Wagner’s Tannhäuser Back in Dresden

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October 5, 2014
From Seen and Heard International By: José Mª. Irurzun; Photo credit: Matthias Creutziger

GermanyGermany Wagner: Tannhäuser, Staatskapelle and Staatsopernchor Dresden, Cornelius Meister (conductor), Semperoper Dresden, 3.10.2014 (JMI)


All opera lovers know about the close relationship between Richard Wagner and the city of Dresden, where he premiered three of his operas. The Semperoper maintains its fidelity to the composer, and the audience responds again and again with a full house.
This was a revival of the Peter Konwitschny production that was premiered in 1997 and has now reached 67 performances at the Semperoper. Despite the years that have elapsed and the many times it has been performed, I confess that I knew nothing of this production and hence was curious to see what Mr. Konwitschny would do, given his iconoclastic and transgressive ideas in opera. The truth is that I could not believe what I saw in the first two acts which are basically within the tradition, whether or not the stage or costumes could be more suitable and attractive.
Mr. Konwitschny tends to not take Wagner’s dramas too seriously, and this came finally to the fore in the last act with his own version of the opera that has little to do with what Wagner wrote. Elisabeth dies here, but not due to her sorrow for the missing Tannhäuser; rather, she commits suicide by cutting her veins with Wolfram’s sword. It seems to me rather strange that someone later declared a saint by the church does this. Tannhäuser then arrives from Rome and meets his friend Wolfram, but he does not see Elisabeth’s corpse (which, by the way, is quite visible). Finally, Tannhäuser also kills himself, leaving the two dead lover sat the feet of none other than Venus,in an aesthetic composition reminiscent of a famous Pietà. What is never lacking in Mr.Konwitschny’ works is his remarkable direction of actors and crowds.
The musical direction was entrusted to Cornelius Meister, a regular in Dresden, who is having a remarkable career at just 34. I did not find his reading particularly compelling or exciting. He did show a great control of all the forces under his command and this connection never failed, but I tend to give great importance to emotion in opera, and it was somewhat absent. In general, his tempi were too slow. The Dresden Staatkapelle disappointed me somewhat during the first act. I expected more from them, based upon past experience, and they did improve significantly in the second half of the opera. Something similar can be said of the chorus which was less good than in the past, particularly the male section.
Stephen Gould as Tannhäuser proved again that today he is preeminent in these particularly demanding dramatic tenor roles. Few tenors have been able to do justice to the role of Tannhäuser, one of the most demanding in the entire repertoire. The difficulties of his singing in the Venusberg are followed by the challenging tessitura at the end of Act II, and then he has the strenuous account of Rome. Stephen Gould is not a paragon of subtleties and nuances, but his voice is large, powerful, and always ringing, able to overcome all the difficulties that Wagner wrote into the score. With more elegance and a more nuanced singing, he could be a perfect Tannhäuser, but perfection is not of this world.
Soprano Elisabet Strid played Elisabeth, and her performance was good once she got past some difficulties in her entrance with “Dich, teure Halle.” Her interventions in favor of Tannhäuser in the singing contest were very convincing, but she was somewhat short of emotion in the Prayer of the last act. Her voice is suited to the part, if somewhat impersonal in timbre.
Seldom does Wolfram Von Eschenbach not triumph in this opera: the music that Wagner gave to the character falls into the category of sublime. Markus Brück was a very good interpreter, singing with intensity and good taste, especially the “Song to the Star.” I have always found him an excellent singer, and he proved it again here.
Georg Zeppenfeld was a solid Landgrave and sang with authority. He is one of the most solid values of ??Dresden opera. Alexandra Petersamer was a discrete Venus, with a good middle range but tight at the top and too weak down below
The secondary characters were well covered. Ulrich Ress was a good Walther with a mediocre voice. Tilmann Rönnebeck was a fine Biterolf, and Emily Dorn did well as the Shepherd. Both Aaron Pegram as Heinrich and Jörn Schümann as Reinmar were correct.
The Semperoper was sold out. The audience was warm and gave the biggest ovations to Markus Brück and Stephen Gould.

Tannhäuser: Stephen Gould
Elisabeth: Elisabet Strid
Wolfram: Markus Brück
Venus: Alexandra Petersamer
Landgrave: Georg Zeppenfeld
Walther: Ulrich Ress
Biterolf: Tilmann Rönnebeck
Heinrich: Aaron Pegram
Reinmar: Jörn Schümann
Shepherd: Emily Dorn

Production: Semperoper Dresden
Direction: Peter Konwitschny
Sets: Hartmut Meyer
Costumes: Ines Hertel

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Chance to See Underrated Meyerbeer Opera

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October 5, 2014
From Seen and Heard International By: José Mª. Irurzun; Photo credit: Bettina Stoess

GermanyGermany Meyerbeer: Dinorah, Deutsche Oper Berlin Orchestra and Chorus, Enrique Mazzola (conductor), Berliner Philharmonie, 1.10.2014 (JMI)


It is quite curious what has happened over the past hundred years with Giacomo Meyerbeer. From being one of the most important opera composers of the first half of 19th century, and certainly the undisputed representative par excellence of French Grand Opera, he has become almost forgotten and even despised. Today, Les Huguenots and Robert le diable can be seen on stage on very rare occasions. In this sense it seems a laudable initiative by Berlin’s Deutsche Oper to offer Dinorah, since few opera lovers have had the chance to see it performed.
One of Meyerbeer’s last operas, Dinorah was premiered in 1859 at the Opéra Comique in Paris under the title of Le Pardon de Ploërmel, the Breton village where the action unfolds. It’s a pastoral comedy (with a weak libretto) that has historically served to showcase a coloratura soprano in the title character. The score is the work of a very sound musician and has a remarkable orchestration, but it is short of inspiration. Apart from a long and not outstanding overture, I must mention Dinorah’s famous aria, “Ombre legère,” and also Hoel’s aria, “Reviens à toi.“
The opera was done in concert form under the baton of Enrique Mazzola,whose reading was fully convincing and much better than I had expected. I think it’s the best performance I remember from him: he showed great knowledge and mastery of the score and took care of the details. The truth is that this opera lacks dramatic interest and can be boring, but he managed to avoid that. There was an excellent performance from the orchestra of the Deusche Oper Berlin, and also from the chorus,one of the very best in the world. Their prayers to St. Mary were extraordinary.
Dinorah was performed by Patrizia Ciofi, and we could debate at length whether she is the coloratura soprano that the part requires. In fact, one can always discuss this Italian soprano: her vocal quality has never been exceptional and that has not changed. To be able to have an important career with her instrument means that Patrizia Ciofi has always been and remains a great artist. Her ability to communicate with the audience is praiseworthy, and she had the triumph of the evening, though in purely vocal terms I can think of better alternatives for the role.
Baritone Etienne Dupuis left a very favorable impression in the character of Hoël, Dinorah’s fiancé and the cause of her misfortune. He is a lyric baritone who sings with taste and expression, and he would be a good choice for many roles in the dramatic repertoire.
Tenor Philippe Talbot interpreted the simple bagpiper, Corentin. His light tenor is not too attractive, but he was well suited to the role.
In the secondary characters Seth Carico was a sonorous Hunter while Gideon Poppe sang his aria with gusto. Finally, Elbenita Kajtazi and Christina Sidak were a good complement.
The auditorium of Berliner Philarmonie was at about 80% of capacity. The audience was very pleased with the concert, offering ovations and cheers to the artists, and especially to Patrizia Ciofi, Enrique Mazzola, the orchestra and the choir.

Dinorah: Patrizia Ciofi
Hoël: Etienne Dupuis
Corentin: Philippe Talbot
Hunter: Seth Carico
The Reaper: Gideon Poppe
Shepherds: Elbenita Kajtazi and Christina Sidak

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La Forza del Destino: An Emotional Production, in Many Ways

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From Seen and Heard International By: José Mª. Irurzun; Photo credit: Palau Arts – Tato Baeza

SpainSpain Verdi: La Forza del Destino, Chorus Generalitat Valenciana, Orchestra Comunitat Valenciana, Zubin Mehta (conductor), Palau de Les Arts, Valencia, 10.6.2014 (JMI)


Valencia’s Festival del Mediterráneo is presenting two operas, La Forza del Destino and Turandot, both conducted by Zubin Mehta. Because of the uncertainties in recent days about the future of Palau de Les Arts, these performances have been quite emotional: they could be the last appearances by the great conductor at Valencia. Just a few days ago Mr. Mehta declined an offer to take over the musical direction of the orchestra, which is a big blow for Palau de Les Arts. His decision follows the departure of Lorin Maazel a few years ago, and I wonder if any renowned conductor will be willing to accept the post, taking into account the problems that Palau is facing. One has to wonder what will be the future of this theater, where so so many nights of great opera have been enjoyed.
The performance of La Forza del Destino was superb: an imaginative stage production, a brilliant ? as well as emotional ? musical direction and a superb cast for the two main protagonists.
There is no doubt that the audience at La Forza del Destino wants Zubin Mehta to continue to appear in the pit here: the repeated and very warm ovations he received throughout the evening prove it. Clearly, a special communion exists between conductor and orchestra which always improves the results. Mr. Mehta exhibited the brilliance that we have seen time and again and there were breathtaking moments, especially at the end of the opera, but to my thinking he didn’t reach the exceptional depth he achieved in his last Walküre. This orchestra has been the best in Spain, and the problems affecting the Palau de Les Arts are also having consequences for musicians. Their performance was very good, although the sound did not seem as spectacular as at other times in the past. The choir also gave an excellent performance.
Gregory Kunde made his debut in the character of Don Alvaro, and he was truly outstanding. I cannot think of another tenor today ? except for Jonas Kaufmann ? who can compete with him in this role. The case of this great tenor is a curious one: his true success has come well past the age of 50, and he is now one of the artists most in demand at top opera houses for the main repertoire. Mr. Kunde’s voice is fresh, he has no problem with the high notes and he is always a great singer, never pushing but always singing in a most natural way. Who would have thought that the light tenor of some 25 years ago would develop into a true Verdi tenor, one of the few in the world!
Liudmyla Monastyrska was also making her debut in the part of Leonora, and she was very successful. She is a powerful soprano but is capable of singing piano when required. Her voice is comparable in size with those of Ghena Dimitrova or Maria Guleghina, but I find her to be the better singer. Her interpretarion was faultless, and she was at her very best in Pace, pace.
Simone Piazzola has a voice more or less appropriate to the character of Don Carlo di Vargas. I say more or less because at times I got the impression that he forced his voice to give more drama to his evil character. He seemed to me a little monotonous in his singing.
Bass Stephen Milling was also making his debut as Padre Guardiano. His singing seems to me better suited to Wagner than to Verdi, but overall his performance was fine.
Mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk was a kind of luxury in the part of Preziosilla, although I find this character rather boring.Somebody must have said to Valeriano Lanchas that the acoustics were not good because he decided to offer just decibels as Fra Melitone. In-Sung Sim left a positive impression as Marquis of Calatrava.
The production is a new one by Davide Livermore, who created an ingenious work, bringing the action into the 1940s and using projections allusive to the plot. Some of them were like a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock ? scenes from his movie The Birds. The sets are minimal with well-suited costumes and excellent lighting.
Palau de Les Arts was at about 85% of capacity. The audience was very warm during and at the close of the performance. At the final bows there were sound cheers for Gregory Kunde and Liudmylla Monastyrska and especially for Zubin Mehta.

Don Alvaro: Gregory Kunde
Leonora: Liudmylla Monastyrska
Don Carlo: Simone Piazzola
Padre Guardiana: Stephen Milling
Preziosilla: Ekaterina Semenchuk
Fra Melitone: Valeriano Lanchas
Marquis Calatrava: In-Sung Sim
Curra: Cristina Alunno
Major: Ventseslav Anastasov
Trabuco: Mario Cerdá
Surgeon: Aldo Heo

New production
Direction and sets: Davide Livermore
Costumes: Mariana Fracasso
Lighting: Antonio Castro

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