Monday, April 25, 2011

Parsifal unredeemed for the Viennese

Dontcha know what day it is? Perhaps Easter is a small step downwards in holiness from Good Friday, but I still didn’t expect the staid Staatsoper audience to make their Easter Parsifal into a circus of boos, incomprehensible yelling at inappropriate times, and no fewer than three cell phones in Act 1. Oh, throw in the usual clapping/aggressive shushing fiasco at the end of Act 1.

The actual performance was rather good. Ingo Metzmacher and Waltraud Meier are great news for Wagner, the orchestra was in solid form, and the cast had a few other standouts as well. Christine Mielitz’s production is a mess, but occasionally an interesting one. Too bad about the sideshow.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Faust and the ukulele of Satan

Opera can be a rather silly art form, but I’m usually good at suspending disbelief. I wrote an earnest review of a Turandot about insects, you know. But I find Gounod’s sappy Faust to be difficult to take seriously in the best of circumstances. At some point a few minutes into last night’s revival of the Wiener Staatsoper’s so-called “production,” after Roberto Alagna had trundled around for a while wearing a bad Halloween old person mask, after Erwin Schrott un-Velcroed part of a curtain with a resounding pshhhhht to reveal himself in scowling demonic form, which apparently means looking like a shirtless member of Green Day circa 1993, while I was watching a distracted bass player in the orchestra dreamily sway along with the music, my companion nudged me to look at the translated titles:

[Roberto Alagna:] Give it to me now.
[Erwin Schrott:] So now you want it!

And I gave up. Musically it was fine and not too memorable, but dramatically this performance occasionally achieved a level of campiness that wasn’t the awkward and trying-too-hard kind you often get from opera, but rather rare, transcendent, La Puma ridiculousness. Excuse me, but I was unable to take any of it remotely seriously. I’m in the midst of my Easter marathon, between Dialogues des carmélites and Parsifal, cut me some slack here. I had a great time, but maybe not in the way that I was supposed to.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dialogues des Carmélites, nun too easy

Vienna is currently awash in Easter-tangential operas. I’m going to Faust and Parsifal this weekend. But first: Poulenc’s Dialogues des carmélites is probably the most appropriate of the lot for the meaning of Easter as I understand it. The Theater an der Wien’s production is very worth seeing, though more for dramatic than musical reasons.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

2011/12 at the Staatsopers Vienna and Munich

Both the Wiener Staatsoper and the Bayerische Staatsoper announced their 2011/12 seasons last Tuesday. The highlight will surely be the BSO’s new Ring des Nibelungen conducted by Kent Nagano, directed by Andreas Kriegenburg (yes, all of it in one season, insanity!). The Munich season also includes new productions of Hoffmann (Rolando Villazón?!?) and Turandot. Rep looks good too, check out the schedule here. Only in German, but if you click the opera titles you will get the cast lists. Rep is just under "Spielplan."

Note that the Munich Ring does not include consistent casting across installments. This means that you can see the whole cycle on almost consecutive days in July, but you will have three Brünnhildes and two Siegfrieds and two Wotans. The cast is a formidable collection of Wagnerians, though. Woe to any other house wanting to put on a Ring in early July... wait, none of the other big Wagner houses are in business in early July. Very clever.

Vienna’s premieres are Traviata with Natalie Dessay (from Aix), From the House of the Dead (from Zurich, Konwitschny), Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (co-production, I think with the Opéra-Comîque, Ingo Metzmacher conducts), La Clemenza di Tito (dir. Jürgen Flimm, co-production with Berlin's Staatsoper Unter den Linden, with Elina Garanca), and Don Carlo (directed by Daniele Abbado, with René Pape and Krassimira Stoyanova). My early report was correct with the exception that I had heard Beczala was singing Don Carlo, but it’s Ramon Vargas.

Vienna will be reviving their Ring in November under Christian Thielemann with a solid cast, who will hopefully let you forget the dismal production. Other notable revivals include Die Frau ohne Schatten (Welser-Möst conducts), the return of the legendary Peter Konwitschny French Don Carlos, Anna Netrebko’s first Tatiana,* Nina Stemme as Tosca (intriguing?) and the Marschallin, and Heldentenoren Peter Seiffert and Ian Storey doing Cav/Pag duties. That last one may not be notable for a good reason. The ensemble looks to be receiving new blood, meaning that a few of this season's less successful members are nowhere to seen, particularly in the mezzo-soprano division. Here is the complete rep list and schedule.

No secret about which of these two I would rather frequent--and it’s not just because one’s orchestra is woman-challenged and the other’s orchestra fields a women’s football team called Die Ballküren. Though that helps.

*Though Anna Netrebko announced she would be Tatiana-ing next season, it appears that she is not. Sorry, and is this not odd? Thanks to commenter Bogda for the correction.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stefan Herheim’s Salome explodes in Salzburg

The centerpiece of this year’s Osterfestspiele in Salzburg is a new production of that most Easter-appropriate of operas, Strauss’s Salome. The artistic team is of the sort that can only be found at a festival: the Berliner Philharmoniker is in the pit, conducted by Simon Rattle and the staging is by Stefan Herheim. Emily Magee makes her role debut in the title part. I was lucky enough to see the dress rehearsal yesterday. I can’t review a rehearsal, but here’s a non-judgmental preview.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Zurück vom Ring!

Valhalla will still fall in the finale of the Staatsoper's Ring tonight (probably in a video projection), but without me. I was looking forward to some of the orchestral and vocal bits. Dramatically speaking I feel no regrets about jumping ship, or even much curiosity about how it turns out. But I am still a little curious. If you went, please share your thoughts below.

As for my absence, I am otherwise engaged. Some more on this later, though only such that can be fairly written of dress rehearsals. Did you know you can get to Salzburg, see an opera, and return to Vienna in roughly the same amount of time it takes to wait for and occupy a good standing room spot for Götterdämmerung? OK, you get home an hour or so later but you were in Salzburg (approx. 317 kilometers from Vienna).

Monday, April 11, 2011

Siegfried: Have sword, will travel

Maybe the Wiener Staatsoper as a secret plan. Each installment of the Ring has been better than the last. At last night’s Siegfried, the orchestra was finally sounding good and there was some remarkable singing as well, namely in Energizer Bunny Heldentenor Stephen Gould’s assumption of the title role. On the other hand, the production continued to suck and there was some painfully bad singing as well, so it was probably just your usual Staatsoper mishmash.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Die Walküre: Put a Ring on it

After a very disappointing Rheingold, the Wiener Staatsoper’s Ring picked up a bit for last night’s Walküre. Adam Fischer’s conducting was more exciting, and Edith Haller and Christopher Ventris made an acceptable pair of Wälsungs. The rest, uh, I’m still worried.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

There’s gold in that Rhein

Like a tired god who hasn’t had his apple a day, Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s bargain-basement Ring trudged back onto the Wiener Staatsoper’s stage last night. You could say it’s devoid of cheap effects, but the problem is that it’s basically devoid of any other kind of effect as well. A last-minute conductor swap from ailing music director Franz Welser-Möst to Adam Fischer also did the evening no favors, and a few overacting singers couldn’t salvage it single-handedly. This is the start of a cycle I’m planning on going to all of. I’m worried.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Theater an der Wien, 2011/12

This morning the Theater an der Wien announced their 2011/12 season in a press conference in their lovely Theatercafé. Season subscriptions and individual tickets through December 2011 are already on sale on their website.

Highlights include a world premiere of a new opera by Lera Auerbach, the beginning of a Monteverdi “cycle” directed by Claus Guth, and a lot more. It’s an exciting and wide-ranging season that expands beyond their usual specialties of Baroque, Classical, and modern opera. Meaning: let’s conquer the nineteenth century.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Anna Netrebko sings Anna Bolena, keeps her head

It must not be easy to be Anna Netrebko. The hype surrounding her role debut as Anna Bolena last night was enormous, complete with absurdly priced scalped tickets and no fewer than three camera crews checking out the standing room line. Bless her heart, she delivered, and how! But the Wiener Staatsoper, the beneficiary of her fame and accomplice in all this hoopla, had the temerity to make her do all the work herself. Strong voices in the supporting roles failed to catch fire as Netrebko did, and Eric Génovèse’s life-suckingly dreary concert of a staging is something that any house in the world should be ashamed of.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Wiener Staatsoper's artistic revolution

Today in a press conference in the Mahler-Saal, Wiener Staatsoper intendant Dominique Meyer and music director Franz Welser-Möst announced that the opera house will be switching to a so-called stagione system next season, following the model of Meyer's erstwhile home the Théatre des Champs-Elysées. "We talked about it," Welser-Möst said, "and Dominique and I agreed, like we usually do. Quantity isn't everything. Being able to see a slapped-together production Il barbiere di Siviglia every week with a mezzo who can't find the right door because she hadn't seen the set until that night might be some Viennese music lovers' idea of a privilege, but we call those people idiots."

"Imbéciles!" agreed Meyer, slapping Welser-Möst on the back.

Since the house will only perform 14 different operas next season, tech rehearsals are planned and productions older than Welser-Möst have been recommended for eventual retirement.  The program includes a revival of Anna Bolena, again with Anna Netrebko, to be followed by Anna di Cleva starring Edita Gruberova, Caterina d'Owardo with Julia Novikova, and finally Caterina Parrà with Agnes Baltsa. Erwin Schrott will play Enrico VIII in all four operas, "because my wife calls him the Jonathan Rhys-Meyers of opera anyway," Welser-Möst said. Boleslaw Barlog will direct the new productions. Meyer brushed aside objections that this would be complicated by Barlog's 1999 death. "That hasn't been stopping him for the last decade, I don't see why it would now. Besides, aren't you just glad it isn't another French director?"

There has also been talk that the Bayerische Staatsoper's new Hans Neuenfels production of Im weissen Rössl will be coming to the Staatsoper. When this was mentioned, Volksoper intendant Robert Meyer appeared and proclaimed, "It's MINE! All MINE! The name 'Meyer' is also mine and I want it back!"

On nights when the theater is empty due to the new schedule, the new "Wiener Schule" Orchestra will perform for tourists in period costume. Unlike other similar groups, their Viennese school will be the second one, and their rousing renditions of local favorite Webern's symphony will be sure to draw crowds. To balance the other nights, the orchestra will be comprised entirely of women.

Several other changes were announced. In an attempt to attract new audiences, the Staatsoper's posters will now feature pictures as well as text, and the slogan: "The Wiener Staatsoper: It's where it's at!" (The slogan will be in English.) However, the house denied plans to improve their website to include pictures as well. "Now, now, let's not let this get out of hand," Meyer said.

"We are so happy you joined us on this 1st of April to hear about this!" Welser-Möst said in closing. "I gotta go, what opera am I conducting tonight again? Das Rheingold? Oh, I better look at that real quick. Starts in the Rhine, doesn't it? In it."