Saturday, October 30, 2010

Elisir d’amore: I need a drink

Juan Diego Flórez is a very charming and accomplished guy, and not a good enough actor to disguise it.  As moony dumbass Nemorino he doesn’t convince, no matter how many precisely timed pratfalls he pulls.  This was a production that existed for one reason, and that was to hear him sing “Una furtiva lagrima.”

It got an endless ovation.  It was an exceptionally fine piece of singing, but embedded as it was in a production with no other distractions, how could it not?  This was your Platonic ideal of Wiener Staatsoper repertory performances: an adored star surrounded by solid but unexceptional ensemble costars, all engaging in well-worn dramatic shtick on a set that is older than any of them.  The only exception was that your average rep night has rather fewer stage-orchestra train wrecks than this one did.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rusalka at the Volksoper: Green party

Comparing the Volksoper to the Bayerische Staatsoper is unfair to both, but when you see the same opera at both within three days, it’s unavoidable.  André Barbe and Renaud Doucet’s new Volksoper Rusalka is an environmentally conscious meditation with a much softer touch than Martin Kušej’s brutal Munich staging.  When two of the three Viennese nymphs missed their first entrance, I inwardly groaned, and when the Water Goblin started handing out lollypops, I wanted to scream “DON’T TAKE CANDY FROM THE NICE MAN, KIDS!!!!”  But this is a production fit for the whole family, and a nice evening out all told.

There is a point at which a wood nymph douses herself with gasoline, though.  Good to know that I’m still in Europe!

Now updated with more photos.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rusalka in Munich: Not part of this world


Martin Kušej’s new Bayerische Staatsoper production of Rusalka is not a happily tragic fairy tale.  Rusalka’s lake is a dark, damp cellar, where she is imprisoned with her sisters by her abusive father.  But once she finally escapes, she is thrown mute and alone into an equally brutal world where she is utterly unequipped to survive, and he increasingly looks like a protector.  It is a deeply unsettling and, for the most part, enormously effective production.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Andris Nelsons and the Philharmoniker: Old orchestra in a New World

Watching Andris Nelsons conduct is great fun.  His hands flutter wildly, he crouches, he stands on his toes.  He looks like he is having a much better time than anyone in the Wiener Philharmoniker ever seems to be.  But it’s a measure of the musical success of his Philharmoniker debut that I did not regret having gotten up early on a Sunday morning for a trombone concerto.  Much less for his absolutely spectacular Dvořák 9.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tristan und Isolde im Opernhaus Zürich (10.10.10)--Kurzfassung auf Deutsch

 Claus Guths Inszenierung von Tristan und Isolde im Opernhaus Zürich verarbeitet Wagners Affäre mit Mathilde Wesendonck, einer Amateur Dichterin und Frau eines Bankers aus Zürich (wo sowohl die Affäre als auch die Inszenierung statt fanden).  Tristan und Isolde entfliehen den steifen Sittlichkeiten der Spießbürgergesellschaft des 19ten Jahrhunderts, hinein in eine private Welt in der sich Vergangenheit und Zukunft sowie Fantasie und Realität beständig vermischen.  Es handelt sich hier nicht um ein Gesamtkunstwerk, sondern ehe eine komplizierte und intelligente Interpretation.  Es ist mehr ein verworrener, komplizierter Thriller, als eine Reise in das zeitlose Unbewusste.

Bernard Haitink leitete das ausgezeichnete Orchester des Züricher Opernhauses bei einem aufregenden und schönen, jedoch sehr lautem Auftritt.  Man konnte viele Feinheiten hören, aber nicht immer die Sänger.  Barbara Schneider-Hofstetter, als Ersatz für Waltraud Meier, zeigte zwar eine unermüdliche Isolde mit einer exzellenten Mittelstimme und guten Diktion, besitzt jedoch einfach nicht Meiers Charisma.  Der gesundheitlich angeschlagene Peter Seiffert sang Tristan mit einer unfeinen aber doch effektiven Deklamation in den ersten zwei Akten, scheiterte allerdings am dritten Akt mit fünfzehn Minuten stimmlosen Gekrächze.  Michelle Breedt als Brangäne, Matti Salminen als König Marke und besonders Martin Gantner als Kurwenal waren alle erstklassig.

Hier können Sie meine längere Kritik lesen (auf Englisch).  Danke an Christiane!
Bild: Michelle Breedt als Brangäne (Photo Suzanne Schwiertz/Opernhaus Zürich)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Things that are golden: The Philharmoniker, and more Cardillac

This week I’m the hostess with the Möstest.  I’m just back from Franz Welser-Möst’s Philharmoniker Wagner and Bruckner Philharmoniker short-notice job (standing in for an ill Esa-Pekka Salonen) at the Musikverein.  Full program information here.  Technically superlative, of course, but this lightweight and sometimes fussy Prelude and Liebestod had nothing on Haitink last week, though this was only the bread of the Tristan sandwich.  I strongly dislike Bruckner, and if I hadn’t already bought a ticket to this gig back when it was a Salonen/Mahler concert, I would never have gone to hear his Symphony No. 9, which sounds to me like an endless chain of foursquare antecedent-consequent phrases connected by melodic sequences.*  With some loud patches.  Albeit exquisitely played!  I could write bitchy Bruckner quips all night (all the symphonic ingredients are there, but the chef’s on break), but I’d rather provide a public service.

I’m not talking about sneaking into the Musikverein organ loft and unfurling a giant banner reading “AREN’T THESE SEXIST BASTARDS GREAT?” over the orchestra at the end of the next Philharmoniker concert.  Though I would dearly love to do that as well.

No, I mean here is a roundup of the reviews from Maestro Welser-Möst’s other gig this week, the Cardillac prima at the Wiener Staatsoper.  There are a lot of them.  Most of them are more enthusiastic than my generally positive take (apparently it’s Welser-Möst Conducts Music I Don’t Like Week), but I also get the feeling that everyone really wanted this to be a success, especially the locals.  Voila.  All except the last one are in German.
I'm glad that my remaining events of the week--that would be the Jonasabend at the Konzerthaus, Tolomeo at the Theater an der Wien, and possibly Elisir d'amore with the JDF--all involve music I actually like.

*I know this could describe a lot of music, but you're not supposed to notice it.

Photo: Die Welt Online

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cardillac: Es ist ein schönes Ding, das Gold

Everyone at the Wiener Staatsoper can breathe a sigh of relief: the first new production premiere of the Meyer/Welser-Möst regime is a success.  Hindemith’s opera isn’t easy to love, but it’s hard to imagine a more effective production of it than this one.  A few missteps aside, Sven-Eric Bectholf’s expressionist staging and a solid cast made this simultaneously overheated and distant work a compelling morality play, and Franz Welser-Möst’s loud orchestra made it an exciting one.  Pure gold?  Close, at least.

Mass in B minor at the Musikverein: Neue Harnoncourt Ausgabe

Nikolaus Harnoncourt is never one to adopt the conventional wisdom about anything.  Sometimes his interpretations seem to radically rethink a piece in a wonderful way, but sometimes they seem odd just for the sake of being different.  This Mass in b minor  had some of both and some dubious justification to go along with it, but overall was an austere and transparent interpretation with a lot of beauty.  The Harnoncourt pictured above was not to be seen, we got a more meditative type.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ariadne auf Naxos at the Theater an der Wien: Art isn't easy

The bar has been raised for the richest man in Vienna: one must now have a space shuttle.  The rich (though not unseen) patron of Harry Kupfer’s new Theater an der Wien production of Ariadne auf Naxos holds his party in his private hangar.  He is not a man of taste or of restraint, and none of his guests have much interest in anything Ariadne is selling.  And Kupfer doesn’t seem to have a lot of faith in the transcendent power of art in modern times, either. This production had cool visuals, an amazingly sung Bacchus from Johan Botha, and an excellently staged Prologue, but for me it never really took off.  Maybe I’m just not cynical enough.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tristan und Isolde in Zürich: Neither mild nor leise

Claus Guth’s Opernhaus Zürich production of Tristan und Isolde is inspired by the events that inspired the opera: Wagner’s 1850s affair with Mathilde Wesendonck, which happened in, you guessed it, Zürich.  The result is a twisty journey through fantasy and memory, all wound up with 19th-century morality, and a worthy companion piece to Guth’s great Vienna Tannhäuser.  It’s totally fascinating, and a very different experience than your usual dreamy abstract Gesamtkunstwerk.

Bernard Haitink was also apparently inspired by Zürich for his conducting.  Apparently he took one walk around, decided it was too damn quiet, and what the city needed was a Tristan that was excellent and yet most notable for being tremendously loud.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Lucrezia Borgia: The diva quantified

Last night’s Staatsoper Edita Gruberova Show, otherwise known as Lucrezia Borgia, featured the unusual sight of the orchestra onstage as well as many confused tourists who hadn't grasped the meaning of “Konzertant” on the schedule.  But Gruberova has a cult in these parts, and the crowd was more local than usual.  Parterre's Quantification of the Diva recently named her the greatest "contemporary diva," a decision greeted with confusion by many Americans.  But I think that if you're Euro, or at least if you’re Viennese, there’s little question that this judgment is correct.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Der Rosenkavalier in Budapest: Heut' oder morgen...


Budapest’s magnificently gilded opera house is a relic from Hungary’s glory days, when the city was the joint seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  But while it was a high point for a nation that considers itself very important (just check out the size of the Hungarian Parliament), the Dual Empire period was the beginning of the end for Habsburg power.  On the cusp of World War I, Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s Der Rosenkavalier would appear, a Habsburgian comedy in the same rococo guise as some parts of the opera house.   Rosenkavalier in Budapest, you might say, has baggage.