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Anna Bolena

BsobolenaLast Wednesday I was back at the Bavarian State Opera, seeing their production of Donizetti's Anna Bolena, this particular one having premiered 30. October 1995. The music was pretty enough, but the ending seemed anticlimactic musically, it did not finish well. Too weak somehow. Soprano Edita Gruberova is most beloved in Munich. Her voice can be ravishing, her pianissimo is perfect. But on the other hand, her voice is sometimes very shrill, it was especially at the end of Act I. That last note of hers was almost painful.

Ralf Weikert seemed to have control of the orchestra. Jonathan Miller's production was simple, the set had basically two modes, with a wall and without one. Too bad Peter J. Davison's sets took so long to get from one mode to another, the curtain came down for each scene, lights came on as well. The lights even came up after the overture, so they came up five times during the performance, far too many, it breaks the concentration. Clare Mitchell's costumes were perfect, just straight out of Holbein the Younger. Nils Christe was in charge of choreography, there wasn't much going on, Carmen Oprisanu as Jane Seymour (Giovanna Seymour) looked so uncomfortable, sometimes she just would stride in and it was just wrong.

Mezzo Carmen Oprisanu sang well though, very consistent, with lots of vibrato but very cold. Roberto Scandiuzzi as Henry VIII acted well, and sang well too, his voice being hearty but not pretty. Tenor Gregory Kunde was not bad, but his voice sounded constricted in his upper range, and he was less resonant compared to Gruberova. My favorite was Elena Cassian who sang the part of Smenton, a trouser role. Her voice was strong and she has good control.

There was a woman two rows in front of me who kept coughing and making strange vocalizations as she gasped for air. She also talked. Another audience member told her to shut up in German. She did not.

Romantische Oper in 3 Akten

Deutsche Oper Berlin's current production of Der fliegende Holländer premiered 27. March 1997. The music was nice, something in between normal opera and music drama. The production was fairly nondescript, though many scrims and curtains were used. There was a noisy rotating platform that served as the Dutchman's ship at times. There were a lot of ropes. The Dutchman is tied in ropes as his ship approaches the Norwegian ship, there are ropes all around in the second act that encage the girls spinning, and so forth. The costumes looked to be 1930s or so.

The singing was all consistently good but not exceptional. Reinhard Hagen as Daland was perhaps my favorite, he didn't strain nearly as hard as Richard Paul Fink as the Holländer.

* * *
Musikalische Leitung  Marc Albrecht
Inszenierung  Götz Friedrich
Bühne, Kostüme Gottfried Pilz, Isabel Ines Glathar
Chöre Ulrich Paetzholdt

Daland Reinhard Hagen
Senta Eva Johansson
Erik Richard Brunner
Mary Kari Hamnøy
Steuermann Clemens Bieber 
Holländer Richard Paul Fink

La Tragédie de Sémiramis

Last Friday I attended Rossini's Semiramide at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. The libretto is based on Voltaire's play, the opera itself was written in 33 days and premiered at La Fenice on 3. February 1823. This production premiered 24. May 2003. Alberto Zedda, a specialist in Baroque opera, conducted well. The music throughout was incredibly beautiful.

The singing was good. Only contralto Jennifer Larmore, as Arsace, was a bit quiet, her voice is very pretty though it does not project well. Darina Takova was strong in the title role. Bass Simone Alaimo also was strong, and had perfect diction. Tenor Bruce Fowler as Idreno was perfectly adequate, with a nice enough voice that is not distinct.

The production was a mixture of all sorts of things, headed up by Kirsten Harms with Bernd Damovsky doing sets and costumes. The action all takes place inside a concrete box that looks very much like part of a parking complex at an airport. Complete with emergency exit signs and security cameras. The statue of Bel looked fairly normal, but the priests wore fake white fur aprons over their suits. Some people had fifties clothing, others wore what could be considered "ethnic" and were veiled. There was some inexplicable man with a control panel including levers and lights who wandered about. They did a good job with Arsace's costume, a trouser part, they put Larmore in so many layers that any womanly shape she may have had was obscured. In short, the production was boring. No one seems to know what to do with opera seria and this treatment was neither here nor there. Though I was pleased and surprised they did not have anything going on during the overture.

Love for a plane tree

Duncanserse2Yesterday evening I attempted to see the entirety of the Bavarian State Opera's production of Serse. The last time I only made it through the the first two acts before I was too disgusted to watch the rest. This time I decided to sit in the best section of the Nationaltheater, the Königsloge. The acoustics are excellent there, I could hear the orchestra turning their pages.

Händel's music is always a delight, but I felt the music was not nearly as powerful as Saul. Serse is, of course, Händel's best known comedic opera, one of four. The arias of Serse are all rather short compared to his other opera arias. The finale was a bit of a let down, it is brief and light.

Ivor Bolton conducted fairly well. The singers seemed to be with the music nearly the whole time. Ann Murray, as Serse (Xerxes), was better than I remembered. Her voice is not beautiful, a bit shrill, but it is powerful. She's a little waif of a thing too, it is incredible the amount of volume she has. Countertenor Christopher Robson was impressive as Arsamene, at points his voice was simply unreal. He is a bit shrill as well in the higher register. As Amastris, mezzo Nathalie Stutzmann's voice was prettier than I remembered, but she does not project well. She sounded good when only accompanied by the harpsichord, otherwise she was too quiet. Susan Gritton was, again as Romilda, the strongest singer, her voice is beautiful.

Martin Duncan's production was as hideous as I remembered, without any regard for the noise levels. The huge conveyor belt used in Act III rumbled and grumbled, especially terrible during the overture. Duncan seemed quite set on always having something going on at every moment to keep the audience engaged. I suppose this is what the audience wants, the audience at the Bavarian State Opera does not strike me as serious or refined in the least. Even in the best seats in the house, only among twelve people, there was chatter.

Ultz's costumes and stage were childish. The lurid bright pinks, purples, and blues were hard on the eyes. Jonathan Lunn's choreography was likewise puerile. The audience loved Atalanta's shimmies and saucy movements, they applauded her during the overture. Unbelievable. One gets the feeling that no one is there for the music.

But, I suppose, it was fun and cute. The penultimate scene in Act II had Romilda surrounded by supernumeraries menacing her with pink ball gowns and fancy shoes meant to tempt her, as Serse tries his best to seduce. This was fairly effective. Perhaps Martin Duncan and Ultz can work on staging non-Baroque works instead.