Bayerische Staatsoper

Ingrata, t'amo ancor

BsoluciaTickets to yesterday evening's performance of Lucia di Lammermoor completely sold-out, presumably because Edita Gruberova was singing the title role. She is in her 25th year of singing Lucia, and she is quite remarkable. Her voice can be the very embodiment of icy perfection. The audience screamed and clapped after "Quando rapito in estasi" for more than thirty seconds, and after the mad scene for at least a minute.

Marcello Viotti was adequate, the pacing seemed right. Robert Carsen's staging was dull, it involved walls with recessed square panels, like the ceiling of the Pantheon. These walls were arranged at angles to suggest a vanishing point of a painting and perhaps confinement. Richard Hudson's costumes all involved plaid except in the case of Lucia. This heightened the absurdity of an opera whose setting is Scotland, but whose language is Italian.

Paolo Gavanelli, as Enrico, was most impressive besides Gruberova, his baritone is very pleasant. Tenor Marcelo Alvarez was also quite good, one of the better tenors I have heard at the Bayerische Staatoper. The sextet in Act II Scene II was incredible. The only weak voice was Helena Jungwirth as Alisa, though it is a very small part with no aria. I could not hear her over the music from where I was.


Queen of Lombardy

Aldenrodelinda2I had the dubious pleasure of seeing David Alden's new production of Rodelinda twice within a fortnight. It was more tame than I expected, no giant robot lab rats, no walking dentures. Thankfully, there was plenty of cigarette smoking, a little drunken staggering, and naturally, things were thrown. Also, five shots were fired from a gun in the last scene, at least it wasn't during the music, as in Götterdämmerung.

The staging aesthetic was reminiscent of Film noir, the costumes were all in 1930s style. The choreography was not too bad, it went with what they were going for, and the principal singers all moved well. Too bad the chorus of background dancers they had were not synchronized.

The transitions between scenes were smooth, although some of the set was quite loud when moved. Also, I did not appreciate that the set took so long to be put in place during the intermissions, one hour for two intermissions is too long for a three hour opera.

Händel's music is celestial, but the chorus is missed in this. The finale is appropriately strong though, hearing all the voices together after all the arias makes an impact.

Ivor Bolton seems to conduct Händel much better than Mozart. It always seems much more together, I have noted this with Saul and Serse as well.

The singing was adequate, no one was particularly brilliant. Dorothea Röschmann in the title role was the most impressive, but she looks timid and she has a tendency to gasp occasionally. Her voice is sprightly. She was excellent in her duet with Michael Chance, she did not overshadow him although the countertenor voice is always a little false next to a soprano. Michael Chance as Bertarido wasn't bad, his voice has sweetness to it, but when he slipped into his real voice, it was obvious. Paul Nilon as Grimoaldo had a likable voice, like most tenors, a little too quiet. I was surprised by Felicity Palmer, who was a sassy Eduige. Her volume is good, but her voice is a little rough. Her shoulders are as slumped as I remember in Giulio Cesare, and she looks most comfortable in the suit that she wears in the last act. Everyone loved Christopher Robson best, he played the buffoon as Unulfo. They have him walk around on stage with a kitchen knife stuck in his arm, when Bertraido mistakenly has wounded him. This got wild applause, though there is no aria in that section.

The audience was very indifferent during the 2. July performance, many people left, there was hardly any applause. In contrast, the 9. July audience clapped after every single aria, but some people left this performance early as well.


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.


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.


Es riß!

Aldengoetterdaemmerung5Last Friday the Bavarian State Opera concluded their first run of Der Ring des Nibelungen as a cycle. This production of Götterdämmerung premiered 28. February 2003, and it was tamer than Die Walküre or Siegfried. Still a lot of drunken staggering, and cigarette smoking.

Musically more compelling than Siegfried, Wagner brings his epic work to a close using elements not heard in the first previous parts, most notably, the use of a chorus. The contrast of this gives the chorus a great deal of power.


The singing was, again, all quite good. Stig Anderson's voice was as sweet as ever, his death scene was excellent as far as singing goes. Baritone Juha Uusitalo, who was Donner in Das Rheingold, was adequate as Gunther here. Bass Matti Salminen was fine as Hagen, his voice isn't exactly full, but the volume is good. Franz-Josef Kapellmann was again wonderful as Alberich, his voice very distinct from Salminen's. Gabriele Schnaut sang well enough as Brünnhilde, but I always felt worried for her, because her voice wobbles and has so much power it threatens to overwhelm her. Nancy Gustafson seemed fine as Gutrune, she was Freia in Das Rheingold. Her voice provokes neither like nor dislike in me, it is a tad cold. Marjana Lipovsek has more emotion in her voice, she did well as Waltraute, and she was Fricka in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. The Rheintöchter were lovely again, mocking but otherworldly. Margarita De Arellano never seemed less shrill, and Ann-Katrin Naidu and Hana Minutillo both have incredible voices. The Norns were less impressive, but not bad.

The production did not make any departure from the usual fare of absurdness, though it was not quite as amusing for the audience. The basic set is a semicircular room. It starts off with a white, reflective floor and a white wall, a blue fluorescent light traces the edge of the wall in a half-circle. There is a chandalier with white fluorescent lights arranged vertically. The Norns are smoking on a couch covered with a sheet. They are dressed in pinstriped suits with vests and high heeled pumps. They are all wearing their hair in dark bobs with bangs. The third Norn is blind and wearing sunglasses, she staggers about. When the Loge music is played the three bring out lighters. Brünnhilde comes out during their music, she sits on the floor, downstage, a bit to the right, dressed in pajamas and a robe, drinking coffee. The floor slides open, mid-stage, a little to the left, and the Norns set out a desk, chair, and typewriter for Brünnhilde. They offer her cigars and coffee. One of the Norns is drinking, she staggers about drunken, naturally. There is a bed stage right, Siegfried is on it, in pajamas also, he and Brünnhilde sing, he changes into trousers, button down shirt, plaid sports coat, and fedora. Quite a change from Siegfried, in which he looks like an adolescent boy in modern times. The scene is changed by tuxedoed men. The Rheintöchter emerge from the floor with a model boat, a golden pirate ship with sails, they sail it about the room, dressed as they were in Das Rheingold.

Act I has some pillars emerging from a door upstage, a painting of a woman in falling out of bed stage right. Getrune huddles in the back, in a fur coat, hugging a teddy bear. Gunther is brought in in his bed. At some point he gets angry at Hagen and throws the bed over, Getrune jumps up and down on the bed. Siegfried emerges from the ground, the horse, Grane is the same dread-locked boy throughout the production, he throws streamers and confetti over Siegfried. Hagen takes him and ties him up by the pillars. Getrune coyly gives Siegfried the love potion, it makes him stagger around for the rest of the opera. The choreography for Getrune is childish, a lot of leg swinging, she's never actually sexy though, even though the character is wearing a little slip beneath her coat, and black stiletto boots. Siegfried and Gunther cut their hands over champagne glasses for the blood brother scene and when Siegfried leaves to fetch Brünnhilde, Hagen drags Grane from the back and throws him into the egress in the floor, where he and Getrune also exit.

Waltreute goes to see her sister Brünnhilde before Siegfried appears. This scene is fairly normal, though the characters never seem to be singing to one another. Waltreute is dressed as a soldier, with a long coat, and Brünnhilde is still in her pajamas.

After Waltreute departs, the fire that protects Brünnhilde is indicated by a line of fire, part of the floor, stage right, opens just a little bit and the fire spits out in a line. It dies down when Siegfried comes in, wearing a hockey mask which is supposed to be the Tarnhelm. His voice is a little muffled by it, which is unfortunate.

Act II starts off down stage, there is a carpet on the floor in red, there is a gray stone wall that hides the up stage. Hagen sits stage left. There is a painting the right of him, the one of a woman in white, falling out of bed, with a gnome sitting on her. This is Hagen's mother, Grimhild. Alberich, his father, is on the right, he has a human sized robotic white lab rat with him. As this scene progresses, Grimhild, played by the dancer Beate Vollack, emerges from behind the painting and dances around, eventually she brings out a knife and kills herself, falling to the ground. When the scene ends the gray wall lifts and Vollack brings the painting down on herself, crawling, she exits to the left. Alberich exits to the right, dragging the rat with him by the tail. It is the same semicircular room, but behind the white wall is a wallpapered one, the same wallpaper as seen in Mime's house and Sieglinde's house. The chandelier now has green lights. In the background is a huge comic book picture of a man who has killed a dragon with his sword, there are people rushing to meet him in the background. One of them comments, in English "How can you kill something that is already dead" and the title is "The Conquerer." Siegfried enters the scene by jumping out behind the picture and tumbling to the floor. Gutrune enters stage right, but first she throws her purse out, then one of her boots. She is neatly coifed and is wearing a blue suit with skirt. The male chorus comes out all wearing tuxedos and viking accouterments, they put on helmets with horns and so forth, and have shields and spears. Tuxedoed men come out with folding tables and orange plastic chairs. They set up a rostrum, and later, a dining hall. The female chorus is dressed in mid-calf length dresses circa 1960-70, holding champagne glasses, posing here and there. The male chorus passed around cans of Löwenbräu. Gutrune reemerges in a wedding gown of satin. Brünnhilde is brought out in her bed, with briefcase and papers, but still in pajamas. Siegfried wears a ruffled tuxedo shirt, and dinner jacket with sequins. When Hagen wishes to convince Brünnhilde to tell him Siegfried's weakness, he gets into bed with her, but not in a lewd way. Gunther hands Brünnhilde the teddy bear, whose head she rips off. Siegfried and Gutrune come back in and Brünnhilde kisses their cheeks, the three join arms with Hagen and Gunther and they make a ring, dancing around.

Act III has the floor back to being white and reflective, the white wall is gone, only the wallpaper remains. There are fish trophies on the wall, a pinball machine center up stage, and a table football game to the left and a pink refrigerator to the left. The chandelier now has gold lights. The Rheintöchter emerge from the floor. They are dressed as housewives, kerchiefs around the heads, they throw plastic fish out of their clothes. Their hair is now bobbed and black with bangs, while before one was redheaded, another dark, the last blond. They change on stage, two of the maidens have their sequined dresses on underneath, another is only wearing a swim suit, but she puts on her dress as well. Siegfried comes looking for a bear and he is wearing a hunting vest over his regular clothes. They disappear for a bit and reemerge, one from the left, another from the right, and the another from the center, and they are wearing the pinstriped suits now, like the Norns.

Siegfried finds the hunting party, which consists of the male chorus, Gunther, and Hagen. The chorus is dressed in lederhosen for the most part. They bring in dead animals, pose with them, have their picture taken. Siegfried is killed with spear, Hagen dumps him into the refrigerator where he sings as he dies. Hagen kills Gunther with a gun, the noise of it going off was quite unpleasant. Brünnhilde kills herself by slashing her wrists, and then sitting just left of center down stage, in the lotus position. Her horse comes out when she calls him, he sits to the left. Hagen shoots himself with the gun, instead of drowning in the Rhein. The wallpaper comes down, and a platform comes down, it has several human sized white lab rats on it, and in the back, the theater from Das Rheingold reappears, Walhalla on the chairs, burning.

Other notes, petty:
The young couple in front of me, as I've mentioned, talked a lot during Das Rheingold, in which the male half of the couple left in the beginning of the fourth scene, and to my great amusement, was not allowed back in. The female brought another girl friend for Die Walküre and they were silent. But during Siegfried, the male was back, and they talked more than ever. During Götterdammerung, they barely had a whisper between them, I have no idea why. In Act III, the boy fell asleep for at least thirty minutes, he slept though extremely loud music. The older couple to their left was also noisy, mostly because they couldn't stop laughing at everything.


Hoiho! Hoiho!

Aldensiegfried3Yesterday the Bavarian State Opera continued the Ring Cycle with Siegfried. David Alden premiered his production last November, and it was along the same lines as Die Walküre, so at least there was some continuity between the two. The only threads that tie Das Rheingold to the two others so far are the proscenia that we are meant to be looking at from back stage and the use of drunken staggering around as a choreographic device.

I was less impressed with the music of Siegfried than of the previous two parts, though I still found it to be both lovely and moving. Wagner's deft use of percussion was absolutely apparent throughout. Unfortunately, the production was not respectful, they had Siegfried play some of the percussion, using a piece of metal on a decrepit automobile. This could have been fine, one supposes, if the singer in question didn't look utterly tentative in his attempts. He wasn't the best percussionist, which isn't surprising, since he's a tenor, after all. Secondly, there was a horn part of Act II Scene II, that sounded like it was being played on a toy, horribly out of tune and out of place. Perhaps this is in the score, but from what I can tell in the instrumentation, it was supposed to be either a French or English horn.

Tenor Stig Andersen sang the title part fairly well, his voice is very pretty, but, as is the tendency with tenors, he is a bit quiet, especially compared to John Tomlinson or Gabriele Schnaut. The other tenor, Helmut Pampuch as Mime, was likewise quiet, but less pretty, which was perfect because they sang together a great deal and this made them very clearly distinct.

John Tomlinson (Wotan disguised as a wanderer) and Franz-Josef Kapellmann (Alberich) were the most outstanding, both having powerful, rich voices. Bass Kurt Rydl made little impression as Fafner, his voice came out of a speaker for part of his performance, and the rest of it was sung from a hospital bed. The contralto Anna Larsson was more impressive than in Das Rheingold, less strained. Soprano Gabriele Schnaut's performance as Brünnhilde was more impassioned than in Die Walküre. Her voice has power and volume, but her control is not secure. It is also not a sweet sort of voice at all. Incidentally, she switched from singing mezzo-soprano parts to singing dramatic soprano parts in 1985. Margarita De Arellano sang the part of Waldvogel, and her voice, at times, was celestial. Other times she can be quite shrill.

Act I starts with Mime forging a sword, but this production has him sleeping on the linoleum of a dirty kitchen stage left, moving about to the overture in his sleep. On the wall is a calendar with days crossed off in red. Above him is a loft, decorated to look like an adolescent boy's room, complete with video game posters and graffiti. Stage right is a lowered area, the living room with couch and television.

The bear that Siegfried brings to scare Mime is in a cabinet in the kitchen, the door slides up to reveal him at the appropriate time. He looks like something out of a cartoon, made of fiberglass perhaps. Every time someone uses the cabinet to go up the stairs to the loft, the bear is still there.

Mime puts on pink pumps, a pink apron with stuffed chest, and a pink cardigan with pink fur or feather trim. He vacuums and cooks a cat in the oven, which he burns, naturally.

During this scene, many inexplicable things happen, there is a screen lowered that has a pair of feet in releve painted in gray, the television explodes, Siegfried writes in chalk on the walls spelling "Nothung" and "Sieglinde" incorrectly. Finally, Siegfried goes off on a bicycle, commanding Mime to reforge Nothung. The wanderer comes in through the floor. When Mime questions him, the wanderer puts on a cone-shaped hat with a question mark on it, and sits in a chair center stage. Projected above him is the number one, which turns into a question mark, and then an explanation point when he answers. This continues, one, two, three, and then again when Mime has to answer questions posed him.

Siegfried returns, he reforges the sword in the garage revealed up stage near the center. The forging occurs in the engine of a decrepit car. At some point, a toilet appears stage right, which Siegfried uses to urinate in and to cool off Nothung. The Münchners thought this was hilariously funny, especially since Nothung, at this point, was just a few scrapes of awkwardly welded metal pieces, clearly not a sword at all. It is during this part that Siegfried is made to do some of the percussion, and the rhythm was a bit off.

With Nothung remade, Mime puts on a trench coat and spiked helmet over his pink ensemble and they go off to find Fafner.

Act II starts down stage, a metal wall screens the up stage. There is the calendar again, but ten times as big. There are two rows of orange plastic chairs facing the audience. Alberich crosses off the days with huge red marks. The wanderer comes in stage left, walking on the back row of chairs. Alberich pulls down a lamp and does various thing stage right that I could not see. On the calendar is a painting of a lion with prey in his mouth, this painting lifts up to show a screen, on which Fafner is revealed in black and white footage of an obese man in his underwear, counting money. His voice comes out of a speaker which is above, to the left. The speaker is illuminated as he sings.

The painting is lowered, but then lifted again to reveal a room, with cut out versions of the lion and prey, and of the various trees and grasses in the painting. From here Mime and Siegfried sing, until they climb done a ladder, the screen lifts, the chairs go left and there are a bunch of eggs, in various sizes. One of the eggs has a yellow tutu, female legs, and red stilettos. She starts on the ground but is soon dancing all over the place. Then there was an egg with gigantic feet that walked all around. Then an egg was suspended from above, two doors on either side of the egg swung open, and two huge wings popped out and flapped repeatedly. Then a person in a suit with dentures for a head came out with another egg, from which a bird with an axe is born. A nurse wanders in, and a surgeon. Then one huge egg just left from center cracks open, something in it inflates, and it is the head of an elderly lady.

The nurse brings in a hospital bed with Fafner in it, some blood hanging in a bag to his left. Siegfried does not attack him with Nothung at all, he simply dies of a heart attack, and Siegfried drinks blood out of the bag, the motivation for this being rather unclear. The Waldvogel comes out of one of the eggs, and she is dressed in a short pink sequined dress, black feathers at the neckline, black feathers in her hair, black stiletto heels. Siegfried goes into a man hole, the ersatz cave. The surgeon ends up being Alberich, the nurse is Mime. They dump Fafner out of the hospital bed and sit on it, as they sing. Siegfried emerges from the hole wearing a gold motorcycle jacket with fringe and rhinestones, alone with the ring and the Tarnhelm. Mime pours champagne, which the Waldvogel drinks two glasses of, she falls over drunk. Margarita De Arellano did this extremely well. Siegfried actually does kill Mime with Nothung this time, he gets down stage and the metal screen comes down. It is obvious that the calendar painting will lift and the Waldvogel will beckon Siegfried back into the painting. This is exactly what happens, though Wotan does appear, trying to prop up the drunken Waldvogel, which is not appreciated by her at all.

Act III starts in a room with a black floor slanted down to the left, black curtains all around. The couch appears from under the curtains, Wotan sings to wake Erda, and she appears from behind the couch, dressed in a short black slip and a leopard print jacket. They put Anna Larsson in very low heels, even without them she was taller than anyone else, a whole head taller than Zubin Mehta when they came out to bow at the end. She sits on the couch and smokes when she is not singing.

After she leaves, the Waldvogel comes out throw the curtains, sits on the couch, but is scared away by Wotan. Siegfried appears after her, he puts up a no smoking sign, pulls out a strip of white material from behind the curtain and makes a line perpendicular to the audience. His jacket starts flashing, the rhinestones are actually Christmas lights. A traffic signal lowers, flashing red, yellow, and green. Siegfried destroys Wotan's staff, and the curtains open to reveal a highway, the white strip extends to the back and is the center divider. There is a convertible crashed into the ground on the left side. The man on fire is there, he walks around as he did in Die Walküre. Neither Brünnhilde nor Siegfried are on stage. Siegfried enters from the back, climbing up onto the highway. He sings to no one at all. When he is supposed to be taking off her shield and helm, neither are there. Though Grane, the horse, has appeared in the background, and he lies down by the car.

Finally Brünnhilde appears down stage right, when she has to sing. She is in a suit and heels, her trench coat in hand. Siegfried and Brünnhilde never seem to be at the same part of the stage, while Siegfried sings Brünnhilde gets into the car and out of it, smokes with her horse, who is a man with a huge mane and bridle, the same one who pushed around her desk in Die Walküre, though he lacks his wings.

Near the very end, Brünnhilde takes off her clothes as she sings, her shoes first, then coat, trousers, vest, and shirt. Thankfully, she is wearing a long black shift. At the end, she and Siegfried run together up stage and jump off holding hands.

There was no booing this time, presumably because it was not a premiere. The applause was hesitant until the singers would come out, and then it was quite enthused. The audience particularly adores Zubin Mehta.

Other notes, not important, but amusing:
The man standing next to me found it impossible to stay still. He repeatedly turned towards me and stared, made flourishes with his hand to the music, and occasionally would simply go stand in the aisle, which would be fine, except that a lady was standing just at the aisle, he was not at the end. His date found a seat in front of this lady, and occasionally would stand up if she could not see exactly what was going on. She was well over 185 centimeters tall, and she did not have the good sense to hold on to her seat so it didn't make a horrible sound as it snapped up. Last week she wore a pink t-shirt with the words "I am so bourgeois" in English. Very true. The people just in front of me talked repeatedly, even though I hushed them each time I found them too loud, as I did for Das Rheingold as well.


Whose mercies numberless

BsosaulThe Bavarian State Opera premiered a production of Händel's oratorio Saul just last week. The performance yesterday evening was the third one, and David Daniels had taken ill with bronchitis the day before and was unable to sing. This caused a great deal of scrambling, since the countertenor was to sing the alto part of David, and Saul is hardly standard repertoire. Apparently they were doing this during Die Walküre's hideously long intermissions. They were able to convince Brian Asawa, who was on his way home to San Francisco having sung Saul as an oratorio in Dortmund, Bochum, and Wuppertal, to sing in Munich. Unfortunately, since Saul is not an opera, Asawa could not be expected to act the part. Instead, they had him sing from the orchestra pit while an actor, Markus Koch, was on stage, mouthing the words when necessary. The effect was surreal.

The oratorio itself was very grand. Less showy and frivolous than the Händel operas I have seen, and the chorus is used beautifully. Hardly any of his oratorios are performed besides The Messiah, so even though this production was done as an opera, it wasn't so bad.

Ivor Bolton seemed to conduct much better than usual, the orchestra felt actually together. The instrumentation included a baroque harp, organ, carillon, harpsichord, chitarrone, and viola da gamba.

The singing was throughly good. Bass Alastair Miles, while not very distinctive, did perfectly well as Saul. Soprano Rebecca Evans as Merab had a bit of a rough start, but her voice is gorgeous. Soprano Rosemary Joshua was fine as Michal, though I prefered her singing Mozart. Brian Asawa's voice most impressive, not a touch gravelly like Daniels, and Asawa did not seem to be working nearly as hard at all.

The staging was fairly dull, somewhat of a relief after all the nonsense lately for the Ring-cycle. The stage was set up as a church, we are looking at it from the front, we would be at the altar. The chorus was dressed in a Baroque manner for the first two acts, all in white for the first, and all in black for the second. In Act III they were dressed all in modern black clothing, which they stripped off at the end to reveal colorful clothing as they waved flags emblazoned with the image of David Daniels. The principal singers were dressed in contemporary clothing the entire time, men in suits, women in evening gowns. The choreography was not particularly inspired, more or less sensible, or at least, human.


Hojotoho! Heiahaha!

Aldenwalkuere1David Alden's new production of Die Walküre premiered yesterday afternoon at the Bavarian State Opera. Musically, the performance was excellent, Zubin Mehta conducted well, as usual, and the singing was good. Tenor Peter Seiffert and soprano Waltraud Meier were outstanding as the Wälsungen, so the first act was stunning. Bass-baritone John Tomlinson was once again impressive as Wotan, his voice is powerful, warm, and beautiful. Significantly less affecting was soprano Gabriele Schnaut as Brünnhilde, she seemed to have difficulty singing while doing the choreography. Her voice, though sufficiently loud, had a little catch to it, and at times it sounded like it could shatter at any moment.

The production seemed to have a few major themes, these being: throwing objects or humans whenever possible, walls with strange magnetic properties that attract human bodies, inappropriate response to stimuli, domestic violence, and war. Act I starts us off in a room down stage, the floor is linoleum tile, the walls are flowered wallpaper, there is a hot pink refrigerator in the stage left corner, the rest of the furniture includes vinyl covered metal chairs and a kitchen table. Sieglinde, dressed as a house wife circa 1940, is sitting on a chair in the center. Siegmund enters from the left, wearing a black leather trench-coat. Sieglinde brings him water and mead from the lovely pink fridge, which of course, makes the audience titter. Hunding comes in and turns on the lights, including a kitschy illuminated depiction of a watery paradise. The act more or less precedes in this manner, the outside is revealed by the wall itself crumbling so that there is a human sized hole in it. The Wälsungen run off together, the wall gives way and swings open, Siegmund picks Sieglinde up and pushes her against the wall as they precede to maniacally dry hump each other. Lovely. This is followed by a 50 minute intermission as they set up for the next act.

Act II uses the same walls stripped of their wallpaper. Brünnhilde is dressed as Der Blaue Engel era Dietrich, and has a whip. She is standing at the top of the wall, as a bunch of soldier corpses move synchronically to her whip cracking. To her left is an oversized model of a camouflage-painted war plane. Eventually she comes down to earth where Wotan is, and this is when it starts to get actually bad. Brünnhilde does absurd movements with her top hat as a prop to the music. It is as if she has either Tourette's syndrome or Huntington's Disease, although the movements are timed to the music, they do not make any sense with them. Utter mockery. Her horse is a metal desk which is pushed about by a dark winged figure. Fricka is a well-dressed lady with a grey fox over one shoulder. She, of course, hurls it at the ground, along with her purse, as she tries to convince Wotan to let her punish Siegmund. There is wrestling and rolling on the ground between the two. When the scene finally changes Siegmund and Sieglinde gingerly move across something meant to look like a dilapidated several-story apartment complex, complete with an abandoned blue tiled bathroom and sorry-looking toilet. Sieglinde carefully collapses against the wall, again, and the scenery moves all about. Brünnhilde appears and heroes wearing gas masks come out bringing black leather armchairs which they sit in as they read newspapers. At some point they lean over the chairs and make suggestive hip thrusts for no apparent reason. Hunding, Wotan, and Fricka appear, Siegmund is killed, Brünnhilde defiantly strips herself of coat, hat, and gloves and sits in a chair facing her father. Hunding is killed, Wotan threatens Brünnhilde from his armchair across from her, the act ends, there is a significant amount of booing from the audience. I was shocked, since the audience is usually extremely excited about applauding. But when the singers came out, they were applauded as usual. This is followed by an hour long intermission as they set up for the final act. During the intermission, I gather that the audience did not mind first act's staging, but the second act was too much.

Act III has a huge fan suspended from above, which rotates throughout the rest of the performance. There are the walls again, some of the Walküren are up on top of the wall, some are below in an office area with many metal desks. They are dressed as soldiers, in gray wool with little gray hats. They have air traffic controller torches and at some point they use them to tell the audience, or perhaps Wagner, to fuck off. Then they take out white vinyl aprons with red crosses emblazoned on them and nurse hats, they change into red pumps. For the rest of the act they will dance about in a flippant and inappropriate manner. The war plane from Act II flies down to earth, and Wotan appears, filled with wrath. Brünnhilde is punished, and Wotan conjures up fire, which appears in the guise of a man in a fire proof suit, set afire. The dark winged figure rolls Brünnhilde away on a metal desk. The music ends and it is completely silent for a whole 30 seconds before a chorus of booing commences. The singers come out, and there is applause, the conductor comes out, the whole orchestra appears on stage, and the applause is thunderous. As soon as David Alden and his ilk come out, there is loud booing, countered with some polite applause and a group of 2 or 3 folks screaming "Bravo" over and over. The people on stage just continue bowing, flowers are brought out for the female singers.

The audience was more well-behaved than usual, there was less chatter. But, naturally, a cell-phone rang, though quite far from me.


Wallala weiala weia!

Bsorheingold4My friends, I have made a disturbing discovery of late. After some years of listening to operas, I finally went to hear a Wagner opera, Das Rheingold, last Wednesday. The music was sublime. In general, I do not like music past Beethoven, and my favorite opera composer is undoubtedly Mozart. So I was surprised I found Das Rheingold engaging. The lack of recitative was nice, the lack of chorus was a bit odd. I enjoy Wagner's use of percussion.

Zubin Mehta conducted admirably, the orchestra and singers seemed more synchronized than usual at any rate. The singing was consistent, John Tomlinson was especially good Wotan and Franz-Josef Kapellmann as Alberich also had a strong voice. The Rhine maidens (Margarita De Arellano, Ann-Katrin Naidu, and Hana Minutillo) were a bit shrill taken apart, but sounded just lovely together.

The production was by the late Herbert Wernicke, and he was in charge of the staging and costumes as well. The stage was a theatre, the seats raked, boxes in the back, Corinthian columns stage left to suggest the outside architecture of the building. The stage looks more or less the same throughout the four scenes, which made the transitions exceedingly smooth, and there was no intermission. The main part of the stage, where most of the singing happened, was a platform of 18 feet just downstage.

The Rhine was suggested by an aquarium, complete with three goldfish, in the opening scene. Alberich would try to catch the fish when actually trying to catch the Rhine maidens, who staggered about around him in high heels and sequined evening gowns. When he steals the Rhine gold, he actually puts his left foot in the aquarium. There is an audience on stage, people in evening dress, and Erda is in the box to the left, with a large book. Erda stays there throughout, until she sings in Scene IV. The costumes throughout the production is more or less contemporary, only Erda has a costume that is somewhat theatrical, a black satin dress with a full skirt and an elaborate glittery head dress.

Scene II was the only one that took any time at all to set up, because they had to put the Greco-Roman styled model of Valhalla on to the seats near the back. The audience is gone, except for Erda. I was very confused that Valhalla involved a peristyle. But I realized later that Valhalla was actually a model of the Nationaltheater, where the opera itself took place. The furniture of the Gods exactly matched the decor of the opera house as well, white painted wood with pink velvet.

Scene III used a screen on which they projected black and white footage of mines, and later a dragon and a toad. Also, a ladder was placed in the center from which Wotan and Loge make their descent into Nibelheim. The audience has returned, and while Mime talks to the Gods, Alberich steals jewelry from the audience members.

Scene IV is just like Scene II, with the audience gone again. As the Gods go to Valhalla, various moving men take the furnishings up, including paintings of opera singers and busts of composers. The screen comes back down again and footage of opera goers entering the Nationaltheater is played. The symbolism is quite obvious.


Der Rosenkavalier

BsorosenkavalierThe only reason I went to hear Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Bavarian State Opera was because Felicity Lott and Angelika Kirchschlager were singing. Good thing I didn't go to hear Walter Fink, for he fell ill and his part was sung by Artur Korn. I am not fond of R. Strauss, though I was surprised by his Ariadne. Der Rosenkavalier has some much more modern elements that I did not enjoy, such as grinding noise maker and wind chime sounds. Sometimes the music was high-flown and melodramatic, sometimes simply noise, sometimes charmingly waltzy with a hysterical edge.

The set was the most beautiful I have ever seen. It was as if they had stolen a couple of rooms out of the Wittelbach residences. The Rococo splendor of the first two acts was highly impressive. Act I was in the Feldmarschallin's bedroom, and the walls were covered with painted scenes, the room was all pale green, ivory, and gold, with beautiful carved doors in the center. The floor was covered with a light green carpet, with ivory flowers at the edges. Act II was in a receptional hall within the Faninal residence, and it was light blue, ivory, and gold, with all manner of elaborate cupids and garlands decorating the walls, which also had cabinets filled with porcelain. The center doors were glass, revealing a staircase in the background. The floor was painted to look like a yellowish marble. Act III looked like the set to La Boheme.

The costumes were just as beautiful as the set. The choreography was pretty good, Kirchschlager as a good presence and a clear boyishness perfect for Octavian. Lott moves elegantly as the Feldmarschallin. Korn played the unctous Baron quite well also. The worst choreography was when Octavian brings the rose to Sophie, he enters through the center doors, and she faces away from him toward the audience, face expectant, leaning forward with arms out as if ready to take flight. This was awkward and ugly. She also stamped her feet a lot.

As for the singing, Lott's clear, cold soprano was quite nice with Kirchschlager's warmer, mezzo tones. Bass Korn wasn't bad, but his timing seemed somewhat off. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy made a good Sophie, her sweet voice sounds young, though almost a bratty whine at times. Her voice was a little quiet, especially in contrast to her maid's. Also, tenor Eduardo Villa was back in an opera playing a singer once again. We last saw him in Die Fledermaus as an opera singer. His voice is exceptionally pretty.

I should mention this production had two small dogs in it, in Act II, handled by one Manolito Mario Franz. They were very well behaved. Bravi!


Farfallone Amoroso

BsolenozzeLe nozze di Figaro at the Bayerische Staatsoper has been the best production of a Mozart opera I have seen to date there. Too bad two cellular phones rang during the performance. How difficult can it be to remember to turn a noisy electronic item while at a performance?

As soon as the curtain when up, one could tell this was a Dorn/Rose staging, since the scene change curtain was painted much in the manner of their curtain in Così. The stage consisted of one room with with white canvas walls and three doorways. In Act I the light blue doors were off their hinges, in Act II they were set right, in Act III there were dark blue doors, and in Act IV there were no doors. The furnishings were typical Rococo-style, and the floor was covered with various painted designs to look like carpet until the last act, when it was replaced by one large plain white sheet with two smaller sheets as furnishings. Dieter Dorn and Jürgen Rose returned to the silly device of having the singers hide under the sheets and crawl around under them. At least Figaro did not go through the wall as Guglielmo did in Così, though the former was illuminated through the canvas wall as he eavesdropped on Susanna's "Deh vieni."

The costumes were very much like what one always sees in Mozart operas, and were pretty. The only glaring error was perhaps putting Magdalena Kozená in knickers that were perhaps too close fitting, as she was to be the boy Cherubino, and has very adorable girl-thighs that were only exaggerated by the beige trousers.

The choreography was not too bad, the dance-like steps that were interspersed worked quite well. Amanda Roocroft was especially good with movement, she was a sassy Countess. However, they had trouble with Cherubino, making him too childish. Though in the scene when he escapes the Count, they have Cherubino jump into the orchestra pit, and this comes off very well.

Ivor Bolton's conducting was not impressive, one never feels that he has full control.

The singing was of high-caliber, it was too bad the prompter was over on the side and there were a few problems with synchronicity. Peter Mattei was an impressive Almaviva, his voice is very sweet. The Swedish baritone is of an imposing height, he must be 6'4''. On the other hand, the two British sopranos, Amanda Roocroft and Rosemary Joshua, cannot be much more than 5' tall each. They both have lovely voices, and nicely distinct from one another. Roocroft (Countess Almaviva) has a pretty voice that is slightly cold and thin but not too quiet, whereas Joshua (Susanna), whose voice is also pretty, is warmer in tone and more flexible. The latter was especially impressive and angelic in the aforementioned "Deh vieni." The bass John Relyea was a charming Figaro, but also quite tall, and thus looks somewhat silly in knee breeches. Relyea's voice was as impressive as it was in Cenerentola: warm, clear, good volume. His diction is also very precise, the accents are all neatly on the correct syllables. Magdalena Kozená is no Kirchschlager, but was an adequate Cherubino. Kozená's voice is like an angel's, but very light.


Im Frühling

Due to a scheduling mishap, La Cenerentola and Angelika Kirchschlager's recital of Lieder von Franz Schubert on one evening. The opera started at 5pm and ended at 8:15pm, the recital began at 8pm but was only 5 minutes away by taxi. Nonetheless, the first half of the Lieder were missed. Straining to listen in the hallway, but it was not quiet enough.

The second viewing of La Cenerentola only confirmed my great love for this particular production. Due credit must be given Grischa Asagaroff, who directed, since Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, who headed up the staging, set, and costumes, died in 1988. The singing of all the principals again was quite good, the choreography was perfect, and this time Martin Gantner was well enough to run. I feel it is also only fair to say the title role is quite difficult, for coloratura contralto, and that Antonacci did an admirable job.

On the program for mezzo-soprano Kirchschlager were the following Schubertlieder:
An Sylvia
Im Frühling
Das Rosenband
Du bist die Ruh
Bei Dir
Der Tod und das Mädchen
Schwestergruß
13. Psalm
Die junge Nonne
Die Allmacht
Ellens Gesänge Nr. 1- 3
Das Heimweh
Florio
Heimliches Lieben
Die Liebende schreibt
Geheimes
Versunken

Kirchschlager's voice is clear and warm, without the slightest darkness whatsoever. She has very good control and precise enunciation.


Aschenputtel

CenerentolaThis evening's performance of Rossini's La Cenerentola at the Bayerische Staatsoper seemed to be fraught with various issues. Petia Petrova, the mezzo set to sing the title role, was indisposed, and Anna Caterina Antonacci sang in her stead. Baritone Martin Gantner had hurt his foot recently, and was unable to run about as the choreography dictated.

Nonetheless, the performance came off rather well. Myron Romanul conducted the reduced orchestra well enough. The evil stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, were both acted very well by sopranos Julia Rempe and Helena Jungwirth. Jungwirth's voice is even more quiet and shrill than Rempe's, but the role is small. Likewise, Bruno Pratico was a hilarious Don Magnifico, but his voice did not have much volume. The audience, of course, absolutely adored him. Martin Gantner seemed just fine as Dandini, I would have never guessed he was hurt, except for the announcement. His voice sounded better in Così as Guglielmo, but it is probably because of the part not the singing. Juan José Lopera had a sweet tenor good for the part of Don Ramiro, but he was a touch low on volume. Anna Caterina Antonacci's voice certainly was pretty compared to the sopranos, but she lacks control which lead to a few intonation problems. Her voice certainly was not one that felt effortless and free. The bass John Relyea as Alidoro was most impressive, his voice was both warm and clear, with excellent volume.

The set was charming, involving trompe l'oeil on curtains or panel in white and black. The effect was slightly Edward Gorey. There were essentially two sets, the Don Magifico household and the palace. Set changes happened behind various curtains and were more or less flawless. There was rain in Act II, Scene 7, as Ramiro and Dandini approach Don Magnifico's house for a second time. The scene was pretty and there was a chorus member walking a black poodle, which made the audience gasp.

The choreography was highly artificial, but very much with the music and suitable for the singers. Julia Rempe was especially amusing in the first scene when she is en pointe trying out ballet moves with little success.

The costumes were extremely pretty, gauzy and ribboned and Rococo. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle had a clear vision of what he wanted for staging, set, and costumes, and this was utterly apparent.

I had never seen a Rossini opera before, only heard a recording of Tancredi with Ewa Podles and Sumi Jo. Everyone knows a little bit of Guillaume Tell and Il barbiere di Siviglia, I suppose. The music was nice, very light and sweet. I liked "Una volta c'era un Re."


Sans Elephants

BsoaidaThe Ides of March performance of Verdi's Aida had a stunningly hideous staging. This production premiered the 19. January 1996, and was acclaimed by critics as "striking."

John Fiore conducted adequately, the orchestra was together with the singers for the most part. There were horns playing onstage at one point, and they did not have issues with synchronization, as in Don Giovanni.

David Pountney's staging was a bit busy, even without elephants and pyramids. So much was going on, especially in the first two acts, the sheer number of bodies was utterly confusing. Especially strange were the people who crawled on the ground, swathed a bit like mummies in white linen, they were like maggots and occasionally they bumped heads by accident.

Robert Israel's set consisted of a few walls set in triangles, each one pulled on and off stage by supernumeraries. They looked like construction sites for hyper-modern German buildings, with metal pipes here and there, a segmented glass wall, and so forth. There were a few large images incorporated in some of these, two of a brown-skinned person's nose and cheeks, one of a woman's very white thighs, another of a woman's white hands at her neck. They would lower various objects as well, including a dried tree, some stage lights, a huge boat-shaped stone, and another stone that looked like a ruin.

The costumes by Dunya Ramicová were simple, sheaths and mantels in white, black, and various blues and greens. Though Amneris did wear dark red during the first two acts, in contrast to Aida in sage green the entire time.

Nils Christe's choreography was overwrought. They used 6 dancers in various scenes in the first half, these dressed in unitards, dancing in modern technique, lots of squat-like plies, contraction, but with some more balletic movements as well. The dancers were solid and silent, if they were to reveal something about the opera, this was largely unsuccessful. Also, the choreography for the singers was not particularly good. Having Amneris spin around with joy after her engagement with Radamès is just silly.

The singing was fairly good. Baritone Giovanni Meoni stood in for Alexandru Agache as Amonasro, and was perfectly fine in the part. Tenor Stephen O'Mara was a fine Radamès, though his voice was not distinctive. In contrast, Irina Mishura, the mezzo-soprano who sang Amneris, had a dark, rich voice. Soprano Norma Fantini was nice enough in the title role, she was especially good in Act III's "O patria mia." Her voice thins out at the top, but her volume and control seemed good.


Nulla mai temer mi fa.

BsogiovanniThe Bayeriche Staatsoper's production of Don Giovanni had excellent singers but a disappointing staging. Thus far, all the productions of Mozart operas there have been fairly ugly visually, although the production teams have all been different.

Ivor Bolton's conducting was not impressive, the orchestra was not exactly together during the overture, and the singers and the orchestra seemed off from each other from time to time. Perhaps there was no souffleur? I did not see one, but the stage was raked, so maybe the singers were to follow the conductor. During Act I, Scene 20, when Don Giovanni has a ball in order to seduce Zerlina, there were masked musicians onstage in three separate groups. This produced some unintentional dissonance, more a fault of the staging than the conductor.

Nicholas Hytner's staging and Bob Crowley's sets were somewhat baffling. The stage was raked, not steeply, with walls left and right, which had various compartments that would open to be windows or chambers. There were two scrims, one normal and one near the middle which was in two pieces cut diagonally that came together in the middle. These scrims, which I suppose are not technically scrims since they weren't translucent (they were opaque red) served to make the scene changes flawless. The whole stage was red, perhaps the scrims were like valves, and it was meant to be some abstruse symbol of the human heart. This would not explain the huge golden statues of hands, one appearing in Act I Scene 16 when Zerlina sings "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" and the other in the aforementioned ball scene. We never return to this image in Act II, rendering whatever impact it was to have rather toothless.

The other major motif was the rood. Four little spirits all in white held crosses and would appear here and there, they were particularly disorienting when they surrounded the Commendatore's body.

What was most annoying was the finale, they had Don Giovanni gone entirely mad, hair a mess and barefoot, stumbling and drunk, eating his dinner with his hands on the floor. If he is out of his mind, how is his punishment just? Also, having him costumed so almost made him look Christ-like, hair down, in a plain white shirt, and wrapped in a red blanket. This image, though beautiful, makes no sense.

I must say though, they did a wonderful job with the statue of the Commendatore, the costume was very good and the scene in the graveyard was marvelous. The Commendatore's grave was his likeness on a horse, and this was surprisingly convincing.

Act II, Scene 15, when the statue comes to dinner was fairly effective. The Commendatore on foot was followed by the Grim Reaper astride a white horse. This could have easily been kitsch, but it worked very well.

The costumes, also by Bob Crowley, were all in strong colors, mostly black and red, except for statues and spirits. They were typical Rococo, though the principal sopranos all had flame-shaped, zigzagged borders in contrasting fabric at their hems. Masetto's dark green and black costume was particularly reminiscent of Frans Hals.

As for the singing, it was exceptional. Sopranos Brigitt Hahn and Aga Mikolaj were fine as Donnas Anna and Elvira, respectively. They both had passionate, fiery voices, and I have never heard two sopranos that sounded better together. Julia Rempe was much better as Zerlina than as Blonde in Entführung. Her voice is not full, it has something of an ugly edge, but she sang much better in this, one could actually hear her most of the time, and her intonation was better, perhaps since she didn't have to get that high A all the time as Zerlina. Her voice was definitely distinct from the other two sopranos, which isn't a bad thing.

Robert Saccà is a solid tenor, his voice was good for Don Ottavio, as it was for Belmonte in Entführung. Bass Maurizio Muraro has a strong voice, good diction, and acting ability to boot. Bass Taras Konoshchenko did not strike me one way or another, he could project better than Rempe. Bass Franz-Josef Selig, on the other hand, was distinctively good as the Commendatore, suitably stately and terrifying.

Bo Skovhus was incredible in the title role. Not only does he cut a dashing figure as the unrepentant rake, his voice is simply charming, light, and very suitable for the part. I remember him being similarly good as Count Almaviva in Le Nozze at SFO in 1997.

On a completely personal note, and I commend the reader for getting this far, I left my shawl in the opera house, couldn't find it and was told to wait at the stage entrance for someone to bring it down. This is where all the die-hard opera coots are, waiting for the performers to come out. It was utterly bizarre to see the singers offstage in street clothes, shaking people's hands and autographing programs. I was too bashful to say anything, I just stood there wide-eyed and blushing, no doubt.

Also, the Balkon (balcony) part of the audience appears to be quieter than the the Ränge (the 3 tiers above the balcony level) or the Parkett (floor).