Monday, December 27, 2010

Best of 2010

 It was a very good year for me and Opera. Here’s the best of it.

Der Rosenkavalier: Wie du warst, wie du bist

While Otto Schenk’s Wiener Staatsoper Der Rosenkavalier have been spiffed up and the staging is showing alarming signs of rehearsal, a great Rosenkavalier still requires a great cast. While Adrianne Pieczonka’s Marschallin is very fine, neither she nor her less distinguished costars quite lit up the stage. With the exception of the excellent orchestra, this wouldn’t have rated above a solidly routine Rosenkavalier in most houses. In Vienna, a city that takes its Rosenkavalier almost as seriously as its Mozart, it ranks as a disappointment.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

L'elisir d'amore: Your love is my drug

Sometimes the Wiener Staatsoper has a Noises Off! quality to it.  I'm not talking about onstage mishaps, though those happen also, or middlebrow artistic attitudes, though those are far too common as well.  No, I mean cast changes!  When ensemble member Benjamin Bruns fell ill and couldn't sing Nemorino last night, Ramón Vargas, in town for Un ballo in maschera, took it on.  I’ve always thought Vargas a likeable guy and these one-off performances can be great fun, so I spent my beer Beerenpunsch money on a gallery standing room spot.

Bonus: it helps me organize my study of the art of Otto Schenk.  Because here we have ur-Schenk.  It’s CUTE!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas G'Schenk

Otto Schenk!  Love him or hate him, his productions are a staple if you're a regular at the Wiener Staatsoper or the Met.  The Viennese actor/director celebrated his 80th birthday in June and is still going strong, and many of his productions are... well, let’s just say they’re still going, though his Met Ring is on the way out.  Today, many of his monuments to comfortable naturalism bear his imprint in name only (and sometimes not even that, reduced to “after Otto Schenk” in Vienna), their sets faded and their original direction nowhere to be seen.  But we must see the Schenk that we are given (that we are geSchenkt?), not the Schenk we may wish we had.  His productions, often in their beat-up repertory forms, represent the aesthetic mainstream of late-20th century operatic conservatism.

Over the next few weeks, I will be conducting a survey which pits a row of Schenk productions against (drumroll)... THE WORLD.  When "the world" means "directors who are not very conservative."  First I shall see the Viennese Schenk productions, and then after New Year’s I shall go to Germany for the anti-Schenk productions of the same operas.  This plan is actually pure happenstance, but due to the inclusion of an anniversary opera (Rosenkavalier, 100 years) and a holiday operetta (Fledermaus), it's not much of a coincidence.

The program:
L’elisir d’amore: after Schenk (Wiener Staatsoper, reviewed here in October), then David Bösch (Bayerische Staatsoper)
Fidelio: Schenk (Wiener Staatsoper, DVD), then Calixto Bieito (Bayerische Staatsoper)
Der Rosenkavalier: Schenk (Wiener Staatsoper), then Stefan Herheim (Staatsoper Stuttgart)
Die Fledermaus: after Schenk (Wiener Staatsoper), then Philipp Stölzl (Staatsoper Stuttgart)

Unfortunately, Vienna isn’t seeing fit to haul out their Schenk Fidelio (yes, they have one) just for the sake of symmetry in my schedule, so I will try to take a look at that one on DVD.

The Vienna Rosenkavalier is notable because Schenk actually has been rehearsing it, as the Staatsoper is proud to announce.  So at least in this case, I will be able to consider what Schenk is about beyond his preferences in decor.  But Schenk himself seems OK with the usual under-rehearsed laxness, recently saying to the Salzburger Nachrichten, "There are almost 30 productions at the Staatsoper. It would be a job in itself, a major assistant director job, [to rehearse them all]."

In the Salzburg interview linked above, Schenk also says some things about directors more adventurous than himself: "I do not have the talent to find in a piece another piece.  I can't say that doing so is always wrong, actually sometimes I greatly admire such things.  For example, the Don Giovanni in the forest in Salzburg [directed by Claus Guth -ed.] and the fatally ill, wounded Don Giovanni.  That was so thoroughly worked out and moving, as if it were a work by Mozart."  The problem with this is that Schenk is imposing his own aesthetic and finding a new work within works as much as Guth or any other director is.  But this is still more open-mindedness than I expected of him.

Schenk can be seen persönlich acting in Klaus Pohl's play Einmal noch, currently playing at the Theater in der Josefstadt.  I was going to go, but the only review I could find didn't make it sound like a very good time, so I reconsidered.  Besides, I think I have enough Otto on my schedule as it is.

Also, non-Schenk related, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are playing Rameau in concert at the Theater an der Wien on Sunday, and I'm not about to miss that.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Il Postino: You’ve got mail

In Daniel Catán’s opera Il Postino, currently receiving its European premiere at the Theater an der Wien, the postman always rings... well, only once each time he visits, but you shall know him by the hazy seventh chords in the strings, lush and yet tastefully not too lush.  This is perhaps underscored with some understated, vaguely Spanish-sounding dance rhythms. (It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that this opera’s island setting is actually in Italy.  The text is in Spanish, I've never seen the movie, and I didn’t buy a program.)  Aribert Reimann, Catán ain’t.  And the libretto, also by Catán and based on the Italian film of the same title, isn’t Medea in terms of dramatic conflict.  It’s pleasant and lovely and easy to listen to.  Unfortunately, I also found it mind-numbingly dull.

But Plácido Domingo is in it, so, you know, there’s the main attraction.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Don Giovanni: Love in a boring climate

The Wiener Staatsoper's new production of Don Giovanni was begging to be stolen all night.  Had anyone shown a little initiative and done something exciting, they could have walked off with it in their pocket.  But no, we had a balanced ensemble, and a milquetoast evening it remained to the end.  From the scattered mess of a production to the respectable but not quite distinguished singing, it reminds you that there’s no Don worse than a boring Don.  The orchestra was the best thing about it.

This is historically possibly the single most central work in the Staatsoper’s repertoire, and the disappointment among the premiere crowd was palpable.  Watch out, Herr Meyer, the Stehplatz masses are restless.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Reimann's Medea: Keeping it in the family

 Aribert Reimann is not easy listening.  His music is modernist with no trace of post-: dense, dissonant, non-tonal, and deadly serious.  But his opera Medea was a surprise hit when it premiered at the Wiener Staatsoper last February, and in its first revival at the house it was not hard to see why.  The libretto is clear as can be, the drama incredibly intense as well as emotionally accessible, and the music, despite its density, tells the story with a directness that is easy to hear even on the first time through.

I have given in to the Twitter

Follow me at @ZerbinettasBlog.  All new posts will be tweeted, other usage to be determined.  Brevity is not my forte.  For example, the name of this blog is too long for a Twitter username or even a Twitter real name, so an apostrophe-less possessive (let's just call it a German genitive) it is.

Words about last night's Medea later.

Here is some charming tweeting:

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Les Troyens: Decline and fall

Any performance of Les Troyens is automatically a Big Event. Its length, its awesomeness, and its strangeness are all on a grand scale. The Deutsche Oper Berlin’s new production is successful in a number of ways, and allow you to appreciate how wonderful a piece this really is. But it’s not an unqualified success, and while it boasts good conducting by Donald Runnicles, a good orchestra, a great chorus, and a super Troy staging with a fantastic Horse, some so-so principals and a wayward Carthage made it only partly unforgettable.

Monday, December 06, 2010

It's a dog's life

 My unearned London vacation continued last Thursday with A Dog’s Heart at the English National Opera.  It sounded intriguing: production with theater company Complicite, source material from Bulgakov. But the composer, Alexander Raskatov, was an unknown quantity to me. Turns out this was bad, because while this opera some things going for it, the score isn’t one of them, alas.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Adriana Lecouvreur: You don't bring me flowers

This is a production that should under no circumstances be seen while sober. Before a large glass of wine during second intermission, I had been enjoying a deluxe, reasonably intelligent star vehicle. And I admitted to myself that the score is really not that great. After wine, OMG two beautiful people singing beautifully on a beautiful stage and WHY does she have to die waahhuaaargh. If the mere presence of Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann together onstage is enough to put you into such a state, you’re all set. If your brain, like mine, requires some inducement to turn off, well, do what you need to do because once you stop thinking this is a giant sugar rush.