Tuesday 28 February 2012

Florez and Damrau in Rigoletto DVD

Rigoletto. DVD. Semperoper Dresden 2008. Production: Lehnhoff. Conductor: Fabio Luisi. Cast: Zeljko Lucic (Rigoletto), Diana Damrau (Gilda), Juan Diego Florez (Duke), Georg Zeppenfeld (Sparafucile), Christa Mayer (Maddalena)

I remember well the sold-out performances in at the Dresden Semperoper in 2008 marking Juan Diego Florez´ debut as the Duke and possibly open a whole new repertoire for him. That didn´t happen as he apparently has decided to retire the role for vocal reasons (apparently he feels it does not suit his voice) and return to his original Rossini-Donizetti fach.
And after listening to his performance here that seems a reasonable decision: Not that he is not excellent. For he clearly hits the notes and sings with enthusiasm. But somehow he seems to lack the vocal heft necessary for him to continue in this repertoire without damaging his voice.
Next to him Diana Damrau shines as Gilda. Despite slight overacting, few can sing a Gilda like her today. Zeljko Lucic is quite appropriate as the somewhat nasty Rigoletto and generally the Dresden Semperoper has assembled a cast without weak links.
The production is one of Nikolaus Lehnhoff´s best. It is stylish and elegant, emphasizing the Pagliacci elements in the score, with Rigoletto climbing out of a hole during the ouverture. Masks, colours and disguises are key elements exaggerated almost to the grotesque in Rigolettos neon-green costume and Gildas symbolic blood on her white dress.

Though perhaps lacking in interpretative depth, this is nevertheless not a bad suggestion for a colourful and entertaining Rigoletto,

1st act duet Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Florez:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Juan Diego Florez: 4-5
Diana Damrau: 5
Zeljko Lucic: 4
Georg Zeppenfeld: 4 
Christa Mayer: 4
Lehnhoff´s production: 4 
Fabio Luisi: 4
Overall impression: 5

Saturday 25 February 2012

DVD Walküre from The Thielemann Ring

Walküre. DVD. Bayreuth Festival 2010. Production: Tankred Dorst. Conductor: Christian Thielemann. Cast: Johan Botha (Siegmund), Edith Haller (Sieglinde), Linda Watson (Brünnhilde), Albert Döhmen (Wotan), Mihoko Fujimura (Fricka), Kwangchoul Yun (Hunding)

I have no doubt that this Bayreuth-Ring 2006-11, directed by Tankred Dorst will be known as The Thielemann Ring.

From the beginning, this Ring was planned for CD release only and released as a 14-CD boxset in 2009 with the doubful honour of being one of the strongest in terms of the conductor, as well as probably the weakest in terms of singers.
However, with the recent explosion of the DVD-operatic market it probably makes sense for the Bayreuth Festival to try and distribute it.

Tankred Dorst was universically criticized for lack of ideas and static concept upon the premiere in 2006.  However, I saw the Ring in Bayreuth in 2007 and have to agree: The only highligt was Christian Thielemann. Who, on the other hand was stunning.

Dorst´s main idea that The Gods live amongst us,but we cannot see them and that man destroy nature are neither novel nor exciting. Admittedly, his preparations were not optimal, having had to take over after the cancellation from Lars von Trier. But nevertheless, a Bayreuth Ring is a Bayreuth Ring and this Ring was disappointing. I have previously written a comprehensive review of the entire Dorst-Thielemann Ring including a detailed description of the staging.

Edith Haller took over Sieglinde´s part from the previous years Eva-Maria Westbroek and Adrianne Pieczonka, and though somewhat weak in expression she has a truly beautiful voice with a wonderful bloom and seems to raise easily over the orchestra.
Johan Botha has a large, effortless voice, but for the rest I completely agree with the message he got from  the Intendant of the Vienna State Opera. Both Albert Döhmen and Linda Watson performs in accordance with Tankred Dorst´s staging: Neither spectacular nor disastrous. While Mihoko Fujimura does not have a large, dramatic voice, it is very beautiful.

Christian Thielemann is the true revelation of this DVD and, indeed, hearing him conduct this Ring in Bayreuth was one of the major operatic experiences I have had. The glittering beauty, the broad tempi, the subtle changes in tempi. It becomes quite clear, however, how the acoustics of the Bayreuth Festival House with the covered pit actually works against the explosive and contrapunctual nature of the Ring and if you a a conductor don´t work against it, you risk to lose the momentum and make it sound like Parsifal. This, however, does not seem to bother Thielemann, who in fact conducts this Walküre much as he does Parsifal.
Nevertheless, together with Daniel Barenboim, no conductor today has a better understanding of Richard Wagner.


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

Johan Botha: 2
Albert Döhmen: 3
Edith Haller: 3-4
Linda Watson: 3
Mihoko Fujimura: 4

Christian Thielemann: 5
Tankred Dorst´s production: 2-3

Wednesday 22 February 2012

tcherniakov the gambler dvd

The Gambler. DVD. Berlin State Opera 2008. Prod: Dmitri Tcherniakov. Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Cast: Kristine Opolais (Polina), Misha Didyk (Aleksay), Vladimir Ognovenko (General), Stefania Toczyska (Babulenka)

Dostoyevski´s dark tale of the corruptive power of money set to music by Prokofiev has received a close-to-ideal presentation by this production by Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov. A co-production between the Berlin State Opera and La Scala, I remember it received rave reviews after the Berlin premiere, but disastrous reviews in Milan half a year later - with Daniel Barenboim as well and for the exact same team of singers. Which, of course, just testifies to the well-known differences of the audiences for the two houses.

The opera may not be mainstream and the plot somewhat confusing, but Dmitri Tcherniakovs staging of Prokofiev´s opera The Gambler is one of the best DVDs out there. I attended one of the performances in Berlin in 2008 and my impression holds after seeing the DVD: It´s a both exciting and moving production of outstanding musical quality.

The whole affair takes place in a hotel lobby cum gambling hall, which suits the story-line well. However, what really lifts the production is the outstanding personenregie, one of Dmitri Tcherniakov´s trademarks. It is simply entertaining throughout with myriads of small details. All singers are committed to their roles and turn in performances worthy of stage actors, without compromising on vocal quality. All accompanied by a wonderfully dense reading from Daniel Barenboim, this is highly recommended.

Duet Act 1 Kristine Opolais, Misha Didyk:

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

Kristine Opolais: 4-5
Misha Didyk: 4
Vladmir Ognovenko: 4
Stefania Toczyska: 4

Dmitri Tcherniakovs production: 5
Daniel Barenboim: 5

Overall impression: 5

Monday 20 February 2012

Anne Schwanewilms shines as Marschallin

Rosenkavalier. DVD. Dresden Semperoper in NHK Hall, Tokyo, Japan. 2007. Production: Uwe Laufenberg. Conductor: Fabio Luisi. Cast: Anne Schwanewilms (Marschallin), Anke Vondung (Octavian), Kurt Rydl (Ochs), Maki Mori (Sophie).

What sets this DVD apart from most is Anne Schwanewilms Marschallin.

Laufenberg´s staging is classic, dark, decidedly un-sparkling and updated to what probably is the 1950´s.

Hut here we have Anne Schwanewilms, in what is probably her best role. Truly spitzenklasse.  Her almost vibratoless middlevoice and her attack on the top notes is entirely unique and may be heard also in her superb lieder albums of Strauss. Furthermore she is radiant and projects a wonderful warmth. Quite possible the best Marschallin I have seen on DVD. Her voice is not big, her soprano is not soaring and on stage, she occasionally disappoints. But here, she is simply divine.
Anke Vondung has the perfect voice for Octavian. Firm, slender and with an effortless high register.
Maki Mori not quite on the level of the other two, though she is young and fresh with effortless high notes.
While Kurt Rydl definitely has the acting skills, as well as the deep notes, all the other notes come with a far from negligeable wobble. Fabio Luisi conducts a solid performance.

However this DVD is worth seeing for the sake of Anne Schwanewilms.

Act 1 "Da geht er hin":

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

Anne Schwanewilms: 5
Anke Vondung: 5
Mori Maki: 3-4
Kurt Rydl: 3

Fabio Luisi: 3-4

Laufenbergs staging: 3

Overall impression: 4

Sunday 19 February 2012

DVD Hamburg Carmelites

Dialogues des Carmelites. Hamburgische Staatsoper 2008. Production: Lehnhoff, Conductor: Simone Young. Cast: Alexia Voulgaridou(Blanche), Anne Schwanewilms (Lidonie), Kathryn Harries (Croissy), Gabriele Schnaut (Marie), Jana Büchner (Constance).

With this production, Nikolaus Lehnhoff has excelled in what he does best:  Minimalistic productions based on geometric stage designs in discrete colours. Here: A black stage, no accessories. The colors are blue, black and white. It is very beautiful. In fact, Lehnhoff has created a staging to match the aetherial beauty of Poulenc. It also, unfortunately is very static, both in outlook and conception.
Essentially, Lehnhoffi is telling the story as I believe Poulenc would have had, though traditionalists may quibble that the production has been updated from the time of the French revolution until today,
a matter of less importance for this relatively ageless staging.

Of the soloists, only Gabriele Schnaut disappoints with an ugly wobbly sound. And to a minor degree Anne Schwanewilms whose voice is not well suited to the long vocal lines of Poulenc. Simone Young delivers a sumptuous reading of the score, which undoubtedly would have made her old mentor Daniel Barenboim happy.

Nikolaus Lehnhoff does not have the depth and interpretation of Tcherniakov´s recent Munich DVD. For the more traditionally inclined, Robert Carsen´s La Scala prodution is more lively and with an all-over better cast.

But this Carmelites is among Nikolaus Lehnhoff´s most beautiful productions.


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

Alexia Voulgaridou: 4
Anne Schwanewilms: 3
Kathryn Harries: 3
Gabriele Schnaut: 2
Jana Büchner: 3

Lehnhoffs staging: 3

Simne Young: 4

Overall impression: 3

Friday 17 February 2012

Fierrabras on DVD

Fierrabras. DVD. Zurich Opera House.2007. Prod: Claus Guth, cond: Franz Welser-Möst. Cast: Christoph Strehl (Eginhard), Juliane Banse (Emma), Jonas Kaufmann (Fierrabras), Michael Volle (Roland), Twyla Robinson (Florinda), Laszlo Polgas (King Karl).

The action involves: A Frankish king, a Moorish prince, two princesses, a total of 4-(5) potential lovers from both camps and provides a happy end after a combination of love, hate, revenge, trials and (self)-sacrifices.

For those new to opera: No, this is not a standard repertoire work, which may be explained not only by the complicated story (which is nevertheless not more complicated than may be seen elsewhere) but also by the music. Though beautiful, essentially Fierrabras consist of interrupted, orchestrated lieder, though not lieder entirely en par with Schuberts best.

Wisely, and entirely according to his usual stage practise, director Claus Guth has chosen not to stage Fierrabras as a naturalistic Moorish drama. However, despite the good intentions, eventually he does, for once, somewhat miss the mark here.

The entire opera takes place in Schuberts studio. Or perhaps even in Schuberts brain. An actor plays Schubert, who also occasionally speaks, conducts, escorts the singers on and off stage etc..All in a miniature world, with oversized furniture and singers presenting small symbols (a crown, a wooden  bird etc) to clarify their position in the play. Clearly, Claus Guth thus wants us to be part of the creative process, but for more than two hours it becomes more than tedious.
Despite the opera being called Fierrabras, Jonas Kaufmann´s role is rather smallish, and like the other singers, he performs well.

Jonas Kaufmann "Was quälst du mich o missgeschick"

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

Christoph Strehl: 3-4
Twyla Robinson: 3
Michael Volle: 3-4
Jonas Kaufmann: 3-4
Juliane Banse: 4

Claus Guth: 3
Franz Welser-Möst: 4

Overall impression: 3

Wednesday 15 February 2012

DVD Salzburg Don Giovanni 2008

DVD. Don Giovanni. Salzburger Festspiele 2008. Prod: Claus Guth, cond: Bertrand De Billy with the Vienna Philharmonic. Cast: Christopher Maltman (Don G), Erwin Schrott (Leporello), Annette Dasch (Donna A), Dorothea Röschmann (Donna E), Alex Esposito (Masetto), Ekaterina Siurina (Zerlina).

When I saw this production in Salzburg in 2008, I found it to be a masterpiece only marred by non-inventive playing from the Vienna Philharmonics under Bertrand De Billy. Though the DVD was recorded within 2 weeks of my visit, I find the playing on the DVD considerably more interesting, though De Billy is certainly no Barenboim in this repertoire.
The concept still holds to an extent that I without doubt find this the most interesting Don Giovanni DVD on the market: Described in detail in my 2008 report, Don Giovanni is a man fighting his own demons, a somewhat rootless character on his way to destruction. Here, the women are the strong ones.

On top, the circular set used throughout the opera is wonderfully surreal and uneasy: A dark, hilly pine wood + a bus stop. Clearly among the best stagings I have seen from Claus Guth.

Based on her recent performances as Elsa (Lohengrin) in Bayreuth, I wonder if Annette Dasch´s  voice is already beginning to decline (she is in her early thirties), but this Donna Anna she delivers. Dorothea Röschmann´s classically sung Donna Elvira leaves almost nothing to be desired, except perhaps a bit more radiance. Christopher Maltman convinces as the desperate Don alongside Erwin Schrott, a superbly acted, and slightly less superbly sung Leporello as he is sometimes criticised for not actually singing the notes, which he doesnt. Matthew Polenzani makes the best of the rather boring part as Don Ottavio, while Ekaterina Siurina and Alex Esposito are charming as Zerlina/Massetto.

In the pine wood:

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

Christopher Maltman: 4
Erwin Schrott: 4
Annette Dasch: 4
Dorothea Röschmann: 4
Matthew Polenzani: 4
Ekaterina Siurina: 4
Alex Esposito: 4

Claus Guth: 5
Bertrand De Billy: 4

Overall impression: 5

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Tcherniakov Munich Carmelites - the collective suicide of a paranoid sect

Dialogues des Carmelites. Bayerische Staatsoper München 2010. Production: Tcherniakov, Conductor: Nagano. Cast: Susan Gritton (Blanche), Soile Isokoski (Lidonie), Sylvie Brunet (Croissy), Susanne Resmark (Marie), Helene Guilmette (Constance).

In a way, you could argue that Russian director Dmitri Tcherniako rewrites Poulenc´s opera. Because he strips it of all  religious and historical aspects, which, of course, to Poulenc were everything.

But the result is riveting ending up with one of the finest operatic DVDs availabe, a genuine contemporary thriller:

A community of paranoid women living in a glass-walled house suspended on stage away from the "outside". They are neurotic, living in yesterdays world, utterly rejecting the outside, not wanting the world of today to enter and thus chose isolation. Blanche, the innocent girl, uncertain about her role in the world, choses to join them. Did anyone say religious sect?

Finally, the women try to commit collective suicide, letting gas fill the house surrounded by police asking them to surrinder. Blanche breaks into the house and rescues the women one after one, dragging them out only to die herself when the gas inside the house explosed.

It is a claustrophobic and scary production. And within its own logic, it works. And, how Tcherniakov inspires them to moving and committed acting  is simply stunning:  Susanne Resmarks strong Mere Marie, who convinces the others to commit suicide, but escapes herself. Soile Isokoski, with the gorgeous, floating voice, chainsmoking, hardly able to hide her anxiety. Helene Guilmette´s scarily unreflective Constance, entirely wrapped up in the mass psychosis and her determination to die. Susan Gritton is constantly in doubt, oscillating between her loneliness in the real world and her wish to belong somewhere, be part of a community, at no matter the cost.
Rare, but nice to have a Madame Croissy (Sylvie Brunet) in her vocal prime, in what is often the territory of the likes of Anja Silja.

Kent Nagano shows us both the transparency and roughness of Poulenc, the sort of repertoire that suits him well.

For a scary, committed and moving performance, this is the DVD to own.

However, what Tcherniakov is exploring is not what Poulenc intended and I suspect this may weigh in for some people. In that case Robert Carsen´s rather superb La Scala production is the way to go.


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

Susan Gritton: 4
Soile Isokoski: 5
Sylvie Brunet: 4-5
Helene Guilmette: 4
Susanne Resmark: 5

Kent Nagano: 4
Dmitri Tcherniakov: 5

Overall impression: 5

Sunday 12 February 2012

Paris: Tcherniakov with Macbeth on DVD

Macbeth, Paris Opera Bastille 2009. DVD Production: Tcherniakov. Conductur: Teodor Currentzis. Cast: Dmitri Tiliakos (Macbeth), Violeta Urmana (Lady M), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Banquo), Stefano Secco (Macduff).

Beginning each scene with areal photoshots from google-earth, slowly zooming in on a village, to end by showing us the individual house where the following scene will take place, Dmitri Tcherniakov effectively sets the scene for this Macbeth, shown at the Paris Bastille Opera in 2009.

We see a small town run by gang of mobsters. We have the upper class, the mob, the middle class and then the people. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth belong to the middle-class, but no-one is clear cut.

The central element to Dmitri Tcherniakov Who are the witches? He answered with a: They are everyone. They are, The people, one of Tcherniakov´s main interests as a director. The people becomes a growing influence in the opera, from the initial killing of the mobster Banquo, to the smashing of Macbeth´s house and the burning of the city. The people have come to power.

It is both intelligent and very innovative.

There is one draw-back however: The singers. Mainly Dmitri Tiliakos, who starts out disastrously wobbly, however improves eventually, though without completely loosing the wobble.
Violeta Urmana, not known for her acting skills, here shows that with a good director, she can act like a movie star. Her portrayal of the insecure, desperate Lady is very touching. However, vocally she is too heavy, and has too much trouble in the high register. She may call herself a soprano now, and she may take on soprano roles, but essentially her voice-type is still a mezzo-soprano.

Ferruccio Furlanetto in leather jacket convinces as mobster, as does Stefano Secco as an ordinary man of the people.

This was a co-production with Novosibirsk Opera, where Currentzis is musical director, which probably explains his presence in the pit, but he nevertheless does well.


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

Dmitri Tiliakos: 3
Violeta Urmana: 3
Ferruccio Furlanetto: 3-4
Stefano Secco: 3

Dmitri Tcherniakov: 5

Teodor Currentzis: 3

Overall impression: 4

Friday 10 February 2012

DVD Kusej Amsterdam Flying Dutchman

Der fliegende Holländer. DVD. Nederlanse Opera 2010. Production: Martin Kusej, Conductor: Hartmut Haenchen with Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. Cast: Juha Uusitalo (Dutchman), Catherine Naglestad (Senta), Robert Lloyed (Daland), Marco Jentzsch (Erik), Marina Prudenskaja (Mary).

A group of tourists are stranded. Behind them , and set of double glass doors, the swimming pool of the hotel is visible. The sleek tour guide (Daland) muses around, trying to find a solution, which arrives with the Dutchman´s bag of Euros. Who are the black-hooded people behind the glass doors? Criminals? Escaped members from the Dutchman´s crew, we later find out. At that point, an unusually resourceful Erik has already killed some of them. What are they really? An allegory of illegal immigrants in Europe as alluded by some? Or just a gang of criminals?

Senta is completely detached from reality, sitting alone by an old spinning-wheel as the only one amidst modern women hanging a swimming pool including a posh Mary in silver cocktail dress. That Catherine Naglestad´s Senta is rather mature seem fittingly here - she has been living outside reality for a long time.

Late, in Act 3, the stage is switched around, now we are among the black-clad, looking at the swimming-pool party.

The relationship between Erik, Senta and the Dutchman is at the centre of this staging, with focus  on Erik. Eventually he doesn´t accept the relation between Senta and the Dutchman and ends by shooting (and killing) both the Dutchman and Senta. Redemption? Not Martin Kusej´s style.

Hitting more often than missing, this is nevertheless not one of Martin Kusej´s best stagings (on DVD, look for Lady Macbeth from Mtsensk or Rusalka) as he lacks a certain clarity of conception.

Catherine Naglestad has both charisma, and heft, and gets better and better. Her vocal strong point is her high register, though if your reference is Leonie Rysanek, she will eventually fall short. Without being exceptional, slightly too wobbly and not too high on the charisma scale, Juha Uusitalo is nevertheless a better Dutchman than Wotan,.

Robert Lloyd (born 1940), thus 70 years at the time of the performance, was more than adequately challenged as Daland, while Marco Jentzch convinced as Erik.

Swift and transporting reading from Hartmut Haenchen.

Unfortunately, important recent productions such as Peter Konwitschny´s in Munich are not (yet?) available on DVD. and generally, the Dutchman competition on DVD is not overwhelming. Though old-fashioned by todays standards, Harry Kupfer´s 1978 Bayreuth production may still be the choice for many.
Production trailer:
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Juha Uusitalo: 3
Catherine Naglestad: 4
Robert Lloyd: 2
Marco Jentzch: 3
Hartmut Haenchen: 4
Martin Kusej´s staging: 3-4
Overall impression: 4

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Baden-Baden Lehnhoff Tannhäuser with Waltraud Meier, Stephen Milling, Philippe Jordan

Tannhäuser. DVD. Festspielhaus Baden-Baden 2008. Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Philippe Jordan. Nikolaus Lehnhoff (Director). With Robert Gambill (T), Camilla Nylund (E), Waltraud Meier (V), Stephen Milling (G), Roman Trekel (W).

Baden-Baden, a bit further south-east from Bayreuth was one of the locations, Richard Wagner initially considered for his Festival House, and the Wagner performances here has recently tended to outshine those of the proper Bayreuth Festival. The year of 2008 was no exception, at least regarding the ability to attract top singers.

Audiences here have gotten used to Nikolaus Lehnhoff, having already staged Lohengrin and Parsifal here in previous years. And in comparison, he seems to have run out of ideas for this Tannhäuser.

A spiral staircase appears throughout the semi-abstract sets where the period-styled actors appears. Aesthetic as always with Lehnhoff, but is there a deeper meaning. Knowing Lehnhoffs work, the answer most probably is yes, however I didn´t manage to find out what it was.

While Robert Gambill looks reasonable, they days where he could actually sing Tannhäuser are long gone.
Camilla Nylund´s Elisabeth verges on the too mature and though she looks the part I wonder if she really moved the audience. Though Venus, with the sumptuous singing really is not among the best parts for Waltraud Meier from a vocal part of view, no-one looks and acts the part better as she does, thus it is no surprise that this is the second Tannhäuser DVD with her participation.
Stephen Milling in a Landgraf his prime and however golden Roman Trekel is dressed up cannot hide the fact that his voice does not have the innigkeit and beauty of a really good Wolfran.

Philippe Jordan was swift and effective, though perhaps not transporting.

Apart from Rokoko-Meier, a relatively static affair. Admittedly, Tannhäuser is not an easy work to pull off and the ideal DVD is not yet on the market.

However, for those inclined to watch traditional productions, the Metropolitan Opera Tannhäuser is probably the best of Otto Schenk´s Wagner stagings.


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

Robert Gambill: 2
Waltraud Meier: 4-5
Camilla Nylund: 3-4
Roman Trekel: 2
Stephen Milling: 5

Lehnhoffs staging: 3
Philippe Jordan: 4

Overall impression: 4

Sunday 5 February 2012

Claus Guth with Messiah

Messiah. DVD. Theater an der Wien 2009. Director: Claus Guth. Cast: Susan Gritton, Cornelia Horak (sop), Bejun Mehta (alto), Richard Croft (t), Florian Boesch (bas). Arnold Schönberg Choir. Jean-Christoph Spinosi conducts Ensemble Matheus.

Claus Guth on Messiah: "What are emotional stages that prompt us to ask ourselves questions about God? Burial, unfaithfulness, abandonment, life crisis."

In his 2009 staging of Händel´s Messiah, these are more and less the life crises he takes us through via the circular stage. Centrally stands the funeral of a man. A businessman. This man, we learn, was cheated on by his wife with his brother?/ his friend? around the time of the baptism of his child, which, together with a failed business presentation leads him on the road to suicide.
Physically, we are inside a hotel/office building with many doors leading to and from places we know nothing us. And, not uncommonly for Claus Guth, he adds a couple of non-singing characters - a business man and an angel?/hotelmaid?, which adds to create an almost trandescending impression.

Claus Guths narrative is compelling, the themes are the eternal: Guilt, fear, rejection, loneliness love.

A genuine ensemble piece, non mentioned, non forgotten. All acted, sang and played with committment. For those interested in a staged version of Messiah, Claus Guths version is not to be missed.

The trumpet shall sound:

Overall impression: 5

Friday 3 February 2012

DVD: Copenhagen Tannhäuser

DVD. Tannhäuser. 2010. Prod: Kasper Holten, cond: Friedemann Layer with the Royal Danish Orchestra. Cast: Stig Andersen (Tannhäuser), Tina Kiberg (Elisabeth), Susanne Resmark (Venus), Tommi Hakala (Wolfram), Stephen Milling (Landgraf).

The Royal Danish Opera had the choice between releasing Konwitschny´s unforgettable production of Elektra and this present Tannhäuser on DVD. For reasons unbeknownst to me, they chose then opera intendant Kasper Holten´s production of Tannhäuser.

Admittedly, the production received rave reviews in  the Danish press, which immediately puts me in the minority as I immensely disliked the production when seeing it in the theater. Also, I had trouble understanding it. Now, I am better prepared, having read bunches of review as well as the thoughts of the production team, which is still more interesting than actually watching the show, that is: The DVD.

Kasper Holten has creasted a Tannhäuser centered around the artists conflict of creation. It could be Richard Wagner, we see, but it is not necessarily so. This Tannhäuser is married to Elisabeth, has a child and is split between family and the process of creastion, personifized by Venus.
He struggles for recognition, but achieves this only after his own death, predeceded by the suicide of Elisabeth. "Zur erinnerung am Tannhäuser, der grossen poet und singer" we see at the end.
Much of Venus´ world is literally turned upside-down, to emphasize the contrast to Tannhäusers daily routines, and Venus lurks around, present in most scenes.

Kasper Holtens staging,  clearly gains from being revisited on DVD and the  unconventional closed-up filming in various angles added some (at times much-needed) dynamics to the piece.

Tina Kibergs voice has deteriorated significantly the past 10 years and is simply not pleasant to listen to anymore, though her committed acting makes somewhat (but not entirely) up for it. Susanne Resmark, a large woman one would not immediately associated with Venus, makes the most of what she got with a commanding stage presence and a willingness to expose herself competely if it serves the role. Many, who saw the Copenhagen Ring still remember her Siegfried-Erda, where she stripped down to a nightdress in a retirement home. Also as Venus, she is compelling and vocally strong.

Stephen Milling, in his second Landgraf-DVD is impressive, whereas Tommi Hakala, a Cardiff Singer of the World winner in 2003, is more anonymous.

And Stig Andersen himself, now 60 years old, generally ages well vocally, and makes a considerably better effort than most of his colleagues on the major stages.

Friedemann Layer, a favourite of the Royal Danish Orchestra, conducts lucidly and fluently.

Is it THE Tannhäuser to own? It could be, depending on preferences. The ultimately traditional Tannhäuser is the one from The Met, alternatively are David Alden´s Munich production or the newer Lehnhoff staging from Baden-Baden.

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

Stig Andersen: 4
Tina Kiberg: 2
Susanne Resmark: 3
Tommi Hakala: 3
Stephen Milling: 4

Kasper Holten: 3-4
Friedemann Layer: 4

Overall impression: 3-4

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Another Nadja Michael Salome DVD

Salome. DVD. 2007 La Scala, Milano. Prod: Luc Bondy. Cond: Daniel Harding. Cast: Nadja Michael (Salome), Falk Struckmann (Jochanaan), Iris Vermillion (Herodias), Peter Bronder (Herodes).

For unexplicable reasons (actually, not really, her looks explain it) Nadja Michael now appears on two Salome DVDs, the other being the 2008 McVicar production at the London Royal Opera.

Nadja Michael is the exact type of opera singer, I´d love to give a raving review and in theory see in everything: She looks more than great, she has a body to die for (a former competitive swimmer in the former East Germany), she is agile on stage, she is a great actress. And before she switched fach from mezzo to soprano, she was in fact also a good singer. I still remember her Brangäne in Carnegie Hall around 2000.
However, these days are long gone indeed. Looks apart, Nadja Michael simply cannot sing anymore, not to speak of the part of Salome, with the fiendishly high tessitura way way above her comfort zone. Furthermore, her vibrato has become excessive, the sum being a distinctly ugly sound.
Apparently many disagree, since she has made something of a career with the part, singing it both at the London Royal Opera, San Francisco and on this current La Scala production.

The rest of the cast is relatively good, Falk Struckmann effective as Jochanaan, though also he past his prime and Iris Vermillion an attractive Herodias.

It is also the second time we see this Luc Bondy production on DVD, the first time with Catherine Malfitano and Bryn Terfel from London, as usual, plays with shades of light in an otherwise eventless slash Victorian style thriller staging.

However, a Salome without a Salome, no matter the qualities of the other production elements, simply does not work.


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

Nadja Michael: 2
Falk Struckmann: 3
Iris Vermillion: 4
Peter Bronder: 3

Bondy´s staging: 3
Daniel Harding: 3

Overall impression: 2
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