Thursday, June 30, 2011

Opera on your local screen

Most of the opera houses of the world are wrapping up their seasons and the festivals won’t start for a few weeks. But if you don’t mind video, there’s interesting stuff to be had wherever you are.

First, in Vienna, is the Rathausplatz Film Festival, which shows operas, concerts, and dance on a big screen on the front of the city hall throughout July and August. It’s free, there are chairs, and there a ton of food stands, too (more people come for the food than the opera, actually). The program includes some performances not available on DVD: this year they will show the Bayerische Staatsoper’s Fidelio live from Munich on July 8, and some Anna Netrebko Staatsoper performances (Carmen and Manon) from the archives of Austrian TV. Also the camptastic looking Hunter’s Bride movie version of Freischütz on Saturday--I’m certainly going to be at that one.

If you aren’t in Vienna, consider not going outside and enjoying the beautiful weather, stay inside instead and stare at your computer scene and watch an opera with your tinny laptop speakers!

If want to watch Calixto Bieito's puzzling and slightly traumatizing Fidelio from somewhere other than Munich or Vienna, you can do so on July 8 from the Bayerische Staatsoper's website. I'm going to a Klaus Florian Vogt concert that night, but I've already seen this Fidelio. I think if I did see it again I might come up with something entirely different as to what it's "about," though. Worth watching just for Anja Kampe and Jonas Kaufmann, however.

But for something to watch now, consider De Nederlandse Opera's fabulous Eugene Onegin via this Dutch TV website, which is really a must-see and only the second Stefan Herheim production to appear on video, oddly (my review from Amsterdam). Even if you aren't interested in Herheim it is worth watching for the musical values. (Thanks to Intermezzo for the tip.)

Also, I think everyone else has already seen Glyndebourne's Meistersinger but if you, like me, haven’t had time to watch it yet, you can do so here until July 3. Opinions have been mixed but people seem to think it’s worth watching for Gerald Finley’s Hans Sachs. I am going to try to put in the effort to see it, but I have two more Meistersingers lined up for this summer and three Meistersingers are like six or seven Traviatas, so.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Last year at Oneginbad with Herheim and Jansons

You can escape into romantic fantasy if you like--for example, at the opera. But it’s not the best way of solving your problems, and you might end up touching off the Russian Revolution. Such is the message, more or less, of Stefan Herheim’s production of Yevgeny Onegin at the Nederlandse Opera. Modern Onegin is wandering around a bunch of bored nouveaux riches when an obsessively repeating bit of recorded dance music triggers his memory, the live orchestra starts the prelude, and away we go on a journey through Russian history.

This is a show that really goes for broke and is a triumph on just about every count. That live orchestra is no less than the Royal Concertgebouw, with Mariss Jansons conducting, and the all-around strong cast is led by Krassimira Stoyanova’s arguably absolutely perfect Tatiana. And there’s that production...

Wolfgang Rihm's Dionysos in Amsterdam

While in Amsterdam, I went to Wolfgang Rihm’s Dionysos and wrote about it for Bachtrack, and you can read it here.

This was tricky to write. It was a stellar performance of an excellent production of an opera with stunning music... and a libretto that I strongly disliked. I’m glad I saw it--I always like seeing something new to me, and the music really was good--but I personally had misgivings. Just not my style. And not just because I am suspicious of any work where the women consistently wear so much less clothing than the men. (That’s a bad indicator, though.)

The Gashouder, however, is a very impressive space. It’s a giant old gas storage tank located in the Westergasfabriek, a former factory complex in the northwest part of town that now hosts performance spaces, galleries, restaurants, that kind of thing. I wish I’d gotten a chance to look around a little more, but, as you can see, it was raining (this is a frequent problem in the Netherlands).

Production photo © Ruth Walz

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Otello at the Opéra Bastille

I’m in Paris! And I went to Otello at the Opéra Bastille with Renée Fleming and Aleksandrs Antonenko, and I wrote about it for Bachtrack. You can read it here! Surprise: La Fleming was great. Not a surprise: Marco Armiliato was boring.

One thing I didn't mention in the review: while doing her death throes, Fleming slid off the bed and her nightgown began to head north. She managed to push it down in a relatively natural-looking way before we saw her knees. That's some stage experience.

This was my first visit to the modern and giant Opéra Bastille, and I kind of hated it. It's an airport with good acoustics, astonishingly cavernous and soulless. I was expecting something like the Deutsche Oper Berlin but bigger, but it is so much worse. But once the opera starts you stop noticing, and the sight lines and acoustics are excellent. And the seats are very comfortable.

The same can not be said of the Théatre des Champs-Elysées, where I saw Idomeneo last night. It is a pretty theater with, from where I was sitting, bad sight lines and problematic acoustics. More on that in a bit. The Idomeneo, not the sight lines and the acoustics, that is.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Boulez and Barenboim, BFF

Last Sunday the Staatskapelle Berlin visited the Musikverein with Pierre Boulez conducting and their music director Daniel Barenboim doing piano duty with both Liszt concertos, along with some piano-less Wagner works. I should say right off that at this concert I had the unusual experience of being plucked from the hellishly crowded standing room and moved to stage seating behind the basses. The acoustic made me feel like I was playing the orchestra myself (my instrument hangs out in the back) but particularly for the piano in the concertos the balance was strange and unblended, so I’m not sure I should be writing this review at all and I’m going to keep it short. Watching Boulez was fun, though--when I could see him (basses are big!). It was interesting but I’m not sure if I would choose stage seating again.

For someone who spends most of his time conducting and saving the world, Barenboim’s piano skills are in amazing shape, at least as evidenced by his performance of the second concerto (which he played first). Nonetheless, those looking for sheer virtuosity were probably better off with Lang Lang’s Philharmoniker Liszt program earlier the same weekend; Barenboim did not seem interested in superficial flashiness. He was most memorable in the chamber music sensitivity he brought to the quieter passages, where he worked admirably closely with the orchestral soloists. More than a few spots in the E-flat Concerto were approximate, and at one point he came in a few beats early. But between them Barenboim and Boulez made these (in my opinion) kind of annoying concertos sound better and more substantial than they deserve.

The rest of the program consisted of two instrumental works by Wagner: the early Faust Overture and the Siegfried Idyll. Both were vintage Boulez, spotlessly precise, lean, restrained, and transparent. The Faust Overture sounds more like Weber or Meyerbeer than mature Wagner, and isn’t the kind of repertoire I associate with Boulez at all, but I found Boulez’s cool approach surprisingly exciting. The Siegfried Idyll was just beautiful (and since I’ve played it a few times a little strange to experience from the orchestra’s sound perspective). The orchestra sounded even better than their already-excellent Chaikovsky under Barenboim last February.
Staatskappelle Berlin; Pierre Boulez, conductor; Daniel Barenboim, piano. Musikverein, 6/5/2011. Program: Liszt, Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Wagner, Siegfried Idyll and Faust Overture

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Yevgeny Onegin: Love in a cold climate

There’s a chance that this was my last rep performance at the Staatsoper this season, so it’s a shame I have to go out on a mediocre note. This revival of Falk Richter’s dire production is notable and perhaps worth seeing for Peter Mattei’s stellar assumption of the title role. But this isn’t really a star vehicle opera. I guess some people can overlook the incoherence in rest of it more easily than I can, but I didn’t find it a satisfying experience. Maija Kovalevska’s Tatiana isn’t that bad, though.