Thursday 28 February 2013

Vittorio Grigolo, arrivederci or addio?

 Vittorio Grigolo, Arrivederci 2011. Popular Italian songs.

Vittorio Grigolo, The Italian Tenor 2010. Italian opera arias.

Born in Italy in 1977, tenor Vittorio Grigolo started out very young on opera stages, however when he initially did not feel his career progressed as he desired, he released a popera album "In the hands of love" in 2006. This was apparently what it took for him to get noticed and his opera career took of in earnest around 2008-9. And a quite successful one at that, with plenty high-profile present and upcoming engagements, especially in the the lyrical tenor parts of Rigoletto, Boheme and Traviata, which he seems to sing virtually everywhere: London, New York Metropolitan, La Scala etc.

However, listening to both of his to latest CD releases I hear a small, rather constricted voice and a lack of style. Furthermore he includes repertoire far far too heavy for his voice such as Il Trovatore "Di quella pira",  Tosca "E lucevan e stelle" and  "Ballo in maschera". Comparisons to Pavarotti are ridiculous at this point. And even a Rolando Villazon has always shown a commitment and sincerity in his singing, which I simply fail to find with Grigolo.

Last year, after Rigoletto at the London Royal Opera one of the major London newspapers wrote that Probably no one could control Grigolo, who in the short space of time since tasting stardom has become a vulgar, preening artist. Miscast as the Duke of Mantua, which requires a more elegant tenor, his vocal delivery is gusty and he needs to take stock to avoid the burnout that so easily afflicts fast-rising singers of this type  while another attending the same performance found him to be  imaginative and full of daringly individual effect.

Vittorio Grigolo himself says: "When a role needs passion, romance, nobility of soul, Vittorio is the guy" and "The public always likes a new hero, and it says to me, ‘Welcome to the club."

Peter Gelb, Met Opera Director: I am sure of his potential. Me: I am less sure.

Vote below (open 1 month):

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Top choice Carmen on DVD: Uria-Monzon and Alagna in smashing Bieito production

Carmen. DVD. Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona 2011. Production: Calixto Bieito. Conductor: Marc Piollet. Cast: Beatrice Uria-Monzon (Carmen), Roberto Alagna (Don José), Marina Poplavskaya (Micaëla), Erwin Schrott (Escamillo), Josep Ribot (Zuniga), Eliana Bayon (Frasquita), Itxaro Mentxaka (Mercedes).

My first experience with Calixto Bieito dates approximately 10 years back in Copenhagen when he introduced 14 men squatting with their trousers down on 14 loos in the opening scene of Ballo di Maschera leaving the auditorium in a state of shock. Later Calixto Bieito has evolved into the prototype of an advanced regietheater director with highly controversial productions involving plenty of sex and nudity regardless of what work he is staging.
However, his productions in the bigger European houses (as opposed to the smaller German) seem to be somewhat less “adventurous”, such as his visually stunning Wozzeck also from Barcelona.

Equally so with this production of Carmen: Less controversial than expected but entirely compelling and probably the best Carmen available on DVD.

The stage is virtually empty, an elliptic light vaguely evokes a bull fighters arena. Set around 1980-90 in Spain, the atmosphere is compelling: It is a tough world in which the women struggle to survive. Carmen, a jaded, tough beauty leads the gang while Frasquita and Mercedes have turned to drinking and meaningless sex. The violent gang of Lilas Pastia deal in stolen electronics, and violently beats Zuniga to death while soldiers (mercenaries?) runs a coloured prisoner to his death in the opening scene. Carmen is not young anymore, neither a vulgar nor sophisticated, but a woman who she simply does what she has to do to survive. Clearly a man´s world, even the small girls learn how to dress and act sexy. 

Beatrice Uria-Monzon is simply a smashing Carmen. She may not have the plush voice some of her colleagues have, but she is certainly vocally adequate and with a characterization and presence that leaves most of her colleagues behind in the dust. The details are far too many to mention but just watching her silent interaction with Frasquita and Mercedes during the Toreador song when she meets Escamillo for the first time is priceless. 

Roberto Alagna gives the perhaps most convincing performance I have seen from him and he really does seem to get plenty of positive reviews at the moment. His Don José is both credibly acted (no doubt thanks to Bieito´s direction) and well sung, significantly better than his 2010 performance at the Metropolitan Opera. 
Top marks to Erwin Schrott´s Escamillo, not necessarily for his occasional shaky voice, but he inhabits the stage as few as the wise guy type Escamillo, complete with a cheap suit.
Micaëla is a tough cookie as well, arriving in Andalusia in flowery garments with a camera she fights for her man, smiling haughtily at Carmen when she drags off with him (end Act 3). Also top marks to Marina Poplavskaya and for the same reasons as for Erwin Schrott: Vocally she is somewhat shaky (especially in the higher register) though I have heard her far worse. But what sets Poplavskaya apart, as always, is her complete identification with her character.
The details are plenty, the personenregie is exciting and there is not one dull moment. In this dazzling ambiance I almost forgot to mention Marc Piollet, entirely unfair, as he leads an entirely committed performance from the Liceu orchestra, especially in the beginning of the opera.

In my book, this is the best Carmen on DVD. However, there are several excellent recent DVD versions available, which may be recommended: Jonas Kaufmann and Anna CaterinaAntonacci burning up the screen at the Royal Opera in 2009, Elina Garanca andRoberto Alagna at the Met from 2010.
Of the not (yet?) commercially released versions, Daniel Barenboim has conducted two excellent ones: Marina Domashenko/Roberto Villazon in a Kusej production from Berlin 2006 and Jonas Kaufmann with Anita Rachvelischvili at La Scala in 2009.


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

Beatrice Uria-Monzon: 5
Roberto Alagna: 5
Marina Poplavskaya: 5
Erwin Schrott: 5

Calixto Bieito´s production: 5

Marc Piollet: 4-5

Overall impression: 5

opera schedules in europe 2013-14

Europe - major houses:

Amsterdam - Nederlanse Opera

Barcelona - Liceu

Berlin - Staatsoper

Berlin - Komische Oper

Berlin - Deutsche Oper

Bruxelles - La Monnaie

Copenhagen - Royal Danish Opera

Dresden - Semperoper

Frankfurt - Oper

Göteborg - Opera

Köln - Oper Köln

London - English National Opera

London - Royal Opera

Hamburg - Staatsoper

Madrid - Teatro Real

Milano - Teatro alla Scala

Munich - Bayerische Staatsoper

Oslo - Norwegian Opera House

Paris - Opera National de Paris

Stockholm - Royal Opera

Stuttgart - Staatstheater

Venice - La Fenice

Vienna - State Opera

Vienna - Theater an der Wien

Zurich - Opera House

Outside Europe:

Metropolitan Opera  (season leaflet)

Metropolitan Opera in HD

Sunday 24 February 2013

natalie dessay and laurent pelly disappoint in giulio cesare

Giulio Cesare, Opera Garnier, Paris. 2011. DVD. Production: Laurent Pelly. Conductor: Emmanuelle Haïm with Le Concert d´Astrée. Cast: Natalie Dessay (Cleopatra), Lawrence Zazzo (Cesare), Varduhi Abrahamya (Cornelia), Isabel Leonard (Sesto), Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo), Nathan Berg (Achille).

Laurent Pelly
is the director of this Giulio Cesare from the Paris Opera, and from him one would expect a fast-paced staging with lots of action and entertainment. Not so difficult with Giulio Cesare you would think. Just pick any period of war, plot Cesar and the Egyptians as the adversaries, et voila!
So perhaps someone may care to explain why Laurent Pelly think it is a good idea to stage Giulio Cesare in the reserves of an Egyptian museum, where the statues gradually comes to life and museum workers enter and exit the premises all the time, pusing ancient statues around and by the end of the day (opera) leave with their girlfriends? Though, stylish, the personal relations between statues equals zero, which admittedly takes away a lot of otherwise inherent drama in what I find to be Händel´s best opera. And where is the personenregie, that Laurent Pelly is well capable of and that we have seen in several of his other productions? Additionally, for inexplicable reasons, the museum reserves fills up with renaissance paintings in Act 2 and is conversed into some sort of carpet shop for Act 3.

This was Natalie Dessay´s debut as Cleopatra. Natalie Dessay, as especially the French will know, is a very charming and honest woman, and I would love to be able to write that she triumphed as Cleopatra. I suspect much of the French audience at the Opera Garnier felt the same way.
However, you will have to be a fanatic fan and/or close friend/family member to think that she is a fine Cleopatra. Yes, she has a few beautiful notes in her middle register, but essentially it is impossible to hide that the rest of her voice is in ruins and cannot sustain even the slightest pressure. On top, her overacting seems hysterical. She is scheduled to sing this at the Metropolitan Opera in David McVicars production late this spring. To pull this off in the huge Met auditorium, she will need more than good luck. Frankly speaking, if I were Natalie Dessay I would consider pursuing the spoken theater career she has previously spoken about. Now seems to be a good time, as she is still loved by the public and she will be remembered for the wonderful voice she had 10 years ago and not for the ruin it has become.

Best of all was probably Isabel Leonard, who really has a wonderfully fluid voice, reminding me of Frederica VonStade. For some strange reason there were a lot of stage activity (workers tumbling with statues etc.) during virtually all of her arias.  Lawrence Zazzo has sung and is still singing Giulio Cesare everywhere, He clearly knows the part and acts well, but he is a small step below some of his contestants in terms of both beauty of tone and characterization, most notably Andreas Scholl and David Daniels.
Varduhi Abrahamya has a beautiful voice as Cornelia, but fails to convey the strength of character. This could well come, however, as she seems very young.

Nathan Berg, though in fine voice, scores about 1 on a sexual menace scale from 1-10. 
Tolomeo must be something of a signature role Christophe Dumaux, and as on previous occasions, he sings it well, but I lack some power and strenght of characterization. Him being small, very slim man probably does not help either.

Finally, Emmanuelle Haïm is a real winner. Her style may seem a bit controversial, but it works and there is an excellent drive in her performance. Apparently she is responsible for many of the ornamentations heard, which work well as well.

Natalie Dessay, Se pietá:
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Natalie Dessay: 2
Lawrence Zazzo: 3
Varduhi Abrahamya: 3-4
Isabel Leonard: 5
Christophe Dumaux: 4

Laurent Pelly´s staging: 3

Emmanuelle Haïm: 5

Overall impression: 3

Thursday 21 February 2013

le grand macabre in bench-mark production by fura dels baus

Le Grand Macabre, Gran Teatre de Liceu, Barcelona 2011. Production: Fura del Baus (Alex Ollé,Valentina Carrasco). Conductor: Michael Boder. Cast: Chris Merrit (Pier the Pot), Inés Moraleda (Amando), Ana Puche (Amanda), Werner Van Mechelen (Nekrotzar), Frode Olsen (Astradamors), Barbara Hannigan (Venus/Gepopo).

Written between 1974-77, Ligeti wanted to create a  so-called anti-anti-opera, as a reaction to the anti-operatic movement represented by Mauricio Kagel´s anti-opera Staatstheater. Loosely based on Michel De Ghelderode´s 1934 play, the libretto was written in collaboration with Michael Meschke, director of the Stockholm puppet theatre. As Ligeti found the anti-opera genre was exhausted with Kagel´s work, he conceived his so called anti-anti-opera to be well within the traditions of the operatic genre but encompassing the criticism rooted in anti-opera. The world premiere took place in Stockholm in 1978, and the action goes more or less like this:
Nekrotzar (Death) arrives in a world threatened by immediate extinction, meets op with 1) a drunkard and 2) an astrologer bullied by his wife as well as some freaky politicians, the weird prince Go-Go, the secret police Gepopo and finally tries to induce the end of the world by a comet. In the aftermath, he discovers that most people have, in fact, survived and the final message of the opera is optimistic as we are told “not to fear death as no-one knows when it will happen to us".
This ambiguity (comedy vs. tragedy) was important to Ligeti, who disapproved of Peter Stein´s dark post-Tchernobyl staging of the revised version of the work seen in Salzburg in 1997.
The present staging, previously seen in Bruxelles, Rome and London before being filmed in Barcelona may well prove to be a bench-mark for this opera as well as being a world-premiere DVD recording. Alex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco from Fura dels Baus has created an unbelievably inventive staging, quite unlike anything ever seen before. In fact it is probably the most imaginative staging to be seen of anything anywhere anytime:

The inspiration for the staging is Claudia Schneider, an (opera) singer-songwriter. A huge replica of her body fills up the stage and the singers move on the surface as well as inside her body where various cross-sections are made to expose intestines and inner organs. Exit and entrance via various orifices – eyes, vagina, nipples etc.

In fact we follow two parallel courses of action starting with a video of the real-life Claudia Schneider eating a hamburger, choking and believing she is going to die. Finally, we see that she is indeed not, and the entire opera takes place in those few seconds where she thinks she is going to die.

The costumes were designed to each represent a body part. Though not always clear, such as Pier the Pot designed to represent fatty tissue (!), Venus representing hair was more easy to get.

All singers were excellent in this ensemble opera. If I were to mention only one it would be Barbara Hannigan whose stratospheric high notes as Venus/Gepopo still ring in my head.

Michael Boder seemed sufficiently in command of a score containing car horns, door bells and alarm clocks.

This DVD is a must for all those interested in modern (late 20th Century) opera.

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

The entire cast: 4-5

Fura del Baus´ staging: 5
Michael Boder: 4
Overall impression: 5

Friday 15 February 2013

Elektra on DVD - Thielemann, Watson, Uhl

Elektra. DVD. Baden-Baden 2010. Production: Herbert Wernike. Conductor: Christian Thielemann. Cast: Linda Watson (Elekta), Manuela Uhl (Chrysothemis), Jane Henschel (Klytemnestra), Albert Döhmen (Orest), René Kollo (Aegisth).

A setting seemingly fit for a Greek tragedy: The singers are under constant spotlights on an otherwise practically empty stage, continuously addressing themselves to the audience and never to each other. Stage design: Red vs. black, geometric shapes. Not at all an ineffective concept, but one that requires great stage presence of the singers to fill out these spotlights, which two (of the four protagonist) do well. Obviously, interpersonnel relations are not a focus in a production in which the singers deliver monologues to the audience. On the other hand it does render a certain perceived authenticity (fake or not) to the production.

Deceased in 2002, Herbert Wernicke obviously is not associated with revival (Bettina Göschl is) of a production originally seen at the Bavarian State Opera.

This production represented Linda Watson´s debut as Elektra as she filled in at the last minute for Katarina Dalayman (good choice Katarina, you are still in your prime and it will ruin your voice! - I know you have sung it later in Stockholm though....). Linda Watson is not bad at all as Elektra, but she suffers the same problems as most of her predecessors/contemporaries in this role: By taking it on very late in her career and well after her prime, she has difficulty meeting the vocal challenges as well as the bloom in her voice has diminished vastly. In addition she is a rather large woman and neither young nor youthful, nor gifted with a very compelling stage presence.

Albert Döhmen is neither particularly good nor particularly bad, him also past his prime.

And the two singers who fill out  their role in the spotlights well: Manuela Uhl a touching, and radiantly looking, though vocally less radiant Chrysothemis and Jane Henschel with demonic Klytemnestra in the tradition of Astrid Varnay. Also a good performance from René Kollo in the small role of Aegisth.

ChristianThielemann is wonderfully broad and expansive with more Rosenkavalier and Frau Ohne Schatten in Elektra than I have ever heard before. 

Though not a bad DVD as such, in recent years we have seen the release of several performances of Elektra superior to this one, such as from the Vienna StateOpera 1989 (Kupfer/Abbado), Zurich Opera 2006 (Kusej/Dohnanyi) and Salzburg 2010(Lehnhoff/Gatti).

Elektra trailer:

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

Linda Watson: 3-4
Manuela Uhl: 3-4
Jane Henschel: 4
Albert Döhmen: 3
René Kollo: 4

Wernicke´s production: 4
Christian Thielemann: 5

Overall impression: 4

Thursday 14 February 2013

lulu: finest dvd version on the market

Lulu. DVD. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. 2009. Production: Christof Loy. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Cast: Agneta Eichenholz (Lulu), Michael Volle (Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper), Klaus Florian Vogt (Alwa), Jennifer Larmore (Countess Geschwitz), Will Hartmann (Painter etc.).

Are you familiar with Christof Loy and his work (such as Lucio Silla in Copenhagen,Theodora<"> or Die Frau Ohne Schatten"> in Salzburg) you will have an idea of what to expect from this  Royal Opera Covent Garden production of Alban Berg´s Lulu: A minimalist, black stage. Modern-dress protagonists. And what you don´t always get with Christof Loy, but have here: Exciting personenregie.
Furthermore, the minimalistic approach places huge demands on the singers, who have to be as excellent actors as singers. Which they all, somewhat unusually, are here. First and foremost Swedish soprano Agneta Eichenholz, who substituted for the originally scheduled Aleksandra Kurzak, and used a year to learn the part. She is simply outstanding. Not only does she have a beautiful, full voice and throws off the coloratura with seemingly ease. But she has this mysterious, disturbing allure that makes one understand why everything evolves around Lulu the way it does. This  Lulu is a seemingly passive creature, but with a mysterious, disturbing allure. Victim or femme fatale? None, or perhaps both. With empty gazes, there is an indifference to her characterization, which rings very true. I cannot help wondering why this woman does not have a bigger career. I don´t think there are that many, if any singers around able to deliver an equally intriguing portrait of Lulu.

And then there is Michael Volle: When was he not superb in what he did? Here as well in the combination Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper he presents with excellent characterization and deliver. Klaus Florian Vogt, who normally has an eerie ring to his appearances utilizes this fully as Alwa. Equally superb performances from Will Hartmann (painter) and an elegant Jennifer Larmore as Geschwitz.

But ir does not stop here. What really sets this DVD apart from the rest, what makes it, in my opinion the best on the market today is Antonio Pappano. A dense, almost romantic reading of the score in the tradition of Andrew Davis makes Berg´s melodies stand out more clearly than ever before.

There are, of course, alternatives: Patricia Petibon shines in a lively 2010 production from Barcelona, the 2002 production from Zürich with Laura Aikin is also fine, but for the finest musical reading (apart from the present) you´ll have to go with Andrew Davis´ superbly conducted 1996 production from Glyndebourne with Christine Schäfer.


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

Agneta Eichenholz: 5
Michael Volle: 5
Klaus Florian Vogt: 5
Jennifer Larmore: 5
Joseph Kaiser: 5

Christof Loy´s production: 5

Antonio Pappano: 5

Overall impression: 5

Monday 11 February 2013

La Scala Lohengrin 2012 season opening

Lohengrin. Teatro alla Scala, December 2012 opening night, streamed. Production: Claus Guth. Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Cast: Jonas Kaufmann (Lohengrin), Annette Dasch (Elsa), René Pape (Heinrich), Evelyn Herlitzius (Ortrud), Tomas Tomasson (Telramund), Zeljko Lucic (Heerrufer).

At 7 pm, German soprano Annette Dasch received a phone call in her Berlin home. If she could possibly come to Milano and sing Elsa in the new Claus Guth production of Lohengrin the next evening for the season opening of La Scala in Milano, as Anja Harteros was ill? To be televised directly, obviously. 3 hours later she was on the plane. The next day, she had a 2 hour session with Claus Guth and 10 minutes with Daniel Barenboim. She had worked with Barenboim before, but not in Wagner operas, as well as with Claus Guth. And she had sung Elsa to Jonas Kaufmann´s Lohengrin in 2009 in Bayreuth, in a production where Elsa is a disturbed character, not entirely unlike her characterization in this production.

Claus Guth is particularly known for emphasising the darker sides of standard repertoire work - just take a look at his Nozze di Figaro or Cosí fan tutte, both available on DVD. His favourite century is the 19th century (source: himself) and setting his Lohengrin in a repressive Biedermeier society seems just like the thing he would do. We are in an open space surrounded by balconies and doors. A piano and some stretches of grass represent the past with frequent flashbacks of Elsa playing the piano under Ortrud´s rough guidance. Elsa and her brother were  repressed (if not physically abused) as children. It is this repressive society that Elsa longs to leave, and thus she conjures up Lohengrin, a sickly, neurotic wretch whom she clearly does not love and finally rejects. Also frequently seen on stage: A child with swan feathers and Lohengrin more often than not curled up in a fetal position. According to an interview Claus Guth´s agenda evolved around how people arrived at their own happiness after a deprived childhood. He raises plenty of questions, however. Such as why Lohengrin has to be so sickly? While it is excellent with a staging raising plenty of questions I ultimately felt that the lack of consistency and interpersonal relations (especially between Elsa and this sickly Lohengrin) were the weakness of this staging. 

For Jonas Kaufmann, the ultimate romantic hero, one could wish for him to appear in a slightly more traditional production or at least one where he is allowed to show the romantic/as written in the score sides of Lohengrin:  In 2009 in Bayreuth he was in the middle of a rat experiment, later that year in Munich he was a carpenter, and here in Milano he is a neurotic fragment of Elsa´s fantasy, stripped of all pretenses, rolling on the floor curved in fetal position.
His singing, however, is formidable and he just seems to get better and better. A couple of years ago one would often hear that he could not go on singing like that, with his shaded tenor pushing for the high notes. That criticism is nowadays seldom heard. Anyway, I for one, have always thought that, unlike Villazon, his singing seems rock solid. Really he is virtually beyond competition as Lohengrin today.

Annette Dasch is a formidable actress, and creates an intensely moving portrayal of Elsa, quite better than her performance at Bayreuth. However, legato lines and blooming topnotes still are not her specialty and Anja Harteros remains the better singer of the two while Annette Dasch clearly is the superior actress.

René Pape was superb in what is a medium-opportunity role for him and Zeljko Lucic was luxury casting as Heerrufer.

As for the socalled villains, they were unfortunately disappointing. Tomas Tomasson was heavily overmatched and Evelyn Herlitzius, though a fine actress, was wobbly and frankly unpleasant to listen to. Could Barenboim not have called Waltraud Meier for this, really?

The Scala orchestra plays formidable for Barenboim. As I noticed some years ago when he conducted Tristan and Isolde here, there is a particular expansive sound to the orchestra, not heard when he conducts his Berlin hometown orchestra.

Official production trailer:

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

Jonas Kaufmann: 5
Annette Dasch: 4
René Pape: 5
Tomas Tomasson: 3
Evelyn Herlitzius: 3

Claus Guth: 4
Daniel Barenboim: 5

Overall impression: 4

Sunday 3 February 2013

The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh

The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia. Amsterdam 2012. Production and sets: Dmitri Tcherniakov. Conductor: Marc Albrecht. Cast: Maxim Aksenov (Prince Vsevelod), Svetlana Ignatovich (Fevronia), John Daszak (Grishka), Alexei Markov (Fyodor), Vladimir Vaneev (Yuri).

In my book, this is the production of the year 2012: Dmitri Tcherniakov´s staging of Rimsky-Korsakov´s 1907 opera entitled: "The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia". As this is probably the only production of this work many will see, luckily it will reach quite a broad audience being a co-production between Amsterdam, Paris, La Scala and Barcelona (and possibly others). Most probably a DVD will be released as well and why not with this Amsterdam cast, which cannot be substantially bettered.

Dmitri Tcherniakov outdoes himself in a staging I cannot imagine being done better. A mix of fairy tale and realism, the action is placed in present day Russia including favourite Tcherniakov thematics such as the russian people (protagonists in his Boris Godunov, Khovanshchina and Macbeth), power struggle (used in almost all his stagings), the mob (Macbeth) and collective suicide (Dialogue of the Carmelites). And infused with an exciting personen-regie, his perhaps most important trademark.

Those not familiar with Kitezh may want to refer to a synopsis of the work, which in brief centers around the girl Fevronia, who lives in a forest where a prince finds her and they subsequently fall in love (a hauntingly beautiful and evocative set design of fields of corn, staircases (symbolic?) and a small cottage). During their subsequent wedding, the party is attacked by Tatars (Russian mobsters) aiming to invade the city of Kitezh. They do not succeed however, as the city has been made invisible (here the inhabitants commit collective suicide in a make-shift field hospital). Fevronia, captured by the Tsars, escapes and finally dies in the woods (a dream-like ending, where she initially is reunited with her prince, however finally she dies alone).

Svetlana Ignatovich, ensemble member at the Basel opera, stepped in for Kristine Opolais, in what must surely be international break-through. She is simply outstanding, with immensely moving acting as well as a beautiful dark voice centred around her middle-register, slavic quality in spades. A performance of rare beauty and sincerity worthy of the saintly figure, Tcherniakov (and Rimsky-Korsakov) intended Fevronia to be.

Equally superb turn-outs for the male cast of Alexei Markov, Maksim Aksenov and John Daszak, who all formed an ensemble of true singer-actors.

With all this, one almost forgets the orchestra, and quite unjustly so: Marc Albrecht and Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest turns out a wonderful performance.

This is Dmitri Tcherniakov is at his at his absolute best in what I believe is the definitive production of The Invisible City of Kitzeh.

Production trailer:

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

Svetlana Ignatovich: 5
John Daszak: 5
Alexei Markov: 5
Maxim Aksenov: 5

Dmitri Tcherniakov´s production: 5
Marc Albrecht: 5

Overall impression: 5

parsifal sinopoli

Parsifal. DVD. Bayreuth 1998. Production: Wolfgang Wagner. Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli. Cast: Poul Elming (Parsifal), Hans Sotin (Gurnemanz), Linda Watson (Kundry), Ekkehard Wlaschiha (Klingsor), Falk Struckmann (Amfortas), Matthias Hölle (Titurel).

It seems that with this release the Bayreuth Festival has concluded the release on DVD of previously recorded Bayreuth Festival productions. This present Parsifal release of Wolfgang Wagner´s production was filmed in 1998. The production itself premiered in 1989 and ran from 1989-2001. The preceding centenary Parsifal production by Götz Friedrich (1982) was not filmed, however the production preceding that production (1975) was also staged by Wolfgang Wagner and released on DVD (filmed in 1981). From a purely directorial point of view, the differences between these two productions are not staggering. 

Of Richard Wagner´s two grandsons, Wieland and Wolfgang, it was Wieland, who innovated post-war operatic productions with his “New Bayreuth” style of abstract, geometric stagings often involving “triangles of tension” between the characters. Wolfgang adhered more or less to the same principles, which have not been significantly renewed since Wielands death in 1966. Fully aware of his own limitations, Wolfgang however, facilitated the transformation of opera from static stagings into the present days dynamic theatre, by inviting several of his times most innovative/controversial stage directors to Bayreuth, such as Patrice Chéreau, Götz Friedrich and Harry Kupfer. One of his most controversial invitations was sent to Christof Schlingensief, who was responsible for the Parsifal production following the present one in Bayreuth 2004, which I had the luck tosee in 2007. Considering what came before, no wonder the audiences were outraged with by Schlingensief´s eclectical view of the work. 

Back to the present DVD, which is a re-re-re-staging of outdated “New Bayreuth” geometry and has not aged well with time. Danish tenor Poul Elming (Parsifal) once said in an interview, that when Wolfgang Wagner directed an opera he was not at all interested in practical issues, such as how the singers should move etc., but worked at "another level altogether" and more or less expected the singers to figure these things out themselves. Needless to say, this is not a good recipe for engaging theatre.

Linda Watson´s Kundry is caught in her prime, with a beautiful middle voice and nice projection, though not a natural actress, she probably was not helped by Wolfgang Wagner´s lack of directives. Poul Elming, whose Parsifal is already available with Barenboim and who is very much a physical singer does not fully come to his right here, whereas Falk Struckmann and Ekkehard Wlaschiha both are in super shape. Hans Sotin compares well with his previous Gurnemanz, with a sonorous bass, capable of infusing life into his longue monologues, in the operas biggest part.
Best is Giuseppe Sinopoli, with a relatively straightforward, though still expansive and beautiful reading. 

And trust me, as I have been there: To hear/see Parsifal in Bayreuth is an experience entirely unmatched. Written for the Bayreuth stage, the covered orchestra pit creates an entirely unique sound pattern, downplaying orchestral explosions for a more expansive crystalline sound. Hard to describe, but quite easy to identify, from DVD productions as well.

This release may primarily be of interest for those specifically interested in Bayreuth history and/or Richard Wagner´s work and/or Giuseppe Sinopoli and who plan on owning several versions of Parsifal. Barenboim´s version with HarryKupfer´s abstract sets still tops the list. For those wanting something more traditional, James Levine´s Met Opera version is not at all bad either.

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

Poul Elming: 4
Hans Sotin: 3-4
Linda Watson: 3-4
Ekkehard Wlaschiha: 4
Falk Struckmann: 4

Wolfgang Wagner: 2
Giuseppe Sinopoli: 4

Overall impression: 2
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