Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Adventures in Discworld

 Let's check in with the world of mechanical reproduction for a second.

René Pape has a new Wagner CD! Daniel Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin and Pape sings Wotan, Gurnemanz, Hans Sachs, etc. and... Wolfram? Just the Abendstern. With a guest appearance by Placido Domingo, who is not quite competing with Pape for roles yet, but sings Parsifal.

Tune into Oe1 on Saturday night to hear (but not see) Anna Netrebko’s much-anticipated role debut as Anna Bolena live from the Wiener Staatsoper. I will be busy at the time, at the Staatsoper, seeing Anna Netrebko’s role debut as Anna Bolena. The second performance, on Tuesday, April 5, will be broadcast on ORF and Arte TV and in movie theaters. In typically useless fashion, the Staatsoper website mentions the cinema broadcast but has no information at all about where it is happening, so check your proverbial local listings. It's all over Europe but I don't think it's happening anywhere in the US. The production, as seen above (Elina Garanca as Jane Seymour--more flattering than the one available picture of Trebs), seems to be that old favorite, Goth Tudors in Space.
The Bayerische Staatsoper’s Rusalka directed by Martin Kusej that I just wrote about will be out on DVD in May, according to leading lady Kristine Opolais’s website. Watch it! It's really good! And try to ignore the dreadful font choice on the cover.

 Do you think Tosca needs more red velvet chairs and women with severe hairdos (this time Emily Magee)? Then this new DVD of a Zurich Robert Carsen production is for you. (I have not seen it, I’m just extrapolating based on about every other Carsen production I’ve seen.) Bonus: Jonas Kaufmann as Cavaradossi. Wild card: Thomas Hampson as Scarpia?! At least they got the font on the cover right.
Soprano of the Future Mojca Erdmann has a Mozart and co. CD. (And she is doing her best "doe-eyed maiden" look on the cover.) I have not heard this lady yet, but she has a big-label contract, and those are rare, so I assume she’s on the upswing. You need another Mozart aria CD, right? Well, there's Salieri and Paisiello and stuff too, so good on you for that at least, Mojca Erdmann.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Turandot: Love bug

So, you have an opera with a frankly barbaric score and libretto. Say, Turandot. What is a violent, dangerous setting for this that doesn’t imply that Chinese society is prone to these kinds of things? I know, insects! They’re vicious, right?

This is the most spectacular production I’ve seen at the Volksoper, and orchestrally one of the best as well. And the basic idea of setting Turandot with bugs is kind of nifty. Unfortunately, it’s the only idea director Renaud Doucet and designer André Barbe (the team responsible for last fall’s Rusalka) seem to have had. Sure looks cool, though!

Dominique Meyer talks

Tomorrow night Wiener Staatsoper chief Dominique Meyer will be speaking at the Rathaus. His topic is "Die Einzigartigkeit der Wiener Staatsoper in der gegenwärtigen Opernwelt,"or, "The Singularity of the Wiener Staatsoper in Today's Operatic World."* 7:00 in the Festsaal, free. I'll be there and will report if anything particularly interesting or outrageous is related. The description makes it sound insufferably smug already, so I may grab a seat near the door.

One question: when is the next season going to be announced? I heard a report that it wasn't going to be until around April 20, which is quite late, but that may be wrong. (Update: Twitterer @Goldie_Vienna tells me it is going to be April 12.) Expect a new production of La Traviata with Natalie Dessay, directed by Jean-François Sivadier (co-production with Aix, premiering there this summer), Anna Netrebko as Tatiana and the Figaro Countess (both revivals), a new Don Carlo with Krassimira Stoyanova and Piotr Beczala, probably a new From the House of the Dead directed by Peter Konwitschny (co-production with Zürich, premiering there in June) and a revival of Der Rosenkavalier with Anja Harteros. The David McVicar Adriana Lecouvreur, already seen in London, is coming, but that could be further off in the future. That's all I got, though I can guess that our friends Barbiere, Elisir, Zauberflöte and so on aren't going to be going away.

*Nowhere else do so many wonderful artists come together and produce so many wildly unpredictable and often mediocre performances! Well, that might not be quite what he will say.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Regietheater for social justice?

What are we saying when we say that the integrity of works of art transcends humanitarian concerns?… Are we not saying that artists and art lovers are entitled to moral indifference--and worse, that the greater the artist the greater the entitlement?… Are we not debased and degraded, both as artists and as human beings, by such a commitment to abstract musical worth? And for a final thought, has that commitment nothing to do with the tremendous decline that the prestige of classical music--and of high art in general--has suffered in our time?
-Richard Taruskin, “Stalin Lives on in the Concert Hall, But Why?” collected in On Russian Music, page 280.

Taruskin’s immediate topic is music written for Stalin. But the point could apply to anything. Music is not inherently good, or always morally neutral. It cannot be completely divorced from the circumstances that produced it and the causes it has served and promoted. And to grant it absolution based on its greatness is to ignore its rhetorical power. Opera, laden with librettos, is filled with these issues right on the surface--issues of gender, of race, of power, of imperialism. They aren’t always as cataclysmic as Stalinism, but they often cut closer to our daily life. Yet opera doesn’t come to life until you put it on stage, and so it also has a unique tool at its disposal.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Elektra: Turban outfitters

Despite having a cool-looking production for once, the Wiener Staatsoper’s photos have failed me again, hence the above. Everyone wears turbans, obviously, which is only fitting for an opera full of screaming divas. This iteration of Harry Kupfer’s production, with Janice Baird and Agnes Baltsa conducted by Peter Schneider is surprisingly not bad, which is not the same as saying that all of it is good, but you could do a lot worse.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rodelinda: Another jailbreak

Nikolaus Harnoncourt brought in a crew he presumably could trust for his new Theater an der Wien Rodelinda. That would be his son Philipp, who did the directional honors with a slightly amateurish but mostly compelling modernized production of this dark opera. Harnoncourt the elder and his orchestra supplied most of the glamor of the evening, though with resident Baroque sex symbols Malena Ernman and Danielle De Niese in the cast there was plenty of undressing onstage as well, this being modern and all. It all turns out somewhat better than it may deserve to.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Putting it together: The art of revival

An opera “production” can be many things. It can mean big realistic sets and costumes, it can mean a meticulously directed masterpiece of acting, it can mean a conceptual extravaganza later summarized as “the [opera title] with the [weird thing].”

But if it was created it for a repertory theater--an opera house that alternates different operas on different nights--it’s most likely going to be revived. (If it isn’t, it was probably really, really bad.) After that nice four- to six- week period of rehearsals and first run of performances, the costumes go in the closet, the sets in the warehouse, and the big binders of blocking on the shelf. They will emerge later and be used to reproduce the production, usually with much less rehearsal time, different cast members, and sometimes without the presence of the original director. Pro singers are good at getting everything together in a hurry, but it’s understandable that a cast with longer bonding time is generally more polished.

In a big repertory house like the Met or the Wiener Staatsoper, the majority of performances are such revivals. Vienna in particular is notorious for rehearsing its revivals for only a few days, often not onstage at all, before pushing everyone in front of an audience. (There is even a German expression for this: the Viennese Schlamperei.) So I thought it would be interesting to look at how this process effects different sorts of productions.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Peter Konwitschny's lean and mean Traviata in Graz

Peter Konwitschny’s new Traviata at the Oper Graz looks like simplicity itself. The set consists solely of some curtains and a single (1) chair. Most university productions are more elaborate. But this performance, led by Marlis Petersen’s devastating Violetta, needed no help to cut right to the heart, and the story unfolds with a brutal directness. The score is trimmed in ways you might expect and some you wouldn’t (no intermission), and the musical performance is so closely tied to the drama that discussing it separately seems silly.

It is, in short, this is Musiktheater with a capital M (because it’s a German noun, duh).

Ariadne auf Naxos: I'm voting you off the island

Around a year ago, I saw Ariadne auf Naxos at the Met, a performance that, while not bad, was mostly worth seeing for Nina Stemme’s powerful Ariadne. The city might have changed in the meantime, but the Ariadne has not. One Nina Stemme as Ariadne in the midst of much mediocrity, coming right up... this time courtesy of the Wiener Staatsoper.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Welser-Möst to director Martinoty: Senti questa!

 Looks like Dominique Meyer and Franz Welser-Möst's first joint year as intendant and music director of the Wiener Staatsoper, which began so warmly, has hit a rocky patch. As Intermezzo points out and neatly summarizes, Welser-Möst has let loose a withering critique of director Jean-Louis Martinoty's work on the house's two new Mozart productions, to which he himself contributed competent but uninspired conducting.

Welser-Möst says Martinoty didn't learn from his mistakes, didn't collaborate and listen to the singers and musicians, and didn't have the will to assemble a coherent concept. Meyer dismisses it as a matter of artistic differences.

As Intermezzo says, this kind of dissent is unusual. But the utter dreadfulness of Martinoty's productions was also unusual. I don't know about Martinoty's rehearsal process, but Welser-Möst nails the stagings' lack of coherence. Here is my review of the least funny Figaro to ever happen, and here the least interesting Don Giovanni. The Figaro was an import from Meyer's previous house, the Théatre des Champs-Elysées.

Martinoty is somewhere far from the A-list of opera directors, but he is a friend of Meyer. The directors of the two remaining new productions of the season are similarly French and obscure in Austria--Eric Génovèse in Anna Bolena (premiering 2 April with both Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca) and André Engel in Kat'a Kabanová (not until June)--but both have somewhat more distinguished credentials. We'll see how that goes.

Photo: Meyer and Welser-Möst (not Martinoty)

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The ENO's Parsifal: Knights of the living dead

Regietheater is by definition non-canonical but Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s well-travelled 1999 staging of Parsifal is one of the few productions that can be said to have achieved iconic status. Last Sunday I caught its current revival at the English National Opera. It’s still worth seeing. The cast is almost universally fantastic, and the orchestra and conducting are good too. There was only one hitch, and that was that it is in English. (Maybe this wouldn't be a big deal for you, but it turns out that I hate Wagner in English, or at least I can’t stand this translation.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Anna Nicole: All power to boobs

That’s a quote from the libretto. There’s an aria about them. Boobs, I mean. Big fake ones.

As you may be aware, there’s an opera about the late not-so-merry (or was she?) widow Anna Nicole Smith playing at the Royal Opera House in London at present. I went and saw it, and found it fascinating, brilliant, and infuriating. Herein I will attempt to write about it. Not about how it relates to operatic history or what its media attention means for the world of opera. Because while we might have a publicity circus around this opera, what we’ve got onstage is a circus already.

The return of the Freyer Ring

Rejoice, fans of Wagner, clowns, and the eternal mysteries of Time. Achim Freyer’s marvelous Der Ring des Nibelungen, originally seen at the Los Angeles Opera, will live again. It will be seen at the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest in the coming four seasons, starting with Das Rheingold in 2011/12. You can read my enthusing on the whole cycle here. Really, you should go. It is great.

But, as you may know, there has been much turmoil at the Hungarian State Opera recently, so don’t book those plane tickets quite yet.

(The image above is adapted from Freyer’s Siegfried, BTW.)