Sunday, November 28, 2010

December in Vienna

December is a busy month but one low on substance.  It starts off well, but by Christmastime you’ll be hard-pressed to find something that isn’t in triple time.  If you’re up for some waltzes (with or without a Fledermaus attached), you’ll be all set.  The 100th anniversary of the premiere of that most Viennese and triple-timed of operas by German composers, Der Rosenkavalier, is coming up in January.  Never mind that it premiered in Dresden, this month it receives a spiffing-up at the Staatsoper and an exhibit at the National Library.  (I’ll be seeing the Staatsoper production, but I’m more excited about my January trip to Stuttgart, where I will see Stefan Herheim’s production.)  But there’s more than just that....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Liederabend Juliane Banse: Freudvoll und leidvoll

HI EVERYONE. I finally went to a concert again!  The material of Juliane Banse and Helmut Deutsch’s Konzerthaus Liederabend--songs by Loewe, Liszt, Britten and Marx--could not, with a few exceptions, be called lighthearted.  But after my last few Liederabends I was relieved that nobody died.  And besides, this was a beautiful program beautifully performed, and what more do you need than that?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Philharmoniker/Thielemann: Stuff dead white guys like

Christian Thielemann and the Wiener Philharmoniker will be playing the complete Beethoven symphonies in Paris and Berlin in the next few weeks.  Before leaving, they deigned to bring two of them (Nos. 4 and 5) to the Musikverein on Saturday (they played the lot together here last season).  It’s the orchestra’s only concert in the city this month.  It was pretty much fantastic, I can’t really complain about anything.  Oh wait, I can!  Imma gonna tell you about how perfect the Beethoven was and then try to work out some issues I have with this orchestra.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Die Operbloggerin kocht

I’m no domestic goddess, but once I saw the new cookbook Die Oper kocht (Opera Cooks), I wasn’t about to let other bloggers have all the fun.  It’s a collection of recipes from various opera singers paired with campy photos.  The recipes tend towards hometown specials.  Some are rather complicated, though Danielle De Niese gets the low-effort award for her extraordinarily ordinary guacamole recipe.  I might be a crap cook and my current kitchen is both ill-equipped and the size of a cupboard, but I love food.  Let’s take a break from being on topic all the time and give this a shot.  Read on for a taste test of Anna Netrebko's borscht recipe.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rigoletto: Puffy shorts brigade

Take three first-rate voices (Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Ramón Vargas, and Patrizia Ciofi), one of which might not be quite ideally cast (guess), add a psssshhhht, and you have Rigoletto. That last bit is the sweet song of separating Velcro on the Gilda-containing sack in the last scene. Just another rep night at the Staatsoper.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Alcina: Bewitched but unbothered

ANJA HARTEROS.  She’s the reason why you should see this Alcina.  The Wiener Staatsoper’s Baroque experiment is good enough, but only the resplendent Harteros and the fab Les Musiciens de Louvre in the pit elevate it above the blandly pretty.  Adrian Noble’s production is incoherent, but all told not really that bad.  The whole of this one is surprisingly better than most of its parts.  I think we can mostly credit Handel and Harteros for that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Die schöne Müllerin: Serious business

“Ich bin ja auch kein Gärtner,” proclaims the lovesick neurotic of Die schöne Müllerin in “Der Neugierige.”  “I surely am no gardener.”  I almost had to laugh, because I was sitting one row and two seats over from where I was the previous night watching a bushel of lovesick neurotics in La finta giardiniera.  While the loud backdrops were decorously covered by an enormous folding screen, the extra-shiny stage was unmistakable.

But unlike Friday night’s poor stuck victims, Mark Padmore and Till Fellner took us on a journey, as any good song cycle should.  Despite a rather cool beginning and some vocal limitations, by the end this was a very compelling interpretation, particularly because of the fantastic piano playing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

La finta giardiniera: Weeding needed

Mozart’s early opera La finta giardiniera is a problem work.  Whether its wild mixture of silly and serious is confusing or just confused is a matter for debate, but it’s surely a challenging piece to stage.  David Alden’s new Theater an der Wien production takes it very seriously indeed, probably far more seriously than Mozart ever did.  The result is grim, unfunny, and ugly to boot.  After three and a half hours watching his emotionally damaged zombies sing rage aria after rage aria, I wanted to sing one too.  I still think this opera can be a delight, and found this production hugely disappointing.

Luckily this was partly redeemed by high quality musicianship.  Despite variable voices, René Jacobs conducted a rhythmically incisive performance full of dramatic spontaneity, and the Freiburger Barockorchester is so good they almost made the evening worth it just by themselves.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Odds and ends botanical, infanticidal, and nasal

The premiere of the Theater an der Wien’s La finta giardiniera is tonight, I’ll be there.  It’s directed by David Alden and conducted by René Jacobs.  Media coverage has been light, but this Wiener Zeitung article reveals that Jacobs has been rewriting the wind parts (O RLY?).  And you can read more in the Theater an der Wien’s magazine.  The theater’s press site has photos, which Opera Chic has posted.  It looks... stark.

Marlis Petersen, so wonderful as Lulu at the Met last season, has canceled her appearances in the Wiener Staatsoper’s revival of Aribert Reimann’s smash atonal hit, Medea, due to illness.  (The change is not on the website yet.)  She sang the premiere of this opera last season.  Replacing her is Claudia Barainsky, who is probably the only other person who knows the role, having sung it in Frankfurt (in this production, no less).  I will miss Petersen, but Barainsky is also fabulous.  You may remember her as Marie in the Ruhr Die Soldaten, which was seen in New York a few years ago.  Performances are November 30 and December 3 and 7.

Bonus cancellation: Seiji Ozawa will not conduct Jenufa in May at the Staatsoper as planned "because he has canceled all his opera engagements for this season."  (Something seems a little circular here.)  Graeme Jenkins will lead instead.

The William Kentridge retrospective Five Themes,  seen at the MoMA last spring, is at the Albertina in Vienna until January 30.  It includes some materials the design of his production of The Nose, which premiered at the Met last March.  Highly recommended.

Photo copyright Theater an der Wien.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A preview of the Staatsoper's Alcina

The Wiener Staatsoper’s second new production of the season, Alcina, premieres on Sunday.  The production’s biggest news is the inclusion of a visiting orchestra in the pit (Les Musiciens de Louvre).  But let’s look at Adrian Noble’s production for a minute.  There’s an article about it in this month’s Wiener Staatsoper magazine.  It’s only in German, but I’ve taken the liberty of translating parts of it.   This lady with the impressive headgear is centrally involved.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Through Das Opernglas

If you can read German and are interested in the German-speaking world's opera scene, you would probably enjoy the monthly magazine Das Opernglas.  (I have heard that Opernwelt is better, but it costs 24 Euros per issue, so I’m probably not going to find out if that’s true or not.)  If you can’t read German, you should take a look at it anyways because the pictures are hilll-arious.  Let's have a look at November's issue.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Emma di Resburgo: Meyerbeer with kilts

I’m always excited to hear new things, which is how I found myself at a concert performance of Meyerbeer’s 1819 opera Emma di Resburgo at the Konzerthaus last night.  Only in concert, so, sadly, no kilts, actually.  But if you had played me any bit of this opera without identification--hell, any scene--I probably would have been perfectly secure in calling it Rossini (good luck finding a recording of this opera, though, there isn't one in print).  This resemblance isn’t a bad thing, though, and while dramatically speaking I’m not sure if this sucker would hold up to staging very well, it’s got its musical moments.

It helped that Vivica Genaux was on hand with polished and exciting singing.  And also Simone Kermes, who provides a kind of entertainment that is all her own.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Ich kann nicht sitzen: Standing Room at the Theater an der Wien

In honor of next week's new production of La finta giardiniera, let's talk about Vienna's most consistently interesting opera house.

The Theater an der Wien has a rich and varied history.  It was built in 1801 by Emmanuel Schikaneder (of Zauberflöte fame, check out the statue of him as Papageno on the right side of the building) and at one time or another it has served as a venue for basically anything that can be put into a theater.  Back then it was on the bank of the Wien, but the river was diverted underground in the 1890s and the theater now faces the Naschmarkt. Today it calls itself “Das neue Opernhaus” (the new* opera house) and for the last few years has been hosting an outstanding schedule of operas mixed with concerts and other events. 

It is explicitly Staatsoper counter-programming: a selective rather than comprehensive group of carefully rehearsed modern opera and music-theater productions, usually focusing on repertoire the Staatsoper ignores (17th, 18th, and 20th centuries, mostly).  It’s the most highbrow music-theater program in town, and also the most consistently excellent in quality.

And oh yeah, they have standing room!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Die Zauberflöte: The best spirit in the world

If last week’s less-than-intoxicating L’elisir d’amore exhibited the worst tendencies of the Wiener Staatsoper repertory system, last night’s Zauberflöte showed some of its better ones.  Despite a scattershot production and some workmanlike singing, the average level of artistry was pretty good.  Add the usual strengths of orchestra and chorus, stellar conducting by Ivor Bolton, and a smashing Pamina from Genia Kühmeier and you have a first-rate night out.  More or less.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

November in Vienna

November isn’t as busy a month as October was, but there are some cool events to look forward to, particularly if you are fond of German or Austrian sopranos, including three great artists and one really crazy one (which of the above ladies do you think I mean?).

Our new opera productions number only two but they’re both doozies.  Alcina will be the Staatsoper’s first-ever Baroque opera, and for the first time a visiting orchestra will occupy the pit.  The group is Marc Minkowski’s historically informed Les Musiciens de Louvre, Adrian Noble will direct and the cast includes magnificent Anja Harteros (above second from left) in the title role.  The concept sounds complicated.  It's about 18th-century socialite/Duchess of Devonshire Georgiana Cavendish.  ???, right? I will have more on this shortly.  The prima is on November 14.

The second production is the Theater an der Wien’s La finta giardiniera, directed by ever-surprising David Alden and conducted by Mozart master René Jacobs.  The orchestra is the (also HIP) Freiburger Barockorchester and the cast includes Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Sophie Karthäuser, and Topi Lehtipuu.  I don't know what the concept is, but would be shocked if there weren't one.   It premieres on November 12.  Sign me up for opening night of both of these, I can’t wait.

But wait, there's more!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Verdi Requiem at the Musikverein: Halloween special

In a rare display of programming wit from the Musikverein, this year you can hear the Verdi Requiem on two fitting dates: Halloween and All Saints’ Day.  (Theologically speaking All Souls’ Day on Tuesday would probably have been most appropriate, but I guess the schedule didn’t allow for that.)  But Daniele Gatti’s unshakable control in last night’s performance didn’t allow for anything spooky.  It was an epic cathedral of a performance, but not a thrills and chills one.

This year for Halloween I went as a Catholic.