Don Giovanni at Bayerische Staatsoper

Don-giovanni-bso2009 Our correspondent in Germany, Opernphrenologe, was recently in Munich. What follows is a lightly edited review of the new Don Giovanni production that recently opened at Bayerische Staatsoper.

   * Notes *
The premiere of Don Giovanni, directed by Stephan Kimmig, in München started out badly enough. The curtain opened to reveal a naked old man with saggy boobs, shivering. From that point on, the production continued to get steadily worse. Behind him were a bunch of shipping containers that moved around and opened throughout the opera. One of the worst scenes was the wedding party, which was a rave with two 3-foot high penguin statues that people danced with. The masks were snorkeling masks, and there were half-naked lesbian snow bunnies humping each other here and there. Even worse was the send-Giovanni-to-Hell scene. Heaven was a shipping container, this time filled with people dressed like priests and army soldiers. Giovanni was cooking dinner in his modern kitchen (located in a shipping container that also contained around 20 mannequins), and he was sent to Hell by shaking hands with a chain of hand-holding army dudes and priests. When they let go, Giovanni fell to the ground next to his modern food processor. Profound. There was also a film screen that added absolutely nothing to the production, except to perhaps make it worse, as if it needed help in that department. At the end, everyone danced around, and old-naked-man came out again with his old-man-boobs to blow on some pinwheels.

Mariusz Kwiecien (Don Giovanni) did not sing as well as I remember him singing before. He sounded like he was mumbling and there was not much dynamic range in his voice. Perhaps he had a cold? Then again, he was definitely slimy, and an especially bad moment was when he pretended to give a doll a horseback ride on his knee. Maija Kovalevska (Donna Elvira) was a hippy backpacker chick in this particular production. Her voice was sweet and lovely, and she was incredibly fit. She must work out a lot. My favorite singer was Pavol Breslik (Don Ottavio), and I guess others agreed since he received loud applause at the end. His interpretation of the music was wonderful, with lots of dynamics and a sugary tone. However, even he could not make up for the flat, off-tune, and downright ugly singing of Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna). Her famous aria was like nails on a chalkboard. Fortunately for her, most people do not have perfect pitch and she received lukewarm applause at the end (with only a few buh's). The orchestra was also lightly buh'd. It is true that they were a bit sloppy, but they were not bad. They were like a player piano that had played the same tune one too many times. Some of the horn section looked angry when they were buh'd, which I suppose is understandable. After all, it is the conductor's (in this case, Kent Nagano's) job to interpret the music and not allow them to be sloppy.

The producers were heartily buh'd at the end. Some people responded to the buh'ing with loud applause, as if they somehow "got" the profundity of the production while the buh'ers did not. Or perhaps they just found the old-man-boobs incredibly sexy. I might guess the latter.

* Tattling * 
We did not have tickets for this production, since it sold out and I tried to buy tickets too late. Instead, we bought tickets from vicious female ticket scalpers who fought amongst themselves to unload their overpriced tickets on us. It was fearsome to watch them in action, and we both needed to tipple afterwards. My companion was an Opera Virgin, and we acquired her ticket from the only nice scalper in the bunch. I suspect that my companion will never willingly attend opera again -- the production was that bad. The audience was unusually engaged compared to the average performance (but perhaps not for a premiere). They seemed extremely pleased with themselves during the hearty buh'ing at the end.

Eugene Onegin at Unter den Linden

Here is the Opernphrenologe's review of the new Eugene Onegin production at the Berliner Staatsoper. I admit I did some heavy editing to get it closer to the style of the Opera Tattler, but there was only so much I could do. We'll get to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

   * Notes *
After seeing this opera, it can only be concluded that the director Achim Freyer is a gay man with a fetish for mimes. You, dear reader, need not read any further. The rest is only some boring details about the singers and the set and so on. The only important thing to know is that Mr. Freyer loves mimes A Bit Too Much.

On to the boring details for those of you who like pain. Yes, the entire cast was composed of mimes.  These mimes did various things. One mime simulated giving birth three times, and pulled the same baby out of her unmentionables three times. In fact, everything happened three times, except for a yellow man and a red man. The mimes went through the same routine.

Most of the mimes were of average size, but there was one mime that was quite round. That was my favorite. What else did the mimes do? There was the regular mime stuff like spinning chairs and moving around quite slowly. They also did mime yoga (downward dog, triangle, half shoulder stand, and warrior). I also liked the part where all of the mimes bounce up and down quite lewdly when Tatjana (and others) sang about love.

The opera was broken up into two parts, with the cut right after Lenski and Onegin challenge each other to a duel. During the first part, the entire stage is white with black "distance lines" on the ground. When Tatjana was weeping over Onegin's rejection, a bunch of little red balls were released to roll down the stage, but they kept on hitting mimes and getting stuck along the way, so it took around 5 minutes for all of the little balls to disappear. Monsieur Trinquet was yellow, and he had to sing his entire solo while doing a complicated shuffling step. He did his part quite well. There were lighted happy face balls at the dance party. At one point, the entire stage was lit in a rainbow, which I believe means that Mr. Freyer is gay.

During the second part, Lenski is shot and the stage turns black. Before he's shot, some man in red stands behind Onegin, a profound statement about something or another I'm sure. Lenski is lit in red, which I'm sure also means something very deep. Then there is a lovely music interlude which is supposed to be Prince Gremin's ball. During most of this time, Lenski is slowly dying. At least, he stands there lit in red as mimes do things. It took a long time. Finally, he keeled over with a loud plop and that was the end of him thank goodness. The mimes went through the third revolution of their yoga, chairs, whatever. Yawn.

I would have been satisfied with this if the singing had been better. Tatjana (Anna Samuil) had too much vibrato. Olga (Maria Gortsevskaya) was quite good, except she was somewhat hesitant on higher notes. Lenski (Rolando Villazón) was nice, except that he was quite nasal (which I wouldn't have noticed if I didn't speak any Russian). He was good for a few chuckles, since I repeated the "I love you" in Russian for the rest of the evening, except through my nose. It sounded just like him! Onegin (Roman Trekel) had absolutely awful pronunciation of Russian and he wasn't very noteworthy one way or the other. Monsieur Trinquet (Stephan Ruegamer) did an excellent job, in fact I think I found his solo the most beautiful out of the entire thing.

* Tattling * 
My my, what laughs I had! When the red balls appeared, a man in front of me said very loudly, "Schweine Sinn." Normally I don't like it when people talk, but it was so funny! Unfortunately, the German couple next to me kept on talking until I shushed them. The male half of the couple also kept on squirming, and he made me uncomfortable. Fortunately, he switched places with his (very talkative) female half during the second part.

And there was so much booing! It made me so happy! The Schweinesinn Mann booed quite loudly at the start of the second half, and the conductor responded to the booers by saying something which I didn't understand. Unfortunately, my lovely Schweinesinn Mann left with his Frau five minutes after the start of the second part.

Tosca at Unter den Linden

The Opernphrenologe was recently in Berlin and what follows is her rather entertaining review of Tosca. A review of Eugene Onegin is forthcoming.

   * Notes *
The set was boring, so boring. Are these people on a budget or something?  I can't even describe it, it was so dull.

As for the cast, Tosca (Micaele Carosi) was flat on the high notes and sometimes had too much trill.  Cavaradossi (Burkhard Fritz) was a weak, quiet singer. He also was raspy at the start of words (except when he sang a duet with Tosca, in which he was decent). It sounded like over-enunciation. Scarpia (Gerd Grochowski) was pretty good, but sometimes he was drowned out by the orchestra.  But my favorite was der Mesner der Kirche (Bernd Zettisch), who was just the cutest little hunchback with such adorable comic facial expressions!

During Act I, a bunch of little kids fell down when Scarpia entered. The kids were dressed as choirboys. Then at the end of Act I, there's some weird Catholic ceremony scene as Scarpia sang his solo about how he's lecherous. I think we've all heard enough about paedophilia in the Catholic church, do we really have to see it represented in opera?

During the second act, the set became much more exciting because of the addition of a bowl of fruit. I sincerely hoped that Scarpia would be stabbed to death with a fruit, but alas the director did not share my views on what makes good opera. I liked Tosca's dress, which was some red velvet thing.

Finally in the third act, the opera improved. Cavardossi was severely beaten and they evidently stuck red tape on his face to show this. It was so absurd! Scarpia died so badly, it was funny! I laughed so much. He squirmed around quite a bit before finally dying properly. The best part of the opera came when Cavardossi died and we didn't have to hear him sing anymore.

* Tattling * 
Lots to tell, dear readers. An opera coot in the second tier was glued to her binoculars in the pauses immediately before the opera resumed. I've never seen anyone stare so blatantly at other opera patrons! It was so bad that I felt compelled to photograph her, she was such a novelty! During the pause between the second and third acts, this coot evidently found something titillating in the center of the second tier, because she became quite agitated and then tried to hide her binocularitis behind a giant black fan. Her attempts were totally pointless though, since it was still obvious what she was doing.

I sat behind six French people, and I'm sorry to report that I have a very bad impression of French opera-goers. These people talked and talked and talked! My goodness. On my left was a German mother-daughter pair. The daughter dressed up for the opera by wearing some powder blue fur thing around her neck and fancy white gloves, which I liked quite a bit. Unfortunately, they talked too.

I saw an abnormally large amount of what I will politely refer to as "sucky-face" at the opera.  Fortunately it was mostly during the intermission, but I have to wonder, is Tosca the sucky-face opera?

Partenope at Det Kongelige Teater

Here is the promised review from the Opernphrenologe. I must say that I'm quite jealous that she got to attend a performance of this production. However, I hear there is to be a DVD release, so at least there is that to look forward to.

   * Notes *
The recent production of Händel's Partenope at Copenhagen's Royal Theatre was wonderful! No, really! It was really that good! I traveled all the way to Copenhagen for this one measly opera, and it was worth it.

Andreas Scholl as Arsace was so exceedingly funny! He had these marvelous comic facial expressions as he vacillated between two women. At one point, he crawls after the queen on his knees, then on his stomach, then he lifts his leg as if urinating. It was so silly! He made grunting sounds when the women abused him, and they were so utterly absurd that I kept on laughing aloud.

Then there was the Barbie doll of the queen. Armindo first fondles the Barbie doll as he sings about his true love for the queen. Later, Arsace got into what appeared to be a fist fight with the queen Barbie, and it seemed as if the Barbie was winning.

During the "fight scene", the two sides first played musical chairs, then rock-paper-scissors. Fight scenes are usually dumb in the opera, and I enjoyed how this one poked fun at itself!

As for the singing, Andreas Scholl (Arsace) was a bit weak at first but then sang beautifully. Inger Dam-Jensen (Partenope) and Christophe Dumaux (Armindo) were spectacularly good. Only Tuva Semmingsen (Rosmira) was not too good, but considering that she was too sick to sing and that some mysterious woman in black was singing for her in the orchestra pit, it is not that surprising. On the other hand, her acting was good.

Indeed, the opera cast has been plagued with the cold since opening night. When I saw it, Andreas Scholl had recovered but poor Tuva Semmingsen was in no shape to sing. According to some others, the opera director Francisco Negrin was the origin of the cold (according to himself in an interview). Very naughty, Mr. Negrin!

The stage was a simple rotating stage with what appeared to be tilework. I found it quite dull, until it rotated and exposed an octopus and seven fish, all done up in fake tilework. It was lovely! But that was it, it became boring after that.

During a discussion with some people with a Scholl Problem (tm), it was noted that Negrin made some hefty changes to Acts 2 and 3. The Arsace-Rosmira duet "E vuoi con dure tempre" from the 4th scene in Act 2 is missing, perhaps because Rosmira couldn't sing. Ormonte sings "La gloria in nobil alma" at the beginning of Act 3, which was originally sung by Emilio earlier in Act 2. When Arsace dreams, he is not awakened by Rosmira (this has been cut) but instead sings the terzetto in his sleep. It may be possible that Arsace's aria "Fatto è Amor un dio d'inferno" in Act 3 was also cut.

* Tattling * 
The audience was reasonably well-behaved. In fact, they would probably tattle on me, since I kept on cackling with laughter (though I tried to be quiet, but is quiet shaking from laughter much better?). I suspect that there were a lot of nutty opera people there. The woman on my left talked about how she was going to travel to London to see Partenope performed there (with mezzo-sopranos, though, she discovered that I was a Scholl fan and looked down upon me I think). The woman on my right kept on clicking her eyeglasses and sighing. Perhaps she was bored. She also dropped things twice, with a loud clang.

La Traviata at Det Kongelige Teater

Some months ago I learned that Andreas Scholl was to sing Partenope at the Royal Danish Theatre, and pestered my friend whom we'll call the Opernphrenologe into going, as she is rather closer to Copenhagen than I am. The Opernphrenologe also went to a performance of La Traviata, and what follows are her (edited) observations. The Partenope review is forthcoming.

   * Notes *
"Sehmbreh leebherha deggaoo
Follehggyar dee geeoiha in geeoiha..."

La Traviata at the Copenhagen Opera House was decent. I liked how all of the opera singers were at around the same level, nobody stood out to make the rest sound horrible. Both Violetta (Anne Margrethe Dahl) and Alfredo (Niels Jorgen Riis) started out too quietly, but they gained in strength halfway through the first act. Giorgio Germont (Jorn Pedersen) reminded me more of an automaton rather than an opera singer. He couldn't act and there was almost no emotion in his voice. I kept on seeing a wind-up key in his back every time he sang. On the other hand, everyone was on pitch most of the time, which shocked me!

Violetta, sung by Anne Margrethe Dahl, had extremely poor enunciation. At first, I thought about how much I enjoyed her warm round tone. Considering that I normally hate sopranos, this was surprising! Then I noticed that she was slurring. She couldn't act and her pitch went slightly off somewhere in the middle of the second act, but on the plus side she was hot and she had nice legs.

The staging was absurd. During Act II, they put piles of dirt in the bedroom to show how poor they were. One pile of dirt had some pretty green weeds growing on it, which I thought was a charming touch. During Act III, they made a hole in the floor. That was profound.

Act III was by far my favorite. Shortly after curtain rise, a woman pretending to be drunk threw off her cape and collapsed to the ground. Naked. Her quivering pallid flesh lay on the stage floor until some other extras carried the mound off. Then some man took his shirt off! I don't know why he did that, but he did! Then the de-shirted man pretended to have anal sex with another man who was previously dressed up as a woman. Finally, when Alfredo denounced Violetta, he ripped her dress off so she had to lay on the stage in her underwear. But they weren't any normal underwear. They were so exceedingly cootish that I was jealous.

The Danish people do not seem to cherish their opera singers very much. The program does not contain artist biographies, but instead has a page of all of the opera singers' names with tiny little pictures. It was more like a police line-up than an opera cast list.

* Tattling * 
The audience talked quite a bit. When Violetta had consumption, someone else in the audience joined her. There was lots of rustling. The people in front of me talked to me during the break and seemed surprised when I told them that I always stand at the opera if I have a choice.

There was some high-pitched feedback during the first act on the left side of the opera house. Fortunately, it disappeared by the second act.

The opera house supplied little cups in the bathrooms so that it was easy to get water. I appreciated that very much!

Norma at Unter den Linden

Berlinerstaatsopernorma* Notes *
The Opernphrenologe went to Berlin for work, and managed to see this evening's performance of Norma at the Staatsoper. Annegret Ritzel's production was awful from the very beginning when the female chorus first pretended to be rocks and then proceded to crawl to a tree stump in the center. The choreography was poorly motivated, at one point in Act I, all of the members of the women's chorus took off their overshirts, showed off their arms, sang a bit, and then put their overshirts back on. Then in Act II, the men did essentially the same thing, but they just wore trouser straps. Katharina Eberstein's costumes were mostly of a dark palette, with the exception of the priestesses in white, who wore headdresses that were reminiscent of bloody tampons.

Paolo Arrivabeni's conducting was unimaginative, and the orchestra seemed did not seem engaged. The drums were off in the screeching overture. The Opernphrenologe particularly loathed soprano Silvana Dussmann in the title role, though she was much beloved by a majority of the audience. She sounded like cracked porcelain, and was flat a good deal of the time. Carmen Oprisanu, however, was pretty good as Adalgisa. Tenor Andrew Richards' voice proved to be nice and warm once he got over a rough start.

After tormenting the Opernphrenologe all about the details of the opera performance, I finally commented that she must have liked it. Apparently she did and was moved most by the narrative rather than Bellini's music.

* Tattling *
The house was filled with young people, and our Opernphrenologe was right next to a young lady (Seat 14 Row 3 in the middle of the second balcony) who insisted on instant messaging on her cellphone, until the man behind her told her to stop. After that she kept on fidgeting and whispering, but at least she moved elsewhere for the second half.