Martin Gantner

Fidelio at Bayerische Staatsoper

Fidelio* Notes *
Peter Mussbach's production of Fidelio, which premiered at Bayerische Staatsoper in 1999, is infuriating and yet strangely dull. The set is boring, despite the many scene changes. It was also rather loud, the scrims made all sorts of sounds as they banged against the stage and a certain metal door squealed when opened or closed. There were bizarre choices of when have the curtain down, as in the middle "O welche Lust" and during the Overture to Leonore No. 3, which was placed, as it sometimes is, between Florestan and Leonore's duet and "Heil sei dem Tag!" The choreography was simply stupid, why have Marzelline spin around in joy and then grab the wall or have everyone space themselves neatly like sculptures on a staircase?

The costumes, by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, are likewise unexciting, lots of white and grey, though at some point Jaquino wore a skirt for just one scene. Certainly the most annoying part of the production is Konrad Lindenberg's lighting, or rather, lack thereof. The faces of the singers were perpetually in shadow, which dampened their dramatic force. Ridiculously, the rest of the stage was lit well, so one could see a staircase, or a heater, or a pile of dirt perfectly clearly.

Christof Prick's conducting was not inspired, the horns sounded off in the overture of Act I, and generally it seemed somewhat slow. The chorus sounded rather strange in the last scene, for they were placed in rows beneath the principal singers. Waltraud Meier was at least reasonable visually in the title role, but vocally she was brittle and out of tune. Robert Dean Smith was somewhat reedy as Florestan. The rest of the cast was fine, certainly best was René Pape's Rocco. His voice has good volume but is also nuanced. Martin Gantner sang the small role of Don Fernando, and as usual was not unpleasant.

* Tattling *
The audience distinctly less well-behaved than at Parsifal, though, at least, there was no late seating. There was whispering throughout, a chief offender on the orchestra level was in Row 17 Seat 696. This white-haired fellow also turned some sort of device on during the overture, for his face was bathed in a blue light for a few seconds. A person to his left peered over at him, confused by the visual disturbance. There were also two beeps during Act I, at least one was during an interlude in which Florestan and Leonore's voices are heard, but there is no music.

Parsifal at Bayerische Staatsoper

Parsifal* Notes *
Paper was the main motif in Peter Konwitschny's production of Parsifal currently at Bayerische Staatsoper. The set was first hidden by a scrim covered with pieces of paper reading, in various languages, "Erlösung dem Erlöser," the last line of the opera. Act I featured a stage littered with white sheets of paper, a papier-mâché ramp with branches, and a red piece of paper hanging from the ceiling. Act II had many saffron colored pieces of paper hanging from the ceiling, along with the same white sheets still strewn across the floor. Act III had an enormous black sheet hanging at center stage, in addition to black sheets scattered around, and a medium-sized sheet covering the corpse of Titurel. Even the prompt box was covered with paper, at first matching the scrim and at the end black.

The set and costumes, both by Johannes Leiacker, seemed somewhat incongruous. The knights wore long grey coats, Parsifal fleecy lederhosen without a shirt, and both Klingsor and Amfortas wore black robes over their bloody loincloths. At first Kundry had on inexplicable flowered pants, a short wrap dress, and a black blazer with one patched elbow, but changed into a black and red evening gown in her siren guise. The set moved in a clever manner so that changes of scene were unproblematic. The ramp that Kundry rode her toy wood horse down for her entrance lifted up to become a tree that holds the grail. Parts of the stage could be raised and lowered, quite handy for bringing in the choruses of knights or flower maidens.

The production did make me laugh, especially when Parsifal made his entrance by attacking the red sheet of paper as he swung from a rope. Naturally he wore an Indian head dress and carried a stick bow. Another choice part was when Parsifal threw a tantrum at the end of Act II, breaking a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary so that her head fell off. When Kundry started menacing poor Parsifal with the Mary head, I thought I would lose my composure completely.

Perhaps Kent Nagano is still easing in to his position as the Generalmusikdirector, as his tenure began last September. There were moments when the orchestra was not together. The chorus also had a few problems of this sort, especially at the end of Act I.

As Amfortas, Martin Gantner found a certain balance that the others lacked. The baritone acted well and had good volume and control, and his only weakness was a brightness that is not best suited for someone long-suffering. It was rather shocking to see Gantner in little more than diapers, his legs are very skinny. Bass John Tomlinson looked like a proper Gurnemanz, his voice was shaky and gravelly, which is fairly apropos. Luana DeVol was piercing as Kundry, she had a frightening amount of vibrato, especially when she sang "Parsifal! Bleibe!" in Act II. Nikolai Schukoff was a convincing youthful Parsifal, his voice is also rather bright and young, without much heft. He did strain somewhat, and gasped here and there. He saved himself for the last act, his last notes in the opera were beautiful.

* Tattling *
The audience was well-behaved, as it is only a certain type that will go hear Wagner in Germany. There was no late seating, no ringing of mobile phones, no watch beeping, and no speaking aloud. Thankfully for you, gentle reader, there were certainly transgressions nonetheless. Some young men in the standing area of the Second Tier Left Row 1, Places 1 and 3 waited for the very last moment go to their spots. This was in hopes of nabbing some seats, but there were very few left, and none together. They pushed their way behind the three others in this standing section and then one sat up on one of the barrier walls (his head practically touched the ceiling) and the other had himself perched on the railing. The seats in the Nationaltheater are small and creak a great deal, plus the shape of the theater is such that it is difficult to see all of the stage from the sides. Audience members on the sides would sometimes just stand up so that they could see what was happening. There were isolated cases of whispering, mostly in the first act. A woman in Row 1 Seat 17 unwrapped a candy.

The Münchner have a peculiar habit of trying to find the best possible place in spite of whatever ticket they may hold. The person next to me in Place 15 found a seat in Row 3, and no one was on either side of me for the first act. In Act II, the woman who had Place 17 on the other side of the aisle decided that 15 was better, and stood next to me. She took off her shoes and kept ducking so that she could see the supertitles, then she finally sat in the aisle. During Act III two other women surrounded me, for I moved to Place 11 to get away from the aisle woman. I noticed that the latter fell asleep at one point, as she rested her head on the railing.

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
13. Psalm
Die junge Nonne
Die Allmacht
Ellens Gesänge Nr. 1- 3
Das Heimweh
Heimliches Lieben
Die Liebende schreibt

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


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."

Una donna a quindici anni

BsocosiIt was asserted to me that Hemingway's novel Across the River and Into the Trees was less bad than Da Ponte's libretto to Così fan Tutte. I find it a very bizarre comparison, but find myself unable to judge any opera libretti against actual literature. Voltaire put this best: Anything too stupid to be spoken is sung.

In the last week, I have seen the Bavarian State Opera's production of Così fan Tutte twice, on the 16th and the 19th. I'm terribly fond of Mozart's music, and Così is quite charming. Peter Schneider conducted admirably, as is expected of him, I've heard him conduct Mozart before at the SF Opera.

Dieter Dorn's set was again a bit given to clean lines, this time reminiscent of Bauhaus furniture. The set consisted of a raised platform covered with a white sheet downstage with six white walls, three on each side of the stage. Various other walls were added for other scenes, and the furnishings were of varnished light wood and not Bauhaus at all. Maybe the metal IKEA chairs from Don Carlo might have been a better match. Upstage was a lowered area with glass doors in the center and an olive tree stage left. There was a curtain towards the downstage area, painted with the same scene, so when they changed the sets they could simply draw the curtain. With eight scene changes but only two acts, this was an effective way of making the transitions smooth.

Jürgen Rose's staging was not as nice as his work in Don Carlo. It seemed too artificial at times, having people climb unseen ladders behind the side walls and sing from there or having Dorabella put a chair on a table and climb up on this as she is singing the aria Smanie implacabili che m'agitate. Most irksome was the choreography in Act I Scene 2, when the four principal singers do a pinwheel as Guglielmo and Ferrando take their leave of Fiordiligi and Dorabella and directly after this the Chorus walks on stage singing Bella vita militar falling down just after they sing "Io sparar di schioppi e bombe" (the firing of muskets and bombs). Interestingly, it wasn't the case that the choreography was too difficult for the singers, the six main characters were played by artists who were very good with movement.

Rose's costumes, however, were better. I was dubious about Fiordiligi and Dorabella being in midriff baring undershirts and petticoats until the last scene in Act I, since it seems highly unlikely they would receive Don Alfonso dressed this way. But for the most part, the costumes were fine. Guglielmo and Ferrando in their "Albanian" costumes were very funny, an orientalist nightmare of Middle Eastern and East Asian styles combined that was only acceptable because they are playing Italians playing at being Albanians. The "Albanian" chorus was dressed as if they had raided their linen closets, wearing tablecloths and sheets.

As for the singers themselves, the cast was quite consistent. The weakest, perhaps, was the tenor Jeremy Ovenden as Ferrando. His voice was just a touch quiet, but I could not detect this from the center of second tier, it was only when I was a bit on the left of the third tier that he seemed quiet. Or it could be that he was having a bad day on Wednesday, it is hard to tell.

Thomas Allen was better as Don Alfonso than Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, his bass is better than his baritone, as far as vocal projection is concerned. Baritone Martin Gantner was a charming Guglielmo, his voice was well suited to the part.

Of the three sopranos, Julie Kaufmann had the warmest and most powerful voice. Her part, Despina, was the easiest vocally though. Sophie Koch played the fickle Dorabella very well, her soprano is dark, and I'm not surprised that she also sings Cherubino in Le Nozze. Amanda Roocroft was an adequate Fiordiligi, her voice is cold but not shrill. Koch and Roocroft both had very pretty voices, and were also quite pretty to look at, perhaps the prettiest two sopranos I've seen in an opera for awhile.