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:

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