• Das Opernglas – September, 2013, Issue Summary



    Plácido Domingo: The Interview

    The release of his new CD of Verdi baritone arias (also reviewed in this issue) is just the first installment in Domingo’s latest project, namely the recording of major baritone arias from each of Verdi’s 26 operas. In a sense, this will compliment his 2001 set of all of Verdi’s major tenor arias. On this initial release, which he describes as the “heart” of the project, he has included selections from some of the composer’s most popular works: Simon Boccanegra, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Un Ballo in Maschera, Don Carlo, and La Forza del Destino. Some of these roles he’s already sung onstage, while his first Conte di Luna is coming up this November and December at the Berlin State Opera. He says he will likely add Count Anckarström/Renato and the Ernani Don Carlo to his roster of baritone roles in the future, though he’s not certain about Posa and the Forza Don Carlo. He mentions that he’s also received offers for Macbeth that he’s still considering. One of Verdi’s baritone roles that he says he will never perform is Iago (though he’ll still record the Credo as part of his newest project), pointing out that he sang Otello more than 225 times – an experience so intense that he’ll never attempt to portray the Moor’s great antagonist. He adds that Verdi is probably the composer who wrote equally well for the tenor and baritone voices (and basses, too), and recalls that while he was still singing the tenor repertoire, he often wished he could have sung some of the beautiful music Verdi wrote for the lower voice, as well. Stressing that he would never present himself now as a dramatic baritone, even though his voice has darkened, he says he simply tries to give everything he has to these new roles. He observes that there are few dramatic baritones actually singing Verdi’s music today, with this repertoire now dominated by the lighter, more lyrical voices. When asked by the interviewer about the apparent paucity of Verdi voices at the current time, Domingo says he has heard some young singers – through his Operalia competition as well as the Los Angeles and Washington National Operas’ Young Artist Programs and his Valencia Performance Center -- who show promise for this repertoire. In the past year, he’s heard three or four very good baritone voices, while one of the winners in the Operalia competition, Chinese soprano Guanqun Yu, has a “genuine Verdi color” in her voice, though she’s still very young.
    When looking back to the beginning of his own career and comparing the state of opera then to its current condition, he says he sees the most significant change in the variety of works now being included in opera houses’ season schedules. In addition to the revival of the Baroque repertoire in recent decades, one also hears far more Slavic and Scandinavian operas today than 50 years ago. Another change he’s seen has been the expansion in the number of opera houses and festivals over the past half-century, which he views as both positive and yet somewhat detrimental. On one hand, the increase offers more performing opportunities to young singers, but it also means that some of these newcomers may be engaged by major houses before they’ve acquired the necessary capabilities for performing at this level. He also mentions the impact that computer technology has made on opera – again, not always beneficial. Through the presence of web sites and live streaming, singers’ mistakes are often more noticed than their successes. Perhaps not surprisingly, he notes as well the increased emphasis on dramatic credibility in performances, to include singers’ appearances. He says the new generation of singers pays more attention to physical fitness than his own generation, which Domingo describes as “a little lazy.” However, he observes that singers’ schedules, especially with the frequent travel, can make it more difficult to fit in workouts. He also stresses that there are some “exceptional” voices where it shouldn’t matter whether or not the individual is substantially overweight or otherwise doesn’t correspond to the prevailing visual conception of a character. “Voice is still the Number One in opera,” he asserts.
    He attributes his own career longevity to several factors, among them the good fortune of having robust health. But he also took care to space his appearances so that he always had two or three days between performances, unlike some tenors who will have only one day between appearances or will even perform two days in succession. (He says he mentions only tenors, since this is the “most sensitive, unnatural” vocal category.) He also didn’t work with a repétiteur when he was studying a new role, but simply sat down at a piano and mentally went through the part by himself. In this manner, he spared his voice many hours over the course of the years, which may be a reason it has remained so fresh. When asked if he has any unfulfilled dreams, he is a little evasive, claiming that such dreams will remain unfulfilled if one talks about them. (I can’t tell if he’s actually serious about this, or only joking.) In any case, he says, one dream he definitely does not have is to someday sing the role of Wotan!

    Yannick Nézet-Séguin: In Conversation

    With the beginning of the 2013-14 season, the young Franco-Canadian conductor will become an Exclusive Artist with Dortmund’s Concert House. Earlier in his career, he appeared here with the Rotterdam and London Philharmonics, and says he appreciates the risk that Dortmund’s Intendant, Benedikt Stampe, took in 2008 in engaging him at a time when he was still relatively unknown. With his new three-year contract as an Exclusive Artist, he will not only have an opportunity to continue conducting a diverse selection of works ranging from operas to chamber music at a concert hall with very high artistic standards, but will also have a home base in Germany from which he will be able to travel to appearances in Berlin, Munich, Dresden, and Cologne. Included in Dortmund’s “Yannick Experience,” as the house’s YouTube advertising video terms it, will be a concert performance of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer this month with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin in the title role. The uproar over the singer’s tattoos that led to Nikitin’s withdrawal from this role at the 2012 Bayreuth Festival has not affected Maestro Nézet-Séguin’s plans to work with him. The conductor describes Nikitin as an “incredibly good singer” with “tremendous stage presence and charisma,” and says that he wants to separate the person from the artist. He notes that the contract with Nikitin was signed prior to the incident at Bayreuth, and says that, as far as their artistic collaboration is concerned, this incident has no particular influence on the performance at Dortmund or the preceding ones in Rotterdam and at the Théâter des Champs-Elysées.
    Although the promotional video on Dortmund’s web site shows him fencing with the baton, Nézet-Séguin says there is nothing violent about music to him. While he believes that music is powerful and engaging, and for this reason, a conductor must also be powerful and engaging, there are different ways in which a conductor can employ that power. He notes that one may be tempted to say that, in the past, there were extremely powerful conductors such as Toscanini, Furtwängler, and von Karajan who were almost tyrannical in their approach, while today’s maestri are “friendlier.” However, he finds such a conception to be a little simplistic, saying that while a conductor must still be in control, there are different ways of exercising that control. There are still some today who rely on force and intimidation, but he prefers to use the power of persuasion, which he describes as “really almost the power of seduction.” When he rehearses with a new orchestra, he has a clear idea of what he wants to achieve and what he expects from the musicians. But he finds that listening to the orchestra is also an essential part of conducting. As he explains it, each orchestra has its own history and tradition, its own sound. So when he begins work with a new ensemble, he initially does little speaking and lets the musicians play. Then he will indicate a certain treatment of the music and listens to how the musicians react. Do they respond immediately, or does it take a little longer? Is the response very strong, but perhaps even a bit too soon? He says that, on one hand, he must lead the orchestra, but on the other hand, he must also listen and find out what these musicians offer so that he can use their particular talents to achieve the results he wants. With this approach, the same piece of music can sound quite different depending upon which orchestra he’s conducting. He finds this is completely in order, observing that it represents something of his own that he’s developed based on his reading of the motifs paired with the orchestra’s special colors. Asked about variations in performance styles among orchestras from different countries, Nézet-Séguin says he’s observed some general patterns (though he’s concerned that his remarks may sound rather prejudiced). Musicians’ individual styles are often more prominent in French orchestras, whereas American orchestras strive for a single, precise sound and approach. He views it as his responsibility on the podium to take these special differences in orchestras’ tonal colors into consideration and to channel them in an appropriate way.
    He also discusses the differences between live and studio recordings of operas, but says he believes in both types. With their completely different origins and work processes, the two offer very different musical results. In the studio, precise attention can be given to the smallest details, though the continuity and unity of the music will always be most important, regardless of recording conditions. Operas in particular require a unified line, he says, and it’s the responsibility of the conductor to sustain that line. He notes that there are also differences between live recordings of concert performances and those of staged opera productions. In the latter, the soloists must concentrate on acting as well as singing, and are sometimes so focused on the one that they seem to forget the other. As he sees it, operas don’t always need such a strong, emotional Personenführung, precisely for the reason just mentioned. In connection with recordings, he also doesn’t believe that the large number of audio and video performances currently available for many works means that no new recordings need to be made. The available recordings offer a good overview of interpretative approaches over time, and as such, represent a library or archive on which one can draw. He says that he had an extensive recording collection at home in Montreal when he was a teen, and learned a great deal by listening to various interpretations of the same works. For this reason, he feels there should be as many different recordings as possible of particular compositions.
    His greatest role model as a conductor was Carlo Maria Giulini, whom he was able to follow for an entire year near the end of Giulini’s career. Although he wasn’t enrolled in one of the courses the Italian maestro offered, Nézet-Séguin had many private discussions with Giulini and his students during rehearsals. He describes these as a “nourishing learning process” both then and later, as some of what he absorbed then only really began to make sense years later in his own work with an orchestra. He came to know Giulini as a simple, down-to-earth man whose simplicity was precisely that which, in the best cases, enabled his students to raise their music to a new level.
    He views the fast-paced nature of people’s lives today to be one of the greatest challenges to sparking an interest in opera among young people. They are accustomed to things often being fragmentary and of short duration, whereas attending an opera performance requires a willingness to concentrate on something over an extended time period. He believes that if young people can work through that initial obstacle, they often respond to opera enthusiastically. By attending a performance, they learn to let themselves be drawn into an experience for a greater length of time – which, he says, is already a great deal.

    Angela Gheorghiu: Nachgefragt (Asked or inquired after)

    This Fall, the noted soprano will be traveling to many European cities on her first concert tour, which has been arranged by Universal. She says she plans to sing selections from her “classical repertoire” that audiences will want to hear, along with some new material. The choice of duets will depend upon who her stage partners will be at specific events.
    She’s pretty much in full diva mode here, though she only refers to herself in the third person once. Asked about how much influence she has over the offers she receives for opera or concert appearances, she responds that she always does what she likes, that she’s had close contacts (to include shared phone numbers) with opera house directors for many years, and it’s decided during her meetings with them what she will sing. She says she’s always suggested which roles she’d like to sing, and with which conductors and/or stage directors she’d like to work in performing those roles. It’s been similar with her CD recordings; she selected the repertoire, the conductor, orchestra, recording location, and any other singers. Nothing is released to the public without her consent. Throughout her career, her personality has determined her choice of roles, and if she found that something didn’t suit her – such as a production of Romeo et Juliette in Vienna – then she withdrew from the part. She asserts that she needs harmony; she doesn’t like to quarrel or scream at anyone. She says her managers have been friends as much as managers, and never demanded that she do “crazy things.” She adds that, although it may seem unusual, she’s actually said “no” more often than “yes” over the course of her career. She goes on to say that, because she started out at the top, after the sensational success of the London La Traviata with Sir Georg Solti, she’s always had to be especially cautious about which offers she accepts. She mentions that she completed her formal musical training at 18, and after that, no longer had a teacher or repétiteur with whom she worked. She learned every role or aria on her own, and says she considers it very important for a singer to be him- or herself, even when a particular decision turns out not to have been the right one.
    In considering the parts she’s recently been singing – Mimi, Magda (La Rondine), Tosca, and Adriana Lecouvreur – she says she always returns to Mimi much in the same way she always goes home. This was the role in which she passed her final exams at the music university, her first complete professional role, and the role that was her first love in opera. This is a part she simply has in her blood, she explains. When the reviewer observes that her Tosca and Adriana are not the usual unapproachable divas, but more vulnerable women, Gheorghiu agrees, saying that she wanted to bring something personal and unmistakable to these characters, which so many other sopranos had performed before her. Technical mastery of the roles wasn’t enough; the emotional component had to be there.
    Asked about future plans, she says she will probably add Puccini’s Manon Lescaut to her repertoire at some point, though this is a very taxing role. Coming up this autumn will also be a Lieder concert at La Scala with a program that’s likely to be similar to the one she presented several months ago in Los Angeles, with selections by Rameau, Fauré, and Rachmaninoff as well as a number of Romanian composers. She calls the work with her pianist, Jeff Cohen, “totally wonderful,” and says he is more of a duet partner than an accompanist. She’s also done some work with crossover music, recently recording the song, “Copacul,” in Romania. (She also mentions songs Vangelis wrote for her concert in Qatar, which she says was a tremendous success and which should soon appear in CD and DVD format.) She has also received an offer from Romania for a speaking role in a play, and adds that she’s always enjoyed speaking onstage – especially the “Phaedra” monologue in Adriana Lecouvreur, which she describes as “wonderful, but very, very demanding and so intensive.” In her most recent appearance as Adriana at Carnegie Hall, she says she felt as though she were almost going to faint at the conclusion of the monologue.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Das Opernglas – September, 2013, Issue Summary started by MAuer View original post
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      Feature Stories

      Im Blickpunkt (In the Spotlight): The Early Wagner

      Prior to the start of this year’s Bayreuth Festival, and while rehearsals for that event were in progress, Wagner’s three earliest operas were presented at the city’s Oberfrankenhalle (Upper Franconia Hall), marking the first time this facility was used for opera performances. While Die Feen was sung in concert format, Rienzi and Das Liebesverbot were given full staged productions. The one constant in this mini-series was the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, whose members made the most of the “soft” acoustics in the multi-purpose venue. The results of the acoustical adjustments to the hall turned out to be better than anticipated, due in large measure to the orchestra’s adaptability. While their performance wasn’t always flawless – the violins occasionally needed more volume, and the woodwinds could have used better intonation – the individual sections played with a remarkable sensitivity to each other in operas with very different compositional styles.
      In Die Feen, Wagner’s admiration for Weber is evident in the music, with clear influences from Der Freischütz, Oberon, and Euryanthe in the demands placed on soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Ulf Schirmer was on the podium for this performance, and drew an appropriately round, romantic sound from the Leipzig forces. The quality of the soloists varied, with Elisabet Strid (Ada) the best of the group. She sang with a sovereign, flexible jugendlich dramatische soprano that only needs a little more schooling in Verdi or Mozart’s Italian operas to attain the requisite suppleness. Igor Durlovski lent his striking bass-baritone to the role of the Fairy King, but Detlef Roth’s Morald would have benefitted from more concise articulation. As Prince Arindal’s sister, Lora, Eun Yee You was inclined to shrillness, and in the role of Arindal, Arnold Bezuyen was simply overtaxed. This early Romantic part requires a tenor with a secure top, and a clear, bright, rather “white” (my quotation marks) timbre – in other words, exactly right for Klaus Florian Vogt.
      Performed unabridged, Rienzi is almost unmanageable in its sheer length, but in the program notes here, conductor Christian Thielemann mentioned that he would still like to lead this opera in its entirety at some point in the future. At this performance, some editing had reduced its duration to around four hours, with the important and effective duet of Rienzi and Irene near the opera’s conclusion unfortunately among the cuts. But the high standards of both the musical performance and Matthias von Stegmann’s staging prompted one to ask if it might not be appropriate to reconsider Rienzi’s banishment from the Festspielhaus stage. If an uncut version of this opera were to be performed, than the Festspielhaus is assuredly the most suitable venue for it.
      In addition to Thielemann’s masterful conducting, this performance enjoyed Robert Dean Smith’s magnificent assumption of the title role. This tenor can have his ups and downs, but he was in top vocal and theatrical form throughout the four hours. Irene was sung by the hochdramatische soprano Jennifer Wilson, who was kept on a pretty tight rein by Thielemann. When he loosened his hold, her steely, radiant instrument gave dramatic accents to the music and brought even more life into the performance. Daniela Sindram excelled in the role of Adriano, with registers superbly blended and diction that was crystal-clear; the writer describes her as a “jewel” among today’s mezzo sopranos. There were also fine performances from Tuomas Pursio (Cardinal Orvieto), Milcho Borovinov (Colonna), Jürgen Kurth (Orsini), Carsten Wittmoser (Cecco del Vecchio), and Timothy Fallon (Baroncelli). Here, as in the other two operas, the Leipzig Opera chorus, headed by chorus master Alessandro Zuppardo, was a powerful, attractive-sounding presence. Together with set designer/video artist Matthias Lippert, von Stegmann crafted a compelling, visually appealing production suited to this particular facility, but which would have also functioned well in any other venue.
      Constantin Trinks, on the podium for Das Liebesverbot, provided for a smooth account of the (occasionally comic) proceedings without achieving a standard comparable to that of his two predecessors. If Die Feen’s partitur reflected Wagner’s admiration for Weber, that of Das Liebesverbot clearly shows traces of Rossini and Auber. Among the soloists, Tuomas Pursio (Friedrich) offered singing of international caliber, while soprano Christiane Libor mastered the demanding role of Isabella only to a certain extent, though she did have notable stage presence. Aron Stiehl’s well-constructed, varied staging, placed within Jürgen Kirner’s technically variable sets, rounded out this visually appealing – if once in a while overdone – production. Taken as a whole, this project gave listeners an opportunity to study and enjoy these three very different works within a short period of time, and gave Bayreuth an additional performance space for opera with a capacity equal to that of the Festspielhaus. The latter suggests the possibility of additional “off-Hill” productions. As the writer observes, these needn’t be presented every year.

      Focus: Defilee der Diven (Parade of Divas)

      London’s Royal Opera House wrapped up its 2012-13 season with three operas that have been popular vehicles for star sopranos – and the ROH delivered three of today’s international leading ladies in those roles. Renée Fleming made one of her rare European appearances, singing Countess Madeleine in performances of Strauss’ Capriccio conducted by Andrew Davis. Regrettably, these were presented in concert format and placed the orchestra rather than the soloists on the stage area with the most favorable acoustics. The orchestra pit was not covered over to provide additional space, so the singers were positioned right in front of the 80-member strong ensemble. Fleming did her best to cope with the situation by employing strong vocal colors, but these came at the expense of many textual nuances. Her singing also wasn’t entirely free from a slight wobble, though she never ran up against her vocal limits in the manner Peter Rose did at the end of La Roche’s monologue. Real life was brought into the proceedings by Bo Skovhus (the Count), with his “fabulous” declamatory style, and by Christian Gerhaher and Andrew Staples as Olivier and Flamand, respectively.
      The revival of Jonathan Kent’s classic production of Tosca paired Martina Serafin’s convincing, deeply-felt heroine with Aleksandrs Antonenko’s Cavaradossi, sung with brilliant high notes. Scott Hendricks lent his attractive baritone to the villainous Scarpia and gave such a vivid portrayal that he was rewarded at the curtain by a chorus of boos – a tribute to his villainy, not a reflection on his singing. Conductor Daniel Oren provided assured leadership from the podium.
      Angela Gheorghiu returned for the third revival of “her” production of La Rondine, and despite the fact that conductor Marco Armiliato had his hands full trying to rein in the orchestra’s volume, she never resorted to forcing. She was partnered this time by Charles Castronovo as a good, if not exceptional, Ruggero. In the soubrette role of Lisette – by no means an insubstantial part – Sabrina Puértolas sounded scratchy. In Enzo Frigerio’s appealing Jazz Age sets, director Nicolas Joel opted for an appropriately airy, calm Personenführung.
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      Live Performance Reviews – Festivals

      - Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen – Bayreuth Festival
      Conductor: Kirill Petrenko
      Director: Frank Castorf
      Cast: Wolfgang Koch, Catherine Foster, Lance Ryan, Claudia Mahnke, Martin Winkler, Burkhard Ulrich, Anja Kampe, Johan Botha, Attila Jun, Allison Oakes, Alejandro Marco-Burmester, Nadine Weissmann, Mirella Hagen, Julia Rutigliano, Okka von der Damerau, Elisabet Strid, Günther Groissböck, Sorin Coliban, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: From reading this critique, one would never know that director Frank Castorf was greeted by an almost record-setting storm of boos at the conclusion of Götterdämmerung, or that he was so intent upon defying and/or provoking the audience that he wouldn’t even stand aside to allow the wonderful Festspiel Orchestra musicians to take their curtain call onstage, as is tradition. From this reviewer’s account, one would even get the impression that this bicentennial year Ring production was a rousing success. Certainly, this critic views it as such, only suggesting that it will have acquired a little more refinement and greater profile by next summer. Though Castorf had announced a year and a half ago that his concept for the cycle would treat oil as the modern equivalent of the Ring’s gold, the reviewer regards this production more as a Tale of Two Germanys. With Das Rheingold set in a 1970s-era American motel and Die Walküre placed in early 20th century Russia on the brink of the revolution, the critic sees references to the two postwar superpowers that would exercise predominant influence in the divided Germany. In Siegfried, the visual references were clearly to East Berlin and the waning days of the former German Democratic Republic. Mime was a diehard Marxist holding out in his mobile home/dacha that was backed by a Communist version of Mount Rushmore with the likenesses of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao; Siegfried represented the East German citizen fearlessly facing the coming of a reunified Germany and the massive changes it would bring. (He met the Forest Bird, who was costumed as a spectacularly colorful cross between the German eagle and a Friedrichstadt Palace theater dancer, on a replica of the Alexanderplatz, the old East Berlin transit hub.) By Götterdämmerung, the “peaceful revolution” of 1989 had taken place, and the former East Berliners – i.e., the Gibichungs – evidently regarded Mohawk cuts and garish hair colors as an expression of their new freedom and non-conformity. The action took place during the period when the old Reichstag was being refurbished to serve as the Parliament building for the reunited Germany, and included the artist Cristo’s wrap of the entire structure. When the wrap came off, the Bundestag had been transformed into the New York Stock Exchange. In the plot, Siegfried discovered that he’d jumped from the frying pan into the fire in abandoning Mime’s digs for an almost identical abode with the high-strung, nervous Brünnhilde, who plagued him with her desire to have children. In the end, this hero wasn’t killed with a stab in the back, but was clubbed to death with a baseball bat in a rear courtyard. The reviewer considered this staging the weakest of the four, creating an unfinished impression by comparison with the visually and dramatically convincing works that had preceded it. Could this be what he considers in need of “refinement?”
      Where the musical performance was concerned, this Ring’s strongest asset was conductor Kirill Petrenko. He favored very brisk tempos, with which he achieved a compact, clean, and transparent sound. Among the large cast, Wolfgang Koch (Wotan/Wanderer) was the clear standout. Even if his voice doesn’t have the greatest power for this part, his complete identification with the role, paired with a flawless mastery of the music, makes him another memorable interpreter of the chief of the gods. There was some luxury casting with Mirella Hagen, Julia Rutiigliano, and Okka von der Damerau as the Rhine Maidens. Not only were they marvelous as individual soloists, but they also knew how to blend their voices in an artistic, clear ensemble. (Hagen also sang the Forest Bird in Siegfried.) As Sieglinde, Anja Kampe was able to compensate for her rather “short” soprano with solid technique and surprising engagement. Johan Botha was a vocally satisfying Siegmund, singing in an unusually lean, elegant manner. Of course, his acting was limited by his lack of mobility. In the huge barn that was supposed to be Hunding’s home, Sieglinde had to pile bales of hay around him for support, and he was placed in a stall directly beside a wire lean-to that held a live turkey. (The reviewer even wonders if these tactics were intended as a piece of oblique revenge against the corpulent tenor by Castorf.) There were also noteworthy performances from Nadine Weissmann, who sang Erda with a magnificent concert contralto; Burkhard Ulrich as an engaged Mime and Günther Groissböck as a striking Fasolt; Elisabet Strid (Freia) with her voluminous, youthful soprano; and Alejandro Marco-Burmester as a succinct Günther.
      On the downside, Catherine Foster’s Brünnhilde left a hole in the musical drama. At times, she was able to produce an attractive, round, mellifluous tone, but her middle and lower ranges lacked expansiveness, and at moments of the greatest dramatic impact, she was unable to provide the necessary musical intensity. In the trio with Hagen and Günther, she was nearly inaudible. Lance Ryan’s Siegfried never lacked for volume or carrying power, or for security on top. Nor could one fault his dramatic commitment. However, his diction was poor, and his vocal production was anything but attractive and tasteful. All of these same observations can be made for Attila Jun’s Hagen. Claudia Mahnke, Fricka in Das Rheingold and Waltraute in Götterdämmerung, sang with a slender, attractive mezzo, but lacked the requisite dramatic foundation for Wotan’s consort. She also had problems with comprehensible articulation, as did Martin Winkler’s Alberich. Sorin Coliban was too weak for Fafner, and Allison Oakes too inconspicuous as Gutrune.

      - Verdi: Il Trovatore – Bavarian State Opera Festival, Munich
      Conductor: Paolo Carignani
      Director: Olivier Py
      Cast: Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros, Alexey Markov, Elena Manistina, Kwangchul Youn, Golda Schultz, Francesco Petrozzi
      Reviewer’s evaluation: The musical performance clearly outshone the staging in Munich’s new production of Il Trovatore. Director Olivier Py’s dark interpretation created a nihilistic, end-of-time atmosphere in multi-level sets that often suggested the period of the Industrial Revolution. Azucena, with her relentless quest for revenge, became the drama’s central figure. The Regisseur also wasn’t satisfied with the one-dimensional, superficial original plot (absurd as it is), but decided to augment it with double and quadruple surfaces on which the action took place, sometimes by actors or dancers in pantomime. Unfortunately, these additional, elaborate views into the depths of the figures’ characters and their motivation didn’t seem to strike the audience as especially credible, either. The constantly rotating stage provided such an abundance of images that it properly wore out the viewer.
      However, any objections to Py’s staging – which did overshoot the mark at times – were practically forgotten in the pleasure of listening to the magnificent portrayals of Leonora and Manrico by Munich’s Dream Team of Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann, joined by the equally brilliant Conte di Luna of Alexey Markov. There’s no need to repeat all of the superlatives the reviewer lavished on the first two; it’s sufficient to note that Harteros and Kaufmann were vocally and dramatically about all that one could wish for. Py’s rather questionable decision to make Leonora blind may have emphasized the purity of her love, but it also unnecessarily restricted the soprano’s ability to fully act her role, and made this character even more one-dimensional. That could have produced “fatal” consequences had the part been cast with a less-gifted artist than Harteros. The young Russian baritone Alexey Markov was a genuine discovery. His excellent voice is full of substance and potential, and his upper register has an almost tenorial sound. Paired with Kaufmann’s baritonal tenor, it gave unusual dramatic credibility to the two rivals who, unbeknownst to each other, are brothers. With Kwangchul Youn, Munich had a Bayreuth-quality bass in the role of Ferrando – and, in fact, he was supposed to sing Gurnemanz in performances of Parsifal at the conclusion of the Festival, which also marked the end of Kent Nagano’s tenure as Munich’s General Music Director. Youn is no less experienced as a Verdi interpreter, and from the beginning of the opera, he set a very high musical standard. Unfortunately, Elena Manistina (Azucena) wasn’t quite on a par with her colleagues. She possesses a strongly expressive mezzo with a powerful chest voice and secure top register, but wasn’t able to attain the vocal presence and carrying power that would have elevated her performance to the same level as those of Harteros, Kaufmann, Markov, and Youn. In the pit, conductor Paolo Carignani led a gripping account of Verdi’s partitur that was full of brio, and gave sensitive accompaniment to his outstanding singers.

      - Bellini: La Straniera – Zürich Opera Festival
      Conductor: Fabio Luisi
      Director: Christof Loy
      Cast: Edita Gruberova, Dario Schmunck, Franco Vassallo, Pavel Daniluk, Veronica Simeoni, Reinhard Mayr, Benjamin Bernheim
      Note: for background information on this opera, see the summary of the August, 2013, issue of Opernwelt, http://operalively.com/forums/showth...-Issue-Summary
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Director Christof Loy has worked together with Edita Gruberova for many years, and it was apparently at his suggestion that she returned to Zürich after a lengthy absence (occasioned by a spat with former Intendant Alexander Pereira) to sing the title role in La Straniera. He supported her with a staging that translated the atmosphere created by the music into a series of memorable images. The delicate ornamentation in Bellini’s score was reflected in Annette Kurz’s sets, though they had something of an improvisational nature. The interior of a theater was represented, but it wasn’t always clear what was supposed to be the stage and what was supposed to be rows of seats. A series of semi-transparent curtains were lowered in a staggered arrangement, then gradually raised again as the secrets surrounding the mysterious woman were revealed. For this “historic thriller,” Ursula Renzenbrink designed costumes suggesting the 19th century rather than medieval France, but they worked well. In these conditions, Loy didn’t need to require much of the soloists, and his Personenregie was, in fact, rather sketchy.
      But this was intended to be Gruberova’s show, and she didn’t let her admirers down. She expertly managed all the shifts between lyrical sensitivity and tempestuous outbursts that the part of Alaide/Agnes demands. Her soprano is as well-focused as ever, and the concentrated power of her singing supplied an appropriate impulsive emotionalism to her character. The skill with which she combined all of her voice’s expressive facets into a unified whole was quite impressive, and if her intonation on the premiere evening wasn’t always precise, this was a minor blemish in what was otherwise an outstanding performance. The audience wasn’t quite so impressed by Dario Scmunk’s rumpled, constantly pining Arturo di Ravenstel, sung with a tenor that sounded relatively small and monochromatic in this part. His high notes were solid and his phrasing refined, though piano passages were not always adequately supported. Franco Vassallo’s performance as Valdeburgo was a real puzzle. In the first half of the opera, he made a favorable impression with his noble, rounded baritone and lean, flexible singing, only to experience noticeable vocal deterioration in the second half, where one suddenly heard clumsy, rough passages. In contrast, Veronica Simeoni was a marvelous Isoletta, her plush, glowing mezzo even across its range. There were also a pair of excellent performances from Reinhard Mayr as the Prior and Benjamin Bernheim as Osburgo, with the latter’s radiant, substantial tenor drawing increasing attention. On the podium, Maestro Fabio Luisi led a sparkling, flexible, and transparent rendition of Bellini’s partitur.

      - Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Salzburg Festival
      Conductor: Daniele Gatti
      Director: Stefan Herheim
      Cast: Michael Volle, Roberto Saccà, Anna Gabler, Markus Werba, Georg Zeppenfeld, Monika Bohinec, Peter Sonn, Oliver Zwarg, Tobias Kehrer, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: A traditional staging by Stefan Herheim?? At first glance, it would have seemed so, with the first act recognizably set in a church with organ, stained glass windows, and vaguely Baroque architecture. The singers may have been costumed in 19th century rather than Renaissance garb, but there was certainly nothing odd or outlandish in that. However, we are talking about Stefan Herheim, and if this production lacked some of the more notorious Regietheater excesses, it definitely was not a conventional treatment. The entire course of events was supposed to represent the memories of the elderly widower Sachs, though it was never clear whether he was recalling actual occurrences or only dreaming. There was an entire assortment of associations, including Wagner, Schopenhauer, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (St. John’s Day being the German equivalent of the midsummer celebration.) The second act, set in his cobbler’s shop, was still relatively representational, though the huge cupboards and shelves filled with books, musical instruments, and preparations for scientific experiments not only conveyed the image of Sachs as a literal Renaissance man, but was also intended to suggest a parallel with Wagner, with the Mastersinger and composer both presented as intellectual giants surrounded by petty minds. By the opera’s final scene on the festival meadow, Herheim was clearly showing his hand, with the aforementioned touch of Schopenhauer in the themes of madness and the subconscious, along with additional references to the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales in the form of the seven dwarves and the town musicians of Bremen, and giant Punch and Judy figures thrown in for good measure. Even the legendary locomotive, Adler (Eagle), which Wagner probably saw on a visit to Nürnberg in 1835, put in an appearance. But the Regisseur saved his final stroke for the very end, when the crowd’s celebration of German art and culture – and Sachs himself – finished with Sachs flung to the ground in the tumult, while Beckmesser was resurrected from the chaos. The reviewer wonders if this was intended to suggest that Sachs and Beckmesser were simply the two sides of the same coin.
      As the reviewer also observes, this sort of concept ultimately stands or falls (no pun intended) with the singer-actors portraying the various characters. In this respect, Salzburg was fortunate in casting Michael Volle as Hans Sachs. The critic calls his role portrait “a revelation,” even if his voice didn’t function perfectly in every measure and the musical demands took him to his limits. He mastered both Sachs’ great outbursts as well as the small parlando passages with remarkable self-confidence and robust vocal condition. His conception of the sometimes hot-headed Mastersinger who was very cognizant of his own ability – more parallels to Schopenhauer and Wagner – was close to ideal. With such a dominant performance by Volle, it wasn’t always easy for the other soloists to assert themselves. The only one who was fully successful in this regard was Markus Werba as an unusually youthful, attractive-voiced Beckmesser. This town clerk was a serious candidate for the hand of the Eva of Anna Gabler, whose dark soprano couldn’t completely fill the large Festspeilhaus. Roberto Saccà sang Walther von Stolzing with his radiant, essentially lyric tenor that was up to the high-lying demands of the Preislied, but he had a dismaying habit of attacking notes from below and his voice also lacked carrying power. Georg Zeppenfeld brought a solid, secure bass with beautiful intonation to the role of Pogner, while Peter Sonn sang David with an appealing combination of lyric quality and a striking timbre. Other notable performances came from Oliver Zwarg as a gripping, plush-toned Kothner; Tobias Kehrer, who made the cameo role of the Night Watchman memorable with his big, jet-black bass; and Monika Bohinec’s fine Magdalena. But while both the singers and staging team were applauded at the curtain call, conductor Daniele Gatti got to hear some clear booing for his “polarizing” interpretation of the partitur, even though he was given exemplary support by both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera chorus.

      - Verdi: Falstaff – Salzburg Festival
      Conductor: Zubin Mehta
      Director: Damiano Michieletto
      Cast: Ambrogio Maestri, Fiorenza Cedolins, Stephanie Houtzeel, Elisabeth Kulman, Massimo Cavalletti, Eleonora Buratto, Javier Camarena, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Setting this opera’s events in a rest home wasn’t a new idea; Stefan Herheim had done the same 13 years ago at the Oldenburg State Theater. But in director Damiano Michieletto’s version, the facility involved was supposed to be Verdi’s own Casa di Riposo, the musicians’ rest home in Milan where the composer and his wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, are buried. Among the residents here was an old man who still had all sorts of odd notions in his head, including that of his own supposed seductive allure. He had evidently sung the role of Falstaff during his career, and – in another similarity to one of Herheim’s productions – dreamed part of the opera’s events. Transitions between reality and the dream sequences were signaled by wobbling walls (achieved through dissolving video images), recurring light patterns, and the appearance of specific behaviors and groups of individuals. In contrast to Herheim’s approach in Die Meistersinger, Michieletto’s use of this device seemed less dramaturgically justified and somewhat capricious. Also, despite the Regisseur’s program notes that commented upon the fears and longings of elderly people increasingly confronted with their mortality, his staging only touched on this subject superficially.
      The musical performance was nearly flawless, beginning with Ambrogio Maestri in the title role. It would be difficult to imagine a better interpretation, vocally or dramatically, of this character, and it didn’t hurt that he visually corresponds to the image of Shakespeare’s plump Jack. He was clearly having fun, especially in the scenes with Elisabeth Kulman’s marvelous Dame Quickly. Fiorenza Cedolins was an engaged, vocally sovereign Alice, and Stephanie Houtzeel a faultless Meg. Massimo Cavalletti was an equally irreproachable Ford. Javier Camarena lent his uncommonly beautiful tenor and gleaming high notes to Fenton. Only Eleonora Buratto’s Nannetta wasn’t quite on the same level, as her attractive soprano was not free of technical problems. The entire cast benefitted from the fact that this opera was performed in the small Haus für Mozart instead of the much larger Festspielhaus. The Vienns Philharmonic performed under the expert baton of conductor Zubin Mehta, who at 77 shows no signs of slowing down. At 11 a.m., he led an “exemplary” performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, and then returned to the podium at 5 p.m. for Falstaff.

      - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice – Bregenz Festival
      Conductor: Erik Nielsen
      Director: Keith Warner
      Cast: Adrian Eröd, Christopher Ainslie, Charles Workman, Magdalena Anna Hofmann, Jason Bridges, Kathryn Lewek, Verena Gunz, David Stout
      Note: Background information on this composer is included in the summary of the August, 2013, issue of Opernwelt, http://operalively.com/forums/showth...-Issue-Summary
      Reviewer’s evaluation: The Bregenz Festival was able to present a major world premiere this summer with this production of the Polish Jewish composer André Tchaikowsky’s monumental operatic treatment of Shakespeare’s play. The English libretto by John O’Brien sticks very close to the original, cutting the text by about a third, but retaining Shakespeare’s verse. Tchaikowsky wrote extremely dense music with layers and concentrations of sound, best heard in the intermezzo between the third act and the epilogue. The reviewer describes his score as oriented toward Berg’s Wozzeck, with quotes from the “other” Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich included, along with elements of Palestrina’s Renaissance technique, and orchestration and vocal characterizations that repeatedly evoke Benjamin Britten. With its diverse influences, this opera might almost be called a hodge-podge of assimilated European musical tradition.
      Keith Warner’s staging updated the action to the 1920s, an era in which our modern world dominated by commerce, financial growth, and money was already emerging. It was also a time during which powerful Jewish banking dynasties such as the Rothschilds played a significant role, as well as a time of increasing anti-Semitism. Particularly in the case of the latter, Warner’s idea was a logical fit with Shakespeare’s story.
      Conductor Erik Nielsen drew a precise, clear performance of the score from the excellent Vienna Symphony Orchestra, while Adrian Eröd gave a deeply moving portrayal of Shylock. Tchaikowsky’s writing for this figure requires a character baritone with razor-sharp articulation, as well as both a substantial lower register and an almost tenor-like top, and Eröd was up to its demands. His two great scenes, “I am a Jew,” and “I have a daughter,” were delivered with oppressive urgency. The very real difficulties presented by this music were, unfortunately, apparent with some of the other soloists. As Antonio, countertenor Christopher Ainslie offered wonderfully pure, clear, beautiful tone, but he had problems projecting his voice in the Bregenz Festspielhaus and often remained inaudible. Charles Workman sang Bassanio with a robust tenor and sustained a musical line well, but one couldn’t avoid noticing his very weak upper register. The other roles were very well cast with Magdalena Anna Hofmann in the big dramatic soprano part of Portia; Jason Bridges and Kathryn Lewek as the young lovers, Lorenzo and Jessica; and Verena Gunz and David Stout as Nerissa and Graziano, respectively.

      - Mozart: Die Zauberflöte – Bregenz Festival
      Conductor: Patrick Summers
      Director: David Pountney
      Cast: Rainer Trost, Anja-Nina Bahrmann, Klaus Kuttler, Albert Pesendorfer, Laura Claycomb, Susanne Grosssteiner, Barbara Zechmeister, Sabrina Kögel, Bernadett Fodor, Hanna Herfurtner, Veronika Vetter, Viola Zimmermann, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: David Pountney concluded his tenure as the Bregenz Festival’s Intendant with this spectacular production that was presented on the stage out in Lake Constance. Johan Engels’ set consisted of a big, dome-shaped series of stairs that reminded the reviewer of a giant tortoise, and which included a hydraulic lift that enabled the Queen of the Night to be safely hoisted nine meters above the water’s surface. The effect of the latter was enormous, recalling painter/architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s background for the “sternflammende” Queen, who was positioned on a crescent moon, for an 1816 production of this opera. The mound was also guarded by three 27-meter high dragon-dogs representing wisdom, reason, and nature. With the performance beginning at sundown, Mother Nature even lent a hand to Fabrice Kebour’s impressive lighting direction. Marie-Jeanne Lecca’s costumes and Ran Arthur Braun’s acrobatic stunt choreography contributed to the impressive spectacle. It was a show especially suited to children – at least up until the point when Pountney decided to have Sarastro and the Queen commit suicide. One really must ask why, since it didn’t make particular sense within the context of his staging, and also because it’s not at all unusual to spot youngsters in the audience at performances of this particular opera.
      Through the use of 80 loudspeakers concealed in the lake stage’s construction and an additional 800 hidden within the seating rows, the musicians of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra were able to play in the Festspielhaus while the soloists performed out on the lake. This technology, devised by Wolfgang Fritz, allows Bregenz to avoid the acoustical problems often associated with outdoor performances. Among the soloists, the most noteworthy singing came from Albert Pesendorfer with his splendid, beautiful bass as Sarastro – incomprehensible that the first stanza was cut from one of his second-act arias – and Anja-Nina Bahrmann as a touching Pamina with an even lyric soprano. Laura Claycomb ran into some trouble in the Queen of the Night’s first aria, but made up for it with an excellent rendition of the second one, the difficult coloratura very cleanly delivered. Rainer Trost (Tamino), who had to withdraw from the premiere due to indisposition, had fully recovered by the third performance, which this reviewer attended. He made a sensitive, lyrical Prince, though not one with an overabundance of aplomb. Klaus Kuttler was a likeably rambunctious Papageno who quickly won the audience’s sympathy, and he was joined by Susanne Grosssteiner’s vocally appealing Papagena. There was fine singing as well from the three ladies (Barbara Zechmeister, Sabrina Kögel, Bernadett Fodor) and the three boys (Hanna Herfurtner, Veronika Vetter, Viola Zimmermann). Patrick Summers was a careful, circumspect conductor, but he seemed unable to motivate the musicians of the Vienna Symphony to truly exciting playing.

      - Millöcker: Der Bettelstudent (The Beggar Student) – Mörbisch Lake Festival
      Conductor: Uwe Theimer
      Drector: Ralf Nürnberger
      Cast: Henrik Böhm, Mirko Roschkowski, Cornelia Zink, Linda Plech, Gert Henning Jensen, Daniela Kälin, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: For operetta fans, the Lake Festival in Mörbisch, Austria, is a combination of Mecca and Olympus. There are lavish opening ceremonies for the month-long event (30 consecutive evenings of performances), which this year was attended by the Austrian chancellor – much as the German chancellor is always present at the opening performance at the Bayreuth Festival. But unlike Bayreuth, one won’t find any Regietheater stagings here. Productions in Mörbisch are unabashedly sumptuous and traditional, and the Lake Festival’s thousands of fans would likely have it no other way. On offer this summer was Carl Millöcker’s popular 1882 work, Der Bettelstudent, full of plenty of popular arias and ensemble numbers. In the operetta’s story, Colonel Ollendorf, the commander of Krakow, is out for revenge against Laura, the daughter of Countess Palmatia Nowalska, who smacked him with her fan after he kissed her on the shoulder. He releases a pair of prisoners, Symon Rymanewicz (the beggar student of the title) and his chum, Jan Janicki, on the condition that they pose as a millionaire and his aide in order to entice the daughters of the bankrupt Kowalska family into marriage. Of course, Symon and Laura actually fall in love, and Janicki is smitten with Laura’s sister, Bronislava. The Countess had declared that she would accept only a Polish nobleman as a son-in-law, so after Symon and Laura have tied the knot, Colonel Ollendorf reveals the deception and Symon gets unceremoniously chucked out of the palace. The despondent bridegroom is contemplating suicide when Janicki persuades him to join in a plot to restore King Stanislaus to his throne. Naturally, the plot succeeds and the grateful King rewards Symon with a knighthood. That satisfies Laura and the Countess, and everyone presumably lives happily ever after.
      The libretto contains long stretches of spoken dialogue that were performed uncut at the premiere, robbing director Ralf Nürnberger’s production of much of its drive. That was regrettable, since much else here functioned well. Set designer Yadegar Asisi had devised a picture-book Krakow of magnificent structures and gaudy colors that was complimented by Susanne Thomasberger’s extravagant costumes. In spite of her towering wig, mezzo Linda Plech dominated the scene as Countess Kowalska, while Cornelia Zink sang Laura with an especially beautiful soprano. Daniela Kälin was a “deliciously hysterical” Bronislava, and Gert Henning Jensen’s Janicki evinced the work of a seasoned professional. Mirko Roschkowski put on a good show as Symon, while Henrik Böhm really “cleaned up” in the parade role of Colonel Ollendorf. However, one can’t help noticing how much of this character’s text is antiquated and full of platitudes; a little Regietheater touch to make at least some of it more palatable for modern audiences probably wouldn’t be amiss. One could also have wished for livelier playing from the Festival Orchestra, whose members were performing in their own space for the first time and were linked by monitors to the singers onstage. Conductor Uwe Theirmer let things properly bang and clang away, but the results were sometimes loud and ponderous. One hoped that the situation would improve in subsequent evenings. Still, all considered, this marked a successful beginning to soprano Dagmar Schellenberger’s first season as Mörbisch’s new Intendantin.

      - Verdi: Otello – Festival lo Spirito della Musica di Venezia
      Conductor: Myung-Whun Chung
      Director: Francesco Micheli
      Cast: Gregory Kunde, Carmela Remigio, Luco Gallo, Francesco Marisiglia, Elisabetta Martorana, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: For the first time in more than four decades, this outdoor festival held in the inner courtyard of Venice’s Palazzo Ducale offered a production of Verdi’s Otello. One last encountered the Moor of Venice here in 1967, the final year of starry performances with the likes of Mario del Monaco, Marcella Pobbe, and Tito Gobbi in the leads. While the 2013 version may not have boasted of such stellar casting, performance standards were nonetheless high.
      The ambiance of the inner courtyard seems created for operas and theater plays, particularly since its sheltered nature keeps out the noise from the adjacent St. Mark’s Square and provides favorable acoustical conditions. Colorful illumination highlighted the façade of the palace’s church side near the massive flight of steps (Scala dei Giganti). The whole formed a colossal stage space that no opera house could ever afford to construct. For this performance, the orchestra had been placed to the left, with the action taking place just to the right of conductor Myung-Whun Chung, from the covered fountain all the way to the stairs. Maestro Chung expertly guided orchestra and singers through the partitur, drawing astonishingly delicate, romantically tender colors from his musicians, but also eliciting dramatic force when required. Gregory Kunde had made his role debut as the titular hero in this production when it premiered at La Fenice last November, making him one of the few tenors to have sung both Verdi’s and Rossini’s Otellos. (He’ll return to Rossini’s Moor next spring.) He has gone through an impressive development that’s seen his voice gain in darkness and size while retaining its ease of production and radiant power. His interpretation may lack the dramatic force of some of his famous predecessors, but is no less intensive and compelling. Carmela Remigio brought an exceptionally beautiful sound to Desdemona, and deployed her fine legato and wonderful piani to particularly moving effect in the Willow Song and Ave, Maria. On the downside, her voice didn’t have the necessary foundation for the big dramatic scenes. The same could be said for Lucio Gallo’s Iago. In spite of his very pleasant, well-schooled baritone, he was unable to give this complex character sufficient vocal facets. There were solid performances from Francesco Marisiglia (Cassio) and Elisabetta Martorana (Emilia), but the quality of the remaining cast members was not impressive.
      Director Francesco Micheli’s traditional staging relied primarily on skillful Personenführung. His only misstep came at the very end, when he had the slain Desdemona return as a ghost and place the knife in her husband’s hands so he could kill himself. Then, united in death, the couple vanished in the darkened sets.

      - Richard Strauss: Elektra – Aix-en-Provence Festival
      Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen
      Director: Patrice Chéreau
      Cast: Evelyn Herlitzius, Waltraud Meier, Adrianne Pieczonka, Mikhail Petrenko, Tom Randle, Franz Mazura, Renate Behle, Roberta Alexander, Donald McIntyre, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: The opera being performed may have been by Richard Strauss rather than Richard Wagner, but this production almost had the feel of a Bayreuth Festival reunion with so many of the Green Hill’s stalwarts joining forces. There was Patrice Chéreau, director of the landmark centennial Ring, with his Wotan, the 79 year-old Sir Donald McIntyre, who was portraying the old servant here. There was the 89 year-old Franz Mazura, another Bayreuth veteran, as Orestes’ tutor. Waltraud Meier (Klytämnestra), Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra), and Adrianne Pieczonka (Chrysothemis) have all sung leading roles at the Festspielhaus. Appearing along with the Bayreuth “alumni” (my quotation marks) were veteran sopranos Renate Behle and Roberta Alexander, singing the overseer and the fifth maid, respectively.
      With his polished Personenregie, M. Chéreau ensured a gripping interpretation that was faithful to both Strauss’ music and von Hofmannsthal’s libretto, but brought events even closer to the audience through the use of telling details. At the opera’s beginning, the maids swept the inner courtyard of the palace as though they could cleanse the place of the curse on the House of Atreus. After Orestes and his tutor arrived, the pair concealed themselves in a niche from where they could observe the goings-on. Orestes strangled his mother in full view of the audience, while it was left to the tutor to give the fatal stab to Aegisthus. This Klytämnestra was no screaming wreck, but a guilt-ridden woman who sought her daughter’s devotion, and Elektra, for all her vengeful fury, was still a daughter yearning to be loved. Ultimately, Chéreau’s approach could only work if he had singers with the ability to vocally and physically convey his ideas – and he had them. Herlitzius internalized the character of Elektra with shattering intensity, placing expressivity before tonal beauty, and had sufficient resources of strength to carry her through the delirious victory dance to her final phrase. Meier’s Klytämnestra was an attractive, almost fragile Queen conscious of her position. The mezzo sang with exemplary diction and an almost bel canto style, and even if her voice isn’t ideal for this low-lying part, she is still an admirable alternative to other interpreters. Making her role debut as Chrysothemis, Pieczonka was fully up to the level of her co-stars, and sang with a wonderfully glowing, mellow soprano that provided the necessary contrast to Herlitzius’ sharper, harder tone. Mikhail Petrenko brought spotless diction and a striking, dark bass to Orestes. Included in the luxury casting in the smaller roles was Tom Randle’s Aegisthus. Conducting his first Elektra, Esa-Pekka Salonen elicited a remarkably clear, lucid sound from the Orchestre de Paris. Paired with the precision of all the different groups of instruments, it highlighted the similarities between parts of this score and that of Der Rosenkavalier, which premiered two years after Elektra.
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      Live Performance Reviews – Season Finale

      - Verdi: Attila – Theater an der Wien, Vienna
      Conductor: Riccardo Frizza
      Director: Peter Konwitschny
      Cast: Dmitry Belosselsky, Lucrecia Garcia, George Petean, Nikolai Schukoff, Andrew Owens, Stefan Cerny
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Director Peter Konwitschny’s idea to give this opera comic book treatment, complete with text bubbles, provoked a response from a portion of the audience that was really no laughing matter. At one point, this group engaged in a vehement protest, spiced with some of the choicest Viennese invective, that nearly brought the performance to a standstill. Only after several minutes and six attempts by conductor Riccardo Frizza to resume the music was the opera finally brought to its conclusion. But despite audience wrath over the production’s cartoonish elements, Konwitschny’s Personenregie was exemplary in its psychological subtlety, with the soloists’ every gesture telling. He had divided the opera’s scenes into three segments, each with its own theme. In the first, “Kindlich verspielt” (loosely translated, playful or fanciful like a child), the characters behaved like children playing at war, barefoot, decked out in furs and war paint, and armed with frying pans, whisks, and cooking spoons. The fun and games ended with the arrival of Pope Leo and the next segment, “Ausgewachsen infantil” (roughly, the infantile fully-grown), where the figures had turned into adults in business suits, and their play had become bitterly serious (including a Russian roulette wheel with a few dead virgins). The final segment, “Immer noch nichts gelernt” (Still haven’t learned anything), found an elderly Attila, Odabella, and Ezio as wheelchair-bound residents of a nursing home, with their fellow resident Foresto leaning on a rolling walker. And, indeed, they had learned nothing over the course of their lives and were still trying to kill each other. They never succeeded, however, since all four of them eventually perished from dementia or other infirmities of old age. The reviewer considers it a plus that Verdi’s “freedom opera” linked to the Risorgimento was skillfully staged in a manner that stripped it of historical bombast – and evidently, a substantial portion of the audience agreed with him, since the booing was overwhelmed by applause at the curtain. After all the previous uproar, Konwitschny received a standing ovation!
      The young Russian bass Dmitry Belosselsky from the Bolshoi Theater sang the title role with a powerful, seamlessly produced instrument. No less impressive were the Venezuelan soprano Lucrecia Garcia, who brought a voluminous, steely sound to Odabella, and Romanian baritone George Petean (Ezio), who, after a few initial minor difficulties, produced a well-focused, virile tone with plenty of carrying power. Things weren’t so happy with the two tenors. Nikolai Schukoff (Foresto) may be a fine Siegmund, Max, or Parsifal, but his metallic and sometimes blunt-sounding voice lacks the agility and gleaming top for the Italian repertoire. Neither was Andrew Owens, a member of the Young Ensemble at the Theater an der Wien, especially convincing as Uldino. In contrast, the young bass Stefan Cerny from the Vienna Volksoper, who sang Pope Leo, proved himself a talent to watch. On the podium of the Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Frizza led a dynamically nuanced, exciting account of Verdi’s score.

      - Berlioz: Les Troyens (concert performance) – Opéra Municipal de la Ville de Marseille
      Conductor: Lawrence Foster
      Soloists: Roberto Alagna, Béatrice Uria-Monzon, Marc Barrard, Marie Kalinine, Nicolas Courjal, Clémentine Margaine, Alexandre Duhamel, Anne-Marguerite Werster, Gregory Warren, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Marseille celebrated its designation as Europe’s cultural capital this year by extending the opera season into July and offering a (supposedly) complete performance of Berlioz’s mammoth work, with Roberto Alagna making his role debut as Enée and Béatrice Uria-Monzon also making a debut of sorts by singing the roles of both Cassandre and Didon in the same performance for the first time. As it turned out, the opera wasn’t quite complete; approximately 30 minutes’ worth of music had been cut. But with three intermissions and conductor Lawrence Foster’s choice of leisurely tempos, the performance lasted more than five hours, finally concluding sometime after midnight.
      Of course, considerable interest was focused on Alagna, especially since he was tackling a role that was near the limits of his essentially lyric tenor. In the beginning, he was “glued” to his sheet music, but later, when he reached arias he’d already recorded or sung in recital, he relaxed more and his phrasing became freer. To be sure, he occasionally forced and produced a rather piercing tone, but for the most part, he was a very French and very elegant Enée. Then his singing was powerful, heroic, and attractive, and the high notes in his great aria, “Ah! quand viendra,” rang out confidently. His contribution to the love duet, “Nuit d’ivresse,” was magical, and one has seldom heard anything similar from the big Heldentenor voices usually associated with this role. Stylistically, his interpretation was entirely convincing.
      Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to replicate his success at the second performance three days later. Evidently, learning this role had taken a greater toll on his vocal cords than anticipated, and apparently forced him to cancel a recital in Orange the following weekend. He has five scheduled performances as Enée at the Deutsche Oper Berlin next spring that will undoubtedly be closely watched.
      Uria-Monzon was also remarkably successful in her “double duty” (my quotation marks) as Cassandre and Didon. In temperament, expressivity, and French diction, she was an ideal partner for Alagna. Her voice had both a brilliant top and dark, highly individual low register, which made for an especially touching Didon. But that she had also pushed herself to the limit by undertaking both parts became evident toward the end of the evening, when her voice – which doesn’t have very big volume under normal circumstances – began to show some slight signs of tiring. With one exception, the other soloists performed at the highest levels. Clémentine Margaine sang Didon’s sister, Anna, with a full, dark, sensuous mezzo, and Marc Barrard was an ideal Chorèbe with his warm, honeyed baritone. Marie Kalinine made a virile, youthful Ascagne; Nicolas Courjal an excellent Narbal with his robust, elegantly produced bass; and Alexandre Duhamel and Anne-Marguerite Werster were convincing in their dual roles of Panthée and Mercure, and Hécube and Polyxène. The only disappointment was Gregory Warren in the roles of Iopas and Hylas with his insecure, bleating tenor.

      - Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer – Saxon State Opera, Dresden
      Conductor: Constantin Trinks
      Director: Florentine Klepper
      Cast: Markus Marquart, Marjorie Owens, Georg Zeppenfeld, Will Hartmann, Tichina Vaughn, Simeon Esper
      Reviewer’s evaluation: This was the production that treated the opera’s events as the recollections of Senta, who had suffered a traumatic childhood at the hands of a widowed father who unscrupulously used her for business purposes. As she tried to escape the memories of her past, she became as haunted as the Dutchman. In a sense, the two became mirror images of each other, with both seeking a release from their torment. But Wagner’s libretto to the contrary, there would be no leap into the sea in director Florentine Klepper’s version of the tale – to the clear displeasure of at least part of the audience.
      For these performances at the Staatsoper, conductor Constantin Trinks used neither the “Urfassung” that was first performed at Berlin’s Kroll Opera in 1929, nor the Dresden version of 1843. Instead, he opted for that prepared by Felix Weingartner, which incorporated all of the changes and additions Wagner made to the partitur over time – but, Frau Klepper’s notions not withstanding, still ended with Senta’s self-sacrificing redemption of the Dutchman. This gave Maestro Trinks the opportunity to draw the full spectrum of Wagner’s tonal colors from the excellent Saxon State Orchestra in a remarkable account of this opera.
      As a whole, this group of soloists made a much more favorable impression on this magazine’s reviewer than it did on Opernwelt’s critic. In the title role, bass-turned-Heldenbariton Markus Marquardt possessed the expressive depth for declamatory passages that is indispensible for this part. His opening monologue had emphatic intensity and inner tension, which grew in his duet with Daland and the great scene with Senta. Marjorie Owens’ dramatic soprano had the necessary power and reserves of strength for Senta, and she portrayed this young woman torn between love for her father and her fanatical mission to save the Dutchman with glowing passion and fervor. Georg Zeppenfeld brought a flexible, attractive bass as well as appropriate authority to his Daland, a jovial old warhorse but also a savvy businessman willing to do a little matchmaking with his daughter to further his commercial enterprises. Will Hartmann’s Erik was sung with Italianate cantilenas, a beautiful legato, and tonal warmth. A substitute for the ailing Wookyung Kim, Hartmann is showing increasing promise with his forays into the jugendlich dramatische tenor repertoire. The cast was completed by Tichina Vaughn’s Mary and Simeon Esper as a distinctly lyrical Steersman.

      - Zandonai: Francesca da Rimini (concert performance) – Freiburg Concert House
      Conductor: Fabrice Bollon
      Soloists: Christina Vasileva, Martin Mühle, Juan Orozco, Adriano Graziani, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: The management at Freiburg’s City Theater took quite a risk in casting what the critic calls “the prima donna piece par excellence” with a group of unknown singers, but their daring paid off. The Brazilian tenor Martin Mühle (Paolo) was a real discovery, with a well-schooled, baritonal instrument, secure top, and magnificent cantilenas. He was simply ideal in this part, and why he hasn’t enjoyed a higher profile before now remains a mystery. Scarcely less impressive was the soprano Christina Vasileva in the title role (not to be confused with Svetla Vasileva, who sang Francesca in Paris opposite Roberto Alagna’s Paolo). She employed all of her considerable technical skill and depth of expression to create a convincing, multi-layered character portrait of this woman trapped in a marriage of convenience. Dramatically credible in their roles were baritone Juan Orozco as a pathetically triumphant Gianciotto, and Adriano Graziani, who sang Malatestino with a piercing character tenor. On the podium of the Freiburg Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Fabrice Bollon conjured a finely detailed, balanced sound that had both dramatic power and sparkling lyricism.

      - Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie – Hungarian State Opera, Budapest
      Conductor: Vashegyi Györgi
      Director: Csaba Káel
      Cast: Jeffrey Thompson, Katalin Szutrély, Viktória Vizin, et. al.
      Note: for background information on this opera, see the summary of the August, 2013, issue of Opernwelt, http://operalively.com/forums/showth...-Issue-Summary
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Rameau’s infrequently performed first opera was staged by both the Hungarian State Opera and the Glyndebourne Festival in late June, and as it happened, the critic from this magazine and Opernwelt’s reviewer both attended one of these productions on 29 June. Of course, Glyndebourne had the starrier cast as well as an internationally known conductor and stage director. But the Budapest forces also put on a respectable show.
      Director Csaba Káel’s interpretation of this story based on Greek mythology wasn’t strictly traditional, but neither was it as unconventional as Jonathan Kent’s at Glyndebourne, which placed some of the action in the interior of a gigantic refrigerator. In Budapest, events took place in some unspecified time and place, with futuristic forms and a whole spectrum of colors suggesting a separate universe. Éva Szendrényi’s sets and Andrea Haamer’s costumes had vaguely Egyptian, Indian, and Indonesian influences, but the connection to the world of Baroque opera was maintained through the very classical stage deportment of the singers and charming dance interludes, as well as the probably less desirable penchant of cast members for standing around by the stage apron.
      As the pair of lovers, soprano Katalin Szutrély and countertenor Jeffrey Thompson harmonized wonderfully with each other, though his performance was somewhat compromised by the silly gestures required of him by the director. Szutrély sang Aricie with a lovely, feminine tone and pleasantly full midrange, though in the beginning, some register transitions were not entirely smooth, and once in a while, there was some untidy vocal production. The unintentionally comic gestures in which Thompson engaged made his acting by far the most affected, its balletic symbolism almost foppish. As Hippolyte’s wicked (and lustful) stepmother, Phaedra, mezzo Viktória Vizin was decked out in what looked like a Disney witch gown, but she was the clear standout among the soloists with her powerful voice that was even across its range and flowed seamlessly between registers. In the pit, conductor Vashegyi Györgi led the fine Orfeo Orchestra, whose members played historic instruments, but he was inclined to go for full volume far too often. There was also a very attractive performance from the Purcell Chorus under the direction of chorus master Simon Standage.
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      Live Performance Reviews – Additional Summer Festivals

      - Verdi: Attila – St. Gallen Festival
      Conductor: Antonino Fogliani
      Director: Stefano Poda
      Cast: Alexander Vinogradov, Mary Elizabeth Williams, Luca Grassi, Bruno Ribeiro, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: For his interpretation of Verdi’s opera about the King of the Huns, director Stefano Poda placed a very realistic-looking smoldering ruin of a church in the large square in front of the St. Gallen Cathedral that is the site of the Festival’s performances. It was an evocative image for this story of war and devastation that is almost nihilistic in its outlook: Attila is betrayed by Odabella, whom he admired for her courage and who slays him; Foresto tries to poison him; and the Roman General Ezio is an opportunist whose only real loyalty is to his own interests. Rising in the background, the Cathedral itself contributed to the impressive setting. But an impressive setting was about as far as Poda’s production went. The problem may have been that he was wearing too many hats, since he also served as set and costume designer and lighting director, and seemed more focused on visual effects than on developing any sort of meaningful Personenregie. In fact, his directing was downright rudimentary, consisting mainly of a few steps and gestures, and missing any sort of credible or compelling interaction among the characters.
      So nearly all of the attention was focused on the music, and there were problems here, as well – though none of them were the fault of the conductor, orchestra, or singers. The loudspeaker system used for this outdoor festival seemed to be having even more “technical difficulties” (my quotation marks) this summer than in previous years, and wreaked havoc with the acoustics in portions of the seating area. Under what were clearly less than ideal conditions, the soloists at the premiere performed their demanding roles with aplomb. Alexander Vinogradov sang Attila with a flexible, lean bass that had the characteristic resonance of Slavic basses such as Nicolai Ghiuselev. Mary Elizabeth Williams was a high-spirited Odabella, but always retained control of her voice and sang with impressive fluidity in her vocal line. As Ezio, Luca Grassi displayed a secure upper register and remarkable reserves of breath. Only Bruno Ribeira’s Foresto was somewhat disappointing; his tenor was clearly focused, but his intonation was inflexible and occasionally imprecise. Conductor Antonino Fogliani wielded the baton with an assured hand, especially in his choice of tempos.

      - Adolphe Adam: Le Chalet – Wildbad Rossini Festival
      Conductor: Federico Longo
      Director: Nicola Berloffa
      Cast: Artavazd Sargyan, Diana Mian, Marco Filippo Romano
      Reviewer’s evaluation: In addition to presenting operas by Rossini, the Wildbad Festival is also known for its revival of rarities by that composer’s contemporaries. This year, the rediscovery was Adam’s one-act opéra comique, Le Chalet, which premiered in Paris in 1834. The French libretto by Scribe and Mélesville was based on Goethe’s Jery und Bätely, a text that was also set to music by seven other composers, Donizetti among them. Although seldom heard now, Le Chalet enjoyed enduring popularity at the Opéra-Comique throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, logging a total of 1,500 performances by 1922. There are only three characters in this opera: the young farmer, Daniel, a Swiss soldier named Max, and Max’s sister, Bettly, with whom Daniel is in love. All of the action takes place within an Alpine chalet in Switzerland’s Appenzell region. Even with only three figures, the plot manages to contain a fair number of twists and turns, including a couple that are reminiscent of L’Elisir d’Amore and Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Daniel is in love with Bettly, and based on a letter from her – which turns out to have been a forgery – has made arrangements for their wedding. Bettly won’t cooperate and tells him she doesn’t need a husband. Daniel had asked his pal, Max, to help him out in his wooing, and the suggestion is that Max is the source of the forged letter. And, in fact, Max’s regiment arrives in the valley and the soldiers are invited to the chalet, though neither Daniel nor Bettly recognizes him. In a move that recalls Nemorino, Daniel tries to enlist in the army to forget his romantic disappointment. Bettly begs him to stay while the soldiers are at the chalet. Then Max enters, disguised as a drunken soldier (shades of Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere), and picks a fight with Daniel. Bettly is impressed by her suitor’s courage – as well as distressed at the prospect of being harassed by the entire unit for the two weeks they will spend in the valley – and tries to prevent the duel by retrieving the marriage contract from among the papers Daniel had entrusted to her and signing it. Since the contract won’t be valid without Max’s signature (who is presumably his sister’s guardian), Max somehow manages to sneak up and scrawl his name on the document. He then reveals his identity to the lovebirds, and confesses that he tricked them in order to force them to be happy together (??).
      Director Nicola Berloffa carefully avoided clichés in his effervescent, fast-paced staging. Daniel and Bettly were cast to type with the young tenor Artavazd Sargyan, who drew favorable attention with his easily-produced cantilenas, and the striking soprano Diana Mian. Baritone Marco Filippo Romano was a real stage animal who established immediate communication with the audience, and showed genuine comedic talent. Conductor Federico Longo led the Virtuosi Brunensis orchestra with a light touch that revealed the score’s considerable charm.

      - Rossini: Ricciardo e Zoraide (concert performance) – Wildbad Rossini Festival
      Conductor: José Miguel Pérez-Sierra
      Soloists: Maxim Mironov, Allessandra Marianelli, Randall Bills, Silvia Beltrami, Artavazd Sargyan, Nahuel Di Pierro, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Rossini’s 1818 opera, set in the time of the Crusades, is also seldom performed, having made its last major appearance at Pesaro’s Rossini Festival in the 1990s. In the concert version presented in Wildbad, it was no less well cast than Pesaro’s production. In the story, Zoraide has been taken captive by Agorante, the King of Nubia, who defeated her father, the Nubian prince Ircano, in battle. Despite the fact that he’s already married to Zomira, the King has designs on Zoraide. The Christian knight, Ricciardo, who loves Zoraide, accompanies the emissary sent to negotiate for her release. For some reason, Zomira sees the whole business as threatening her position as Queen, so she not only manages to arrange for Ricciardo’s capture, but for the execution of the two lovers, as well. They’re rescued by the timely arrival of the Christian army, and Ricciardo pardons Agorante.
      Wildbad was fortunate in having José Miguel Pérez Sierra on the podium, who led the orchestra with great intensity and a sure grasp of his soloists’ needs. Rossini wrote the roles of Ricciardo, Agorante, and the King’s confidante, Zamorre, for tenors, and set the music for all three at dizzying heights. Maxim Mironov (Ricciardo) and Randall Bills (Agorante) had strikingly different vocal colors and techniques, which helped the listener to distinguish between them. Both gave outstanding accounts of their parts, with grand attacks and brilliant high notes; though Mironov had a slight advantage with respect to the latter. The trio of tenors was completed by Artavazd Sargyan’s Zamorre. The two leading ladies were up to the same high standard as the men. With her well-trained soprano, Allessandra Marianelli was more than a match for all of the technical challenges posed by Zoraide’s music, and sang with a beautiful legato and secure upper register. Silvia Beltrami was a vocally and dramatically superb Zomira, her sumptuous mezzo smoothly blended across registers and her attacks full of powerful radiance. Nahuel Di Pierro lent authority to Ircano with his attractive, promising bass.

      - Rossini: Guillaume Tell – Wildbad Rossini Festival
      Conductor: Antonino Fogliani
      Director: Jochen Schönleber
      Cast: Andrew Foster-Williams, Judith Howarth, Michael Spyres, Nahuel Di Pierro, Raffale Facciolà, Marco Filippo Romano, Tara Stafford, Alessandra Volpe
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Rossini’s final opera is also regarded as his most demanding work, anticipating the Grand Opéra style, and is correspondingly difficult to adequately cast. Wildbad’s Intendant, Jochen Schönleben (who also served as stage director), obviously isn’t one to duck a challenge, as he also pledged to present this opera with as much of Rossini’s original music included as would be dramaturgically meaningful. With an eye toward audience members’ comfort, the evening included plenty of intermissions and the serving of dinner. Thanks to both Schönleben’s staging and conductor Antonino Fogliani’s thrilling interpretation of the partitur, the time passed quickly, with no signs of weariness among musicians, singers, or audience.
      There were really no weak links in the exceptional cast. Andrew Foster-Williams made an ideal Tell visually as well as vocally, employing his robust, heroic baritone in excellent, nuanced singing. Michael Spyres’ Arnold left nothing to be desired, with breathtaking high notes and the solid foundation of a tenore eroico. He maintained this high standard throughout the long evening, and in the stretta following the equally testing aria, “Asile héréditaire,” sang the high C with the chest voice rather than in falsetto. Judith Howarth (Mathilde) demonstrated the outstanding technique of a distinguished Rossini interpreter, with lovely piani and skillfully shaped musical arcs. Only in her accuti did a certain sharpness creep in. Tara Stafford gave a beautiful rendition of Jemmy’s aria, and there were fine performances in smaller roles by Nahuel Di Pierro (Melchtal and Walter Furst), Raffale Facciolà (Gesler), Marco Filippo Romano (Leuthold), and Alessandra Volpe (Hedwige).

      - Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer – Thuringian Castle Festival, Sondershausen
      Conductor: Markus L. Frank
      Director: Toni Burkhardt
      Cast: Kai Günther, Kathleen Parker, Roger Krebs, Joshua Ferrier, Anna Michelsén, Sören Richter
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Senta didn’t leap to her death in Sondershausen, either – but she did shoot herself with a pistol that she’d seized from Erik after their argument. In Toni Burkhardt’s production, which was presented in the vast inner courtyard of Thuringia Castle, the stage area contained a platform that suggested the bow of a ship, but little else of a maritime nature. There was a steep staircase that rose up near the top of the wall, where there was a door to nowhere and beside it, a call box with the English language sign: “Crisis Counceling (sic). There is hope – Make the call. The consequences of jumping off this point are fatal and tragic.” That was probably a little overdone as well as anachronistic, since Burkhardt’s interpretation placed events in the early 20th century, when there were telephones but certainly no emergency hotlines. On the other hand, it was no more out of place than the Dutchman’s Baroque attire. Dressed all in white, with a white wig, he looked like a veritable ghost, with bits of marine fungus clinging to parts of his sequined frock coat and the aforementioned wig. There was nothing especially amiss with Burkhardt’s treatment, but nothing particularly exciting, either.
      In this outdoor setting, both the Loh Orchestra Sondershausen, under the baton of General Music Director Markus L. Frank, and the singers were provided electronic reinforcement. It was necessary in this enormous space, with fairly large distances between orchestra, singers, and audience. Kai Günther had a rather high baritone for the role of the Dutchman, but he never needed to force, relying instead on vocal colors and rounded tone for effect. Kathleen Parker (Senta) made a favorable impression with her soprano’s attractive timbre and the nuanced interpretation of her character. As Erik, Joshua Ferrier sang the dream narration with vigor, but over the course of the evening, his upper register became frayed. Both of the minor roles were well cast with Anna Michelsén (Mary) and Sören Richter (Steersman), but Roger Krebs’ Daland was oddly stiff and uninvolved.

      - Johann Abraham Peter Schulz: Peters Byllup (Peter’s Wedding) – Bayer Kultur (Bavarian Culture), Leverkusen
      Conductor: Werner Ehrhardt
      Director: Isabel Ostermann
      Cast: Tobias Westmann, Hanna Husahr, Eva-Lotta Ohlsson, Johan Rydh, Thaisen Rusch, Christian Oldenburg, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: This festival, held in the Bayer Kulturhaus (Bavarian Culture House) in Leverkusen, is another that always includes the revival of a rarity among its offerings. This year, it was Johann Abraham Peter Schulz’s Peters Bryllup, a co-production with the Potsdam Music Festival at Sanssouci Palace. Schulz was born in 1747 in Lüneburg, and early on, was sent to organ and piano lessons by his mother, who recognized his musical talent. After completing his studies, he was employed as a piano teacher by the Polish Countess Sapieha, and accompanied her across Europe. After that, he became music director of Berlin’s French Theater, for which he composed his first opera, L’Impromptu. Later, he moved on to positions at the court of Rheinsberg and the Danish royal court in Copenhagen, where his Singspiel operas dealing with the liberation of the peasants were enthusiastically received. Suffering from advanced tuberculosis, Schulz finally had to resign his position in Denmark and returned to Germany, where he died in 1800. From among his many compositions, including sacred music, operas, and countless Lieder, the only ones that remain familiar today are the folksong, “Der Mond ist aufgegangen” (The Moon Has Risen), and the Christmas carol, “Ihr Kinderlein kommet” (O Come Little Children).
      Peters Bryllup is one of the operas that dealt with topics of great concern in Denmark (and elsewhere) during the late 18th century: the liberation of the peasants and the abolition of slavery. Martin (sung by Thaisen Rusch), the freed slave of Captain Peter, is given a melancholy aria in which he laments the loss of his homeland and his beloved, and which culminates in his desperate question, “Is God not the father of all?” At the beginning of the performance in Leverkusen, the individual singers and their characters were introduced to the audience – perhaps to clarify the plot a little, since the music was sung in the original Danish, while the spoken dialogue was delivered in German. The sets included raked treads that were cleverly arranged to facilitate the acting of the soloists, who had been carefully trained by director Isabel Ostermann to move about naturally. However, the updating of events to the present, evinced by modern communications technology (cell phones that looked like punched tickets) came across as a little too forced. Tobias Westmann made a convincing Captain Peter, phrasing well and singing with a rather hard voice that was not inappropriate to his character. As Peter’s bride, Grethe, Hannah Husahr displayed powerful high notes and a good low register, movingly expressing her longing for him in her first aria. There were also appealing performances from Johan Rydh and Eva-Lotta Ohlsson as Halvor and Anna, a married couple captivated by their infant son. Soloists and chorus were given sensitive accompaniment by conductor Werner Ehrhardt and the orchestra L’Arte del Mondo.

      - Helmut Oehring: AscheMOND, or The Fairy Queen – Infektion! Festival für neues Musiktheater, Berlin State Opera
      Conductor: Johannes Kalitzke
      Director: Claus Guth
      Cast: Marlis Petersen, Tanja-Ariane Baumgartner, Bejun Mehta, Topi Letipuu, Roman Trekel, Christina Schönfeld (sign language soloist), Ulrich Matthes (actor), Uli Kirsch (dancer), Fabian Sturm (child)
      Note: for background information on this work, see the summary of the August, 2013, issue of Opernwelt, http://operalively.com/forums/showth...-Issue-Summary
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Composer Helmut Oehring’s and director Claus Guth’s version of Sylvia Plath meets Henry Purcell receives a very favorable assessment from this critic, who regards it as “an intensive music theater experience of rare compactness.” What remains of Purcell’s opera are almost exclusively its lyrical passages, along with excerpts from some other works such as “Music for a while.” Oehring has interwoven his own music, with electronic sounds, rumbling and hissing speech elements, and iridescing waves, with the fragments of Purcell’s original composition and the other excerpts. The result is an “interesting” acoustic friction between historic and contemporary instrumentation.
      The Berlin State Opera’s management receives kudos for not only entrusting this work to a group of top-drawer soloists, but also for augmenting the forces of the Berlin State Orchestra with specialists from the city’s Academy for Old Music. Under the circumspect guidance of conductor Johannes Kalitzke, who was subbing for the originally announced Michael Boder ( who had worked with musicians and singers up through the final rehearsals), this “combination composition” unfolded in a compelling manner.
      Among the stellar cast, soprano Marlis Petersen displayed impressive theatrical talent along with her considerable vocal resources. She created an intensive character study of the mother who finally sees no way out of her psychological troubles except suicide, and sang Purcell’s and Oehring’s music with equal distinction. Bejun Mehta’s countertenor had its customary exceptional (if occasionally monotonous) ethereal, beautiful sound, while mezzo Tanja Ariane Baumgartner made a favorable impression with singing that was full of character. Topi Letipuu produced a clear, clean tenor, but Roman Trekel’s baritone sounded rather throaty and weak. The singers were joined by sign language interpreter Christina Schönfeld – a familiar part of the compositional style of Oehring, whose parents were both deaf; dancer Uli Kirsch, child supernumerary Fabian Sturm, and the actor Ulrich Matthes, who portrayed the grown-up son of the woman who committed suicide. His half sung, half moaned and screamed lament brought the performance to a deeply moving conclusion.

      - Verdi: Il Trovatore – Tirolean Festival, Erl
      Conductor: Gustav Kuhn
      Director: Gustav Kuhn
      Cast: Ferdinand von Bothmer, Anna Princeva, Michael Kupfer, Hermine Haselböck, Giovanni Battista Parodi, Emily Righter, Patrizio Saudelli
      Reviewer’s evaluation: As part of this year’s Verdi birthday bicentennial celebration, the Tirolean Festival included three of his operas in its 2013 program, with Nabucco performed during the winter season, followed by Il Trovatore and La Traviata in the summer segment. With this also being one of the years in which Erl is staging its Passion Play (and using the old theater), the operas were all presented in Erl’s brand-new, state of the art facility that opened with the winter season.
      As he’s often done, the Festival’s Intendant, Gustav Kuhn, both conducted and directed performances of Il Trovatore and La Traviata. In the case of the former, Maestro Kuhn clearly showed a more skillful hand than Regisseur Kuhn. Matters weren’t helped by Jan Hax Halama’s one-size-fits-all sets that were used for all three operas. They consisted primarily of a broad central platform painted royal blue, slightly raked toward the front and with steps at the rear. The loss of visual images clearly linked to an opera’s particular drama robbed the productions of any sort of atmospheric quality. Added to that were Lenka Radecky’s unintentionally comical costumes that had soldiers armed with shepherds’ staves, the protagonists attired in long coats, and Urgel’s followers sporting orange vests that looked as though they’d been swiped from street crossing guards. Any meaningful character analysis was also missing, much of the staging seemed static, and at the conclusion, Kuhn had the supposedly dead Leonora stand up again and line up with Manrico, di Luna, and Azucena along the apron while Ferrando hovered in the background. One can only guess what sort of message that was meant to convey.
      The cast, dominated by lyric voices, was only average. The best of the major soloists was Anna Princeva (Leonora), a young soprano from St. Petersburg with a beautiful, agile voice and secure upper register. She has a repertoire that encompasses Mozart and Rossini as well as Verdi’s Abigaille, and one has to wonder how long she can continue in this fashion without damaging her instrument. The Manrico of Ferdinand von Bothmer may have corresponded with Kuhn’s intention to approach this Verdi opera in the spirit of Rossini and Bellini, but his lightweight tenor simply lacked the necessary volume for the role, even in this theater’s singer-friendly acoustics. He securely hit – and held – the high C in “Di quella pira,” but with such a thin tone that it elicited little enthusiasm from the audience. Baritone Michael Kupfer has successfully sung roles from the German repertoire at this festival, but he clearly was not at home in Verdi. His Conte di Luna lacked an Italianate cantilena and was marred by vocal discolorations. Hermine Haselböck (Azucena) produced a beautiful mezzo, but its light color paired with the lack of a substantial low register was not well suited to the haunted gypsy. Giovanni Battista Parodi’s rough bass was at least dramatically appropriate for Ferrando, while some of the evening’s best singing actually came from Emily Righter and Patrizio Saudelli in the minor roles of Ines and Ruiz.

      - Verdi: La Traviata – Tirolean Festival, Erl
      Conductor: Gustav Kuhn
      Director: Gustav Kuhn
      Cast: Cristina Pasaroiu, Giordano Lucà, Giulio Boschetti, Emily Righter, Anna Lucia Nardi, Yasushi Hirano, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Erl’s production of La Traviata was far more successful than its performance of Il Trovatore. Jan Hax Halama’s generic sets, fitted out with a few props, worked better here, and the third act Mardi Gras procession, actually seen onstage, provided a short, colorful, and sharp contrast to the dying Violetta’s bleak existence. Lenka Radecky had costumed most of the characters in white, while Alfredo appeared in symbolic red. The finest member of the cast was the young Roman tenor Giordano Lucà, a prizewinner in the 2010 Operalia competition, who brought a Mediterranean timbre and powerful high notes to the part of Alfredo. His cabaletta (“O mio rimorso”) was one of the highlights of the evening. Singing the title role, the 27 year-old Romanian soprano Cristina Pasaroiu impressed listeners with her clear intonation, glowing top, and easily produced coloratura, though she also showed some weaknesses in the dramatic passages of the second and third acts. Her very sensitive and heartfelt “Dite alla giovine” stood in sharp contrast to her weak letter scene. Giulio Boschetta was perhaps too youthful be to an entirely convincing Papa Germont, but he won over the audience with his mellow baritone and smooth legato. Among those singing smaller roles, the standouts were Emily Righter (Flora), Anna Lucia Nardi (Annina), and Yasushi Hirano (Dr. Grenvil).

      - Verdi: Don Carlo – Solothurn Classic
      Conductor: Nayden Todorov
      Director: Not named
      Cast: Mario Malagnini, Michele Crider, Marzio Giossi, Katja Lytting, Francesco Ellero d’Artegna, Julian Konstantinov, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: For many years, this festival – formerly called Classic Open Air Solothurn – has been performing a variety of operas over a 10-day period in this charming Swiss Baroque town. The diversity of each year’s offerings is made possible by the festival’s association with an eastern European opera house, with the house’s ensemble augmented by internationally known guest soloists. Many of these guest artists have been coming to Solothurn for years, and this summer was no exception. Tenor Mario Malagnini and soprano Michele Crider are among the regulars who appear here practically every season.
      That this pattern has both advantages and disadvantages was illustrated by this year’s production of Don Carlo. The demands of performing different operas over a relatively short period of time can sometimes result in a lack of sufficient preparation for the individual works, and that was apparently the case here. Despite many cuts to the opera’s score, the playing of the orchestra from the Bulgarian State Opera Russe was noticeably untidy, and the chorus didn’t sound sufficiently homogeneous. Conductor Nayden Todorov had his hands full just keeping everyone together, so there was no room for any sort of interpretative subtleties. The smaller roles, filled with soloists from the State Opera’s ensemble, had been carelessly cast. At least the principal roles were in the hands of experienced Verdians with Malagnini, Crider, Marzio Giossi, and Francesco Ellero d’Artegna. The last-named was the best of the group, singing Filippo II with a plush bass that was both supple and powerful. In the beginning, Malagnini struggled with intonation and tried to clear his throat with some coughing. But his good vocal production, secure and clearly articulated phrasing, and powerful instrument left no doubts that Don Carlo is a suitable role for him, and over the course of the evening, his performance steadily improved. Crider’s voice seemed to have lost a little of its fullness compared to previous years, though she hadn’t reduced the volume of her soprano. However, her Elisabetta still exhibited the broad breath support that enabled her to shift easily between piano phrases and emphatic singing. As Posa, Giossi possessed two of the prerequisites for a Verdi baritone: a good legato and a secure upper register. That his voice also had a marked vibrato didn’t detract from the stylistic accuracy of his portrayal. Katja Lytting sang Princess Eboli with a slender mezzo that, unfortunately, lacked the necessary strength, and Julian Konstantinov rumbled mightily as the Grand Inquisitor.

      - Mozart: Don Giovanni – Würzburg Mozart Festival
      Conductor: Andrea Sanguineti
      Director: François De Carpentries
      Cast: Daniel Fiolka, Silke Evers, Johan F. Kirsten, Anja Schöller, Joshua Whitener, Anja Gutgesell, Ji-Su Park, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: For this year’s production of Don Giovanni, management of Würzburg’s Mozart Festival secured the services of the Belgian staging team of director François De Carpentries and set/costume designer Karine Van Hercke, with a reputation for solid artistry. Evidently, the sold-out house agreed with this assessment and rewarded the pair at the curtain with hearty applause. Nonetheless, this critic also believes that a number of things depicted onstage were in need of some clarification. De Carpentries’ and Van Hercke’s approach was primarily concerned with illustrating the title character’s moral and physical decline right from the beginning. The catalog of Don Giovanni’s conquests became stacks of bound volumes piled up at the stage apron, and the walls were plastered with newspaper pages documenting the libertine’s activities – the action was updated to what was presumably the late 20th century, before people began relying heavily on online news sources. These images alone were clear and succinct; too bad De Carpentries and Van Hercke decided to muddy things by inserting symbols of religion and nature (a cross and climbing leaves). On the other hand, their treatment of Giovanni’s descent into Hell was quite interesting. His tumble into the infernal regions was interrupted by a group of white-garbed women who surrounded him and properly crushed him with their bodies and smeared him with their blood until there was nothing left to be seen of him. But then he popped up again during the final sextet – a change the reviewer lauds as a very playful, amusing, anti-romantic variation worthy of further discussion.
      Daniel Fiolka was a nearly ideal Don Giovanni, vocally and physically, who got right down to business with Donna Anna in the opening scene. She had evidently been waiting for him, decked out in a sado-masochistic get-up of black mask, gold and black bra and corset, and sheer black stockings. Silke Evers sang this role with a round, luxuriant soprano that hardly met any dynamic limits and was up to all of the demands of her two great arias. Anja Schöller’s Donna Elvira could have used a little more fury, but she dispatched her coloratura with assurance. As Leporello, Johan F. Kerstin quickly won over everyone with his agile buffo bass, while Joshua Whitener (Don Ottavio) made a positive impression with his steady, attractive tenor. Anja Gutgesell was a Zerlina in an agreeably characteristic mold who paired well with Ji-Su Park’s Masetto, and vocally conveyed the social class distinctions between this couple and the assorted aristocrats. On the podium of the Würzburg Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Andrea Sanguineti did his best to capture all the different facets of Mozart’s partitur, and was ably supported in this endeavor by Alexis Agrafiotis on the Hammerklavier and Deanna Talens (violincello) during the recitatives.

      Mozart: Don Giovanni – Young Opera Schloss Weikersheim
      Conductor: Bruno Weil
      Director: Dominik Wilgenbus
      Cast: Virgil Mischok, Julia Cramer, Margarita Vilsone, Simon Tischler, Keith Bernard Stonum, Margarita Castaneda, Christoph Biermann, Erik Ginzburg
      Reviewer’s evaluation: For almost 50 years – since 1965 – the organization Jeunesses Musicales Deutschland has produced the Young Opera festival at Weikersheim Castle as a sort of “third semester” of the International Summer Music Course, with the goal of providing professional stage experience to young singers approaching the start of their careers. Internationally known conductors lead the performances, with Lothar Zagrosek on the podium when Don Giovanni was last performed here in 1997, and Bruno Weil wielding the baton at this summer’s production. Maestro Weil paced the music at a firm tempo, leading the National Youth Orchestra (with harpsichordist Thomas Guggeis), which responded immediately to his gestures. Director Dominik Wilgenbus developed a staging that allowed the young singers to explore the tangled relationships among the characters, and set designer Udo Vollmer devised an eye-catching framework for their portrayals. A gigantic oval served as the foundation for reflecting supporting walls that had flaps, but were otherwise nearly without decoration, creating the impression of an enormous, bright-pink box of chocolates with a revolving cube on top of it. This arrangement facilitated smooth entrances and exits by the cast members, and the whole was given additional visual appeal by Ushi Haug’s sensuous Rococo costumes, worn by everyone down to the supernumeraries.
      Virgil Mischok sang Don Giovanni with light elegance and a stylish baritone, but doesn’t yet have the vocal and theatrical stature for this role. In contrast, Julia Cramer offered a very professional Donna Anna with her jugendlich dramatische soprano, though her acting appeared somewhat awkward when compared to that of the Donna Elvira, Margarita Vilsone. Based on the performance of her arias, Vilsone should have no difficulties securing an engagement with an opera company. The lyric tenor Keith Bernard Stonum was a Don Ottavio of compelling sensitivity, surprising listeners with piano modulations in “Dalla sua pace” that gave his interpretation a unique, almost strange quality. Both Simon Tischler (Leporello) and Christoph Biermann (Masetto) were very restrained in their portrayals, though Biermann’s voice had the strongest carrying power among all of the soloists. Margarita Castaneda (Zerlina) has a charming timbre, but has not yet developed an expressive stage personality. Erik Ginzburg was an appropriately serious Commendatore.

      - Bizet: Carmen – Eutin Festival
      Conductor: Urs-Michael Theus
      Director: Dominique Caron
      Cast: Milena Butaeva, Miroslav Christoff, James Tolksdorf, Peggy Steiner, et. al.
      Reviewer’s evaluation: The oldest outdoor summer festival in Schleswig-Holstein was in a precarious position not too long ago, when declining ticket sales led to serious financial problems that culminated with near-insolvency in 2010. But with a new artistic director, new General Music Director, and new business manager, Eutin gradually began to recover. Ticket sales picked up again, and the festival was put on a solid financial footing. After her successful first season last year, Intendantin and stage director Dominique Caron scored another hit with this summer’s production of Carmen. Her treatment of Bizet’s most popular opera was traditional and designed to appeal to the layman (or woman). Ursula Wandaress’ sets featured images of Mediterranean house façades and a sweeping staircase at the rear, while the singers’ costumes provided additional local color. The only variation from an otherwise conventional treatment was Caron’s decision to present the opera’s events as the memories of Don José as he sat in prison – presumably awaiting execution – after he stabbed Carmen to death, and this was achieved by introductory clips before the beginning of each act. She had also decided to use the version of this opera with spoken dialogue rather than sung recitatives, and in what was likely another effort to make the plot more comprehensible for the novice, had the dialogue given in German translation. (The music was evidently sung in the original French text.)
      The principal roles had been entrusted to a capable group of young singers. With her abundance of dark hair and sizzling femininity, Milena Butaeva was a picture-book Carmen, and her attractive appearance was matched by engaged acting and an equally appealing voice. Her deep, robust mezzo was up to the part and fitted the character of Carmen. Her Don José, Miroslav Christoff, didn’t have a particularly large voice, but he used it with care and gave a solid performance. One of the evening’s highlights was the spectacular fight scene between José and James Tolksdorf’s Escamillo. A member of the Dortmund Theater ensemble, Tolksdorf was a vocally and dramatically attractive torero. The quartet was rounded out by Peggy Steiner’s shy, appealing Micaela. General Music Director Urs-Michael Theus led the festival orchestra with much esprit and some dashing tempos through the performance, and always kept an eye (or, more accurately, an ear) on his singers.

      - Johann Strauss the Younger: Die Fledermaus – Schwerin Castle Festival
      Conductor: Martin Schelhaas
      Director: Peter Dehler
      Cast: Peter Bording, Márta Kosztolanyi, Katrin Hübner, Kerem Kurk, Markus Vollberg, Itziar Lesaka, Lars G. Neumann, Igor Storozhenko, Walter Plathe
      Reviewer’s evaluation: This sparkling production of Johann Strauss the Younger’s “Queen of Operettas” may have been about the only bright spot in the gloomy outlook for opera in Schwerin. Last year, the Mecklenburg State Theater was only able to avoid insolvency after officials of the province of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania provided an emergency allocation of €2 million. Now, after plans to merge the Schwerin house with Rostock’s Volkstheater have fallen through, the gaps in the State Theater’s budget will be filled by a combination of public subsidy and steep personnel cuts, with 30 positions to be eliminated by 2020. On top of that, salary cuts for singers and orchestra musicians have been recommended, along with the separation of this festival from the Mecklenburg Theater.
      So perhaps everyone involved with this sold-out performance just wanted a few hours to think of happier things. If so, they probably got their wish with Peter Dehler’s comfortably traditional staging, complete with Susanne Richter’s enchanting costumes (over 100!). Set designer Olaf Grambow had crafted a revue stage with a wealth of colors that became even more spectacular with the onset of darkness. For the last touch of romance, there was the gently illuminated, magnificent Schwerin Castle in the background.
      The male members of the cast were without exception outstanding. They included Peter Bording (Eisenstein), Markus Vollberg (Falke), Igor Storozhenko (Frank), Kerem Kurk (Alfred), and Lars G. Neumann (Dr. Blind). The popular German stage and screen actor Walter Plathe put in a cameo appearance as Frosch, with his conspicuous consumption of Sliwowitz and the usual apt commentary on current events. Márta Kosztolanyi mastered her role of Rosalinde with routine competence, but her singing lacked the appropriate effervescence and expression. In particular, her extremely listless Czárdás lacked any sort of sparkle. In contrast, Itziar Lesaka absolutely blossomed in the part of Prince Orlofsky, and her mezzo was a joy to listen to. Katrin Hübner was a typically soubrettish Adele with a fleet soprano. Under the baton of conductor Martin Schelhaas, the Mecklenburg State Orchestra Schwerin, celebrating its 450th birthday this year, delivered an expert account of Strauss’ frothy partitur.

      - Offenbach: Barbe-bleue – Styriarte Festival, Graz
      Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt
      Director: Philipp Harnoncourt
      Cast: Johannes Chum, Cornel Frey, Elisabeth Kulman, Sébastien Soulès, Elisabeth von Magnus, Sophie Marin-Degor, Markus Schäfer, Thomas E. Bauer, et. al.
      Note: for background information on this opera, see the summary of the August, 2013, issue of Opernwelt, http://operalively.com/forums/showth...-Issue-Summary
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Offenbach’s witty opéra-bouffe, with its grotesque, ironic caricature of French society during the Second Empire, was given a rather heavy-handed treatment by the Harnoncourts, père et fils. In this semi-staged production, son Philippe decided to provide the spoken dialogue himself (which was in German, while the music was sung in the original French), and ensured a healthy portion of alienation in the process. On top of that, Bluebeard appeared in Che Guevara get-up; Boulotte delivered the spoken text in a patois of Styrian and Viennese dialect. These and similar innovations simply made an embarrassingly laughable impression and did no justice to Offenbach’s operatic persiflage. On the podium, Papa Harnoncourt – despite his professed enthusiasm for this work – gave the composer’s light, bubbly music a leaden interpretation. And, as the reviewer notes, Harnoncourt wouldn’t be Harnoncourt if he were satisfied with the standard version of a piece. Instead, he rummaged around in a Stockholm archive and tracked down a critical edition which, paired with his son’s long passages of dialogue, made the performance seem even longer.
      Things were happier where the principal soloists were concerned. The Styrian tenor Johannes Chum gave a masterful account of the very difficult role of Bluebeard, whose music was intended as a send-up of Grand Opéra. His fundamentally lyric voice was well produced and well focused, and glided smoothly through the passage work and up to his strong top register. His timbre had a light, attractive, lustrous quality. As the clever, emancipated peasant girl Boulotte, Elisabeth Kulman impressed listeners with her beautiful mezzo that was even and attractive throughout her range. However, her unique, strapping brand of comedy only suited this character to a certain extent. In smaller roles, Sophie Marin-Degor made a lovely-voiced Fleurette/Hermia, Cornel Frey a comic King Bobeche, and Sébastien Soulès an earthy, lusty Popolani. On the other hand, Thomas E. Bauer’s Count Oscar remained pale, Markus Schäfer was a weak Prince Saphir, and Elisabeth von Magnus (the Maestro’s daughter) sounded strained as Queen Clémentine. The Arnold Schoenberg Choir, led by chorus master Mihal Kucharko, made an outstanding contribution to the performance, with Bluebeard’s supposedly dead wives cast from its ranks.
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      Report (Brief Live Performance Summaries)

      “Mit Verdi und Wagner in die Sommerpause” (With Verdi and Wagner in the Summer Break)

      - Berlin: The Deutsche Oper Berlin made a virtue of necessity when it wrapped up the 2012-13 season with a series of concert-format performances while its house on Bismarckstrasse underwent renovations. The final opera in the series was Verdi’s Attila – though this particular performance probably should have been titled Odabella. Liudmyla Monastyrska was not only an ideal interpreter of the role, but nearly put her male co-stars in the shadows with her brilliant singing. With a voice that effortlessly encompasses three octaves, she threw herself furiously into every attack. The only other principal who could really keep up with her was Roberto Tagliavini, a last-minute replacement for the indisposed Erwin Schrott as Attila. He sang the King of the Huns with a wonderfully warm, Italianate bass (that was unfortunately a little weak in its low range) and an impeccable sense of style. A somewhat weaker but still positive impression was made by Dalibor Jenis (Ezio) and Massimo Giordano (Foresto), the former with his easy top, and the latter with his soft, melancholy midrange. Conductor Pinchas Steinberg kept his forces firmly under control, and made the most of Verdi’s rousing music.

      - Vienna: As General Music Director of the State Opera, Franz Welser-Möst was on the podium for performances of Vienna’s new production of Tristan und Isolde. His interpretation relied on the tremendous drawing power of Wagner’s music, but was also subtle and transparent. He often elicited magical sounds from the excellent Staatsoper Orchestra, but also exhibited a penchant for loud volume that didn’t make things easy for his soloists onstage. Nonetheless, Nina Stemme triumphed in the role of Isolde. Her big, warm, dark-hued soprano was perfectly carried on her breath, and was as capable of gentle lyricism as of expressive, well-focused outbursts. She had a superb partner in Peter Seiffert, whose stentorian Heldentenor was up to the enormous demands of Tristan, but could also produce almost Mozartean singing in the great second act duet. David McVicar’s staging was attractive, but didn’t offer much in the way of an interpretation.

      - Cologne: The Cologne Opera also finished its 2012-13 season with concert performances of Attila, and in a daring move, cast leading parts with singers who were all making their debuts in these roles. For the most part, the risk paid off. The title role was sung by Samuel Youn with his powerful Bayreuth bass-baritone, and he proved himself equally adept in the Italian repertoire. Evelina Dobraceva’s Odabella favorably impressed listeners with both her fearless attacks in the upper register and her delicate piani in her second aria. After a nervous start, Fernando Porturi gave a very nuanced account of Foresto. Only Miljenko Turk (Ezio) was clearly not suited to the Italian idiom. Conductor Claude Schnitzler led a passionate performance that captivated the audience with its fiery rhythms.

      Announcements (News Briefs)

      - Cornelia von Kerssenbrock, Intendantin and musical director of the Immling Manor Opera Festival, married bass-baritone Ludwig Baumann, her Immling co-director, 1 June in a ceremony at St. Jakob’s parish church in the Upper Bavarian spa town of Bad Endorf. Puccini’s Messa di Gloria was sung by soloists and members of the Immling Manor Festival Chorus. A nice present for the newlyweds: the festival’s public subsidy has been boosted by the Bavarian Ministry of Culture from €170,000 to €250,000 per annum.

      - This year’s Munich Opera Festival kicked off with a very unusual public spectacle. With reference to this year’s Wagner and Verdi birthday bicentennials, a musical duel between the two composers was mounted by Carlus Padrissa and his La Fura dels Baus theater group, with composer Moritz Eggert providing arrangements for brass instruments of the Birthday Boys’ greatest hits. Titled (what else?) “Wagner Versus Verdi,” the extravaganza held on the Max Joseph Platz in front of the Bavarian State Opera’s home, the National Theater, involved more than 250 instrumentalists, 60 aerialists, supernumeraries, and dancers, and two truly titanic representations of the composers in the form of nine-meter high figures. The corps of “Wagnerians” and “Verdians” met at their individual locations on the Karolinenplatz and Ludwigstrasse, respectively, before processing to their rendezvous on the Odeonsplatz. To “Resurrection Music” written by Eggert, the two combatants and their entourages finally headed for Max Joseph Platz, where they squared off. At the conclusion of the match – which, naturally, ended in a draw – the 10,000 spectators were treated to an arrangement by Herr Eggert in which the overture to La Traviata segued into the prelude to Tristan und Isolde, and the Ride of the Valkyries melted into the “Dies Irae” from Verdi’s Requiem.

      - The Halle Handel Festival will return in 2014 after a tremendous pubic response to a plea for donations from the Festival Foundation. Massive flooding in May in the province of Saxony-Anhalt had forced the 2013 Festival to be canceled at short notice, and placed the Foundation in such a precarious financial position that many feared the Festival couldn’t survive. With a total of €360,000 in donations and an additional public subsidy for the 2014 Festival secured by Saxony-Anhalt’s Minister of Culture, Stephan Dorgerloh, it appears the danger is past. Minister Dorgerloh has also raised the prospect that the financing agreement for the Festival will be extended. To compensate for this year’s cancelation, the production of Almira planned for the June event will now be presented at the “Handel im Herbst” (Handel in Autumn) festival that runs from 13-17 November. The next Halle Handel Festival is scheduled for 5-15 June 2014.
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      CD Reviews

      - Jonas Kaufmann: The Verdi Album
      Conductor/orchestra: Pier Giorgio Morandi, Orchestra dell’ Opera di Roma
      With Franco Vassallo (baritone), Erika Grimaldi (soprano), Giovanni Greganin (tenor), Daniele Cusari (bass)
      Sony 88765492002 (1 CD)

      - Anna Netrebko: Verdi
      Arias from Don Carlo, Giovanna d’Arco, Mabeth, Il Trovatore, I Vespri Siciliani
      Conductor/orchestra: Gianandrea Noseda, Orchestra del Teatro Regio di Torino
      With Rolando Villazón (tenor)
      DG 002894791052 (1 CD)

      - Plácido Domingo: Verdi
      Conductor/orchestra: Pablo Heras-Casado, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana
      With Angel Joy Blue (soprano), Aquiles Machado (tenor), Fernando Piqueras (bass)
      Sony 88883733122 (1 CD)

      As part of this year’s Verdi birthday bicentennial, three of opera’s biggest stars have released new recital albums devoted to the composer, and each CD contains at least some material from roles which these singers have not yet performed onstage.
      Earlier this year, Jonas Kaufmann’s CD dedicated to this year’s other Birthday Boy, Richard Wagner, was released on his former label (Decca), and has been enthusiastically received by the critics. (It’s already received a couple of awards.) His Verdi recital, his first recording for Sony, is described by this reviewer as “up until now, the most important contribution to this Verdi Year on CD or stage.” In fact, the tenor does very little wrong here. Those listening closely to the first two arias, “La donna è mobile” and “Celeste Aida” may find his piano singing just a bit mannered, though subsequent selections alter this impression. For all the undeniable quality of his instrument, one never has a sense of mere vocal display. Of particular interest are the selections from Don Carlo, La forza del destino, and Otello. The Spanish Infante has been part of his repertoire for several years; he’s scheduled to make his debut as Alvaro in the 2013-14 season; and staged performances of Otello are likely in his future. The reviewer is so impressed that he hopes Kaufmann will soon be given the opportunity to record all three roles in their entirety while he is at the peak of his career.
      Anna Netrebko’s first studio album in about five years documents the astonishing development the soprano’s voice has been undergoing recently. In the first selections from Macbeth, she has a mezzo-like darkness in the lower register and a blazing dramatic quality on top – worlds away from Adina or some of her other earlier roles. All of this is appropriate for the Lady, and from a musical standpoint, she masters the part superbly, with effortless register leaps, fluid coloratura, and powerful high notes. Precisely those technical challenges with which other dramatic sopranos often have difficulty pose no problems for her. But it’s also evident that she’s just beginning to develop a psychological character portrait of this woman. One doesn’t hear either Lady Macbeth’s uncompromising hardness or the fascination she exerts on her husband that will make that man walk over corpses at her behest. After the excerpts from Macbeth, Netrebko moves on to those roles that are more clearly in the lirico-spinto repertoire – Giovanna d’Arco, Elisabetta di Valois, Elena in I Vespri Siciliani, and Leonora in Il Trovatore – and where she is more at home. With them, one hears all of the qualities that make her such an exceptional artist: the pure beauty of the voice, the tonal production that’s always free from pressure or sharpness, the lovely piani and effortlessly radiant high notes, and the capability for both lyrical expressiveness and dramatic intensity. As a bonus, Manrico in the “Miserere” is sung by one of her noted stage partners, Rolando Villazón. This excellent recording makes one long to hear more Verdi from her.
      The initial release in Plácido Domingo’s newest Verdi project also wins a strong endorsement from the reviewer. Aside from the occasional marked vibrato in the low register, his singing of arias and scenes from several of Verdi’s major baritone roles have all the virtues that characterized his long career as one of opera’s reigning tenors. There is all of the artistry of his phrasing, his superb breath control, the expressiveness and nuance in his interpretations. It’s amazing how quickly the listener adjusts to hearing his lighter sound in these selections. Among the most impressive of them are those from Il Trovatore, with Conte di Luna the next baritone role he’ll be performing onstage (with Anna Netrebko as Leonora). He has all the authority and gripping presence one could wish for in this part. He is also deeply impressive in the scene of Posa’s death, sung with his usual exemplary phrasing and in an unpretentious manner free of the bad habits in which some baritones from his generation were fond of indulging. The fine instinct he shows in fitting his portrayal into the modern conception of this character that has largely been shaped by younger baritones is remarkable. Another highlight of the disk are the selections from Simon Boccanegra, which sound as though they’ve been lifted from a complete recording. They benefit not only from Domingo’s authoritative title figure, but from the contributions of the other soloists, who were evidently selected with great care. Somewhat less successful are the slower arias from La Traviata and Un Ballo in Maschera, which are missing precisely this touch of authority. But on the whole, this is a very praiseworthy recording, to which conductor Pablo Heras-Casado and the outstanding Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana also make a notable contribution.

      - Mozart: Cosi fan tutte
      Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
      Soloists: Rolando Villazón, Adam Plachetka, Miah Persson, Angela Brower, Alessandro Corbelli, Mojca Erdmann
      DG 479 0641 (3 CDs)
      Reviewer’s evaluation: This live recording from the 2012 Baden Baden Festival is also part of a series, in this case a cycle of Mozart operas from Baden Baden conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. This set has much to recommend it, and one looks forward to additional performances from this cycle. Cosi fan tutte is an ensemble opera, and the singers here excel both as individual soloists and as ensemble members. At the time of the Festival, much of the attention was focused on Rolando Villazón’s Ferrando. There is likely to be continued dispute over the tenor as a Mozartean stylist, as he sings many passages with very little legato or portamento, and in his top register tends to sound more as though he’s singing Puccini instead. On the other hand, he renders his arias with flawless smoothness and almost Lied-like vocal production, and he is, as always, a lively and engaged actor. Adam Plachetka (Guglielmo) sings with a big sound and precise attacks that rather remind one of Bryn Terfel. Alessandro Corbelli is a model Don Alfonso with an exemplary mixture of comedy and cynicism. Miah Persson’s Fiordiligi displays her keen understanding for dramatic Mozart singing, and she dispatches her arias with assurance. However, her voice can get out of control on top and distinctly changes color in the uncomfortable low register. Mojca Erdmann puts on a great show as Despina and has a charmingly girlish timbre; one only wishes her vocal production had a little more differentiation. Angela Brower’s Dorabella tends to be rather inconspicuous in these surroundings, but she offers excellent technical and interpretative skills. Maestro Nézet-Séguin, on the podium of the outstanding Chamber Orchestra of Europe, favors historic performance practices but is not dogmatic in his approach.

      - Rossini: Semiramide
      Conductor: Alberto Zedda
      Soloists: Myrtò Papatanasiou, Robert McPherson, Anna Hallenberg, Josef Wagner, et. al.
      Dynamic CDS 674/1-3 (3 CDs)
      Reviewer’s evaluation: The 80 year-old conductor Alberto Zedda has long been an advocate of this opera and has frequently led performances of it – uncut, of course. This recording stems from a new production of Semiramide that was presented at the Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp and Ghent during the 2010-11 season, and at which he also wielded the baton. It’s performed in its entirety, but thanks to Maestro Zedda’s engagement, never seems boring. Among the cast members, the best portrayals come from the ladies. In the title role, soprano Myrtò Papatanasiou impresses with her strikingly individual timbre, secure upper register, and precise coloratura, and her virtuosity is always at the service of characterization. In the trouser role of Arsace, Ann Hallenberg produces some real coloratura pyrotechnics; one would only like a bit more fullness in her lower register – and even that is forgotten when these two outstanding singers combine their voices in a duet. In contrast, the men are disappointing. In the role of Idreno, Robert McPherson is generous with interpolated high notes, but his piercing, constricted tenor is not easy on the ears. Josef Wagner’s powerful bass-baritone is suited to the villain, Assur, but he’s not up to the technical demands of Rossini’s music.

      - Humperdinck: Die Königskinder
      Conductor: Sebastian Weigle
      Soloists: Daniel Behle, Amanda Majeski, Nikolay Borchev, Julia Juon, et. al.
      Oehms Classics OC 943 (3 CDs)
      Reviewer’s evaluation: For an opera that really can’t be considered a repertoire staple, Die Königskinder is remarkably well documented on recordings. In addition to a 1952 radio broadcast with Peter Anders and a young Fischer-Dieskau, and a 1977 studio version with Heinz Wallberg conducting Helen Donath and Hermann Prey, there have been several audio and video releases of this work just within the last several years. There is a new CD recording conducted by Ingo Metzmacher with Klaus Florian Vogt, Juliane Banse, and Christian Gerhaher; a DVD from Zürich with Jonas Kaufmann, Isabel Rey, and Oliver Widmer, also with Metzmacher on the podium; and a CD from a concert performance in Montpellier with Armin Jordan conducting Kaufmann and Ofelia Sala. This latest contribution to the discography comes from the Frankfurt Opera and is based on live performances last autumn.
      Humperdinck’s partitur is a combination of Spieloper, Wagnerian influences, and Fin-de-siècle melodies. Conductor Sebastian Weigle approaches the work more soberly than Wallberg, but less coolly analytic than Metzmacher; his opulent sound is shaped with clear contours and rhythmic conciseness. The soloists here are not of the stellar ranking that those on preceding recordings are, but they generally acquit themselves respectably. As the Goose Girl, Amanda Majeski provides the most balanced performance. With her concentrated singing that has suppleness and a wide dynamic range, she effectively captures both the girlish simplicity of this figure and her transformation into the passionately loving woman of the third act. Daniel Behle, who has made his reputation as a lyric tenor, moves into the jugendlich dramatische repertoire with the Prince. His warm, resonant timbre is quite attractive, and he profits from his experience as a Lied interpreter in the role’s more reflective passages. But the frayed quality of his singing in the upper register, in contrast to his well-focused midrange, suggests caution should be used in taking on the more dramatic roles. As the Fiddler, Nikolay Borchev keeps his characterization agreeably free from sentimentality and maintains a good vocal line. However, signs of tiredness near the conclusion of the performance are audible. The smaller roles are all excellently cast, with Julia Juon’s dramatic but never shrill Witch the finest among them.

      - Antonio Sacchini: Renaud
      Conductor: Christophe Rousset
      Soloists: Julien Dran, Marie Kalinine, Jean-Sébastien Bou, Pierrick Boisseau, Julie Fuchs, Katia Willeraz, Chantal Santon, Jennifer Borghi, Cyrille Dubois, Pascal Bourgeois
      Ediciones Singulares 978849 3968656 (2 CDs)
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Venice’s Palazzetto Bru Zane, headed by president Dr. Nicole Bru, is home of the Centre de Musique Romantique Française and is involved in diverse projects dedicated to French music from the period 1780-1920. Among those projects is a recording series devoted to operas from this period, with the CDs packaged in beautiful books with extensive black and white photographs, commentary, and a libretto in French and English. Renaud is the fourth in the series; the fifth, Massenet’s Le Mage, is being released this month.
      The Florence native Antonio Sacchini arrived in Paris around the beginning of the 1780s after having fled creditors in London. In the French capital, he became entangled in the bitter rivalry between followers of Gluck and those of Piccini. He was finally taken up half-heartedly by the former group, who was looking for a successor to their aging idol, but wasn’t certain that Sacchini’s operas would ever rise to the standard of Gluck’s 1779 Iphigénie en Tauride. In spite of various intrigues, Renaud premiered in 1783 with the support of Marie Antoinette. After moderate initial success, the opera enjoyed tremendous popularity; even during the Revolution, about 50 performances took place in Paris between 1792 and 1795. Though the tale of the sorceress Armide and the Crusader Renaud (Rinaldo) had already been the subject of operas by Gluck and Lully, for a time, Sacchini’s version surpassed those earlier works in public favor. In retrospect, it is inferior to Gluck’s and Lully’s operas in several points.
      In this recording, made in Metz last October, the opera is given a committed performance by the ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, who play with great engagement and enthusiasm under the baton of conductor Christophe Rousset. They are joined by Les Chantres du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles, who leave nothing to be desired in their rendition of the demanding choruses. Mezzo Marie Kalinine is a passionate Armide who expressively conveys all of the character’s mood shifts and her nagging conscience. She is towering in her wrath as she orders her soldiers to slay Renaud. In the title role, Julien Dran creates an impressive character portrait as the knight torn between duty and love, but one still rather wishes for a more supple and radiant tenor voice in this part. Jean-Sébastien Bou triumphs in the role of Armide’s unbending father, Hidraot, and the remaining soloists each fill several of the many smaller parts capably.

      - Francesco Provenzale: La Stellidaura vendicante
      Conductor: Alessandro De Marchi
      Soloists: Jennifer Rivera, Carlo Allemano, Adrian Strooper, Enzo Capuano, Hagen Matzeit
      Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 3457478 (2 CDs)
      Reviewer’s evaluation: Of the nine operas composed by Francesco Provenzale, only two have survived, with one of them being La Stellidaura vendicante (1674). Actually, what has survived are the vocal parts and an instrumental bass line, so that conductor Alessandro De Marchi had to prepare his own instrumentation for this performance, which took place during the 2012 Festwochen der Alten Musik (Festival Weeks of Old Music) in Innsbrück. He leads his own Accademia Montis Regalis orchestra, whose 14 musicians play such instruments as the colascione, Baroque lute, and chitarra battante. The libretto, written by the young, very well read Andrea Perrucci, is an amusing mixture of classical tragedy and Baroque style, with many interesting effects. The plot, revolving around (as the title suggests), Stellidaura’s attempts to gain revenge against Crismondo, who supposedly tried to shoot her lover, Armido, involves the usual complications with forged letters, disguises, and mistaken identities. The title role is capably sung by mezzo Jennifer Rivera, who crafts a varied portrait of the woman whose quest for vengeance won’t stop at murder. Carlo Allemano sings the role of her scorned suitor, Crismondo, who believes he must choose between his love for Stellidaura and his friendship with his romantic rival, with a robust, baritonal tenor. The part of Armido has appropriately been cast with Adrian Strooper, whose lighter-weight, attractively supple tenor has sufficient contrast to Allemano’s sound. In the role of Crismondo’s servant, Giampetro, who meddles in the romantic entanglements, bass Ezio Capuano has hearty music reminiscent of Neapolitan folksongs (Provenzale was a native of Naples) set to lyrics of an earthy, even scatological nature. Hagen Matzeit sings Stellidaura’s servant with a beautiful countertenor.

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