Saturday, July 16, 2016

Update & News to summer festival season 2016

Hello, everyone. It's been quite a busy moth for me personally, but I'm very happy for my upcoming trip to Salzburg to see Strauss' Die Liebe der Danae and the festival's cult drama Jedermann, among other concerts in August. I didn't get any tickets for Bayreuth this year, but I'm fortunately still quite full from my last year's Ring experience. While the preparation in Salzburg is going smoothly (except Joyce DiDonato's withdraw from Il Templario), the Green Hill in Bayreuth seems to be on fire again this year. Following problems (or as Wagnerians see them, disasters) occured: 

1. The biggest shock of this year's festival was announced last week when Andris Nelsons withdrew from the Parsifal premiere series this year. According to rumors, Nelsons' departure is caused by Thielemann's intensive interfering of his probe. Hartmut Haenchen is the new conductor for Parsifal this year.
2. Due to illness, Thomas J. Mayer didn't have time to rehearse for the Ring, which made a role switch mandatory: John Lundgren will now sing both the role of Wotan in Die Walküre and Der Wanderer in Siegfried, while Mayer replaced him in the role of Holländer in Der fliegende Holländer.
3. Due to illness and Marek Janowski's personal wish, Jennifer Wilson will be replaced by Heidi Melton in  the role of Sieglinde.
4. The live-delayed transmission of the Parsifal's premiere on July 25 could be viewed in chosen cinemas in German-speaking countries and BR-Klassik. The following days see the first ever transmission of Castor's Der Ring des Nibelungen production in Sky Arts. Hope they would have official video release for both production as well.

Enjoy your summer, hopefully I'll have some time to write more.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Staatsoper Berlin: Bohuslav Martinů's Juliette

Another rarity being premiered in Staatsoper near the end of the season. Martinů's Juliette is very rarely played in Berlin and the National Opera in Prague only holds its performances in Czech, which makes this production, sung in French, more special.
Barenboim conducts all the performances in this premiere series. I think he was able to express the many colors and sounds of the piece, although many interesting parts just went somehow too fast.
Claus Guth's production for this opera is quite a highlight, setting the story inside a white box full of drawers , symbolizing a big cupboard where Michel hides his fears and dreams inside his mind. The third act, channeling surrealism, was then set in an empty space with smokes and people walking back and forth, representing the dream bureau. 

Magdalena Kožená as Juliette came back to to a role that she once sang, even made a recording with. Her mezzo voice was very charismatic and captivating. The high dramatic parts sounded very much like an echo, but still sharp and clear.  Sadly, the title role is rather a minor (compared to Michel, the actual protagonist).

Rolando Villazón is sadly both the highlight and the biggest letdown of the night. This opera is basically a one-man-show for his role of Michel. There is no question that Villazón masters the art of acting and comedy, delivering a rather bit silly Michel despite the opera's dark atmosphere. But the voice post-operation is definitely going down the hill in  the past few years.It seems he often lost control of his voice during high registers or long phrases. I personally prefer a tenor, who is accustomed to sing modern operas/ new music instead of Villazón, but I guess his presence also became a magnet to draw his fans discovering this opera.

The whole cast made a great supporting act. The choreography of the chorus and statics was a bit stiff, which matched the concept of the production, I guess.
In the end, it was an adventurous night for me, who haven't seen or heard this opera before. Please don't come if you are not a "new music" lover. A bit avant-garde music won't hurt you if you're willing to listen and expect an entertaining but not perfectly well sung performance from Villazón.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Semperoper Dresden - Wagner: Lohengrin with Netrebko, Beczała & Thielemann

 When the "diva assoluta" of your made her first major role debut of your ultimate favorite composer, you know it won't happen twice. Beczała and Netrebko finally made their Wagner debut in the roles of Lohengrin and Elsa. I was there on the fourth performance of the series, exactly a week after a (said to-be) glorious open-air live stream in front of the opera building. As soon as the ticket sale started in spring last year, the public demanded extra shows and some locals (Dresdner) even blamed the online ticket sale for limiting the seat contingent for the people who actually waited in line in front of the ticket office. Well, measuring both the programm & cast as well as the public anticipation, it's safe to say this "Lohengrin" is the opera event of the year. (I'm a Wagnerian, so this statement could be a bias. Haha.)
Christine Mielitz's old production from '83 was revived and thanks to the stage team and costume department, everything still looked new and was able to deliver a great visual for a classic non-Eurotrash production.
Christian Thielemann poured out a balanced mix between his guts and mind (unlike his Tristan last summer, which was more on the 'brain' side), boosting the volume to the top during the piece's grandest moments. It's a standard interpretation, where he provided a safer playground for the two debutantes.

So, NETREBKO. She is a good Elsa, although at this point we still couldn't give her the title of a 'real' Wagnerian soprano. Despite some wrong pronunciation ("Buuurder"; "verzeeh"; etc.), her German is considerably clear and understandable, way better than her recording of Strauss' "Four Last Songs". Sometimes a bit unsure in the higher register (confused with the words, perhaps?), she was still able to deliver a tour-de-force performance, portraying a different Elsa than the virgin, innocent version of the character we often saw portrayed by blonde German sopranos of the past. Her voice is, as shown by her latest choice of Verdi roles, darker and rounder - suited a grown, mature Elsa that shows a whole range of her emotions, from devastating despair to anger, brilliantly.
Beczała also made a good Lohengrin. Two fatal mistakes though. "In fernem Land..." started way too fast, I also blamed Thielemann for this. "Mein lieber Schwan" was then followed by three-line-long mumbling of non-sense. Got carried away by the music, perhaps? As for his voice, I think it suits the role perfectly. People may prefer the more light, bright Lohengrin by Klaus Florian Vogt or dark robust one from Jonas Kaufmann. Beczała is definitely in the middle. A great job... for a debut; which means improvements are needed.

Evelyn Herlitzius has sung the role of Ortrud many times before. There was no doubt she was the one most confident singing it in the ensemble. Despite being a supporting role, her dramatic acting was always able to snatch the spotlight, also when standing by Netrebko.
Tomasz Konieczny also delivered a convincing Telramund; the role itself is sadly not that interesting in my opinion, so I won't say much here.
Georg Zeppenfeld delivered a solid Heinrich. Nuff said... he is coming to be an absolute Wagner bass par-excellence. Wotan soon?
This a great Wagner performance: this combination of die-hard Wagnerian and popular opera/ Netrebko fans... you won't get this everyday. Even every decade. Netrebko and Beczała made a great debut & this performance is definitely a big rehearsal for the real show in 2018: Netrebko in Bayreuth. If you couldn't see this live, make sure you get the DVD (if they intend to release it at all). Or grab your ticket for Bayreuth. 2018. I will. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Berliner Philharmoniker: Wagner's Tristan und Isolde Concert Performance

So, Berliner Philharmoniker and Tristan. Karajan and Abbado did it once, so it's definitely Rattle's time now. Fresh after their performances in Baden-Baden, the orchestra brought the production in concert format to Berlin. I'm planning to see the production by Mariusz Trelinski in September through the live stream of Metropolitan Opera, also conducted by Rattle with a much better cast a la Met standard.
Wagner operas are always special cases: they're great to be performed in opera houses,but even greater in concert halls. Stripped them away from the stage and costumes, you'll get a high dose of wonderful music and logically higher focus in paying attention to the words of the libretto from Wagner's quill. In case of this Tristan, the Berliner offered the audience 5-hour-long musical great moment. Well, generally speaking.
Rattle's interpretation is neither German nor romantic. He stripped off the elements of the complex score and made the sound less deeper, less dramatic but still sounding grand in the piece's most dramatic moments. The sound of the orchestra were unfortunately quite often too loud, especially in dialogue scenes. Berliner Philharmoniker made a great company to both Rattle and the singers, constantly delivering solid Wagnerian sound and bringing the audience through great high & lows, especially throughout the second act.

Eva-Maria Westbroek sang Isolde, the role she should've sung in Bayreuth last summer. This production of Tristan could be the clue for the cancellation for Bayreuth: Westbroek's Isolde sounded too big and the color of her voice is currently too deep for this role, especially if the audience start comparing her to Waltraud Meier or Nina Stemme. Her energy was stable from beginning to end, although her voice had some lack of control. Her "Liebestod" was less philosophical, not quite dramatic and rather loud. Some may like it, but it definitely wasn't my cup of tea.
Stuart Skelton did a great job, considering it was his Tristan debut. He started off really good, although the energy couldn't really keep up throughout the whole delirium scene in third act. Well, he should keep practicing during the summer and I think he'll be fit for Met in fall.
Stephen Milling did a very great, Bayreuth-standard Marke. No wonder, he has sung the role in both Berliner Staatsoper and Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. Bravo, bravo, bravo.
Michael Nagy also did a consistent job portraying Kurwenal, his bariton voice was sharp and always on point.
Sarah Connolly as Brangane fell sadly on a more insecure side, as her voice wasn't quite warmed up during the first act, although it got better afterwards.
Rundfunkchor Berlin and other singers on the minor roles were generally good.
Loud applause from the audience as the performance ended.

Conclusion: Berliner Philharmoniker playing Tristan. The premise held a lot of promises, but this Tristan under Rattle couldn't come close to the ones they've done in the past. It had many ups and downs, but the orchestra maintained to be the true star during the whole performance. So, the Berliner and Wagner would always be a solid guarantee for a spectacle for years to come.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Festtage 2016 - Staatsoper Berlin

Festtage is here again. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the festival offered a new production of Gluck's Orpheo et Eurydice and the revival of last year's Parsifal along with concerts loaded with star soloists. Here are the reviews of the performances I attended:

1. Tcherniakov's production of "Parsifal" on its second year received a more positive feedback from the audience. Minor changes and perhaps quite a big change for the ending might be the subject of conversations among fans like me, who also attended the premier series last year. The cast is solid. Andreas Schager sang a rather youthful Parsifal, once again establishing his name as a potential Wagner heldentenor for many years, perhaps decades, to come. René Pape, in my opinion, is still the best living Gurnemanz. Wolfgang Koch and Tomas Tomasson were also much celebrated in their roles as Amfortas and Klingsor. The highlight above all is definitely the appearance of Waltraud Meier, portraying one of her parade role, Kundry, for the very last time. It's actually quite heartbreaking to see her letting go all the wonderful roles; Isolde last year and now Kundry. The fact, that Tcherniakov couldn't actually create an interesting interpretation on Kundry without the presence of Anja Kampe, was felt. Meier, who has portrayed this role in many different productions, seemed a little lost on stage, not knowing what to do with not much worthy 'personenregie' in her role.  Beside that flaw, it's a pure blessing to hear this woman live on stage. Her charisma during the duet scene with Parsifal in the second act was an absolute highlight - then came a storm of applause right after the act ended. Barenboim's interpretation still fell on the 'slow' side of the spectrum like last year, the tempo then picked up in the last two acts. The important parts such as Karfreitagzauber and the final aria "Nur eine Waffe taugt" sounded quite loud, but quickly lost the magical moments. I also blamed the acoustic in Schiller Theater for this.

2. The symphony concert with Jonas Kaufmann was the sold out one since the ticket sale was opened last December. Kaufmann sang Mahler's "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen". Quite a strange choice, because the piece isn't exactly in his current repertoire. Anyway, he nailed the interpretation by delivering an emotional journey mirroring the songs' lyrics, from the despair mood, through the wandering which ends in a quiet silent happy note.The encore "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" has been my personal favourite song of Mahler for a few years, so to hear  Kaufmann sang this one was an extra cherry on top of my cake.
The Elgar's First Symphony was a great choice for the second part of the concert. It's one of Barenboim regular piece in the repertoire and he didn't bother studying a new piece, so tada! His interpretation was generally great. Right tempo, dramatic highs & lows and always with the right amount of energy. The work itself is actually not complicated, made it easy to be loved by the general audience or those still unfamiliar with most Elgar's works like me.

3. Another concert I visited was the one with Yo-Yo Ma. Absent from Berlin stage for about five years, his comeback was highly celebrated. Beside this concert, he also had a Bach solo recital two days earlier (which he also did in Munich last February). The reception of the concert was really great, the audience went very loud (loudest applause in Philharmonie in recent times, as I could recall). Ma's interpretation of Dvorak's Violoncellokonzert in B minor op. 104 saw his triumph in the piece's quietest and most sentimental moments. The short time of rehearsing was felt in many passages where the orchestra didn't quite have the same pace as Ma's. It could be Barenboim's fault, but I myself regarded this as a 'typical Barenboim failure'.
Elgar's Second Symphony is another regular in Barenboim's repertoire. Having released the piece as recording with Staatskapelle recently, this Festtage occasion is a great way to promote it. It was a fine interpretation overall. Interesting fact: Yo-Yo Ma joined the Staatskapelle to play this piece. Sitting in the last cello row, right in front of the bass, Ma seemed very excited during the whole piece. It's not everyday, that you get a world-class soloist, joining in the orchestra to play the second part of the concert. Where did he get all that energy? I can't wait for his next concert in Berlin.

 4. The new production of this year's Festtage is Glucks "Orfeo ed Euridice". Jürgen Flimm directed this rather simplistic, a bit abstract looking production with the stage design by architect Frank Gehry (currently hired for the new Barenboim-Said building near Staatsoper's Lindenhaus). Daniel Barenboim also served as conductor, leading a great trio cast of Bejun Mehta, Anna Prohaska, and Nadine Sierra. Mehta delivered a stellar one-man performance, while Prohaska and Sierra made a really great interpretations of their roles - sadly, both roles could be considered as minors compared to Mehta's constant presence on stage. Barenboim conducted the Staatskapelle with totality and high energy from beginning to end, managed to create every moment of joy or despair impressive to the audience. The production is nothing extraordinary, a rather typical "Staatsoper take" just like on other baroque operas in the past. Flimm's direction was still a 'werktreue' approach, Gehry's stage design of an abstract house and a bedroom in the so-called elysium transferred the life/death mood of the intense argument between the two main protagonists to a scene of daily household fight. Interesting production, but the reason why this opera was picked for Festtage remains a million dollar question. 
Were any of YOU reading my blog also present in Berlin for this Festtage???

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Update from Semperoper: Die Walküre & 2016/2017 Season Announcement

 1. Last week I got the chance to see the revival of a rather old production of Wagner's Die Walküre by Willy Decker. Conducted by Christian Thielemann, the singer ensemble for the night was quite flawless. Christopher Ventris & Petra Lang sang Siegmund & Sieglinde, Hunding was Georg Zeppenfeld. Markus Marquardt, a frequent Wotans in Leipzig and Saxon region, reprised the role alongside Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde, Christa Mayer sang Fricka and a few Valkyries have also sung their roles in Bayreuth. At the end of the day, with a rather short time of rehearsal, there wasn't much room for improvement for these singers. The biggest critic was perhaps the orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden who failed at some points to play synchronically as a big group, as well in responding to the singers (Thielemann to blame?). The Willy Decker's production was rather not innovative and didn't bring anything new to the table. I just came for the singers and got what I want. Still a glorious night to remember.

2. Just yesterday Semperoper announced the programm for the next season of 2016/2017. My three personal highlights are the revival of Rheingold and Siegfried, as well as the Dresden premiere of this year's Salzburg Easter Festival opera Verdi's Otello. Great cast for all three productions, Otello even has the original cast planned for this Easter, let's just hope Johan Botha and Dmitri Hvorotovsky recover soon. They're all conducted by Christian Thielemann. The Ring operas are directed by Willy Decker, continuing the Walküre performances last week and Otello by Vincent Bousard.