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.