Saturday 27 April 2013

Calixto Bieito


Born 1962 is Mirande de Ebro, Spain. Refers to himself as Catalán.  Education: History of art and philology at the University in Barcelona. Afte he worked as an apprentice with ao. Pete Brooks, Old Vic Theatre School (Bristol). Biographical details here. Extensive biography in Spanish here.

Directorial approach: Very contemporary, often describing characters living on the edge of society in stagings often including nudity, sex and violence.  At his best, his productions are both aesthetic and with a distinct and quite unique contemporary feel.

Major achievements in opera: Breakthrough beginning of the 00´s with highly controversial stagings of Ballo di Maschera and Don Giovanni in Barcelona and London. Other notable stagings include Carmen (the best production on DVD, in my opinion), Wozzeck (also top choice on DVD) as well as Entführung from Seraillet set in a brothel (Komische Oper Berlin 2009).


Ballo di Maschera, Barcelona 2000 - the infamous opening scene in which 14 men squat on open loos, pants down:

Entführung, originally at Komische Oper Berlin 2004:

Parsifal, Stuttgart 2010:

Boris Godunov, Munich 2013:



Ballo in Maschero, Copenhagen around 2003 (seen but not reviewed)

Thursday 25 April 2013

Katharina Wagners Meistersinger: A winner on DVD

Meistersinger. DVD. Bayreuth Festival 2008. Production: Katharina Wagner. Conductor: Sebastian Weigle. Dast: Franz Hawlata (Hans Sachs), Michael Volle (Sixtus Beckmesser), Michaela Kaune (Eva), Klaus Florian Vogt (Walther Von Stolzing), Norbert Ernst (David), Carola Guber (Magdalene), Artur Korn (Veit Pogner), Markus Eiche (Fritz Kothner), Friedemann Röhlig (Ein Nachtwächter).

I remember very well this production, the first I saw in the BayreuthFestival house in 2007. Arriving at the last minute, I squeezed into my hard seat on the 25th row followed this spectacle, which had opened a few weeks earlier, to almost universal criticism.

For some reason, Meistersinger normally receives a very traditional treatment even by directors otherwise renowned for inventive staging. Perhaps it was the depart from this “traditionalisation”  that made many criticise Katharina Wagner´s staging? Or perhaps the fact that the succession (to Wolfgang Wagner as Festival Director) at that time was very much debated, and that she, as his grand-daughter was judged as much politically as artistically? I, for one, remember having seen dozens of negative comments related to this staging from people who had not even seen it at the time. Anyway I found at the time, and I still find now, that this staging is more than interesting, and the DVD with the frequent use of close-up, provide myriad of details, which were impossible to notice from the 25th row in the house. Especially the last 45 minutes are quite extraordinary, presenting a daring and entirely novel interpretation:

To truly enjoy this staging you will probably need to accept/agree that this opera is an allegory of changes in society; about how society reacts to change and how much change it can accept:
In Act 1 we are in a 19th century brotherhood of sorts: Traditionally clad “meistersingers” sit around the table, reading small yellow books of German classics. At that time, Sachs, barefoot, is a slightly controversial outsider. But not nearly as controversial as the modern-dress Walther, who sprays paint on everything and everybody. Not a singer, but a painter, the point is driven through, by him assembling a puzzle of Nürnberg all in disorder compared to Beckmessers perfectly assembled Nürnberg puzzle.

In Act 2, the sullen Eva hangs around what looks like an East-German Canteen in the 1950´s, where Sachs sits with his typewriter in the corner. In the only hint at shoemaking, sneakers seem to be dropping from the sky and all ends in an orgy of paint-throwing.

The real stuff begins in Act 3: Now Beckmesser is suddenly the outcast with his T-shirt “Beck in Town” and finds himself in Sach´s fancy apartment, where the heads of the old German masters (Brahms etc.) dancing in the background. Sachs, with his elegant suit, is now constructing a neat idealised family-concept literally within the frames of a doll-house for Walther and Eva to be filmed in. How come this sudden change? Then, in the choral scene preceding the “wach auf”, Sachs is captured and tied to a chair by these heads while they, often clad in underwear, perform a weird dance and Eva blindfolded walks amidst them. What is going on here, seriously? Next however, Katharina Wagners master-stroke begin in earnest with an eerie scene in which Sachs´s helpers capture a stage director and conductor, putting them in a coffin, starting the fire to burn them exactly at the “wach auf” in a scene reminiscent of the Nazi epoque. Very strong theater, indeed. Et voila, what comes out of the coffin? A golden calf it seems. When a model of the auditorium emerges from under stage, we the audience are double spectators to Walther bringing home a check of 10.000 from the Nürnberg Bank, while Beckmesser now is an outcast.

The staging requires a familiarity with German culture, both ancient and present, that I perhaps do not have and there are myriads of details to discover here, as the pace is furious, especially in the third act.
To summarize, Sachs and Walther essentially submit to conformism while Beckmesser moves in the other direction. 

No, Katharina Wagner does not have all the answers and admittedly the staging of the first act seems a bit heavy-handed. But then again, the first act is really long and not for the first time do I wish Wagner would have lived to revise (read: shorten) it, though I have no idea if he ever thought about that and anyway, if he had lived any longer his next project (after Parsifal) would probably have been a revision of Tannhäuser (needed as well).

More singers stand out on the DVD than I remember from the live performance, especially Franz Hawlata, underpowered in the theater but not here, taking fully advantage of the close-ups for us to see his detailed and impressive acting.
Walther really is a super role for Klaus Florian Vogt, probably his best role together with Lohengrin and Michael Volle also leaves nothing to be desired. As for the rest nobody was exceptional, one way or the other, though admittedly Michaela Kaune was vastly better than the Amanda Mace I saw the year before.

Katharina Wagner presents with the only production on DVD truly departing from medieval Nürnberg and trying to wrestle with this issues. For this alone, this is a must-see.

Trailer for the DVD:
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Franz Hawlata: 4
Michaela Kaune: 3-4
Klaus Florian Vogt: 5
Michael Volle: 5
Norbert Ernst: 4
Carola Guber: 4

Katharina Wagner´s production: 4-5
Sebastian Weigle: 4

Overall impression: 5

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Disappointing Meistersinger from Zürich

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Zurich Opera 2003. Production: Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Cast: José Van Dam (Sachs), Peter Seiffer (Walther), Petra-Maria Schnitzer (Eva), Matti Salminen (Pogner), Michael Volle (Beckmesser), Brigitte Pinter (Magdalene), Christoph Strehl (David), Gunther Groissböck (Nightwatchman).

It is not the first time, that otherwise quite inventive stage directors seem to freeze and revert to previous times static theatre when faced with Meistersinger. While it is perhaps not surprising that no-one seems to have truly decoded this piece, why not at least give it a try? Katharina Wagner did, with mixed, but nevertheless interesting results. Nikolaus Lehnhoff, as seen here? Well, suffice to say, we are light years from his production of Tristan and Isolde, to be seen at Glyndebourne around the same time.

Nikolaus Lehnhoff´s style is easily recognizable though; simplistic, geometric sets in stylish colours and characters in period costumes; just take a look at the abstract blue second act with a massive stair-case which could easily have been re-used for his Lohengrin. The best are the equally abstract 3rd act sets, including and excellent amphitheatre excellent ballet.  However, when the answer to the question "what did you learn from this staging regarding the characters and their relationship?" is "nothing", then the raison d´être for this DVD eludes me. Especially as none of the singers were stand-outs either:

Peter Seiffert, sings Walther like Tristan, though not without strain. His real-life wife Petra-Maria Schnitzer is better vocally, though not exactly youthful. Is it really that difficult to cast these two characters? After all this is not Tristan and Isolde.  Also as Magdalene we see the rather mature Brigitte Pinter and while Matti Salminen brings his usual command to Pogner, he is not in optimal vocal shape.  Age notwithstanding, I have seen much better performances from him recently.

José Van Dams strong point is his characterization of Sachs. The voice? Rather too dry, however his strong stage presence and the experience he brings to the role makes up for a lot.

Best of all however: Michael Volle, in a role he repeated in Bayreuth a couple of years later: Vocally strong, always interesting and never ridiculous. A better Beckmesser is not to be seen today.

Finally, Franz Welser-Möst presents a rather swift reading, which is not bad at all, especially as he keeps momentum throughout. However, the competition is stiff, and he does not reach the level of neither Barenboim, Thielemann nor Levine on competing DVDs.

Final scene:

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

José Van Dam: 3-4
Peter Seiffert: 2
Petra Maria Schnitzer: 3
Michael Volle: 5
Matti Salminen: 4
Christoph Strehl: 4

Lehnhoffs production: 3
Franz Welser-Möst: 3

Overall impression: 3

Sunday 21 April 2013

pique dame barcelona dvd

Pique Dame. DVD. 2010 Liceu Barcelona. Production: Gilbert Deflo. Conductor: Michael Boder. Cast: Misha Didyk (Hermann), Emily Magee (Lisa), Lado Ataneli (Tomsky), Ludovic Tezier (Yeletski), Elena Zaremba (Pauline), Ewa Podles (Countess).

Tchaikovsky´s opera about the gambling addictive Hermann, who loves Lisa, but kills her grandmother the Countess in order to gain three secret winning cards is not quite at the same level of his Eugene Onegin, but nevertheless contains some beautiful music and 2-3 famous arias (one by Yeletsky, Lisa´s rejected fiance, 1-2 by Lisa). But above all it is the role of the Countess, which offers one of the few possibilities for great singer personalities and the role is often cast with singers far past  the age of normal retirement, presently both Anja Silja and Agnes Baltsa may be seen in the role.

The production by Gilbert Deflo is elegant and largely traditional: Period costumes, a sparse background, same recipe as he has previously used as in his Paris versions of Manon, Ballo in Maschera and Rigoletto (Zürich). Unfortunately it is not at the same levels as his best work, such as an extraordinary version of Prokofiev´s Oranges. Thus, while the central confrontation between Hermann and Countess is quite thrilling, other parts, especially the first act seems a bit jaded.

Hermann really is a quite unsympathetic character and Misha Didyk plays him well. Vocally, however he is quite overchallenged sounding heavily strained in almost every forte passage. Emily Magee is an at times wonderful and very touching Lisa, though she seems to mature for the role, which doesn´t seem to lie well for her and is not among her best. Ludovic Tezier in what is basically a one aria  + a bit more role, sings his one famous aria well and looks sufficiently disappointed by Lisa´s rejection of him.

However, by far the strongest performance is Ewa Podles grandiose Countess, a true primordial force and an entirely sufficient reason to watch this DVD or at least the 2nd act.

Unfortunately the orchestra is somewhat disappointing as well, lacking both punch and density under Michael Boder.

Pique Dame is not well represented on recent DVDs, but however I doubt that this will end up as a first choice in five years time.
Ewa Podles and Misha Didyk in Act 2:

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

Misha Didyk: 3

Emily Magee: 4
Ewa Podles: 5
Ludovic Tezier: 4

Gilbert Deflo´s production: 3-4
Michael Boder: 3

Overall impression: 3

Friday 19 April 2013

singers disappoint in smashing carsen tannhäuser staging

Tannhäuser. DVD. Liceu Barcelona 2008. Production: Robert Carsen. Conductor: Sebastian Weigle. Cast: Peter Seiffert (Tannhäuser), Petra Maria Schnitzer (Elisabeth), Beatrice Uria-Monzon (Venus), Günther Groissböck (Hermann), Markus Eiche (Wolfram).

With this production of Tannhäuser, Robert Carsen has created one of his best stagings: Elegant, well thought out as well as thought-provoking. There is only one problem: This was a co-production between the opera houses of Paris and Barcelona. In Paris, the cast including Nina Stemme and Sophie Koch was superb. In Barcelona, less so. And however illogical and unfortunate, the DVD was filmed in Barcelona.

To Robert Carsen, ths opera evolves around an artists struggle with the creative process: Tannhäuser is a painter. We begin in his studio, where he is painting the naked Venus. Multiple copies of Tannhäuser try and paint Venus as well, but all ends in an orgy of nakedness. And is this not the problem perhaps? That nakedness, itself, is not enough to be exciting let alone artistic inspiration? In any case, Tannhäuser completes his painting and in Act 2 finds himself in a modern art gallery. Hermann is the owner. A reception is about to begin. Unsurprisingly, what we see next is a successive revelation of paintings (note that we, the audience only see the reverse side, never what is actually on the painting) during the traditional “Sängerfest”. Shocked by Tannhäusers painting of the naked Venus (presumably, as we never get to see it), he is expelled from the Gallery. During all this, Carsen makes extensive use of the auditorium as both gallery guests as Elisabeth and Tannhäuser enter and exit from between the rows of spectators.

So far, no real interpretative controversy. However this is to come in the third Act, which opens with Elisabeth dreaming about Tannhäuser whilst performing some act of autoeroticism. When the painters/pilgrims return from Rome, their scaffolds are empty, stripped of their paintings. With the antecedents in mind it really is not that surprising that when Tannhäuser finally calls out for Venus, she arrives together with Elisabeth. The two women have merged into one so to say, representing two different but equally essential aspects of womanhood. Thus, when Tannhäuser now reveals his painting (after Elisabeth has touched it)a high-class audience it is recognized as a masterpiece and is assigned a place on the wall in a gallery full of masterpieces – its final place being on the wall just beneath Botticelli´s Venus from Milo. As the painting is turned around just before it is revealed the curtain drops.

The weakness, however, are the singers. In Paris they had Nina Stemme, Sophie Koch and Eva-Maria Westbroek (in a previous run). Here, Beatrice Uria-Monzon looks stunning, just as fine as her Act 1 body-double, but vocally she is shaky and her vibrato is unpleasant.
As for Peter Seiffert, his acting is not too bad, but vocally he is just not very pleasant to listen too. His real-life wife Petra-Maria Schnitzer does better, but there is no bloom in her voice and she is no match for the Paris ladies. Best are Markus Eiche (a substitute for Bo Skovhus) as Wolfram and Günter Groissböck as Hermann.

Weigle is doing fine without being extraordinary, however a Tannhäuser without a real Tannhäuser is a hard sell. As for alternative versions, the idea of Tannhäuser centered around creative struggles is also explored in Kasper Holtens staging from Copenhagen, now available on DVD, but otherwise my recommendation would probably either Alden´s production fromMunich or Lehnhoff´s from Baden-Baden.

Arrival of the guests (Act 2):

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

Peter Seiffert: 2-3
Beatrice Uria-Monzon: 3
Petra-Maria Schnitzer: 3-4
Günter Groissböck: 4
Markus Eiche: 4

Sebastian Weigle: 4

Robert Carsens production: 5

Wednesday 17 April 2013

giulio cesare by david mcvicar

Giulio Cesare in Egitto. DVD. Glyndebourne 2005. Production: David McVicar. Conductor: William Christie with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightment. Cast: Sarah Connolly (Giulio Cesare), Angelika Kirchschlager (Sesto), Danielle de Niese (Cleopatra), Patricia Bardon (Cornelia), Christopher Maltman (Achilla), Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo).

We are in the 19th Century at the time of the British colonisation of Egypt and the opera evolves around the clashes between the British (Giulio Cesare) and the Egyptians (Cleopatra and her brother Tolomeo). David McVicar has created a fast-paced exciting production, that really has to be considered a must for those interested in baroque opera. Even those not normally inclined towards baroque, such as myself, may find this production highly entertaining, which I certainly did. First of all, what really sets this production apart are the many rhythmic dances and movements accompanying the music.  Secondly, there really are some quite funny moments as well - to just mention one, take a look at Cleopatra when she dumps her cigarette into the urn of one of Cesar´s rival, Cornelia´s late husband Pompeo.

Danielle De Niese gives us an entirely unsophisticated, almost vulgar version of Cleopatra. Her voice rings clear, she has a very direct manner of delivery and she is a fabulous dancer. She definitely has the “X” factor  she seems completely involved in the portrait of this scheming character, no doubt helped by David McVicar´s entertaining personenregie. No wonder she had her international breakthrough with this role. Later, however, it became clear that she applies this particular stage manner to all of her roles at which point her career seemed to stagnate a bit.. However as Cleopatra, and as Poppea as well, she is fabulous. .

While I personally prefer a countertenor in the part of Giulio Cesare, I must admit that I have never seen a female singer as convincing as Sarah Connelly in a pants role: Her masculine bearing as well as forceful masculine straight-toned singing is simply extraordinary. Futhermore her presence comes with a hint of an underlying menace, very appropriate for a Roman emperor/British general.

Patricia Bardon sings Cornlia with beauty but the Erda-like power the part demands, she does not have. And yes, she sings Erda too, with the exact same problems as here. Angelika Kirchschlager in her first baroque production is a youthful Sesto, looking at least 20 years younger than Kirchschlager´s age.

Christophe Dumaux seems to be the Tolemeo of choice today appearing in almost every production of importance. While he sings beautifully, he somehow fails to leave a lasting impact on stage – after all he is Giulio Cesar´s main adversary but up against Sarah Connelly he seems bleak.

To complete the cast, there is an extraordinary rhythmic drive and vivacity in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by William Christie.

This production will be seen later this spring at the Metropolitan Opera, where Patricia Bardon will repeat her Cornelia with David Daniels as Giulio Cesare and Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra, a role she also performed in the Pelly production from Paris. And Christoph Dumaux, of course, as Tolomeo.

This could well be the production of choice for many and in any case it is certainly worth a view. Personally, I still prefer Negrin´s production from Copenhagen, due to the even greater vivacity and Andreas Scholl´s Giulio Cesare.

Danielle De Niese - Da tempeste:

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

Sarah Connelly: 5
Danielle De Niese: 5
Angelika Kirschschager: 5
Patricia Bardon: 3-4
Christoph Dumaux: 4

David McVicar´s production: 5

William Christie: 5

Overall impression: 5

Sunday 14 April 2013

Bieito and Don Giovanni - which scandal?

Don Giovanni. Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 2002. DVD. Production:  Calixto Bieito. Conductor: Bertrand de Billy. Cast: Wojtek Drabowicz (Don Giovanni), Kwanchul Youn (Leporello), Regina Schörg (Donna Anna), Véronique Gens (Donna Elvira), Anatoly Kocherga (Commendatore), Marcel Reijans (Don Ottavio), Marisa Martins (Zerlina), Felipe Bou (Masetto).

This is the production, which created massive scandal when seen at the English National Opera, London in 2001. However, despite the presence of both urine and oral sex on stage, I was far from shocked and those  frequenting contemporary theater productions (which I rarely do, by the way) will probably feel the same. On the other hand, it will not be to the taste of those preferring a traditional-traditional production - so take a look at it before buying this for your new mother-in-law.. Though I´d recommend everyone to at least take a look as I find this one of the freshest stagings of Don Giovanni that I have seen.

Calixto Bieito has created a production which succeed in creating a real contemporary ambiance, a quite rare achievement in opera.

This Don Giovanni is all about a group of young people living on the edge of society and constantly seeking boundaries. Don Giovanni is quite happy shagging girls in the back of the car, the latest being Donna Anna, quite consensual by the way. And after the murder of her, by the way, aggressive father, Don Ottavio promises her to cover up the entire story in exchange for certain sexual favors. At least this is the impression I get.. In any case Donna Anna is mightily pissed off at Donna Elvira, when she realises that she also has had an affair with Don Giovanni. Donna Elvira, on the other hand, is disgusted when she realises she has performed certain sexual favour to Leporello, believing him to be the Don.

Décors mainly consist of a car park, and a pub with a pool table, background for Masetto and Zerlina´s tasteless party as well.  And the final supper, complete with cheap take-away, rubbish, peeing on the floor, drinking beer from cans – and the Commendatore popping up from the luggage compartment of a car obviously not dead, but almost, as he is killed by Don Giovanni a few minutes later. However, just when I thought Don Giovanni might indeed save his butt, he is murdered by all the other main characters acting together in the final scene, the last stab thrown in by an unwilling Donna Elvira, her hands forced by all the others.

A very contemporary production, all about a restless and alienated young generation. And as such well in accordance with the underlying ideas of the work, from which Bieito essentially does not deviated much. In 2008 in Salzburg Don Giovanni was a heroine addict, but as to the description of youth living on the edge I have never seen a more convincing production than this. The personenregie is exciting and there never was a dull moment.

All the singers act splendidly, however vocally they are not all top-notch.

Best are Véronique Gens as an elegant Donna Elvira and Kwanchul Youn, now a Wagnerian bass, as a splendid Leporello, demonstrating a real comical talent, which he unfortunately does not have so many occasions to show off amidst the many Gurnemanz he performs nowadays.
Wojtek Drabowicz has the right semi-eloquent manners for this Don, but unfortunately not the voice (why not have signed up Simon Keenlyside, who by the way has performed in this production, as the Don for this).
Bertrand de Billy is fast at times too fast for his ensemble, though vastly better than in his later Salzburg performances.

Though, I realise, this will not be to everyone´s taste, in my view it is a completely valid interpretation at least worth to have a look at.
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Wojtek Drabowicz: 3
Kwanchul Youn: 4
Regina Schörg: 3
Véronique Gens: 4-5
Marcel Reijans: 3
Marisa Martins: 3
Felipe Bou: 3
Anatoly Kocherga: 4

Calixto Bieito´s staging: 5
Bertrand de Billy: 4

Overall impression: 4-5

Friday 12 April 2013

danielle de niese is poppea

L´Incoronazione di Poppea. DVD. Glyndebourne Festival, June 2008. Production: Robert Carsen. Conductor: Emmanuelle Haim with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Cast: Danielle de Niese (Poppea), Alice Coote (Nerone), Iestyn Davis (Ottone), Tamara Mumford (Ottavia), Paolo Battaglia (Seneca), Marie Arnet (Drusilla), Lucia Cirillo (Valletto), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Arnalta), Dominique Visse (Nutrice).

I have always found the libretto to be one of the most impressive features of L´incoronazione di Poppea: Written around 1643, this story of love, desire and power struggle in ancient Rome remains as fresh as anything written today and with a contemporary ring to the many excellently conceived dialogues/monologues. Though the original score does not exist, there is generally agreement that this is  indeed a work by Monteverdi (and not by his students/contemporaries).

It is often discussed whether the morale of this story of Poppea who succeeds with her ruthless schemes and becomes Nero's Empress should be interpreted as a punishment of virtue and/or a victory of love and/or greed. In any case, if you know your Roman history (as Monteverdi no doubt did), the story of Poppea and Nero´s love triumph is indeed hollow, as 1) Nero allegedly kicked Poppea to death a few years later (although disputed by some historians) when she was pregnant with their second child (their first-born died in early childhood) 2) Poppea´s ex-husband Ottone, exiled in the opera, became emperor after the death of Nero (although only for a short while, then he committed suicide) and 3) after passing some time in exile, Nero finally had his ex-wife Ottavia killed.

Robert Carsen explores (again-again) the theatre-within-theatre concept as the main part of the production takes place in front of a velvet dark-red curtain on a naked stage, containing a bed occupied by the various protagonists in turn. Certainly, the production is very elegant, and the opening where the goddess Fortuna kicks out the goddess Virtue from her front-row seat is excellent,  but I still wonder if this spectator-to-ones-own-life concept does not restrict L´Incoronazione di Poppea rather than expand it. The best production I have seen of Poppea still remains DavidMcVicars wonderfully expansive staging, unfortunately not (yet) available on DVD.

Danielle de Niese is virtually perfect as the almost slutty Poppea. Completely insincere in her declarations of love for Nero, she schemes and plots and seems completely to inhabit the character. Vocally, she already shows signs of the shaky intonation and shrill top which is now evident in her performances, but in this production I can hardly imagine a better Poppea. Twenty years from now, we will probably say that this Poppea together with her Cleopatra represented the highlights of her career.

Though Alison Coote does not have the masculinity of a Sarah Connelly, she is a convincingly creepy Nero and vocally quite secure. Tamara Mumford is an expressive and elegant Ottavia and Iestyn Davis and Marie Arnet are sufficiently subdued as Ottone/Drusilla. For me, the only real disappointment was Paolo Battaglia, who neither vocally nor dramatically made a real impact as Seneca.

Among the minor roles, the hilarious Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (some may remember him as a marvellous Witch in Hänsel and Gretel) stood out as Poppea´s nurse Arnalta.

Emmanuelle Haïm with the strange willowy movements in the pit lead an excellent, vivacious performance with the OAE. 

Danielle de Niese and Alice Coote:

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

Danielle De Niese: 5
Alison Coote: 4-5
Iestyn Davies: 4
Tamara Mumford: 4
Paolo Battaglia: 3

Robert Carsen´s production: 4
Emmanuelle Haïm: 5

Overall impression: 4-5

Wednesday 10 April 2013

the authentic rigoletto from mantua with domingo, novikova and grigolo

Rigoletto. Palazzo Ducale di Mantua. 2010. Filmed for TV. Production: Marco Bellocchio. Conductor: Zubin Mehta. Cast: Plácido Domingo (Rigoletto), Julia Novikova (Gilda), Vittorio Grigolo (Duke), Ruggero Raimondi (Sparafucile), Nino Surguladze (Maddalena).

For those seeking authenticity, it does not come more authentic than this: A production of Verdi´s Rigoletto filmed on location in the beautiful Palazzo Ducale of Mantua, complete with gardens and a river. It is even filmed over two days as to place the action at the right time of day.
Not only is this an impressive technical accomplishment as all the singers sing live with Zubin Metha´s excellent orchestra, located in another part of the castle, relying on on monitors and advanced auditory equipment. It is also, in itself, a both extraordinary and spectacular production, where we follow the singers moving through the various parts of the castle in real time creating a very authentic and realistic atmosphere. For those not familiar with Rigoletto, this is a good place to start. Especially since the musical, but above all the theatrical aspects of this production were were impressive:

First, Plácido Domingo, who succeeds in bringing his personality and life experience to the part of Rigoletto. This was the positive part. A baritone, of course, he is not, and if  judged by his singing alone, he really does not have the voice anymore to play in the major league for these parts. While he is reasonable in the higher-lying Act 1, once he gets to his major moment in “Cortigiani” (see the video clip below), there is no way to hide that this role is, in fact, quite too deep for him. Had I been casting director, Leo Nucci would have been my first choice. Nucci, of course, could have been first choice here as well, but somehow I doubt it.

At least Ruggero Raimondo´s voice has faded into something not unpleasant, an dramatically he is a superb Sparafucile, though with a quite younger sister in the wonderful Maddalena from Nino Surguladze

As Gilda, Julia Novikova is virtually perfect. She even looks about the right age and is entirely convincing as  the naive girl locked in her house every evening by her father. 
Vittorio Grigolo seems perfect as well as the selfposessed, arrogant Duke. A Duke entirely without sophistication, Grigolo´s voice seems shallow and constrained however. 

All in all, a Rigoletto with much to enjoy for everybody.

Plácido Domingo with "Cortigiano":

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

Plácido Domingo: 3
Julia Novikova: 5
Vittorio Grigolo: 3
Ruggero Raimondi: 4
Nino Surguladze: 5

Marco Bellocchio´s film: 5

Zubin Mehta: 4

Overall impression: 5

Monday 8 April 2013

waltraud meier shines as fidelio in dark production

Fidelio. DVD. Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia. 2006. Production: Pierluigi Pier´Alli. Conductor: Zubin Mehta. Cast: Waltraud Meier (Leonore), Peter Seiffert (Florestan), Matti Salminen (Rocco), Ildiko Raimondi (Marzelline), Juha Uusitalo (Pizzarro), Rainer Trost (Jaquino), Carsten Stabell (Don Fernando).

A largely traditional dark, greenish production with no obvious raison d´être as I see it, if not for the possibility to see Waltraud Meier in top voice in one of her best-loved roles. To be honest I have never found Leonore-Fidelio an obvious fit for Waltraud Meier´s voice. Nowadays, very much an on-or-off artist, I heard her live in the part about five yearsago on an off night, which was no pleasure, believe me. This DVD was recorded around the same time, and here, luckily she is in top shape with an effortless “Abscheulicher” and an overall very moving character portrayal.

Peter Seiffert sings his one aria reasonably well, both Matti Salminen and Juha Uusitalo are in fine voice as Rocco and Pizzarro respectively and I have nothing to reproach the other performers.

However, the personenregie seems altmodisch and the production is very, very dark. While I realize that it most likely was equally dark in the prison in which the opera takes place, it nevertheless does not make for exciting theater.

Zubin Metha represents old-school Beethoven and without being extraordinary, the orchestra nevertheless is almost as dense as the staging.

Nevertheless, a DVD mostly for fans of Waltraud Meier.

Waltraud Meier: "Abscheulicher".

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

Peter Seiffert: 3
Waltraud Meier: 4-5
Matti Salminen: 4
Ildiko Raimondi: 4
Juha Uusitalo: 4

Pier´Alli´s production: 2-3
Zubin Mehta: 4

Saturday 6 April 2013

fura dels baus disappoint with futuristic les troyens

Les Troyens. DVD. Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, 2009. Production : Fura del Baus (Carlus Padrissa stage director). Conductor: Valery Gergiev. Cast: Elisabete Matos (Cassandre), Daniela Barcellona (Didon), Lance Ryan (Enee), Zlata Bulicheva (Anna), Gabriele Viviani (Chorebe), Stephen Milling (Narbal), Giorgio Giuseppini (Pantheée).

With this production of Les Troyens in Valencia, Fura dels Baus with director Carlus Padrissa has created a visually stunning production, along the same lines as theirprevious Nibelungen Ring, with essentially the same  strenghts and weaknesses.
There is plenty of Star Wars in this production, which ends with Aeneas, himself a visitor from another planet, failing to recognize the paradise which is Carthage, and instead leaves for Mars.

Troy is a dark and doomed place: Skeletons fill the shores, dark threatening clouds and post-war smoking images fill the screen. Additional elements: Barbed wires, an eerie boxing contest, Cassandra being wheeled in an out in wheelchair. The Troyan horse is metallic and menacing. VIRUS ALERT!! pops up on the screen just before the final breakdown.
On the contrary, Carthage an idealised place, modelled upon the particle accelerator in CERN (near Geneva), dominated by large red-and-grey tubes and with images of wind-mills in the background and . A clean society relying on natural energy resources, obviously. However, all may not be that well perhaps: Several uncanny images shows us the human dogs tracing their prey in the Royal Hunt.

The costume designer Chu Uroz dresses most of the characters as ice hockey players or well-padded aliens, thus making the same mistakes he made in the Nibelungen Ring (anyone still remember Brünnhildesbreastplates?) by distancing the characters from any human interaction. Dido simply looks silly with her odd three knot hair style and the lack of interaction between Dido and Aeneas is appalling.

At times, the images are stunning. But the lasting impression is that of a cold production where the ultimate weakness lies in the failure to find a balance between imagery and human interaction.

Perhaps a stronger cast could have carried this staging. However, unfortunately we are presented with weak performances from all three protagonists, worst in fact from Lance Ryan, who is massively overparted as Anaeas, no matter how many excuses one may wish to make for him, well knowing how tough the part is.

Elisabete Matos has heft, but no beauty of tone and is no match for colleagues such as Anna Caterina Antonacci and Eva-Maria Westbroek (not yet on DVD). Daniela Barcellona struggles as well with a vibrato that borders on the offensive, though not as bad as Zlata Bulicheva´s as Anna.

It is far from enough that minor parts are well taken care of with  Stephen Milling and Gabriele Viviani, especially since Valery Gergiev also disappoints in the pit. Though the orchestra seemed to love him and he received a massive ovation, being very much an on-or-off conductor, this was definitely a day off, where he entirely failed to bring out the grandness in Berlioz´ score.

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

Elisabete Matos: 3
Daniela Barcellona: 3
Lance Ryan: 2

Fura dels Baus´ production: 3-4
Valery Gergiev: 3
Overall impression: 3

Thursday 4 April 2013

first (and last?) mireille on dvd

Mireille. DVD. Paris Opera Bastille 2009. Production: Nicolas Joel, Conductor: Marc Minkowski. Cast: Inva Mula (Mireille), Charles Castronovo (Vincent), Alain Vernhes (Ramon), Sylvie Brunet (Taven), Franck Ferrari (Qurrias).

For this, the first production for Nicolas Joel after taking over the Paris Opera, he chose a largely unknown work by Gounod: Mireille. Based on Mistral´s poem and composed in 1864, 5 years after Faust and 3 years before Roméo et Juliette, Mireille had never before performed at the Paris Opera.

This is the story of a rich girl (Mireille) who loves a poor boy (Vincent). She is also loved by a villain (Qurrias) who injures the poor boy, but later drowns. While Vincent does not die, Mireille does, from sun stroke (!) when she exhausted joins him at the end of the opera after obtaining forgiveness of her father.

A quick look in the opera performance register shows that of Gounod's 13 operas, only Faust and Roméo and Juliette has been performed anywhere in the last three seasons. This production of Mireille will not change that, I believe, not even in France.

Nicolas Joel has opted for a largely traditional mise-en-scene, where I was transported back to the operatic productions of the 1970´s. Had the personenregie only been interesting, but here also Nicolas Joel seems to add nothing even remotely new or exciting.

The original setting is Provence, and Nicolas Joel has kept it like this showing us ripe fields, dark medieval cities and moonlit rivers. There is, however, beautiful music to be found here, even work as a whole lacks drama. Competing with a Devil (Faust) and a story by Shakespeare (Roméo), some peasants in Provence does not quite seem to do it.

As the protagonists Charles Castronovo is both naive and sympathetic as the poor Vincent and while Inva Mula was overacting, she still turned in a convincing performance.  

This is a first on DVD, so do you want to see Mireille, this is it as I doubt there will be competition in the immediate future.

Inva Mula as Mireille:

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

Inva Mula: 3-4
Charles Castronovo: 4
Alain Vernhes: 4
Franck Ferrari: 4

Nicolas Joel: 2
Marc Minkowski: 4

Overall impression: 3

Tuesday 2 April 2013

alcina: splendid harteros, odd kasarova in duchess of devonshire ballroom performance

Alcina, DVD. Vienna State Opera 2010. Production: Adrian Noble. Conductor: Marc Minkowski with Les Musiciens du Louvre. Cast: Anja Harteros (Alcina), Vesselina Kasarova (Ruggiero), Kristina Hammarström (Bradamante), Veronica Cangemi (Morgana), Benjamin Bruns (Oronte), Adam Plachetka (Melisso), Alois Mühlbacher (Oberto).

Well-educated British readers (I know there are some out there) will need no explanation as to who was Georgiana Cavendish (1757-1806), the Duchess of Devonshire, famous for her soirées in the Devonshire House in London. Some may know her from Keira Knightly´s portrait in The Duchess, 

And we are, in fact, witness to such a soirée in The Duchess´ ballroom in London Piccadilly, where she is staging a performance by Händel´s Alcina (written in 1735 it could well have been performed here) performed by herself (as Alcina obviously) and her friends.

An intimate dining-room atmosphere, which suits the piece well, especially as it opens up into a field of almost neon-green grass and a clear blue sky (see above), which contrasts with the dark dining room atmosphere complete with servants and (perhaps?) her dissatisfied husband, the Duke, who seems to pop up a couple of times.

The director is Adrian Noble, British and former director of Royal Shakespeare company, also responsible for the staging of Macbeth at theMetropolitan opera in 2008.

Would it not have been obvious to make Ruggiero into Charles Grey, 2nd Earl of Grey, the gentleman with whom The Duchess has an illegitimate child after he had courted her in her saloon for some time? But no, this seems not to have been Adrian Nobles errand, as Ruggiero, as played by Vesselina Kasarova, in the beginning of the opera, clearly is a female friend of the Duchess.

To begin with Vesselina Kasarova: This woman´s singing is downright strange and peculiar. In fact, it is one of the most peculiar things I have heard on stage for a long time. When I heard her live in this part five years ago I found her “absolutely brilliant”. Now she is absolutely bizarre. Did these, almost yodling peculiarities really develop within the latest five years or did I just not have the ear for them then? 

Her Alcina five years ago as well as now is Anja Harteros, who is a splendid Alcina, and an elegant Duchess of Devonshire, adapting to baroque style with an almost vibratoless top. Probably not the kind of role she will continue singing if she also wants to move into the heavier Wagner, as she has said (Senta).

While Veronica Cangemi was  far too thin-voiced, especially in the top as Morgana, Kristina Hammarström was a solid Bradamante. Most impressive, though was boy soprano Alois Mühlbacher as Oberto, with spot-on coloratura and solid intonation. He is 15..

Baroque operas are not plat du jour in Vienna. Before this production the latest one being L´incoronazione di Poppea in the 1060´s. Accordingly, it is not the Vienna State Opera Orchestra in the pit but the baroque specialists Les Musiciens du Louvre effectively conducted by Marc Minkowski.

Vesselina Kasarova with Mi lusinga il dolce affetto, judge for yourself:

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

Anja Harteros: 4-5
Vesselina Kasarova: 2-3, perhaps to be re-evaluated
Veronica Cangemi: 3
Kristina Hammarström: 4

Adrian Noble´s production: 4
Marc Minkowski: 4-5

Overall impression: 4
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...