Saturday, July 11, 2009

STill no highloights . . . but in other news. . . .

We haven't posted our usual Saturday highlights here in quite a while, partly because we have been away (when we travel we are on one computer, and then generally with only a slow, dial-up connection). And three weeks ago the hard drive on our laptop died. It took over a week to get a new drive and load everything back onto it. We are again traveling this week, so we did not have time this morning for the highlights posting. But do expect the highlights next week.

In other news, we understand that stagehands at Bayreuth are planning a strike over better wages and overtime (apparently Wolfgang Wagner had cut some sort of sweetheart deal with the union (called the "Verdi" union, can you believe?) to keep wages low and with no overtime payment required. But with Wolfgang gone, all bets are off. We hope things can be resolved before July 25th, when the Bayreuth Festival begins.

Also, Joyce DiDonato has posted all about her onstage accident during her first performance of a run of Barbieres at Covent Garden and subsequent wheelchair performances with a broken leg. She writes wonderfully, so her blog is always worth a read, but this week has been more than a little unusual for her.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Hum Along

Sam Shirakawa was in Cologne last Sunday for the performance of a German operetta thought to have long been lost...

Abraham: Die Blume von Hawaii
28 June 2009

Not long into the first act of Die Blume von Hawaii in concert form at the Cologne Philharmonie this past Sunday, I became aware of an unsettling sound. The score calls for some unusual instruments, including two Hawaiian guitars, but the sound resembled... I’m not quite sure what.

Then it struck me. Vast sections of the audience (everybody donning colorful Hawaiian leis) were humming along with the music! The median age among the near-sellout crowd must have been around 90, but everybody stayed awake and paid enthusiastic attention. The work represents in many ways a pair of bookends for many of these spectators: its first appearance took place in 1931, two years before the Nazis banned it as “Degenerate Art,” and its reincarnation happened soon after the war. It was filmed twice. Once before the Nazi takeover and again in 1953 [Editor: There was also an adaptation made for TV in 1971]. It was a big hit in both periods.

Paul Abraham’s operetta was the second of four successive hits he composed between 1930 and 1932 (the others are Viktoria und Ihr Hussar, Ball im Savoy and Die Privatsekretärin, which actually was a film musical). Die Blume von Hawaii, according to many accounts, is a groundbreaking work: Abraham and his librettists Alfred Grünwald and Fritz Löhner-Beda sought to free operetta from the bonds of sentimental waltzes and soapy story lines. In the former, Abraham was largely successful. In the latter, the team stuck to the formula of romantic threads that become entangled, only to get disentangled by the final act finale.

The operetta format was rapidly atrophying by 1931, when Blume von Hawaii, with its mix of South Seas exotica and Continental chic, received its world premiere in Leipzig. What is astounding about this work is the ease with which Abraham integrates musical elements that were new or unusual into the operetta form. Among the requisite waltzes and marches, you also hear foxtrots of varying tempi, the charleston, swing, and, of course, jazz. A lot of English is also evident in the lyrics. And the words -- whether in German, English, or occasionally in French and Italian, utter what all "classic" operetta expresses: nostaligia.

Abraham had to flee Germany after the Nazis seized power and eventually landed in New York. His works meanwhile were banned by the Nazis and his recordings and sheet music were deleted or destroyed. It was believed that the full score to Blume von Hawaii had also met this fate.

Abraham was never able to establish himself in musical circles in the United States and had to be committed to a hospital in 1946, following a mental breakdown. It has also been reported that he was suffering the effects of secondary syphilis. Ten years later, friends and fans in Germany heard about his plight and established a foundation, which enabled him to live out the remaining four years of his life together with his wife, Charlotte, in Hamburg.

Before he fled Berlin, Abraham left the key to a large cabinet with his butler. The chest reportedly contained over 300 manuscripts, including songs for operettas, musicals, cabaret and for specific performers. His butler promptly sold many of the manuscripts to hacks, who shamelessly profited from passing off Abraham’s music under their own names. Years later, it turned out that the documents entrusted to the butler apparently included the autograph score to Blume von Hawaii, which eventually was sold to a private collector, who preserved it among his vast treasury of important musical artifacts.

The autograph, however, was not complete. Two musicologists, Matthias Grimminger and Henning Hagedorn, recently went to work on reconstructing the score, using recordings, films, and hints from other more complete scores by Abraham to flesh it out.

The fruits of their labor of love were produced in a full-scale concert performance in the Cologne Philharmonie on Sunday evening 28 June. To make sure the massive efforts that went into the enterprise don’t disappear, WDR (West Deutsche Rundfunk) produced the concert and recorded it for broadcast on 3 July (on WDR4). Despite some lapses in stylistic matters, the performance is a thrilling achievement, and one worth hearing on internet radio. A significant piece of history, once thought to be lost forever, will be revived.

If you have even a mild interest in operetta, you should listen to this broadcast, so I don’t want to jade you by commenting extensively on the performance, except to point out three performers who were standouts. Two of them are Americans. Puerto Rico born Melba Ramos in the eponymous part is accruing a formidable repertoire as a member of Vienna's Volksoper. She started off as a lyric coloratura, but her voice is darkening while retaining its evenness and dexterity. On Sunday, she displayed the right mix of exotic allure and world-weary sophistication.

Melvin Edmondson as Jim Boy has been living in Germany since the 1980s after racking up credits with Harry Belafonte and on Broadway. His account of the Al Jolson pastiche “Nur ein Jim Boy” (Just a Jim Boy) included a rousing tap-dance routine, which, trust me, was worth the price of admission.

Kay Stieferman was the big surprise. His superb Kurvenal in Wupperthal last month gave no indication of his glamorous way with lighter music. His bright, evenly distributed baritone reminded me of early James Morris.

The others in the sparkling and largely home-grown cast included Dominik Wortig, Stephan Boving, Heike Susanne Daum, Anja Metzger and Boris Leisenheimer.

Rainer Roos, sporting a dazzling white satin dinner jacket, was called in as a last-minute replacement for the originally scheduled conductor, but his command of a score that obviously was new to him suggested that his versatility has more going for it than the biography inserted into the program booklet indicates. Roos has something few up-and-coming conductors have but need: the common touch. He was helped, of course, by the versatile WDR Orchestra and Chorus, whose members seemed to be really enjoying themselves. Purists may sneer at the score as mere show music or salon drivel, but listen closely and you may find that Abraham’s melodies, played so stylishly, are too infectious to be dismissed.

The event in itself proved to induce a bit of nostalgia for me. While the Metropolitan Opera and other performing arts institutions in the United States present broadcasts regularly, the days of weekly concerts as radio and television broadcasts, replete with a host/emcee have long since gone the way of The Voice of Firestone and Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. If you understand a bit of German, by all means tune into the broadcast of Blume von Hawaii on 3 July. The host Winfried Fechner takes you through the operetta’s plot complications between numbers -- just the way Milton Cross, Ben Grauer and other hosts of bygone radio days once did -- but with a good deal more wit and humor. While the WDR no longer has a regular slot for broadcasting live concerts, it still maintains its own symphony orchestra and chorus as NBC and CBS also once did. The classical department of the WDR broadcasts an astonishing variety of live music every week of the year. (In fact, each regional government-sponsored network in Germany has its own orchestra, chorus and broadcast schedule.) How much longer this paradisal policy can continue in the wake of the world-wide economic crisis is a matter few want to think about.

© Sam H. Shirakawa 2009

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 30, 2009 is Back Online

We are finally back up online, after much loud complaint to our web hosting provider. From sometime around 10:00PM EDT on Monday night until about 3:40AM this morning, our site was showing only blank white pages (not even so much as a "404-Page Not Found" message). All this a mere five days after we ahd authorized another annual renewal with said provider. We are NOT happy - just grateful that iut didn't happen at high noon on a Saturday.

But we are back up....
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Being Bohemian

Picture, if you will, a student production of Puccini's La Boheme, staged as an opera within a documentary. Well, Sam Shirakawa was in Munich on June 17th for the premiere of just such a production. He reports:
A production by
the Bayerische Theaterakademie August Everding, Munich

Premiere 17 June 2009

I usually anticipate attending student productions of operas with a mix of curiosity and dread. They bait curiosity because you never know if a future Caruso or Callas may be taking the stage. They arouse dread because there is nothing quite so dreadful as a vocally dreadful performance of an opera.

In recent years, though, I’ve found that student opera performances of opera are getting better. Professional preparatory academies seem to be turning out singers who appear more confident in knowing they have the right stuff. The tension arising from having a now-or-never opportunity to prove it endows their performances with that extra dollop of excitement that’s becoming increasingly rare at “big” opera houses.

That shared anxiety between performers and audience produced an especially exciting performance of La Boheme on 17 June at the Theater Academy of Bavaria August Everding (Bayerische Theaterakademie August Everding) in Munich, primarily because the singing was so good. I frequently had to remind myself that these are students -- most of them around 30 years old and taking their vocal training at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München -- because they’re not merely ready for prime time, they are performing as though they are in prime time.

The Mimi, Myung-Joo Lee, from South Korea, is in full possession of a warm lyric soprano that opens out effortlessly above the staff. Her “Mi chiamamo Mimi” had a melancholy timbre reminiscent of Ileana Cotrubas. But she had her own way with the sad nostalgia reflected in “Donde lieta uschi...”

As her lover Rodolfo, Jun-Ho You, also from South Korea, displays a tightly focused lyric-spinto tenor, some of whose inflections remind me of Jussi Björling. His upper register is thrilling, but maintaining its bracing freshness is the challenge he and all those with similarly bright potential face.

American-born Vanessa Goikoetxea is a Musetta who is a born showgirl -- leggy and shamelessly flirtatious. Her middle and upper registers contain a fine resin that gives her voice an unusual personality. Her options are wide open.

Christian Ebert’s sonorous Marcello is a guy who can’t live with his Musetta, but can’t live without her either. His ample warm baritone points to Posa via Onegin. Nice sound. I wonder if he’s listened to Gerhard Hüsch....

Benjamin Appi and Tareq Nazmi are excellent respectively as Schaunard and Colline. The roles of Benoit and Alcindoro are so well characterized, that you need to check the program to realize that Thomas Stimmel sings both. Mauro Peter deserves a bigger part than Parpignol.

The cast has the good fortune of having a first-class professional orchestra in the pit, the Munich Radio Orchestra, under the steady guidance of Ulf Schirmer, whose stints include the Vienna State Opera and, beginning next season, Music Director of the Leipzig Opera.

Both singers and orchestra are blessed with the superior acoustics of the Prinzregententheater, which is the Akademie's own performing space. Small wonder. The house was completed in 1901 by architect Max Littman, who based his concept on the designs of Gottfried Semper and Otto Brückwald for Wagner's Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. The acoustics of the "House on the Green Hill" are unique, but the

sonorities of the Prinzregenten Theater are thrillingly similar, especially after its recent renovations, which have also revitalized the Jugendstil decor in the access areas. It is a spectacular setting for any kind of performance. The building's interior is a must-see if you visit Munich -- but you must have a ticket for an event.

The singers also have a good deal more to do than sing. Balazs Kovalk's staging sets out to capture a slice of life through a documentary-in-the-making about bohemian life in modern-day Paris. The concept is relevant because Puccini’s music is the mother of all western film scores. (And how many shows have you seen that are shameless recycles of Boheme and Butterfly?) So the cast must not only enact the lives of starving Parisian artistes, but also enact those lives before multi-cams and crews. The audience can see portions of the taping on monitors and scrims and witness the difference between “Being and Seeming,” as a program note puts it -- or reality and appearance.

Theoretically it works: you get a behind-the-cameras look at Life In The Making. But I couldn’t help remembering what Wolfgang Wagner once told me, when I asked him why Leonard Bernstein never conducted at Bayreuth. “Bernstein insisted that his contract include a documentary on the rehearsals and preparations for the production,” he said. “I learned long ago, that when you allow film crews, everybody plays to the cameras. You lose the impact of what is LIVE. You can’t really rehearse for the performance.”

Indeed, the presence of a camera crew on stage vitiates the impact of the drama and tends to siphon off the impact of the music into a separate realm. There are simply too many people on stage in the love scene of the first act, for example, when only two of them -- the lovers -- really matter.

Bertolt Brecht might have loved this view of Boheme. Intentionally or inadvertently -- I can’t discern which -- Kovalik’s production gives new meaning to the term Brecht invented: Verfremdungseffekt, or, for want of a better translation, alienation. Brecht coined this term to force his audiences to pull back from emotional involvement in the plot and characters and to push them toward viewing the proceedings on stage critically.

The intervention of a video/film documentary crew within any setting, not to mention a love duet, rudely yanks everybody back from plugging into “reality.” But here is where Kovalik ups the ante: the shots the crew is recording -- close-ups, wide angles, pans, and so on -- are shown on monitors and mini-Imax screens, thereby thrusting the audience in the direction of yet another reality. Or the appearance of another reality.

Exploring levels of reality -- or the illusions of those realities within the framework of the stage as “the place devoted to articulating the conflicts between past and possible worlds, the dialogues between our perceptions of mundane experience and our desires” -- is at the root of the Akademie’s primary objectives under the guidance of Klaus Zehelein, who has been its president since 2006.

Zehelein was General Manager of Stuttgart’s State Opera for 15 seasons before he came to lead the Akademie. During his tenure, the Annual Survey of German Critics voted the Stuttgarter Staatsoper “Opera House of the Year” six times. He has accrued international recognition as both pedagogue and all-around man of the theater. When he decided to make a change, he received offers from several high-profile theaters including the Salzburg Festival and the Berlin State Opera. Zehelein declined them all, opting to take over the Akademie, one of Germany’s foremost teaching institutions for the performing arts. He explained at the time, that he wanted to do his part in securing the future of the performing arts by bringing young artists and technicians to the highest standards.

He also wants to further the cause of live theater as a forum. As he warns in the Welcome Page of the Academie website:
“If we abandon the stage, by consigning it to the compromises of mundane superficialities, we betray that part of our lives that constitutes an indispensable necessity for existence, which we risk losing beyond recall.
In times when the prospects of continued financial support for the performing arts look increasingly grim, Zehelein appears to be steering the Academie on a steady course. Hopes for his ability to enable the Academie to surmount the economic realities that are now threatening the arts everywhere may prove illusory. But his leadership through the challenges he now faces may well turn out to be exemplary, indeed the stuff of legend.

© Sam H. Shirakawa
Production photos © A. T. Schaefer

Revised 6/23/09 - 1:45PM EDT - added production photos; removed some theater photos.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Live Offerings - Saturday, June 20, 2009

Here's today's live lineup:

  • BBC Radio 3 - From the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, a double bill: Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, with Sarah Connolly, Lucy Crowe, Lucas Meacham, Anita Watson, Sara Fulgoni, Eri Nakamura, Pumeza Matshikiza, Iestyn Davies and Ji-Min Park; and Handel's Acis and Galatea, with Charles Workman, Danielle de Niese, Paul Agnew, Ji-Min Park, Matthew Rose, Juliet Schiemann and Philip Bell, both conducted by Christopher Hogwood.
  • CBC Two - From Vancouver Opera, a May 2009 performance of Strauss's Salome, with Mlada Khudoley, Greer Grimsley, John Mac Master and Judith Forst, conducted by Jonathan Darlington, followed by an interview with Dame Gwyneth Jones.
  • Deutschlandradio Kultur - From Musikfestspiele Potsdam Sanssouci, a live performance from the Schlosstheater Neues Palais of Haydn's Philemon und Baucis, with Lothar Odinius, Ruth Sandhoff, Ruby Hughes, and Magnus Staveland, conducted by Gary Cooper.
  • DR P2 - From Deutsche Oper and April 9th performance of Respighi's Marie Victoire, with Takesha Meshé, Markus Brück, German Villar and Jaco Huijpen, conducted by Michail Jurowski.
  • Dwojke Polskie Radio & WETA- From Flemish Opera in Antwerp a February 13 performance of Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, with Nikolai Putilin, Mikhail Kit, Leandra Overmann, Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Viktor Lutsiuk, Milcho Borovinov and Thorsten Büttner, conducted by Dimitri Jurowski.
  • Espace Musique - From La Scla in Milan, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with David Daniels, Rosemary Joshua, Emil Wolk, Daniel Okulitch, Natacha Petrinsky, Gordon Gietz, David Adam Moore, Deanne Meek, Erin Wall and Matthew Rose, conducted by Andrew Davis.
  • France Musique - From Opéra de Lyon a January 27 performance of Prokofiev's The Gambler, with Misha Didyk, Kristine Opolais, Alexander Teliga, Marianna Tarasova, Maria Gortsevskaja, Francesco Lorenz and Andrew Schroeder, conducted by Kazushi Ono.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands - From Nationale Reisopera, Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie, with Sophie Daneman, Paul Agnew, Eugénie Warnier, Maarten Koningsberger and Frans Fiselier, conducted by Jed Wentz.
  • Radio Clasica de Espana - From la Salle Métropole in Lausanne, a March 8 performance of Handel's Faramondo, with M. Emanuel Cencic, S. Karthäuser, M. de Liso, I. S. Sim, P. Jaroussky, X. Sábata, F. Bettini and J. Ebert, conducted by D. Fasolis.
  • WFMT Opera Series (on numerous stations) - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, with Deborah Voigt, Tristan - Clifton Forbis, Brangäne - Petra Lang, Kurwenal - Jason Stearns and Stephen Milling, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
  • XLNC1 & KING - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, with Nicole Cabell, Nathan Gunn, Eric Cutler and Christian Van Horn, conducted by John Mauceri.
  • KUSC - From Los Angeles Opera, Wagner's Die Walküre, with Placido Domingo, Michelle DeYoung, Linda Watson, Vitalij Kowaljow, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Eric Halfvarson, Ellie Dehn, Susan Foster, Melissa Citro, Erica Brookhyser, Margaret Thompson, Buffy Baggott, Jane Gilbert and Ronnita Miller, conducted by James Conlon.
  • Bartok Radio - Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, with Marc Laho, Patricia Petibon, Maria Riccarda Wesseling, Rachel Harnisch, Stella Doufexis, Nicolas Cavallier, Eric Huchet, Francisco Vas, Gilles Cachemaille, Bernard Deletré, René Schirrer and Nadine Denize, conducted by Patrick Davin.
  • World Of Opera - From Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, Berlioz' Beatrice et Benedict, with Joyce di Donato, Charles Workman, Nicolas Cavallier, Nathalie Manfrino, Jean-Francois Lapointe, Jean-Philippe Laffont and Elodie Mechain, conducted by Sir Colin Davis.
  • Latvia Radio Klasika - From Vienna, a February 8 performance of Bizet's Carmen, with Veselina Kasarova, Jose Cura, Ildebrand d'Archangelo, Geniia Kumeier, conducted by A. Fisher.
  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From the Vienna State Opera, Mozart's Don Giovanni, with Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, Alexandru Moisiuc, Ricarda Merbeth, Michael Schade, Roxana Briban, Rene Pape, Boaz Daniel and Michaela Seliger, conducted by Constantinos Carydis.
  • Radio Oesterreich International (OE1) - From the Vienna State Opera, a June 18 performance of Strauss's Die schweigsame Frau, with Kurt Rydl, Adrian Eröd, Michael Schade and Jane Archibald, conducted by Peter Schneider.
  • Sveriges Radio P2 - From Stockholm, Berwald's Drottningen av Golconda, with Carrie Nilsson, Marianne Öhrn, Ingvar Wixell, Erik Sundquist, Uno Ebrelius and Sven-Erik Jacobsson, conducted by Tor Mann.
  • Cesky Rozhlas 3-Vltava - From the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer, with Bryn Terfel, Hans Peter König, Anja Kampe, Torsten Kerl, Clare Shearer and John Tessier, conducted by Marc Albrecht.
  • Espace 2 - From l'Opéra de Lausanne, Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, with Fabio Capitanucci, John Osborn, Sabina Puertolas, Luciano Di Pasquale, Deyan Vatchkov, Isabelle Henriquez, Alexandre Diakoff, Manrico Signorini and Sacha Michon, conducted by Günter
  • Klara - From the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Rossini's Matilde di Shabran, with Aleksandra Kurzak, Vesselina Karasova, Enkelejda Shkosa, Juan Diego Flores, Alfonso Antoniozzi, Mark Beesley, Marco Vinco, Carlo Lepore, and Bryan Secombe, conducted by Carlo Rizzi.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From Teatro San Carlo in Naples, a March 23 performance of Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust, with José Bros, Sonia Ganassi, Erwin Schrott, Maurizio Lo Piccolo, Bernadette Siano, Loredana Conte and Antonello Cossia, conducted by George Pehlivanian.
  • WDAV - World Of Opera on a one week delay - From Teatro dell'Opera in Rome, Gluck's Iphigenie en Aulis, with Krassimira Stoyanova, Alexey Tikhomirov, Avi Klemberg, Ekaterina Gubanova and Beatriz Diaz, conducted by Riccardo Muti.
  • Concert FM (New Zealand) - From Parco della Musica in Rome, Vivaldi's Orlando furioso, with Romina Basso, Manuela Custer,. Sylva Pozzer, Anna Rita Gemmabella, Jordi Domenech, Xavier Sabata and Lorenzo Regazzo, conducted by Andrea Marcon.
  • ABC Classic FM (Australia) - From Theater an der Wien in Vienna, Handel's Partenope, with Christine Schäfer, Kurt Streit, David Daniels, Patrica Bardon, Florian Boesch and Matthias Rexroth, conducted by Christophe Rousset.

Happy listening,

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy hour @ Hunding's Hovel

Sam Shirakawa went to Essen recently to see Wagner's Die Walküre:

11 JUNE 2009
[see Video Clip]

The curtain goes up long before the house lights dim. The audience attending Dietrich Hilsdorf’s new production of Die Walküre at Essen’s Aalto Theater has little choice but to contemplate a huge faded reception hall, fungus-stained green paint peeling from the walls and columns. The salle de réception, which doubles as a banquet hall, is designed in the mock-Hellenic style that characterized many bourgeois German mansions in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A few chairs, a long banquet table covered with a white table cloth, and a coal-burning stove are the only noteworthy furnishings. An enclosed staircase leads to an upper floor, and a wide escalier center-stage leads somewhere below. It’s a place that’s notable for its palatial size. The joint has seen better days.

So This is supposed to be Hunding’s hovel?


Oh, so that rod with a handle sticking out of the column at stage left is really the sword Nothung!


And that’s why the stove is so close to the column -- so the flames can light up the sword during Siegmund’s big solo!

In fact, this unit set is going to serve as the environment for all the proceedings that take place during the First Day of The Ring.

In his program note, Hilsdorf explains why he instructed his designer Dieter Richter to create such a room for all the action in Walküre:
“Hunding’s abode distills the essence of the world as the setting for the struggle for power and its loss. Despite changes in physical locale [throughout the opera], the inner setting remains unchanged.”
It’s a fascinating metaphor: A decaying mansion as the setting for power plays that ultimately produce no winners, only losers; its main remaining feature -- a banquet table where deadly deals are served.

Unfortunately, Hilsdorf doesn’t work his fecund conceit out. Once the idea of the idea is set forth, the players are left pretty much on their own -- to sit, stand and move around the banquet table -- sometimes rather awkwardly. For some reason almost everyone is dressed in evening clothes -- the Valkyries in crimson gowns and red Dorothy-in-Oz pumps, Fricka in a blue and white number, custom-tailored for a Cecil Beaton portrait sitting. Brünnhilde is in a party mood in her initial appearance, as she fills goblets of wine while flinging out the high notes of her Brindisi -- i.e. the War Cry. When Wotan puts his errant daughter to sleep, he leaves her slumbering erect at the banquet table, not on it.

A rude awakening awaits this Hilde: She’ll have to do the dishes...

We may never know which detergent Brünnhilde favors because Hilsdorf won’t be supervising next season’s new production of Siegfried. Essen is following the trend set by Stuttgart’s wildly successful Ring Cycle, which assigned each of the four operas to different directors.)

In one of Hilsdorf’s hilarious violations of the text, Sieglinde shows up in the second act very much in the family way. My, how time flies when you’re committing incest! Have the Wälsung Twins managed to elude Hunding, his henchmen, and their dogs for eight months between act one and two? Did they motel hop all that time? Slum with friends? (I thought neither had any.)

Oddly enough, though, the performance I heard on 11 June was spellbinding, owing primarily to Stefan Soltesz’ masterful leadership of a superb cast and orchestra. At age 60, Soltesz is becoming something of a cult figure. He’s well known on podiums throughout Europe, South America, and the Far East, but his appearances in the United States have been spotty. His well-deserved reputation as General Music Director in Essen brings visitors to his performances from far beyond the Ruhr area -- including me. His appearances are always well attended, if not sold out.

His view of The Ring has aroused huge expectations.

From the sound of Walküre, Soltesz is fulfilling those expectations. He served part of his apprenticeship under Karl Böhm, and the much-missed maestro’s influence is unmistakable. Soltesz tends to favor brisk tempos; the drive behind the tempo seems to be ruled more by the exigencies of the moment than a structural vision. At least, that’s how it sounded a few days ago. I’m looking forward to hearing how he takes things at a future performance.

Thomas J. Mayer is one of four Wotans cast for the current run of this production. (The others are Egils Silins (see photos), Terja Stensvold and Almas Svilpa.) Mayer is a bitter and angry Wotan -- bitter at how badly his shady deals have turned out; angry at himself for letting things slip so far and so fast. His fury is all the more alarming as he confronts his favorite errant daughter before her sisters. Through it all, Mayer never resorts to shouting out notes or barking to make a point. It’s clear that he’s heard Thomas Stewart’s recordings of the role at least once, and that by no means is a bad thing.

Idilko Szönyi as Fricka is truly a bad thing for Mayer’s Wotan, as she cooly exploits her diesel middle register to harass her wayward husband into submission. It’s been a while since I’ve heard Fricka sung with such elegant bitchiness.

Catherine Foster’s Brünnhilde could use a bit more shading, but for me, she can do no wrong, after the mini-vaudeville moment she essays, batting out those hellish Bs and Cs way over the Green Monster while, with steady hand, she fills goblets with Zinfandel. The glasses, helas, didn’t shatter. (But can she also rap out the War Cry while juggling a half-dozen raw eggs, and balancing a unicycle perched on a high-wire?)

Jeffrey Dowd sounds better, even more attractive, each time I hear him. He’s narrowed the vibrato in the upper register and deepened his middle and lower voice. His Siegmund is boyish and nervy -- especially effective in “Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater,” but his gestures and movements betray not merely an American Wälsung, but a Ziggy from New York. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it takes a bit of getting used-to.

Marcel Rosca’s Hunding also takes a bit of getting used-to. He’s not nearly as menacing as you might expect from a Hunding, but his svelte bass charms the ear. He may be better suited for Philip or Mephistopheles. In truth, he may be hampered by Hilsdorf's staging: His Hunding is a sappy middler, doomed to fall because of a mess that’s not entirely of his own making.

Now for the major find: I often wonder what Regine must have sounded like before she became Crespin. If a certain Danielle refuses to pack it in for family and security, she stands an excellent chance of becoming Danielle Halbwachs, the Sieglinde to be reckoned with. She’s sympathetic, warm and her immense soprano gains strength and amplitude as it rises above the staff. What she still lacks, though, is interpretive insight; her Wälsung sibling emerges at this point from her head, not from her heart. Despite a second act maternity costume that makes her look as though she’s just shoplifted a honeydew melon, it’s Danielle Halbwachs’ voice, a gorgeous instrument, that lingers in the memory.

No standouts among the Valkyrie Sisters, but they were all up for it.

© Sam H. Shirakawa 2009

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Live Offerings - Saturday, June 13, 2009 - Part II

More live offerings for this afternoon:

  • Cesky Rozhlas 3-Vltava - From Opera Bastille in Paris, Massenet's Werther, with Rolando Villazón, Alain Vernhes, Susan Graham, Adriana Kuc(erová, Ludovic Tézier, Christian Jean, Christian Tréguier, Vincent Delhoume and Letitia Singleton, conducted by Kent Nagano.
  • Klara - From Vienna State Opera, Mozart's Don Giovanni, with Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, Eric Halfvarson, Ricarda Merbeth, Michael Schade, Soile Isokoski, René Pape, Boaz Daniel and Michaela Selinger, conducted by Constantinos Carydis.
  • Latvia Radio Klasika - another chance to hear the Met broadcast of March 21, Bellini's La Sonnambula, with Nathalie Dessay, Juan Diego Florez, JAne Bunnell and Michele Pertusi, conducted by Evelino Pido.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From Rococo Theatre, Schwetzingen, a May 29 performance of Handel's Ezio, with Yosemeh Adjei, Mariselle Martinez, Hilke Andersen, Donát Havár and Marcell Bakonyi, conducted by Attilio Cremonesi.
  • BBC Radio 3 - Listen to the Song Prize finale of the Cardiff Singer of the World contest.
  • WDAV - World Of Opera (one week delayed) - From Washington National Opera, a double bill: Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, with Samuel Ramey and Denyce Graves; and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, with Samuel Ramey, Amanda Squitieri, Elizabeth Bishop, Antonio Gandia, Robert Baker, Christina Martos, Tony Teleky, Stefano de Peppo, Valeriano Lanchas, Trevor Scheunemann, Leslie Mutchler, Obed Urena, James Shaffran, David Morris and Matthew Osifchin, both conducted by Giovanni Reggioli.

Happy listening . . . .


Live Offerings - Saturday, June 13, 2009 - Part I

I'm getting a late start to the blog today, so this will be a quick and dirty survey of what's on offer for this afternoon:

  • BBC Radio 3 - From the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Strauss's Elektra, with Susan Bullock, Anne Schwanewilms, Jane Henschel, Johan Reuter, Miriam Murphy and Frank van Aken, conducted by MArk Elder.
  • CBC Two - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Massenet's Manon, with Natalie Dessay, Jonas Kaufmann, and Christopher Feigum, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume.
  • Deutschlandradio Kultur - From Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz in Munich, Gilbert and Sullican"s Pirates of Penzance, with Robert Sellier, Thérèse Wincent, Rita Kapfhammer, Frances Lucey, Sonja Leitwyler, Holger Ohlmann, Gunter Sonneson, Florian Soyka and Martin Hausberg, conducted by Anthony Bramall.
  • Espace Musique - From Netherlands Opera, Haydn's Orlando Paladino, with Henriette Bonde-Hansen, Joan Martin-Royo, Marcel Reijans, Kenneth Tarver, Peter Gijsbertsen, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, Jörg Schneider, Elena Monti, and Martijn Cornet, conducted by Alessandro De Marchi.
  • Radio Clasica de Espana - From Vienna State Opera, a February 28 performance of Bizet's Carmen, with V. Kasarova, J. Cura, I. d’Arcangelo, G. Kühmeier, J. Monarcha, M. Pelz, I. Tonca, S. Marilley, C. Unterreiner and B. Kobel, conducted by A. Fisch.
  • RTP Antena 2 - From Vienna State Opera, an October 18, 2004 performance of Verdi's Don Carlo, with Iano Tamar, Cornelia Salje, Inna Los, Nadja Michael, Ramón Vargas, Benedikt Kobel, Cosmin Ifrim, Bo Skovhus, Alastair Miles, Simon Yang, Dan Paul Dumitrescu and Johannes Gisser, conducted by Bertrand de Billy.
  • WETA - From Theater an der Wien, Vienna, a performance of Handel's Partenope, with Christine Schaefer, Kurt Streit, David Daniels, Patricia Bardon, Florian Boesch and Matthias Rexroth, conducted by Christophe Rousset.
  • WFMT Opera Series (on numerous stations) - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, with Nicole Cabell, Nathan Gunn, Eric Cutler and Christian Van Horn, conducted by John Mauceri.
  • XLNC1 - WFMT Opera Series on a one week delay - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, with Gordon Hawkins, Morenike Fadayomi, Lester Lynch, Jonita Lattimore, Laquita Mitchell, Marietta Simpson, Jermaine Smith and Eric Green, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
  • France Musique - From l'Opera de Lyon, a May 26 performance of Britten's Death in Venice, with Alan Oke, Peter Sidhom, Christopher Ainsli and, Damian Thantrey, conducted by Martyn Brabbins.
  • World Of Opera - From Teatro dell'Opera, Rome, Gluck's Iphigenie en Aulide, with Krassimira Stoyanova, Alexey Tikhomirov, Avi Klemberg, Ekaterina Gubanova and Beatriz Diaz, conducted by Riccardo Muti.
  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From Lyric Oper of Chicago, Berg's Lulu, with Marlis Petersen, Jill Grove, Wolfgang Schöne, and William Burden, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
  • Radio Oesterreich International (OE1) - Haydn's L'isola disabitata, with Christiane Karg, Elisabeth von Magnus, Rainer Trost and Luca Pisaroni, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
  • Sveriges Radio P2 - From the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, a March 11, 2008 performance of Rossini's Matilde di Shabran, with Aleksandra Kurzak, Juan Diego Flórez, Vesselina Kasarova, Enklejda Shkosa, Alfonso Antoniozzi, Mark Beesley, Marco Vinco, Carlo Lepore and Bryan Secombe, conducted by Carlo Rizzi.

More to come....


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Weekend Child

Sam Shirakawa took a break from opera-going to attend the Berlin premiere of a new documentary about Otmar Suitner (this film was shown in at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City in November 2007 as part of the Berlin in Lights festival):

NACH DER MUSIK (English Title: A Father's Music) [105 mins]
A Documentary on Otmar Suitner by Igor Heitzmann
Premiere: Berlin 17 May

Few are the documentaries about musicians that reveal more about their subjects than their audiences already know -- or should know. Little and much is known about the Austrian conductor Otmar Suitner (pronounced Sweet-ner), who is now 87 years old. Little besides the chronological facts is known about him professionally and personally, primarily because he spent most of his career behind the Iron Curtain, making only periodic guest appearances in the West and Far East. A lot, though, is known about him musically through his huge output of recordings on Communist-backed labels and Japanese imports.

The release of a documentary entitled Nach der Musik is remarkable, because it opens the door -- just a crack-- on a man and musician, who coulda-woulda-shoulda become a Titan among conductors in the second half of the twentieth century. And didn't. But the want of giga-stardom seems of no concern to Suitner. Nor does it worry film maker Igor Heitzmann, possibly because of his relationship to his film's subject:

Heitzmann is Suitner's son out of wedlock.

As Music Director of East Berlin's Staatsoper (1964-1989) and a privileged citizen of the Communist Block, Suitner was pretty much free to shuttle between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. What started off as a regular break from the bleakness of Bebelplatz became a regular necessity after he began an extra-marital relationship with a woman living in West Berlin. She eventually bore Suitner a son-- Igor -- a "Weekend Child" as such progeny were then called. Suitner's (recently deceased) wife discloses that she knew about both the relationship and the child, but she never sought to leave him. A telling glance, gesture, and inflection here and there conspire to obviate the necessity for explanation: there could be no other man for her. The same can be said for why Heitzmann's mother, who also appears in the film, remained single.

Heitzmann reportedly spent four years on the project, much of it, I imagine, chasing down archive performances and news clips. He disperses them generously throughout what emerges as an engrossing labor of love -- as rich in subtle detail as it is thoughtful in design. Heitzmann is indeed his father's son. And here is where Nach der Musik forks away from most other music documentaries: We get a cumulative sense of the ineffable human impulse that sparks the inexplicable musical impulse. Sometimes a book or an article can convey that sense, but only a film or video can (with lucky timing) capture it with that's-it! that's-it! immediacy. Heitzmann lucks out frequently.

Suitner all but disappeared from the musical scene shortly before the Wall crumbled in 1989. Many assumed the Stasi or some other evil had caught up with him. Indeed: Parkinson's. Suitner says he quit because he considered the disease unsightly, even though he acknowledges that some other well-known conductors (past and present) have persevered despite their afflictions. But his reasoning proves disingenuous when, in a revealing sequence, he conducts a portion of his favorite symphony (I won't name it) at a recent reunion with his former colleagues at the Staatsoper. A wonderful performance, profound in its simplicity. I suspect it wasn't embarassment that prompted his withdrawal from the podium; it was abrogation of will.

Suitner attended the premiere two weeks ago at Berlin's fabled art-deco cinema, Babylon. We spoke briefly, and he seemed agreeable to a lengthier conversation soon. I hope he keeps his word.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Live Offerings - Sat.urday, June 6 - PART II

More live offerings:

Radio Tre (RAI) - FRom La Scala, Milan, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream