Saturday 28 April 2012

patricia petibon as lulu in overstuffed production

Lulu. DVD. Barcelona Liceu 2010. Director: Olivier Py. Conductor: Michael Boder. Cast: Patricia Petibon (Lulu), Ashley Holland (Dr Schön), Paul Groves (Alwa), Countess Geschwits (Julia Juon), Franz Grundheber (Schigolch), Will Hartmann (Der Maler).

I remember all sorts of pre-opening hype when this Lulu production originally was seen in Geneva in 2010, attached with a warning for those under 16. Not unexpectedly, the production really does not live up to all this hype. Yes there is (semi)-nudity as well as prostitutes and weird sex scenes, but most of all Olivier Py has created a somewhat over-stuffed production.

The overstuffing consisting mainly of the confusing background, resembling a look at a seedy neighbourhood complete with prostitutes in action, a Parisian wheel and flashing signs reading the likes of “mein Herz ist schwer”, “I hate sex”, “sexe”, “comme toujours”. The action, then takes place in front of this colourful tableau where additional colours, disguises etc. are added.

Visually it is quite arresting. Especially as the DVD camera angles change intermittently and you thus zoom in on various aspects of this spectacle. But as to Olivier Py´s take on the story? What is his take on Lulu? What does he want to tell us? Apart from Lulu being a woman of changing shapes, that is. That I am not sure.

In many ways, Patricia Petibon is a wonderful Lulu. Her acting is stunning and she has a special dignity and allure, which is quite rare and makes ones eyes glued to her. Vocally. she does seem to be stretched out rather thinly. While her middle register seem rather solid, in the high register many notes comes out close to screening.

Ashley Holland is a convincing Dr. Schön, Julia Juon very good as Countess Geschwitz, and also Franz Grundheber as well as Will Hartmann convinces in minor parts. Only occasionally did Paul Groves seem overparted as Alwa.

As for the orchestra, Michael Boder really does not make them their best. His reading of the score fails to draw out the melodies and themes that glue this piece together. Vastly inferior to both Andrew Davis on the previous Glyndebourne DVD as well as Antonio Pappano on the new DVD from Covent Garden. Another alternative could be the previous Zurich Opera production, which however uses the two-act version and not Cerha´s instrumentation (staged first 1979 in Paris) used here.

Personally, I´d probably still go for the Glyndebourne DVD, however none of the available versions are bad options, depending on personal preferences.

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

Patricia Petibon: 4
Ashley Holland: 3-4
Julia Juon: 4

Olivier Py´s production: 3-4
Michael Boder: 2

Overall impression: 3

Wednesday 25 April 2012

fanciulla del west

Fanciulla del West. DVD. Nederlanse Opera 2009. Production: Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Cast: Eva-Maria Westbroek (Minnie), Lucio Gallo (Jack Rance), Zoran Todorovich (Dick Johnson)

Director Nikolaus Lehnhoff: “The American Way of Life, lightly satirised, lies at the heart of our production: it is an adventure that takes place somewhere between Wall Street and Hollywood”.

Essentially, I´d agree with his characterization, though in several scenes I´d substitute “lightly satirised” with “quite heavily satirized”: The exaggerated use of money, just to mention one example, which rain on Dick Johnson and Minnie, when they finally depart in search of a better life. Minnie´s home in a pink trailer is not exactly underplayed either. But essentially, the core of the opera remains that of Puccini´s initial intentions: It is still about Minnie and her search for love.

The audience applauded the rather weird third act sets of a car park cemetery (do we really do this in Europe?) where Eva-Maria Westbroek descended through a long flight of stairs like a glamorous Hollywood star of the 1930´s. According to Eva-Maria Westbroek, this is her favourite role. And really, this evening was Eva-Maria Westbroeks show. With wonderful sensitivity and an immensely touching stage presence it is hard to imagine a better Minnie. I have heard say that her high notes do not bloom, but really, the notes are they are all there, secure and on pitch as well. Combined with a wonderful vocal flexibility, just right for Puccini.

None of the men reached that level, though both Zoran Todovich and Lucio Gallo look their parts and act convincingly, however slightly vocally overparted.

Act two - in Minnie´s trailer:

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

Eva-Maria Westbroek: 5
Zoran Todorovich: 3-4
Lucio Gallo: 3-4

Carlo Rizzi: 3-4
Nikolaus Lehnhoff´s production: 4-5

Overall impression: 4

Sunday 22 April 2012

Nikolaus Lehnhoff


German opera director. Born 1939 in Hannover. Studied theater and art in Munich and was Dr. Phil. in 1962. For the next 10 years he was (the last) assistant to Wieland Wagner in Bayreuth and after Wagners death assistant at the Metropolitan Opera.

Directorial approach: Simplistic, aesthetic often with contrasting colors and dominating geometric lines. Abstract and classic in the outlook, at times occasionally static, the inspiration from Wieland Wagner shines through.

Major achievements in opera: Opera debut (and breakthrough) 1972 with Die Frau Ohne Schatten in Paris (with Karl Böhm). From then on he continued to stage his production in most major houses, such as the Nibelungen Ring 1983-5 in San Francisco and 1987 in Munich.
Closely associated with Glyndebourne for more than two decades he was important in the Janacek revival with stagings of Katia, Jenufa and Makropolous Case in the beginning of the 1990´s. Salzburg debut 1990 with Idomeneo
He has never been a fully accepted "member" of the German Regietheater school, perhaps due to the timelessness of many or his works.
Throughout his career he has had a close artistic collaboration with Anja Silja.


His Parsifal production (on DVD from Baden-Baden 2004) takes place in a post-nuclear apocalyptic wasterland, is widely reknown and has been seen in several houses (San Francisco, Chicago, London, Baden-Baden, Barcelona):

Die Gezeichneten, from Salzburg in 2005. Stunningly beautiful and one of his best stagings:

Excerpt from Lehnhoffs San Francisco Nibelungen Ring premiered 1983, here Götterdämmerung 1995:

Tristan and Isolde, the first Wagner production ever to be staged in Glyndebourne in 2003 was widely acclaimed, on DVD as well:



None at the moment.


Wednesday 18 April 2012

Turandot re-DVD

Turandot. DVD. Metropolitan Opera 2009. Production: Franco Zeffirelli. Conductor: Andris Nelsons. Cast: Maria Guleghina (Turandot), Marina Poplavskaya (Liu), Marcello Giordani (Calaf), Samuel Ramey (Timur).

As Metropolitan HD transmissions often resulting in DVD releases, and as several HD transmitted operas already have been released on DVD, some of the new DVDs from the Metropolitan Opera feature productions already available on DVD. They did it with Manon Lescaut for no obvious reason and now again for this Turandot, again for no obvious reason. Last time around on DVD, the highlights were James Levine and Plácido Domingo. This time, the highlights are Andris Nelsons and Marina Poplavskaya.

Though somewhat dusty this is by far not among the worst of Zeffirelli´s Metropolitan Opera stagings, with quite spectacular sets for the first two acts, as I also commented in my review of the previous DVD of this production.

Maria Guleghina, has stage present and strong middle range, but entirely lacks the shining top of Lise Lindström, who in fact made her Metropolitan Opera debut in this run of Turandot, but unfortunately did not perform in the HD transmission, which eventually became this DVD release. And while Marina Poplavskaya does not have the biggest voice, she is a wonderfully moving Liu on stage. And while Marcello Giordano, as usual I´d almost say, hits the notes, the reason he is not a household name is clear: Lack of X-factor.

Interestingly, the Metropolitan Opera comprimario veteran Charles Anthony, who just died earlier this year was the Emperor, in which was his last run of performances at the Met after 57 years and more than 2900 appearances. During the intermission interview he named the debuts of Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price amongst his biggest experiences at his Met career.

Of Samuel Ramey, I´ll only say that he was amongst the very greatest basso cantantes of the century, but if he intends younger audiences to remember this, now is the time to retire.

Video clip of most of Act 2: Riddle scene to Liu´s death:

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

Maria Guleghina: 3
Marcello Giordani: 3
Marina Poplavskaya: 4
Samuel Ramey: 2

Zeffirelli´s staging: 3
Andris Nelsons: 4

Overall impression: 3

Friday 13 April 2012


Rienzi. DVD. 2009. Deutsche Oper Berlin. Production: Stölzl. Conductor: Sebastian Lang-Lessing. Cast: Torsten Kerl (Rienzi), Camilla Nylund (Irene), Kate Aldrich (Adriano)

A stunning production of a less than stunning work, one might say. Even Richard Wagner himself saw Rienzi as a youthful experiment, not worthy of performing in Bayreuth. And he was right of course. While many elements in both the libretto and music points forward, especially to Lohengrin, the history of the rise and fall of the Roman Tribune Rienzi in itself is just a bit too disorganized, dramatically as well as musically.

This Deutsche Oper production by Philipp Stölzl is even more stunning than his staging of Benvenuto Cellini some years ago in Salzburg.

By pseudo-historic video footage in the style of Riefenstahl´s propaganda films, Stölzl has created the universal dictator – however with an abundance of references to Adolf Hitler, to begin with the ouverture where we see the general Rienzi with imperialistic attitude surveying the mountains in a setting close to Berghof and ending with Rienzi´s downfall in a subterranean bunker.  The white angular R seen on helmets, banners and clothes of course represents Rienzi . With an ever so slight irony seen throughout the production as well: They did not use real historic footage, but rather stylish caricatures.

But what a streamlined production and what a good decision of the production team to shorten the opera to a little more than 2 hours (unabridged it would have been Wagner´s longest opera).

Torsten Kerl´s interpretation of Rienzi is almost uncanny and very believable and Camilla Nylund is becoming more and more mature voiced as the “heidi”–type sister Irene, with clear incestuous references. In contrast Kate Aldrich is a youthful and well-sung, though not large-voiced Adriano, in a trouser role not common for Richard Wagner.

I cannot imagine a better production of this opera.

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

Torsten Kerl: 4
Camilla Nylund: 4
Kate Aldrich: 4

Lang-Lessing: 4

Philipp Stölzl: 5

Overall impression: 5

Monday 9 April 2012

anna nicole the opera

Anna Nicole. DVD. London Royal Opera House. 2011. Production: Richard Jones. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Cast: Eva-Maria Westbroek (Anna Nicole), Gerald Finley (Howard Stern), Alan Oke (J. Howard Marshall II), Susan Bickley (Anna´s mother).

To summarize: Vickie Lynn Hogan aka. Anna Nicole Smith was born in 1967, grew up in a small Texas town, dropped out of high-school, married at 17, gave birth to her son Daniel at 18, separated a year later, embarked subsequently on a Playboy/modelling career, married oil tycoon (and 63 years her senior) J. Howard Marshall, who died 13 months later in 1994, spent the rest of her life battling over his estate while she continued to put on weight and abuse drugs, found her 20-year old son Daniel dead in her hotel room in 2006, gave birth to daughter Dannielynn the same year and died the following year.

In summary, the worlds first reality star, one might say.

And a life told in a little under 2 hours in composer Mark-Anthony Turnages fast-paced opera, receiving it´s much-hyped world-premiere 2011 at the London Royal Opera House. That jazz remains one of the main influences of Turnages compositions is quite obvious and he has produced a score, which entertains, but which I doubt would be sustainable in itself.

The libretto is a major accomplishment by Richard Thomas (of Jerry Springer - the opera) effectively using a choir of journalists continuously present to comment on the action, playing on rhymes while incorporating the most swearing ever heard on an opera stage.

The staging by Richard Jones quite brilliantly underlines the score, presenting Anna Nicoles life in small fragments: Meeting her first husband in a diner, having her breasts augmented, wearing Jimmy Choo´s bought by J Howard Marshall, being interviewed by Larry King etc. All the while the journalists who gradually zoom in on her life metamorphose into black-clad anonymous camera-men. For Anna Nicoles life was a life led in public. And she is not ridiculed, but rather portrayed as a woman without real control over her destiny, be that true or not.

Eva-Maria Westbroek is absolutely smashing in the title role. Obviously helped by her uncanny likeness to Anna Nicole, but most of all she manages to display the insecurities as well as the brassy, publicity-seeking behaviour.

Equally well-casted was Gerald Finley, as her creepy lawyer Howard K Stern.

Profound? Perhaps not. Entertaining? Yes, definitely. Touching? Yes, that as well.

DVD trailer:

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

Eva-Maria Westbroek: 5
Gerald Finley: 5
The rest: 5

Antonio Pappano: 5
Richard Jones: 5

Overall impression: 5

Thursday 5 April 2012


Genoveva. DVD. zurich 2008. Prod: Martin Kusej. Conductor: Harnoncourt. Cast: Juliane Banse (Genoveva), Martin Gantner (Siegfried), Shawn Mathey (Golo), Cornelia Kallisch (Margaretha), Alfred Muff (Drago).

When Robert Schumann moved to Dresden in the 1840´s he got acquainted with Richard Wagner, who rather bluntly told him that he thought the libretto for Genoveva  was rubbish. Obviously this strained their relations for a while, though Schumann greatly admired Wagner and was quite influenced by Lohengrin, which in fact had it´s world premiere in 1850, the same year as Genoveva. Apparently, the rather negative reception of Genoveva dissuaded Schumann from trying to write another opera and Genoveva thus remains his only opera, only sporadically performed, even today.

Based on the medieval legend of the faithful wife Genevieve of Brabant, who are entrusted to her husband´s squire Golo, while Siegfried, the husband goes away, the plot evolves around Golo´s love for Genevieve including lies, betrayals and the obligatory witch. With a happy ending.

Allegedly, Robert Schumann did not want to create an action-filled work, but rather tableau's of various moods, and indeed it is the static nature of the work, which poses the greatest challenge to the listener.

Not at all helped by Martin Kusej´s production, which, for once, seems to miss the mark: A white room. A chair. A sink. The four protagonists remaining on stage throughout. An allegory to the repressive society structures behind the apparently blissful world of Romanticism, which eventually leads to revolution, Martin Kusej says. Interesting on paper, much less so in the theater.

Fine singing from the leading quartet, Martin Gantner a noble Siegfried, Shawn Mathey a torn Golo, Juliane Banse a strong and righteous Genoveva with Cornelia Kallisch a somewhat shrill Margaretha.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt has been a champion of the work for decades and it seems only right that he´d conduct which is the world premiere DVD recording. Though not even he manages to infuse some drama into Genoveva.

Genoveva production trailer:

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

Juliane Banse: 4
Shawn Mathey: 4
Martin Gantner: 4
Cornelia Kallisch: 3

Nikolaus Harnoncourt: 3
Martin Kusej´s production: 3

Overall impression: 2
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