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.