Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ich kann nicht sitzen: Standing Room at the Musikverein and Philharmoniker

Vienna's Musikverein is famous for its golden-ness, its acoustics, and one of its home orchestras, the sexist bastards known as the Wiener Philharmoniker.  Indeed, the place sure is shiny and sounds pretty.  The Wiener Symphoniker, ORF RSO Wien, Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich, and lots of touring orchestras play there too, as well as many recitalists and chamber music groups.

The Musikverein, located just south of the Ring off Karlsplatz, is an unmissable stop on the tourist trail, but is hardly a model of institutional innovation.  Individual programs can be good, but tend towards the conservative.  The season as a whole lacks variety (something we will look at more shortly in my Duplicate Programming Watch), there are few reduced-price ticket programs, and their website is a bit on the primitive side (though it nicely identifies the encores performed at past concerts).  However, if you’re in Vienna and haven’t seen and heard it, you really have to go.

Their standing room isn’t the best and sometimes resembles a contact sport, but it gets the job done, after a fashion.  Also, if you were thinking of going to the New Year’s Concert, you should probably forget about it.  I can’t help you with that, anyways.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ich kann nicht sitzen: Standing Room at the Vienna State Opera

So, you’re visiting Vienna and you want to go to the opera.  Your guidebook suggests that you avail yourself of the many cheap standing room (Stehplatz) tickets sold on the day of each performance, but that’s just about all it says.  If you want to know waaaay more than is necessary about the mechanics of the ritual that is the Wiener Staatsoper’s standing room, here's your guide.

I’m assuming you’ve already decided to go to the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper).  If they’re not your thing for some reason but you still want to go to a performance in Vienna, you should also consider the Theater an der Wien, Musikverein, Konzerthaus (no standing room), or Volksoper.  I will write about these venues’ ticket policies later.

And: if you have any aspiration to see actual art onstage, absolutely never buy a concert ticket from anyone dressed as Mozart.  Read on for something way better.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Queen of Spades: The long dark tea-time of the soul

You got a rotting old pile of a palace, you invite the young people in to spruce it up, and before you know it they’re lighting it up in rainbow colors.  Such is the Old Countess’s problem in Vera Nemirova’s production of The Queen of Spades.  As Russian history it’s dubious and as Chaikovsky opera it’s graceless, but between Anja Silja in full-on Madame Armfeldt mode, Angela Denoke’s dynamite Lisa, and the efforts of Neil Shicoff as Hermann, it works anyways.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Booming canons: Duplicate programming watch

There’s a hell of a lot of music out there.  But it seems like I’m always hearing the same Mendelssohn overture over and over.  A look at concert schedules proves that this is because I actually am.  Duplicate programming happens.  A lot. 

While hearing pieces performed by different groups in a short period of time can be fascinating, can’t we be more creative and get to know a wider variety of music?  Here is a list of works that have been programed more than once by different groups solely over the course of September and October at five major venues in Vienna (the Musikverein, the Konzerthaus, the Staatsoper, the Volksoper, and the Theater an der Wien).  Granted, Vienna has a larger musical output than most cities, but, seriously, guys.  I cede the two performances of a Szymanowski violin sonata as a delightful coincidence but can’t we give poor Tosca a rest for a month or two?

The winner is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, performed by three different orchestras.  Daaaa duh-duh daa da.

The list:
  • Bartók, Concerto for Orchestra (Budapest Festival Orchestra, ORF RSO Wien)
  • Beethoven, Sonata op. 27/2, “Moonlight” (Mitsuko Uchida, Gottlieb Wallisch)
  • Beethoven, Symphony No. 6 (Orchestre National de France, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen)
  • Beethoven, Symphony No. 7 (Wiener Philharmoniker, Tallin Philharmonics, Camerata Salzburg)
  • Brahms, Symphony No. 4 (as my favorite symphony, nothing bad shall be said about this.) (Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Wiener Symphoniker)
  • Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 1 (Budapest Festival Orchestra, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich)
  • Chaikovsky, Piano Concerto No. 1 (Wiener Symphoniker, Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich [both Musikverein, same week!])
  • Mozart, Die Zauberflöte (Staatsoper, Volksoper)
  • Puccini, Tosca (Staatsoper, Volksoper)
  • Szymanowski, Violin Sonata op. 9 (Leonidas Kavakos/Elisabeth Leonskaja, Lidia Baich/Matthias Fletzberger)
Enjoy your galloping warhorses, folks!  And your Szymanowski.

Sources: Published programs
The photo

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Semele: Cecilia Bartoli we shall adore

Staging an oratorio like Semele is itself a questionable endeavor.  The music is wonderful, but dramatically it does more telling than showing and there are many static stretches.  Except for a few moments of wit and visual beauty, Robert Carsen’s elegantly restrained production is nothing more or less than unobtrusive.  However, tearing through all that dull dignity is Cecilia Bartoli, an irresistible one-woman hurricane of something or other.  Oh, and William Christie!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

La forza del destino: Showdown at the Staatsoper corral

Preziosilla is onto Carlos's game.
(Note: picture is a different cast, though same Preziosilla.)
(Photo: Opera Chic)
Of all the caves in the world, you had to walk into mine.  La forza del destino might not be the most outwardly coherent of operas, but Verdi didn’t call it an “opera of ideas” for nothing, and it has an agenda under all that shaggy discursiveness.  Unfortunately David Pountney’s Wiener Staatsoper production, shorn of almost half an hour of music, has the ideas underlined and highlighted and little of the dark chaos.  This messily-staged revival and Philippe Auguin’s conducting went unstoppably forward like the plot’s bullet fired by mistake, and despite four strong singers it all felt rather off.  And the cowboys, well, they were a mistake too.  Giddyap, pardner.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Riccardo Chailly and the case of the missing violas

(I would first like to welcome all of you who followed Franz Welser-Möst’s Facebook and Twitter links.  Danke schön for the link, Maestro, or rather thanks to whoever writes the maestro’s tweets and Facebook.)

The bows on the center-right side of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig were moving furiously, but I couldn’t hear a thing.  Herein I consider whether Schumann really was a crappy orchestrator after all, an obscure Mendelssohn piece that perhaps should stay that way, and some much more rewarding things about Friday night’s Musikverein concert, including some fine violin-playing from Frank Peter Zimmermann.

But first let’s talk anniversaries. Haul out your coffin full of poetry, because this year marks the 200th anniversary of Schumann’s birth.  It seems like we just had a Schumann year.   Because we did--2006 was the 150th anniversary of his death.  But like Prokofiev’s proximity in death to Stalin, Schumann had to share that anniversary with Mozart, and didn’t really get much attention outside pianists and a few lieder-singers.  This time he gets to share with both Chopin and Mahler.  So, yeah, screwed again, in Vienna at least.  Even the pianists and lieder-singers have other events to celebrate this time.

But his hometown orchestra, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, didn’t forget, even if their Vienna celebration was not always spotless.  They managed to sneak birthday boy Mahler in there too.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Tannhäuser: Crazy in love

This looks familiar, I'm not sure why.
Dich, teure Halle, grüss’ ich wieder!  After four years with no Wiener Staatsoper in my life, I returned last night, and if this Tannhäuser is any kind of omen I’m glad I did, because it was awesome.  Welser-Möst is doing great things with the orchestra, there’s some fantastic singing, and well, if the virgin-whore complex is getting you down (it certainly gets old for me), Claus Guth has a production for you.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Wiener Staatsoper unveils plaza broadcasts, new website

Today marked the first official day of Dominique Meyer's directorship at the Wiener Staatsoper, but I think he's already figured out where the coffee machine is.*  There are two exciting and discussion-worthy news items already.

Screen is located on the Kärtnerstrasse side.
Egregious Photoshopping by

The house has announced live video broadcasts of 16 performances onto a giant screen on the side of the building.  This will include the new production premieres of Cardillac, Lucrezia Borgia (in concert with Edita Gruberova), and ballet program Juwellen der Neuen Welt, as well as revivals of La Bohème, Zauberflöte, Tannhäuser, Pique Dame, Tosca, and the ballet OneginYou can check out the full schedule here.   I wonder if I can time my trip home so I can catch "Dir tone Lob" on the way?  I will do my best to get some video from these if they are exciting.  And if I'm not, you know, inside the opera house at the time.  Hope for good weather.

Continue for exciting new and overdue adventures in opera house website design.