt to sing it.

Peter Mattei has been wary moving into the heavier repertoire, cancelling a Macbeth in Stockholm a couple of seasons ago. Next season he is scheduled as Amfortas in the Metropolitan Opera new production of Parsifal (not represented here) however we have the more lyric part of Wolfram in Tannhäuser, here with two excerpts including the famous Song to the Evenstar , I don´t recall him having performed on stage, but his delivery is very beautiful.

A recital disc like this can hardly avoid a certain sameness to creep in at point. However, in Peter Mattei´s case it is a very beautiful and elegant sameness and this disc presents him at his best. Now, would he only perform a bit more on the international stages..

Deh, vieni - not from this CD, but from Aix-en-Provence 2002:

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


Monday 16 July 2012

audun iversen


Nationality: Norwegian.
Born: 1977, Harstad, Norway.
Education and career in brief: State Academy in Oslo and Opera Academy Copenhagen. First major roles were Count Almaviva (2008) and Eugene Onegin (2009) in at the Danish Royal Opera.
Voice: Lyric baritone.
Main repertoire includes: Eugene Onegin, Count Almaviva (Figaro), Don Giovanni (title character)
Main events until now: Albert (Werther, London RO 2010 including CD recording), Eugene Onegin (ENO 2011 and Bolshoi 2012), Marcello (London RO 2012), Figaro (Glyndebourne 2012)
Upcoming major events: Barber in Sevilla (San Francisco 2013 Fall)
Future performances here. Webpage incl. full bio here.

Eugene Onegin final scene - with Amanda Echalaz, ENO 2011:

Hai gia vinto la causa (Nozze di Figaro 2012)::

Sunday 8 July 2012

Camilla Tilling with superb Schubert recital

Beir dir allein! Schubert songs. CD. 2012. Camilla Tilling (soprano), Paul Rivinius (piano).

Rarely do you her a song recital, which blows you away the way this new disc with Schubert songs from Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling does.
Born in 1971, Camilla Tilling is mostly known on the opera stage for her interpretation of parts such as Sophie (Rosenkavalier) and Pamina and I remember hearing her as a vivid Oscar a couple of years ago in Paris.
Her  new Schubert recital disc "Bei dir allein!" is simply one of the best lied recital disc I have heard in a long time. Engaged and fresh-voiced, Camilla Tilling creates myriads of moods and she has that rare ability to turn on and completely off her vibrato with many degrees in between, as well as a varied attack even at the highest notes, as also Irmgard Seefried had. This extraordinary disc is in that league.
Previously, Camilla Tilling she released a disc with Richard Strauss lieder, where she demonstrated many of the same qualities, though to lesser effects as many of the Richard Strauss lieder for her voice type benefit from a more soaring voice than Camilla Tillings.
This Schubert disc, however, presents the finest lieder singing to be heard and is a clear must-have.

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


Wednesday 4 July 2012

erwin schrott arias

Erwin Schrott: Arias. Vienna Radio Symphony orchestra conducted by Daniele Rustoni. 2012.

From an artistically point of view I simply do not see the rationale behind the release of this new solo album by Erwin Schrott. From a pure commercial point of view, however, it could make sense:

In 2008, under his contract with Decca, Erwin Schrott released his first solo CD, an album not unlike the current one, with a selection of bass-barytone arias. The album was received with mixed reviews and subsequently  Erwin Schrott has signed with Sony. Yes, there are differences between the two albums of course, but mostly in favour of the first album, where Erwin Schrott included some of Mozart roles such as Figaro and Leporello, which he has successfully performed on stage. On this new album, the arias are different, but with an overweight into repertoire, which simply does not find Erwin Schrott at his best and exposes his vocal weaknesses: Méphistopheles Veau d´Or (Faust), Scintille Diamant (Hoffmann), Tre sbirri (Scarpia in Tosca), three pieces from Mefistofele (Boito)..

A sticker on the disc states that this album presents Erwin Schrott in his signature roles. This is simply not true. He may have performed the Faust-Mephistopheles and Escamillo a few times on stage, but his calling cards are still Mozart roles such as Leporello, Don Giovanni, Figaro. Not represented at all on this current CD. And this, I don´t think will change. Schrott simply does not have the vocal qualities to distinguish himself in the basso cantante repertoire: He is practically unable to hold a vocal line, his intonation is shaky with major weaknesses in both upper and lower registers. Furthermore, I don´t reallly hear anything interpretatively.

We have a number of unrecorded bass-barytones active today, who would have done a better job than Schrott in the recording studios. And he is simply no match for those already recorded in the same repertoire (from present day: René Pape and Bryn Terfel, from the past: Samuel Ramey, George London).

On stage, however, in his core repertoire, Erwin Schrott is among the best there is today, not least due to his excellent combination of stage presence and physical acting.

So why release an album so similar to his previous one? Has his public profile been raised sufficiently with his big venue concerts with Anna Netrebko to make this album a commercial success? Honestly, I don´t think so.
Le veau d´or - from a Barcelona concert in 2011:

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


Sunday 1 July 2012

Copenhagen: Herbert Blomstedt with Ein Deutsches Requiem

Ein Deutsches Requiem. Copenhagen Concert Hall. June 9th 2012. Conductor: Herbert Blomstedt with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Radiokoret. Soloists: Camilla Tilling (soprano), Peter Mattei (baryton).

84-year old Herbert Blomstedt was chief conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra between 1967-77 and his continued annual visits are always major events, as he is immensely popular with the orchestra. Often, as today, this popularity translates into great playing and this was simply a wonderful afternoon in a sold-out DR Concert Hall.

Blomstedt´s Brahms is dense as well as straightforward, conducte, of course, without the score as this is his core repertoire. The climaxes with the choir was simply magnificant, and I don´t remember when I have heard a better, or even a performance of the same level, from the orchestra.

Peter Mattei has a wonderful straight deliveryt, while Camilla Tilling never quite got to glow.

When Blomsted took over the orchestra it was semi-professional (if not necessarily on paper, then in sound) and he, if any, initiated the development into an orchestra performing on the international level we saw today. Ironically, the new chief conductor of the orchestra Rafael Frühbeck De Burgos is the same age as Blomstedt, his age being a major point of criticism in Danish media. Though somehow I doubt we´d heard the same complaints had Pierre Boulez been hired?

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


Thursday 28 June 2012

Magdalena Kozena - Love and longing

Love and longing. CD. 2012. Songs by Ravel, Dvorak and Mahler. Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonics.

Even after pondering the question, I still think that Magdalena Kozena (born 1973) probably has the most beautiful voice around anywhere on stage today. And she just becomes better and better.

In my book, she is essentially a concert and lied singer, though she regularly performs in opera. Projecting mixure of shyness and awkwardness (not vocally mind you) on the operatic stage, I have seen her as both Octavian and Melisande. And her Idamante is available on DVD. However, it is on the concert stage, she does her finest work. And nothing she has done is really better than this recent disc with songs by Ravel (Sheherazade), Dvorak (Biblical Songs op. 99), and Mahler (Rückert-lieder) entitled "Love and longing" in accordance with recent record labelling trends.

With a creamy voice of incredible beauty, even throughout the register, she possesses an instrument as few (really is there anyone else?) today. Combined with profound textual understanding as well as faultless phrasing, I really do not have a critical word to say of this disc. Not to forget the superb accompanying provided by the Berlin Philharmonics under Simon Rattle. They just show us just how important the orchestra is in orchestral songs, with a performance far far above average.

Album trailer:

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


Monday 25 June 2012

Gerald Finley Winterreise

Gerald Finley (barytone) and Julius Drake (piano): Winterreise. Bruxelles, Theatre de Monnaie. June 20th 2012.

Gerald Finley´s Winterreise is truly an emotional journey. Passing from an initial state of repressed anger to to true anger, then to madness and ultimately we see the naked grief. I don´t remember when I have heard a Winterreise with these changes of emotion presented so contrastingly as Gerald Finley does. And always without sentimentality, he started many of the songs half-turned away from the audience. However, as a performer he is far from introvert and oozes a patrician elegance which suits Schubert so well.
The voice, of course I´d almost say, is superb and fully capable of displaying every emotional state Finley desires to display.
All sensitively and dynamically accompanied by long-time recital partner Julius Drake, Winterreise do not get delivered much better than this. Lieder singing at the highest level.

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


Friday 22 June 2012

Deconstructing Il trovatore: A role play in Bruxelles

Il trovatore. Opera Monnaie, Bruxelles. June 19th 2012. Production:  Dmitri Tcherniakov. Conductor: Marc Minkowski. Cast: Misha Didyk (Manrico), Marina Poplavskaya (Leonora), Scott Hendricks (Luna), Sylvie Brunet (Azucena), Giovanni Furlanetto (Ferrando).

Right at the beginning a signboard tells us that ” years have passed since some of the events of Il Trovatore”. In fact, we are inside a deserted patrician villa in present time. Azucena has invited the participants Manrico (a rock-musician), Luna (a businessman), Leonora (a femme fatale) and Ferrando (Luna´s father?) to participate in “a role play to elucidate their common past” as written on a signboard.
Initially, the singers read their lines from a piece of paper, but as the opera moves on, the characters identify more and more with their Trovatore counterparts: Luna grows increasingly mad, Leonora and Manrico have a love affair, and Azucena, a jaded beauty, eventually becomes mad.
According to the programme notes, director Dmitri Tcherniakovs rationale was that, in his opinion, the first 2,5 acts consist mainly of flash-backs and story-telling and only the last 3 scenes represent present day. As he feels the role of the chorus is secondary and static they are placed in the pit. All the small roles (Ines etc.) have been dispersed with and their parts are sung by some of the other characters and we are presented with a true chamber play facilitated by Tcherniakovs superb personal direction.
All this culminates in a last act, where Luna have gone completely mad and kills Manrico, after Leonora poisoned herself (he already killed Ferrando in the end of Act 3), only to die of a heart attack when Azucena told him, he´d kill his brother.

For me, there are some major logical gaps, that I can´t seem to get around: 1) It was my impression that these 5 people did not know each other beforehand. Then, however, there is a logic gap in Act 4, when Luna shoots his brother Manrico. So this shabby musician was the brother of the business man? And how did that come about? And where does all the gypsy business then fit in? 2) According to Dmitri Tcherniakov´s program notes, however, the protagonists shared a common past. In that case Act 4 makes sense, however, everything sung about troubadours and gypsies does not as I don´t assume Tcherniakov meant them to have known each other in some metaphysical way 800 years earlier??

You sometimes hear the saying that the action in Il trovatore is so improbable, that a realistic staging does not makes sense. Not necessarily true as David McVicar does a fine job at the DVD from the Metropolitan Opera in a relatively traditional staging focusing on the drama between the protagonists.
Such a deconstructional version of Il Trovatore as Dmitri Tcherniakovs is rarely seen in a major opera house. Tcherniakovs version has nothing to do with the libretto, of course, but nevertheless the idea is quite intriguing and gives reason for afterthought for a long time. However, the concept is 100% reliant upon the theatrical qualities of the singers, and here Dmitri Tcherniakov worked with an exceptionally committed team. As theatre however, I am ambiguous as too whether it worked out. You´d have to appreciated the finesses in the chamber play, otherwise you´d be terribly bored as I couldn´t help being for the first two acts, at least.

Now to the singing – aiaiai - applause after several of the major arias was no more than barely polite. First, and worst, Misha Didyk: A couple of notes in his middle register sounded about right. The rest, vast majority were indeterminable. Needless to say, he was massively overparted here.

Then, Marina Poplavskaya, a singer with an exceptionally beautiful middle register and a fascinating stage presence- whatever is meant by X-factor, she definitely has it. The singing however, was to put it very diplomatically, not quite at the level demanded by the challenges of the part.  Her legato-lines are virtually non-existent, often she retorted to shrieking out her top notes and the coloraturas were not to be repeated. Why she signed on to this is beyond me. I sincerely hope she will never sing this part again.

I didn´t quite take to Scott Hendricks rather grainy baritone, but as a singer-actor he is quite formidable, in many ways dramatically carrying the show. Last, and best, was Sylvie Brunet as Azucena, a solid as well as unusually elegant performance. Deservedly she got the biggest applause of the evening.

Also superb was Marc Minkowski in the pit, a swift dynamic reading, with a interesting emphasis on the woodwinds, that I haven´t heard before.

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

Misha Didyk: 1
Marina Poplavskaya: 2
Scott Hendricks: 3
Sylvie Brunet: 4-5

Dmitri Tcherniakov´s production: 3

Marc Minkowski: 5

Overall impression: 3-4

Thursday 21 June 2012

Renée Fleming is Arabella in Paris

Arabella. Paris Opera Bastille. June 17th 2012. Production: Marco Arturo Marelli. Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Cast: Renée Fleming (Arabella), Michael Volle (Mandryka), Julia Kleiter (Zdenka), Joseph Kaiser (Matteo), Kurt Rydl (Waldner), Doris Soffel (Adelaide), Iride Martinez (Fiakermilli).

Renée Fleming obviously has reached a level where she can chose which directors to work with, apparently preferring to work in stylish, minimalistic production straying not too far from the libretto. Thus a couple of years ago she was a quite superb Cappriccio Countess in Vienna in a production of Marco Arturo Marelli, also behind this new production of Arabella at the Bastille Opera in Paris. Here, however, she was somewhat  less than superb and her performance underlined an evolution, which has become increasingly visible in her performances during the past years, at least in Richard Strauss operas:

First of all Renée Fleming is definitely not in her vocal prime anymore. Much of the bloom of her top register has gone, and her middle register, by some still called creamy, is far from creamy now with a timbre, which simply does not appeal to me.

Secondly, I have some issues with her performance style. Some call it mannerisms. In my native Danish language there is a very good word for it, which directly translated read affected. Affected language, affected acting. Renée Fleming may aim to communicate sophistication, as she applies the same style with her Marschallin in Rosenkavalier, however ultimately she portrays Arabella as a superficial character. Which, on the other hand, is a valid interpreation, of course, if not the libretto and music suggest otherwise.
She was audible, but not audible enough for me to actually distinguish the words she was singing.

However, however...for those not familiar with Renée Flemings previous vocal status, and even for those well familiar with it, it is easy to understand why she is admired and received huge ovations here: She has a firm grip of Straussian style and first and foremost she has a distinctness to her performance that really does make her stand out. On a technical point, some may find her use of portamento excessive, though personally I do not mind.

And finally, despite my reservations about her voice, she is still among the very finest around. Who today, can perform a finer Arabella? Adrienne Pieczonka in Vienna a couple of years ago was rather superb. Anne Schwanewilms undoubtedly also. But else?

Michael Volle, on the other hand, I don´t have any reservations about. He was simply superb, vocally strong, a straightforward and engaging stage actor, convincingly portraying Mandryka as a sincere man unfamiliar with the sophisticated Viennese way, but thankfully without the overacting often seen. Several of his scenes were in fact unusually moving.

No reservations about Julia Kleiter neither, a clear and pure voice, almost overpowering Renée Fleming at times. Just as fine as her Zdenka on the 2007 Zurich Arabella DVD, alongside Renée Fleming as well.

Despite fine singing I have always found Joseph Kaiser, a bit indistinctive as a performer. Here as well. Finally Kurt Rydl and Doris Soffel were feisty as the elderly couple.

Marco Arturo Marelli´s production was superb. Stylish, minimalistic and elegant. A naked white room with some furniture (gradually removed), a built-in white circular stage and some sliding doors.

Philippe Jordan conducts Arabella like it was Elektra, emphasising the contrasts and highlighting the darker thematic elements of the score to a degree I haven´t quite heard before. 

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

Renée Fleming: 4
Michael Volle: 5
Julia Kleiter: 5
Joseph Kaiser: 4

Marelli´s production: 5
Philippe Jordan: 4

Overall impression: 4

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Les Pecheurs de Perles at Opera Comique

Les Pecheurs des Perles. Opera Comique (Paris). June 18th 2012. Production: Yoshi Oida. Conductor: Leo Hussain with Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Cast: Sonya Yoncheva (Leyla), Dmitry Korchak (Nadir), André Heyboer (Zurga), Nicolas Testé (Nourabad).

That I did not have a ticket for this evenings sold-out performance did not bother me as last-minute tickets normally are not that difficult to come by in Paris, as a fair amount of people normally sell their tickets outside the theatre just before the show. However, had I given more thought to the facts that 1) Pecheurs de Perles is quite popular here in France, 2) Opera Comique is an extremely atmospheric opera house with only about 5 productions every year and 3) this was the opening night of an entirely sold-out run, I would probably have arrived a little earlier than 20 minutes before curtain-time. Only sheer luck awarded me with a ticket, bought 5 minutes before show-time, as I was competing with at least 15 other people, left ticketless.

First of all, much is to be said for attending opera performances at Opera Comique, infinitely more atmospheric than the huge auditorium down at the Place de Bastille. And the history of the place including the world premieres of Carmen and Pélleas and Melisande, just to name a few.
The production, however, was disappointing with Japanese director Yoshi Oida created a simplistic, though stylistically confusing production. Set on the naked stage painted in an impressionistic pattern of bluish colours and elevated like a wave, he made effective use of a group of dancers representing some of the pearl fishers and repeatedly disappearing behind the wave. However, with Leyla dressed as a semi-Indian looking belly-dancer, Zurga and Nadir in indeterminable rags, the Pearl Fisher´s occasionally like Japanese karate fighters, the styles simply did not seem to match and Yoshi Oida would have been much better off choosing one of them - ie. Japanese or Indian or a third one. My major criticism, however, concerns  his apparent lack of personal direction of the singers, who looked like they were simply left to themselves on stage, delivering the lines. Admittedly the libretto is not among the finest, but with only three singers on stage for the majority of time, without personal direction it simply does not work, though his choreographic concept was intriguing.
I did not quite take to André Heyboer´s rather wooden timbre and stiff acting and whoever made the casting decision to give the superb Nicolas Testé the small role of Nourabad instead of that of Zurga should have some kind of reprimande.
Dmitry Korchak has some upcoming high-profile engagement including Lenski in the Vienna production of Eugene Onegin with Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky next year. His is a pleasant voice, but still, I find him rather non-distinctive as an artist. His french diction, however, was superb, with every word to be understood without consulting the text panels.

The true revelation of the evening was the 31-year old Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, winner of the Operalia competition in 2010 and in the beginning of a career, which will definitely take her places most sopranos don´t go. Hers is a lyric voice with an exceptionally beautiful dark timbre, and she produced some astonishing singing especially in her Act 3 confrontation with Zurga. A voice I just hoped would go on and one. To quibble a little she may still improve on controlling her higher register, her vibrato (on the large side) and work on her acting skills, in which I suspect she was not helpted  by the director. As she is young, all this may come in due time, however. May come, suspected not helped by the director.

Leo Hussain did well with a reduced (12 violins in total for example) orchestra though more strings obviously create a more creamy sound. However, the small orchestra pit of the Opera Comique is not sized for Wagnerian kind of orchestra.

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

Sonya Yoncheva: 4-5
Dmitry Korchak: 4
André Heyboer: 2-3
Nicolas Testé: 5

Yoshi Oida´s direction: 3
Overall impression: 3

Tuesday 12 June 2012

mostly opera on facebook

Due to the change in facebook rules for setting up pages vs. groups, I have set up a "mostly opera" page, where the blogposts will also appear + quite a few news-related additional posts.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...