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Cal Performances' 2008-2009 Season

September 6 2008: Angela Gheorghiu, soprano
September 21 2008: Rudolf Buchbinder, piano
September 25-28 2008: Mark Morris Dance Group
October 1 2008: Alexander McCall Smith
October 5 2008: Richard Goode, piano
October 7 2008: Seymour Hersh
October 8-12 2008: Druid Theatre Company
October 9-10 2008: Cesária Évora
October 11 2008: Haruki Murakami
October 14-19 2008: Kirov Ballet
October 19 2008: Piotr Anderszewski, piano
October 24-25 2008: Laurie Anderson, Homeland
October 26 2008: Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra
October 29 2008: Ang Lee & James Schamus
November 1 2008: Milton Nascimento & The Jobim Trio
November 2 2008: Conrad Tao, piano
November 7-8 2008: Merce Cunningham Dance Company
November 9 2008: Vadim Repin, violin & Nikolai Lugansky, piano
November 14-15 2008: Merce Cunningham Dance Company
November 23-24 2008: Peter Sellars's Kafka Fragments with Dawn Upshaw
November 28-30 2008: Golden Dragon Acrobats
December 5-6 2008: Ballet Flamenco José Porcel
December 11-14 2008: Jake Heggie's Three Decembers starring Frederica von Stade
December 20 2008: Pomegranates & Figs: A Feast of Jewish Music
December 21 2008: Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano
January 10 2009: Salvatore Licitra, tenor
January 15 2009: Blue Note Records 70th Anniversary Tour
January 17-18 2009: National Acrobats of China
January 18 2009: Sergey Khachatryan, violin with Lusine Khachatryan, piano
January 23-24 2009: Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca
January 25 2009: Sarah Cahill, piano
January 30-31 2009: Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre
February 1 2009: Kronos Quartet
February 5-8 2009: Circus Oz 30th Birthday Bash!
February 8 2009: Danielle de Niese, soprano
February 14 2009: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
February 15 2009: Takács Quartet with Richard Stoltzman, clarinet
February 19-20 2009: Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
February 22 2009: Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano
February 25 2009: Afro-Cuban All Stars
February 27-28 2009: Le Concert des Nations
March 1 2009: Nicole Cabell, soprano
March 3-8 2009: Alvin Ailey with Sweet Honey in the Rock (Mar 3-4)
March 8 2009: Takács Quartet with Peter Wyrick, cello
March 12 2009: Ladysmith Black Mambazo
March 13 2009: Brentano String Quartet with Peter Serkin & Richard Lalli
March 17 2009: Simon Shaheen
March 19 2009: Murray Perahia, piano
March 21 2009: Chick Corea, John McLaughlin & Christian McBride
March 28 2009: Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu
March 28 2009: The Tallis Scholars
March 29 2009: Estonian National Symphony Orchestra with Joyce Yang, piano
April 3 2009: Habib Koité & Bamada
April 4 2009: David Rakoff
April 5 2009: American String Quartet with Menahem Pressler, piano
April 19 2009: Angelika Kirchschlager, mezzo-soprano
April 22 2009: Quatuor Mosaïques
April 24 2009: Krystian Zimerman, piano
April 25 2009: Dianne Reeves
April 26 2009: Australian Chamber Orchestra with Andreas Scholl, countertenor
May 1-3 2009: Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
May 3 2009: Cypress String Quartet
May 15 2009: Yo-Yo Ma, cello
May 29-31 2009: Mark Morris Dance Group (L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato)
June 4-7 2009: Bolshoi Ballet
June 9-13 2009: Ex Machina

Cal Performances just announced their next season, and though I already have tickets for all the co-productions with San Francisco Opera, I might subscribe anyway. Highlights include the Kirov Ballet, Cecilia Bartoli, Angelika Kirchschlager, and the Australian Chamber Orchestra featuring Andreas Scholl as a soloist.

Official Site | Press Release [PDF]

Die Entführung at Komische Oper

Entfuehrungko * Notes *
Calixto Bieito's production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Komische Oper was absolutely the worst opera experience I have ever had. Perhaps I am just hopelessly prudish, but watching 135 minutes of violence, which for the most part was directed against females, was not what I had in mind. Things started off humorously enough, the set revolved and consisted of a few glass boxes covered with advertising targeted at women. There were two boxes downstage left and right that looked just like they had come from Amsterdam's red light district, and scrolling signs with various messages about services offered. Above these particular boxes were four television screens showing a video of a woman at her toilette, and this turned out to be what I watched the most, as it was the least offensive.

The nature of Bassa Selim was entirely changed for this production. Instead of turning out to be an enlightened leader, he is merely a monster who has been living a life beyond consequence. We were treated to rape and torture scenes. Constanze is put in a cage and also lead by leash. Before "Marten Alle Arten," Osmin cuts one of the women and kills her in front of Constanze. It would be one thing if these disturbing images seemed like they were being critical, but their graphic sadism was simply gratuitous. Sure, at the end, the "good" guys kill the "bad" guys, but they also kill all the women in the harem except Blonde and Constanze. It was a simplification message, eye for an eye rather than turn the other cheek.

After watching about half of the opera, I just became utterly bored. The singing wasn't that great, the half-naked girls were cute but not exciting, people yelled a lot and were mean to one another, and the second-rate trapeze artist only performed during the overture. After I had read all the messages on the scrolling signs (with choice statements like "I just turned 18!"), I was reduced to watching Rebecca Ringst's video-film of Jeanette Höldtke putting on her makeup, painting her toe-nails, and trying to open a package of pantyhose.

Jens Larsen (Osmin) began singing stark naked in the shower in Act I, he proceeded to come out of the shower and dry off, but still managed to jump up and down on the bed without putting any clothes on. Larsen's voice was strongest of the cast, full and resonant, but he was off from the orchestra when he sang "Erst geköpft, dann gehangen." Christoph Späth was weak as Pedrillo, this was particularly evident when Larsen and Späth sang together in "Vivat Bacchus, Bacchus Lebe" in Act II. Likewise, tenor Edgaras Montvidas (Belmonte) lacked volume. He did look fairly good in a dress though. Karolina Andersson was still recovering from illness, so her Blonde was rather quiet, but her intonation was good. Brigitte Geller replaced an indisposed Brigitte Christensen, and Geller was audible but also shrill and occasionally off key. She also did not look like much competition for all the tall skinny supernumeraries who were part of Bassa Selim's harem, as she was rather short and squat.

* Tattling *
The audience was very sparse and booed during the performance and also at the end. There was no intermission, as many people would have left, one imagines. The performance was recommended for those over 18, but there was no warning about how many shots were fired. There were several during the second half, and they were deafeningly loud.

Don Giovanni at Unter den Linden

Dongiovannisoudl1* Notes *
Intendant Peter Mussbach's production of Don Giovanni currently at Staatsoper Unter den Linden is muddled. It is difficult to believe Mussbach is a neurologist, given how brainless this co-production with La Scala was. There was quite a lot of ineffectual choreography, every person on stage falls to the ground at some point, usually for no particular reason. There was also a lot of spinning around and staggering, sometimes this was well motivated, and sometimes seemed random. People exited at strange times, in the middle of the other singers' arias, or in many different directions. The set is much too loud, the three walls that were pushed all around the stage creaked, and since they were moving during the music, it was often distracting. The set changed even when scene changes were not necessary. There were at least a hundred pieces of tape on the stage to mark where walls or people needed to be, all clearly visible from the balconies. Perhaps if one requires that much tape, the staging is too complicated. It was reminiscent of a monolithic rat maze, and I'm sure that was intentional. There were only a few props, these included two swords, one knife, a white Vespa, an umbrella, a revolver, a pheasant leg, a bottle, and one chair. Absurdly, Masetto is made to mime having a musket in Act II, but produces the revolver from his pocket. Andrea Schmidt-Futterer's costumes were nice to look at, but the female dancers wore high heels and sounded like a herd of elephants. This was absolutely horrible during "Fin ch'han dal vino" and at the end of Act I, as these dancers ran around and drowned the singing. Also, the Commendatore looked like one of those living statue buskers one sees at Fisherman's Wharf, as he had his face painted silver and donned silver clothing.

Asher Fisch seemed to have gotten a handle of the orchestra by the third performance I saw last night. The musicians rarely overwhelmed the singers and many of the synchronization issues were corrected. Sylvia Schwartz twittered as Zerlina, she was somewhat quieter than the other two sopranos, but still much louder than her Masetto, Arttu Kataja. The pair looked very nice together and they acted well. Bass Hanno Müller-Brachmann also acted well as Leporello, he was funny and lascivious. His voice was strong, but he was ever so slightly late in his arias. Annette Dasch looked stunning as Donna Elvira and though her voice is somewhat fluttery, it was always in tune and very pretty. Christof Fischesser made a bigger impression on me as the Commendatore than as the Landgraf in Tannhäuser. His volume was strong and his tone full. Jeremy Ovenden was quiet as Don Ottavio, and the orchestra was sensitive to this, they played quietly in his arias. He was completely overwhelmed by his Donna Anna, Anna Samuil. Samuil had some poor intonation, she was flat in "Non mi dir" last Friday, but was closer to being in tune yesterday. Ironically, just after that aria, two of the walls seem to flatten her. In the title role, René Pape sang beautifully, especially "Deh vieni alla finestra." The stage is unlit at this point, as he is supposed to be serenading Donna Elvira's maid at night, and this confused the audience. Pape's Don is more lovable than most, he isn't quite as slimy or mean as he could have been.

* Tattling *
The audience for Don Giovanni was consistently worse than for the other performances at the Staatsoper. People spoke aloud during arias, such as Don Ottavio's "Dalla sua pace." The young German-speaking women in Tier 3, Right Middle Row 4 Seats 16 and 17 were very annoyed that they could not see the supertitles because of the chandelier, and expressed this at full volume during Don Ottavio and Donna Anna's duet "Fuggi, crudele fuggi" in Act I. One of them also had a coughing fit during "Deh vieni alla finestra," which they were compelled to discuss out loud.

Again someone on the left side of the third tier was wearing a watch with an alarm on the hour, which was audible at each hour, though at least at 9pm it was intermission. The school group from Majorca returned, and they must have been exhausted, for they were also at the Röschmann | Kozená | Barenboim concert earlier that day. They did not take flash photographs this time.

Tannhäuser at Unter den Linden

Tannhaeusersoudl* Notes *
Yesterday Tannhäuser had its final performance this season at Staatsoper Unter den Linden. To my great surprise, Harry Kupfer's production was fairly simple and worked well. The lines were clean and Buki Shiff's costumes for the principals were inoffensive, and some of her evening gowns for the chorus were stunning. This is consistent with her work in the David Alden production of Rodelinda in Munich and San Francisco. There was a particular red number with one feathered sleeve that was fetching. The staging was amusing, the bacchanalia ballet was conducted on top of an over-sized white piano. The nude dancers were painted white in most cases, but one was also gold, and for the most part they just held various modern dance poses. The piano reappeared in a black guise for Act II, and the hall was not unlike an opera house. Part of the staging had a supernumerary arriving late and trying to find her seat, which she had great difficulty with, naturally. Another recurrent theme was having Tannhäuser supine on ground, which was where he started the opera and where he was found by the hunting party. Best of all, he threw himself into this position before the Pope after singing "Nach Rom!" at the end of Act II.

Musically there were a few rough starts, the hunting horns at the end of Act I Scene 3 were clearly flat at times and Anne Schwanewilms (Elisabeth) was not great in her first aria, "Dich, teure Halle." For the most part the orchestra sounded good, Philippe Jordan kept the musicians together and reigned them in so that the singers were never completely overwhelmed. Soprano Schwanewilms sounded quite beautiful after she was warmed up, she only cracked slightly on the word auch when she protected Tannhäuser after the song contest. Michaela Schuster sang well as Venus, her dark tones in fine contrast with Schwanewilms' brilliance. Robert Dean Smith was convincing as Tannhäuser, his pretty voice did sound heroic and tragic when necessary. He was a bit quiet, though not as weak as Roman Trekel (Wolfram). Trekel lacked resonance and volume, and his "O du, mein holder Abendstern" was the only moment in the opera that was truly disappointing. Nonetheless, this performance was the best I have witnessed at the Staatsoper in Berlin, the end was absolutely transcendent.

* Tattling *
There was a small fire somewhere in the opera house during Act II Scene 3 and one could smell the smoke in the third tier. As the Landgraf and Elisabeth sang, the audience stood up and some people started to exit. The singers looked rather confused, and someone came out to explain that the fire had been extinguished and that there was no danger. Then we stood around for a bit, and someone else came out and said we would take a 15 minute intermission to wait for the smoke to clear.

Someone on the left side of the third tier was wearing a watch with an alarm on the hour, which I heard at least three times. Additionally, somehow I sat amidst a school group from Majorca, pianists from the ages of 12-20. They did not understand German terribly well, and the three on the right of center made us get up about 10 times during the intermissions so that they could get from one side of the theater to another. These children had to be hushed multiple times, which they found entertaining. However, they did quiet down, and whispered instead of speaking aloud. They also took a half dozen flash photographs during the performance. I believe they will also be at the performance of Don Giovanni tonight.

Orchester-Akademie der Berliner Philharmoniker

Orchesterakademie* Notes *
On Thursday I went to hear the Orchestra Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic play in the Kammermusiksaal. The evening began with Schubert's "Rosamunde," String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor. It was all quite nice, just not too exciting. The musicians did not seem to have much rapport. They certainly seemed a bit nervous, the first violin occasionally overwhelmed the second violin and especially the viola. It was rather difficult for me to follow the line of the viola, at times I could not tell if she was playing or not. Even still, it was clear that the young musicians were all quite talented. My favorite movement of the piece was the third, the Menuetto, as I am fond of dances. However, I am still not partial to Schubert.

The second half of the performance was Mozart's Serenade for Winds No. 10 in B Flat Major, the so-called "Gran Partita." The work is scored for 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 basset horns, 2 bassoons, 4 horns and string bass, and this is exactly what we saw and heard on stage. The piece was more lively than the Schubert, and they played it straightforwardly. The instruments were together, but sometimes the balance of sound was off, the clarinets were somewhat loud, for instance. The musicians were in tune, and the fifth movement was especially good, the bassoons played well.

* Tattling *
The audience was badly behaved, there were a few mobile phone rings, whispering, and leaving in the middle of the music. However, the ovation was spirited and the ensuing encore was amusing. I believe they played Johannes Brahms' Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht, Op. 49, No. 4, and musicians left the stage either in pairs or one by one until only the bassist was alone.

I had forgotten that the erstwhile General Director of San Francisco Opera, Pamela Rosenberg, was the Intendantin at the Berlin Philharmonic, and was surprised to see her name on the program. I think it is quite possible I would have turned out rather differently if not exposed to her short reign at SFO, it was during that time I started writing about opera in earnest, after all. The very next morning I read that Rosenberg was leaving when her contract expires in 2010. She is not going to another position, which I am sure evokes feelings of Schadenfreude for those who loathed her so in the Bay Area.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Unter den Linden

Pelleas* Notes *
This season's final performance of Pelléas et Mélisande at Staatsoper Unter den Linden was last Wednesday. The 1991 production, the work of one Ruth Berghaus, is truly absurd. Hartmut Meyer's set and costumes were both contributed to the folly. The set consists of a downstage mound with a hole in it, which served as both the fountain Mélisande is found at, and the well in which she loses her ring in later. Upstage the sets could be changed, and this worked well for the different scenes. One of the sets included a steep staircase with rather small steps, instead of having Mélisande in a window at the top of a tower, she simply sat at the top of the stairs. None of the singers sounded as good on this staircase as they did down below, I am not sure if it was because of the acoustics, as the staircase had walls and was more upstage, or because of the steep incline which looked difficult to stay on. The costumes were quite silly: Golaud and Pelléas both looked like button mushrooms in their wide caps and long coats, Mélisande wore her petticoat with the waistline just beneath the breasts, so also looked like a mushroom of a different sort. Mélisande's hair was not long, which worried me a great deal, as she has that window scene in which Pelléas is supposedly wrapped in her tresses.

However, the sets and costumes were not nearly as ludicrous as the staging. For instance, when Mélisande play with her wedding ring at the well, she just throws it in, and puts her hands behind her back. This got the biggest laugh all evening. Or in the aforementioned hair combing in the window scene, Mélisande takes off her wig and Pelléas rubs it on himself. Basically he brings the wig to crotch-level and humps it. It was extremely hilarious. Golaud was made to flap his arms as he walked, and when he kills Pelléas, he casually walks by, sees his brother kissing his wife beneath him, and stabs downward but once and flaps on away. The worst might have been the scene before Pelléas dies in which Golaud and Pelléas' grandfather Arkel asks to kiss Mélisande on the cheek or brow. Instead of being innocent, Arkel molests Mélisande, and the scene is extremely disturbing.

The orchestra sounded wonderful under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle, the musicians were very much together. However, at times, they were much too loud, and they overwhelmed every single singer at one point or another. Andreas Mörwald, a soloist from the Tölzer Knabenchor, sang beautifully as Yniold. Hanno Müller-Brachmann was better as Leporello in the concurrent production of Don Giovanni than here. He was fine as Golaud, but his singing did not betray much emotion. Robert Lloyd sounded strong as Arkel, and his singing at the end was especially grand. It was difficult to hear how lovely Willam Burden's voice is, he was quiet as Pelléas, and was the most often overwhelmed by the orchestra. Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená was most impressive in the role of Mélisande, her volume and tone were both excellent. 

* Tattling *
The second tier is not quite as warm as the third, but still not all that comfortable. For the most part, the audience was quiet, though there was a mobile phone ring during Arkel's aria at the end. This was the first performance I sat off to one side, to the left in this case. One is closer to the stage and can make out the faces well, but some of the stage is certainly obscured, due to the shape of the building. I sat next to a young man possibly from the French-speaking part of Switzerland or Belgium, which I learned from a conversation in German between him and a German woman who took the empty seat next to him at intermission. They discussed the performance, and it was said that the production was rather artificial. At one point the German woman asked if he knew that a "Berliner" is a sort of pastry.

Quatuor Ebène at the Konzerthaus Berlin

Quatuorebene* Notes *
Last Tuesday the French Quatuor Ebène played at the Kleiner Saal of the Konzerthaus Berlin. The performance started with a bracing rendition of Haydn's "Rider," String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 74. The Allegro started off rather stridently, the pace was good, fast but not over the top. In the Largo assai, it became evident that the musicians had fine control and a good sense for dynamics. The Menuet was strangely moving, their playing was neither too precise nor sloppy, and the Finale, an Allegro con brio was especially playful.

Next was Bartók's String Quartet No. 2, which the quartet seemed to take most seriously indeed. I enjoyed the serenade-like pizzicato bit in the first movement, played by the cello. The Allegro molto capriccioso that followed seemed rather violent, but the last movement, a Lento was more atmospheric.

After the intermission came Brahms' String Quartet in C Minor, Opus 51. Personally, I am no admirer of Brahms, in me his music often evokes scenes of cows at pasture. From the beginning of this piece, I could not stop thinking about green fields filled with angry cows, for the quartet played fiercely. The Romanze sounded slightly more like Wagner, perhaps Das Rheingold. My favorite was the Allergetto molto moderato e comodo, as the theme is beautiful and I enjoyed the rhythm. The last movement, another Allegro, seemed tempestuous again.

* Tattling *
The Kleiner Saal is such a pretty little hall, but the ordering of rows is a bit strange. Instead of beginning with A or 1, the first row is D, followed by E, and then 1. This caused minor confusion before the concert, but it was settled by the time the music started. At any rate, I found myself in the very middle of the first row, which was vaguely embarrassing given I was wearing my silliest outfit.

The people next to me in Row D Seats 7 and 8 seemed very unhappy with the Bartók, and left at the intermission. However, the rest of the audience clapped quite a lot at the end. The first encore came with a little story from cellist Raphaël Merlin in nice clear German. He joked that the French are not as musical as the Germans, and that they only have one night of classical music on television, during Les Victoires de la Musique. However, when Quatuor Ebène invited to perform at this event last year, they were asked to play the theme music to Pulp Fiction. After the story was told, they actually did play the song, and I nearly died of laughter.

The second encore was for a record of film music, the song "Someday my Prince will Come" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The string quartet actually started off the song a cappella in French, played their instruments, and finished singing. It was all a little surreal, but they have nice voices, so pulled it off.

Pinocchio at Komische Oper Berlin

Pinocchioko* Notes *
The last performance this season of Pierangelo Valtinoni's Pinocchio at Komische Oper Berlin was last Tuesday morning. This hour-long opera for children was given in German, and Jetske Mijnssen's production is adorable.  The set, designed by Benita Roth, was an over-sized blue cabinet with two doors and three drawers. Christine Mayer's costumes were delightful and creative, although all on the traditional side. Overall, this has been the most traditional looking opera I have seen in Berlin, and it is somewhat ironic given that the music dates from 2001. There was much percussion, but the sound was more on the jazz or pop spectrum of contemporary music.

The cast included many children, who sounded like they were using microphones. They acted well and were sweet. I was especially enamored of the four gravedigger bunnies. As for the grown-ups, Karen Rettinghaus sang well in the title role and was convincing as a boy. Hans Gröning was slightly quiet as Geppetto. Susanne Kreusch stood out as the Blue Fairy, her voice was otherworldly and had good volume.

* Tattling *
The Komische Oper building is a bit odd, it looks like a sandstone box on the outside and rather rococo on the inside. They also played a recording of a ring in lieu of having an announcement about mobile phones, but a different ring than over at Unter den Linden.

My favorite part of the opera was the Pleasure Island scene when enormous fruits and pastries appeared. The underwater scene, after Pinocchio gets thrown in the sea, was fairly wonderful as well. All the oceanic creatures were fantastic, it was almost painfully cute.

There were tons of school groups at this particular opera, as one would expect. The children were quite excited and could not stop talking, and they particularly became noisy when someone on stage wrote that 1+1=3 on a chalkboard. At the end they clapped enthusiastically and chanted for an encore.

The Met Opera - Live in HD 2008-2009

Next season the Met presents 11 simulcasts, including:

Opening Night Gala (North America Only)
September 22, 2008

October 11, 2008

Doctor Atomic
November 8, 2008

Le Damnation de Faust
November 22, 2008

December 20, 2008

La Rondine
January 10, 2009

Orfeo ed Euridice
January 24, 2009

Lucia di Lammermoor
February 7, 2009

Madama Butterfly
March 7, 2009

La Sonnambula
March 21, 2009

La Cenerentola
May 9, 2009

To be perfectly honest, I'm only interested half of these. I'll probably see the first three operas and naturally Orfeo ed Euridice. For Salome, it is only to hear Mattila, as I detest this particular opera. (Yes, I know, I'm a philistine.) Likewise, I am not interested in Le Damnation de Faust, but Susan Graham and John Relyea are hard to resist. I am compelled to see Doctor Atomic again, due to the absurdity factor. Does one need to hear Eric Owens sing about chocolate cake yet again? The answer is clear.

Press Release

Don Carlo at Unter den Linden

Doncarlorp1* Notes *
The penultimate performance this season of Don Carlo at Staatsoper Unter den Linden was last Monday. The opera was presented in Italian as four acts, which does not start off with Don Carlo and Elisabetta meeting in Fontainebleau. Philipp Himmelmann's production included many scrims and walls, designed by Johannes Leiacker. The set made the scene changes smooth and simple, but the set changed more than strictly necessary and the constant movement was distracting. However, this was nothing compared to the ridiculous stage directions. When Elisabetta ironically suggests patricide to Carlo with the words "Compi l'opra a svenar corri il padre," she started aggressively ironing napkins. The auto de fé scene at the end of Act II was terrifying, but the condemned did not need to be ducted taped as the orchestra played, it was much too loud. The scene was shocking, as the five being executed were completely naked and vulnerable. Having them drawn by the feet upwards with ropes was in keeping with the plot, but once the penitents started spinning themselves around like aerialists, it just became absurd rather than horrifying. But the most egregious part of the staging was when Rodrigo sang his last aria in Act III, "O Carlo, ascolta." As he is dying, he begs Carlo to take his hand, and in this production, Carlo sits in a chair and turns away. It is utterly inhuman, given that Rodrigo is his best friend, who has sacrificed himself for Carlo.

I saw this opera last week with a somewhat different cast, René Pape as Filippo and Andrew Richards as Don Carlo. Peter Rose was certainly loud enough as Filippo this time around, his tone is rich and warm. However, his performance was fairly bland until Act III Scene 1, when he sang about how Elisabetta never loved him. Tenor Franco Farina likewise was not as strong as Richards, there was something not quite right with the famous duet "Dio, che nell' alma infondere." Farina was both flat and sharp and his voice lacks heft. Alfredo Daza was fine as Rodrigo, though he too was overwhelmed by the orchestra at times. Kurt Rydl was a shaky as the Inquisitore and difficult to hear. In the absence of René Pape, Norma Fantini (Elisabetta) was the strongest of the cast, she sounded in tune, though her vibrato is a bit wide.  She had some lovely moments, especially in "Toi qui sus le néant" at the end. Mezzo Ildiko Komlosi was tiresome as Eboli, she gasped with every breath and was entirely out of tune in her last aria "O don fatale," as she curses her fatal beauty.

* Tattling *
Instead of having an announcement about turning off cellular phones, the Staatsoper Berlin just plays a recording of a ring. It is convincingly real if one has not heard it before and simple, not needing any translation. On this particular evening the audience was embarrassingly sparse, though there was a fair amount of whispering. The third tier was still incredibly warm, despite not being stuffed with that many bodies.

Giulio Cesare in Lausanne

Giuliocesarelausanne* Notes *
A production of Giulio Cesare opened at Opéra de Lausanne last Friday. The opera was cut down, and the performance was only three hours long. Emilio Sagi's production was on the traditional side, the setting looked like a Baroque take on the Roman and Ancient Egyptian worlds. In that sense it was not unlike the Metropolitan Opera production that was in San Francisco and San Diego. The costumes, the work of Jesús Ruiz Moreno, were pretty, though the beading was a bit loud. The costumes of Cornelia and Sesto looked medieval, but the Egyptian costumes and the other Roman costumes were what one would expect, though all of the former wore white, and all of the latter black. Eduardo Bravo's lighting was at times too stark, rendering the singers unnaturally purple.

There were some silly aspects to the staging, notably the giant statue head used as the severed head of Pompeo and the fight scene between the Egyptians and Romans in Act III Scene 1. Several ropes were hanging from the ceiling and instead of attacking each other, the dancers batted at ropes under strange lighting. I must admit, I laughed a lot at this part and barely contained myself.

Yannis François and Florin-Cezar Ouatu acted and sang well as Curio and Nireno, respectively. Bass Riccardo Novaro was quite brutal as Achilla, he had fine volume, at least from the second row of the house. Christophe Dumaux is great as a buffoon, I remember him as Unulfo in the Met's Rodelinda. He was amusing as Tolomeo, and though his voice has a light prettiness, his control is imperfect. He was rather quiet in his falsetto and much too loud when notes fell into his actual range. On the other hand, Max Emanuel Cencic (Sesto) had both volume and brightness. He did, however, lack precision in diction and intonation. Charlotte Hellekant (Cornelia) looked far too young to be Cencic's mother, but was convincing in her beauty, as she is wooed by Curio, Achilla, and Tolomeo. Her diction was good, but her tone lacked richness. In contrast, Elena de la Merced could have been singing in Finnish, I could barely make out a word. She looked absolutely stunning as Cleopatra, but when she sang the word piangerò, it sounded like "kangigo." She sang "Piangerò la sorte mia" especially well, despite her diction. Generally her intonation was good, but her higher notes were terribly strained, both loud and harsh.

The highlight of the evening was definitely Andreas Scholl in the titular role. He was amazing, with beautiful control in volume and tone. He made some hilarious faces as Giulio Cesare, but is more convincing than David Daniels or Ewa Podleś. He was overwhelmed in one aria by the orchestra, and he also completely showed off holding the first note of "Aure, deh per pietà."

I was not much impressed by the orchestra, under the direction of Ottavio Dantone. The nadir was the horn solo in "Va tacito e nascosto" that had many sour notes, and just kept going badly.

* Tattling *
The audience distinguished itself by being one of the worst I've ever encountered. There were no cellular phones or watch alarms, but people could not stop speaking. Especially at the beginning, whenever there was no singing, people would immediately start conversing. The pair of women in Box A on the orchestra level were particularly rude. During the overture, they deliberated for several minutes on whether or not they should move to the center as the box was quite off to the right side of the house. They stomped to the middle during the music. Of course, the patrons who had those seats arrived during Act I and the two women had to stomp back to their box.
After they settled down, the men in Row A Seats 26 and 28 felt the need to speak during "Dall' ondoso." Then a woman in Row C Seat 26 spoke at full volume during "Io fra l'onde."

The audience clapped with great gusto at the end, and there were about 10 curtain calls. I was glad to note that the Swiss have the same habit as I've noted among Bavarians and Hungarians of clapping all together.

There was a funny moment in the staging, at the beginning of Act II Scene 7, Nireno spells out Cleopatra in large blocks of Greek letters. The dancers wrap them up in cloth and take them away except for the "K." Tolomeo later comes by and is supposed to stab the block letter, but he must have missed, for everyone in the audience laughed.

The Redeemer Reborn Review

On the flight to Paris, I finished reading Paul Schofeld's The Redeemer Reborn: Parsifal as the Fifth Opera of Wagner's Ring. Certain aspects of the book annoyed me greatly, particularly on page 196 when Schofeld quotes from a conversation between Wagner and Cosima, and then comments: "I will discuss Wotan's renunciation further in a while, but it is clear from Wagner's remarks to Cosima that he sees it as being enough to achieve salvation. In the context of the Buddhist view of cleansing karma, renunciation, is not, by itself, enough, though it is is a necessary first step." Schofeld goes on to say, that Wagner's analysis of his own work, at least through a Buddhist lens, incorrect, and that Wotan is not Titurel but Amfortas.

However, the book was otherwise enjoyable. Despite not being convinced of the author's analysis, it was still quite informative. Certainly there are parallels between Siegfried and Parsifal; Alberich and Klingsor; and Wotan and Amfortas. I found the connection between Brünnhilde and Kundry to be most tenuous. One of the pieces of evidence Schofeld uses was an inscription by Wagner on a photograph of himself to Amalie Materna: "Kundry here, Brünnhilde there, the work's bright jewel everywhere." Evidently Materna sang these roles in Berlin and Bayreuth, I don't see how this helps prove that Brünnhilde is reborn as Kundry.

Schofeld gives numerous etymologies, from taboo to Nibelungen, which was fun. Most interesting was the information on Die Sieger, an opera Wagner planned about an explicitly Buddhist theme. The opera was to be about the first bhikkuni, or ordained female monastic. Also fascinating were the various grail legends, which Schofeld covers in some detail.

7th Performance of Don Giovanni at Unter den Linden

* Notes *
The April performances of Don Giovanni at Staatsoper Unter den Linden began last night, conducted by Asher Fisch. There were a few times that the orchestra and singers were not quite together, but worse was all the banging coming from backstage. Doubtless this will improve over time, but it was not particularly impressive.

I think I may have heard Mariusz Kwiecien sing the title role a few too many times (I believe it was eight times in the last year), for I found René Pape a bit strange in the role, though he is one of my favorite singers. Pape lacks a certain unctuousness that Kwiecien absolutely embodies. Pape also sounded a slightly quiet, his Champagne aria was distracted, perhaps because of all the dancing happening behind him. However, his "Deh vieni alla finestra" was wonderful.

Much of the cast seemed quiet to me, Jeremy Ovenden was a muffled Don Ottavio and Arttu Kataja (Masetto) was all but inaudible. As Zerlina, Sylvia Schwartz's voice was perfectly bird-like and small, and showed a bit of strain at the beginning. She sang "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" well. Anna Samuil was fairly good as Donna Anna, though she sounded a bit out of tune during "Or sai chi l'onore."

Hanno Müller-Brachmann was very funny as Leporello and he sang "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" especially nicely. Annette Dasch was the first Donna Elvira I have heard in the last year that did not have an exceedingly wide vibrato and was actually in tune.

Overall, I was slightly disappointed with the performance. There was one moment when everything came together in the finale of Act I, suddenly everything came into focus, at least musically, in the last 3 minutes. That quality was not sustained in Act II. I will save my various snide comments about the production for my more definitive review of this opera, next week, after a few more viewings.

* Tattling *
The British people next to me were utterly boggled by the cast of characters and could not figure out who was who. Needless to say, the production did not help them, and of course, they did not read German. It was almost cute, how they couldn't figure out if Donna Elvira was the blonde or who was engaged to Don Ottavio. To be fair, there seemed to be an error in the English synopsis. Personally, I thought it was quite obvious that Donna Elvira was the one with the impressive décolleté, but refrained from saying anything to them.

Das Pergamonmuseum

* Notes *
Yesterday I had an outing to the
Pergamonmuseum in Berlin-Mitte, a museum I've been to a handful of times before, but never grow tired of. The museum itself dates from 1910, and was built to house the Pergamon Altar, and it is set to be overhauled in 2011. It was raining, and I arrived a bit late to miss the crowds of school groups. The museum was filled to capacity, and they weren't letting people in, so I was first what became a rather long line. People became impatient, and came up to the people just behind me to ask what was the matter, as I apparently to not look like an authority. One particular woman with a school group was unsatified with the answers she got, although I told her the building was full, she pretended I did not speak and opened the door in front of me to talk to the guard. He basically told her the same thing I had said, and she was very concerned about how long we would have to wait. He told her he really did not know how long it would be before people started leaving the museum so that the rest of us could go in, and his best guess was perhaps 20 minutes. In any case, he did let a few of us in within five minutes or so.

The museum was filled with teenagers from Germany, France, and Italy, many of them with school groups. But since such groups tend to move people in and out quickly, it was not terrible, after 20 minutes the gallery where the Pergamon Altar resides was fairly clear. The Hellenistic altar is from the 2nd century BCE, and was excavated from near what is now Bergama, Turkey in 1879 and 1904. The work depicts a struggle between the Greek gods against the giants, and was especially interesting to me as I have just been reading about the representation of classical subjects in the Renaissance.

After admiring the Pergamon Altar, I went to look at the Market Gate of Miletus, but it was quite covered in scaffolding and plastic. Thankfully, the 6th century BCE Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way remained on view, and I was quite please to see all that lovely ultramarine blue tile again. Built on the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar II, this work features dragons, cattle, and lions.

Just upstairs from the Processional way is the Islamic Art Museum (Museum für Islamische Kunst), which I had not been to before. The Aleppo Room from Syria was most impressive. The painted wood paneling decorated a living room in a Christian household and dates from 1601-1603.

* Tattling *
Some German teenagers very excitedly complimented my shoes. A French school group was particularly inappropriate and spoke about me as if I could neither hear nor see them. They also pointed and stared, but I suppose one does not see brightly arrayed post-modern square dancers everyday. Even still French is hardly good secret code, even when spoken in Germany.