Sunday, July 31, 2011

Katharina Wagner’s Bayreuth Meistersinger paints the town

Katharina Wagner’s Bayreuth production of Die Meistersinger is widely loathed (and the director was indeed greeted by a torrent of boos at the end). A few people covertly whispered to me, “I actually kind of like it,” as if they were confessing on the sacred ground of the Green Hill that they prefer Verdi to Wagner. As a matter of general principle I would have loved to join this secret circle of Katharina admirers, but in the end I was unconvinced (though not loathing). Which is too bad, because there’s some genuinely interesting stuff in this thing. The only problem is that it's a mess, and unfortunately not an entertaining one.

More disappointing was the low musical quality of this performance.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Der Rosenkavalier in Munich: Die schöne Musi!

The Marschallin seems like a role that the elegant, meticulous soprano Anja Harteros was born to sing. She finally did it at the Bayerische Staatsoper this season, and repeated it with the fabulous Octavian of Sophie Koch at their Festspiele this Saturday (the July “Festspiele” consists of a few new productions plus a retrospective of the season with most of the same casting, fancier audience members, fewer rehearsals, and higher prices--fun but a little unpredictable). While Otto Schenk’s production would benefit from a good fumigation and energy injection, the all-star cast made this worth it.

Looking for Wagner’s Nuremberg

I am behind on blogging! This is because I was very busy this week, and busy in Bayreuth at that, where I had trouble finding internet access. I have many notes and will be posting a lot in the next few days.

Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is in part a historical fable, drawing on the life of the actual shoemaker poet Hans Sachs and his guild of Mastersingers in post-Reformation Nuremberg. But Wagner builds on, distorts, and later abetted in Nuremberg’s history in more complex ways, some of which can still be seen today. I tried to find what remains.

Monday, July 18, 2011

All the world's a stage

Watching people perform an opera is like... watching people perform an opera! It might seem tautological, but the frame narrative of a theater within a theater is probably the No. 1 most popular production concept among opera directors today. It’s most often used a form of lampshade hanging: an acknowledgement of the heightened reality of the operatic form. This can come in the form of random images of the theater you’re sitting in or some other relevant theater, or a full-blown “we’re a bunch of singers putting on [name of opera]” contrivance.

Sometimes the frame works and adds to the production--though I’ve not seen too many of those--but more often it is either forgotten after ten minutes or renders the action hopelessly confusing and convoluted. Sometimes you feel, in the audience, like you are trying to skim a badly written version of Pale Fire. Most direly, these concepts often seem to indicate a director’s lack of trust in the emotional depth of his or her material. No one would take this shit seriously if we didn’t acknowledge it’s all a show, right?

Now, to show how popular this trick really is, here’s my list of productions that use this device, only some of which I have seen. Please leave additions in the comments.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gone fishing: Rusalka at the Komische Oper

Fairy tales are rich material for Regietheater stage directors, with their opportunities for symbolism, psychological exploration, nostalgia-busting, and social criticism. What is the significance of the powerless, lovelorn mermaid who just wants to be human? Barry Koskie’s Komische Oper production filters the story through the severe dresses and manners of late-Victorian mores.

This was in fact my fourth Regie Rusalka this season (it’s popular, and I really love this opera) and I have to say it was a little underwhelming compared to both Stefan Herheim and Martin Kusej’s productions (two of the best performances I have seen this season), but it is worthy staging with a unique perspective. Musically, things were a little more mixed.

And three out of four Regietheater directors agree: staging Act 3 of Rusalka is difficult.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Calixto Bieito’s surprising Dialogues of the Carmelites

Calixto Bieito’s new production of Dialogues of the Carmelites at the Komische Oper Berlin begins as the audience takes their seats. A disheveled, nearly naked woman is wildly wandering around the maze of the set waving an incense censer. I took this as a hint that this staging may not harbor warm feelings towards organized religion.

This, it turns out, was not quite true. It was more Bieito being Bieito--giving us a shocking image. The rest of the staging is less characteristic, which is to say more restrained. It’s a similar but clearer take on many of same themes as his Fidelio--alienation, mental illness, and social chaos. In a nasty, violent world, where are guidance, virtue and truth?

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Klaus Florian Vogt at the Deutsche Oper Berlin

I usually don't go to these aria concert things, but I made an exception for Klaus Florian Vogt last night, because I like him, don't get to hear him often, and since it was at the Deutsche Oper it was a relatively classy affair. Also because I have not seen him sing any of his signature roles but here could at least get a sample of them. And I enjoyed it and I wrote about it for Bachtrack, and you can read it here.
"In recent years the German tenor Klaus Florian Vogt has gained fame for his lyrical portrayals of Wagnerian characters like Lohengrin, Parsifal, and Walther von Stolzing in Die Meisteresinger von Nürnberg. His concert at the Deutsche Oper Berlin with conductor Peter Schneider and the house orchestra showed a wider range of repertoire, but it is still in his home Wagnerian territory that his greatest strengths lie."
On the one hand I can totally see and appreciate his expansion of his repertoire, it show artistic range and I can't imagine that singing three roles over and over for your entire career would be fun. But on the other hand he was just so much better as Walther and Lohengrin than in most of the other rep in this concert. I think his Czech exploits elsewhere were fairly successful but I wasn't too convinced by his "Winterstürme" here, Siegmund needs more torment. Maybe if I heard the whole thing I would think differently, however, and I can imagine his Todesverkündigung would be a stunner. I am much more dubious about his apparent upcoming Cavaradossi, because, REALLY? But who knows, he is already a surprising singer, so maybe he'll surprise us again.

(A major plus of this concert was the conducting of Peter Schneider, who defines stalwart in certain Germanic opera houses. I know that Schneider's value is usually considered to be purely neutral but compared to what you usually get at these aria concert things he, plus the excellent orchestra, helped take things a good level above your average evening of Opera's Greatest Hits.)

Here is Vogt in his greatest hit. This is from 2006 and I think he sounds richer and does more with the text now, but this is all the YouTubes have got:

Thursday, July 07, 2011

A tourist's guide to music in Vienna

You’re visiting Vienna and want to hear some music. But there are so many choices, and the guys dressed as Mozart carrying binders offering tickets are so tempting. Don’t do it! Read this guide instead and find some real music. (Warning: difficult during July and August. Yeah, maybe this wan’t the best time to write this. But there are some options!)

Friday, July 01, 2011

Kat’a Kabanová in the big city

The Wiener Staatsoper’s season closed last night, and I finally got to see the new production of Janáček’s Kat’a Kabanová, conducted by music director Franz Welser-Möst and directed by André Engel. First: There is a myth that the Wiener Philharmoniker is the pit orchestra at the Staatsoper under a different name, but this is almost never true. Usually at the Staatsoper you hear a mix of aspiring Philhamoniker members, dead-end would-be Philharmoniker members, and subs. How else could they play at the Staatsoper and Musikverein simultaneously? Last night, however, it actually was genuine Philharmoniker. And they had rehearsed, and hoo boy, could you tell the difference. I haven’t heard anything like this coming out of the pit all season.

The cast was a bit overshadowed, and the less said about the production, the better. But I'm going to say it. It's not any good.