Saturday, January 27, 2007

From Poliuto to Anna Russell - This Weekend on Operacast

Casanove tackles Poliuto ... a couple of Salzburg Festival rebroadcasts (Lucio Silla and Don Giovanni) ... Rossini's Il Turco in Italia from Lausanne ... La Fille du Regiment from Covent Garden with Dessay and Florez ... Opening Night at the Met - Madama Butterfly with Gallardo-Domas and Giordano (although we would have preferred the Met's live offering for today - a nice-looking Traviata with Hei Kyung Hong) ... Cimarosa rarities from RAI in broadcasts from RAI's archives, with the likes of Bruscantini ... from the Antipodes, the Met's one-act Magic Flute in English, in case you missed it several weeks back ... Anna Russell has the last laugh

Now for the more detailed listings of the live offerings for this weekend:


  • Radio 4 Netherlands - AT 8:00AM EST, will be airing a performance of Donizetti's Poliuto, with Majella Cullagh, Francisco Casanova, Thomas Walker, Salvatore Cordella, Nicola Alaimo and Giovanni Battista Parodi, conducted by Giuliano Carella. We are particular curious to see how Casanova will fare in this most difficult role (he has alrady done well in the tenor role in Vespri in recent months).
  • DR P2, DR P2 Klassisk & Latvia Radio Klasika - A performance of Verdi's Stiffelio, featuring the Bucharest/Romanian Radio Chorus and Orchestra, with Emanuel Ion, Calin Bratescu, Oana Andra and Valentin Racoveanu, conducted by Nayden Todorov.
  • France Musique - From Opera Bastille in Paris, a concert performance of Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, with Anne Schwanewilms, Franz Hawlata, Vesselina Kasarova, Olaf Bär, Heidi Grant-Murphy and Tomislav Muzek, conducted by Philippe Jordan.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands - For their main opera offering for the day, a performance from Neues Palais in Sanssouci in Potsdam of Galuppi's Le nozze di Dorina, with Maria Grazia Schiavo, Xenia Meijer and Joseph Cornwell, conducted by Sergio Azzolini.
  • WMUK (NPR World of Opera) & Cesky Rozlhas 3-Vltava - A performance from Lausanne, Switzerland, of Rossini's Il Turco in Italia, with Inga Kalna, Kenneth Tarver, Riccardo Novaro, Brigitte Hool, Simone Alaimo, Alberto Rinaldi and Davide Cicchetti, conducted by Paolo Arrivabeni.
  • BBC Radio 3 - A performance of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment, recorded at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with Natalie Dessay, Juan Diego Florez, Felicity Palmer, Alessandro Corbelli, Donald Maxwell, Bryan Secombe and Dawn French, conducted by Bruno Campanella.
  • NRK Alltid Klassisk & NRK P2 - From the Vienna State Opera, a December 9th performance of Strauss' Arabella, with Adrianne Pieczonka, Genia Kühmeier, Thomas Hampson and Michael Schade, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst.
  • Toll Brothers Metropolitan Opera Broadcast (numerous stations) - The Met's Opening Night performance from September 25th of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, with Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, Marcello Giordani, Maria Zifchak, Dwayne Croft, Greg Fedderly and James Courtney, conducted by James Levine.
  • Sveriges Radio P2 - From the 2006 Salzburg Destival, a rebroadcast of Mozart's Lucio Silla, with Roberto Saccà, Annick Massis, Monica Bacelli, Veronica Cangemi, Julia Kleiter and Stefano Ferrari, conducted by Tomáš Netopil.
  • Radio Oesterreich International - A rebroadcast of the December 23rd Metropolitan Opera performance of Verdi's Don Carlo, with Johan Botha, Patricia Racette, Olga Borodina, Dimitri Hvorostovsky, René Pape and Samuel Ramey, conducted by James Levine.
  • WVIK (NPR World of Opera) - Another performance from the 2006 Salzburg Festival - Mozart's Don Giovanni, with Thomas Hampson, Christine Schäfer, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, Michaele Kaune, Piotr Beczala, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Luca Pisaroni and Robert Lloyd, conducted by Daniel Harding.
  • Klara - From Vienna State opera, a performance of Bellini's La Sonnambula, with Michele Pertusi, Anna Netrebko, Antonino Siragusa, Simina Ivan, Marcus Pelz, Janina Baechle, and Johann Reinprecht, conducted by Pier Giorgio Morandi.
  • RBB Kultur - From the Schlosstheater im Neuen Palais im Rahmen der Musikfestspiele Potsdam Sanssouci, a June 2006 performance of Haydn's Die Feuersbrunst oder das abgebrannte Haus (Hob. XXIXb:A), with Otto Katzameier, Andreas Karasiak, Isa Gehrike and Ferdinand von Bothmer, conducted by Andreas Spering.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - This weekend, RAI's Esercizi di memoria program of archival broadcasts features three Cimarosa operas. On Saturday evening, listen in to (A) a 1958 Naples broadcast of Cimarosa'a one-act opera, La baronessa stramba, with Elena Rizzieri, Paolo Montarsolo, Leonardo Monreale, Gino Sinimberghi, Rosanna Giancola and Angelica Tuccari, Orchestra dell'Associazione Alessandro Scarlatti di Napoli della Rai, conducted by Franco Caracciolo; and (B) Act 1 of a 1965 Milan broadcast of La vanità delusa o Il mercato di Malmantile, with Dora Gatta, Giuliana Raimondi, Maria Grazia Ciferri, Gino Sinimberghi, Carlo Franzini, Renzo Gonzales and Gian Ciavola, Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della Rai, conducted by Ferruccio Scaglia. On Sunday evening tune in for two more Cimarosa rarities: (A) Act 2 of La vanità delusa o Il mercato di Malmantile; and (B) a 1963 Naples broadcast of L'impresario in angustie, an opera in one act, with Laura Londi, Gianna Galli, Dora Gatta, Pietro Bottazzo, Sesto Bruscantini, Italo Tajo and Renzo Gonzales, Orchestra Alessandro Scarlatti di Napoli della Rai, conducted by Luigi Colonna.
  • Concert FM (New Zealand) & ABC Classic FM (Australia) - The Sunday opera this week on both stations is the Met's abbreviated one-act Magic Flute in English (first broadcast in December), with Ying Huang, Erika Miklósa, Frank Lopardo, Nathan Gunn, and Morris Robinson, conducted by James Levine.
  • Radio Cultura - On Sunday afternoon, the Met broadcast of the 1956 Lucia di Lammermoor with Maria Callas.
  • Concertzender - It's De Diva op de Erwt program will be featuring Erika Köth and Rita Streich. The opera that follows, which has not yet been announced, will most likely feature one or both of these ladies, and may be an archival live offering, so stay tuned.
  • RDP Antena 2 - On Sunday afternoon will be offering a November 2005 Berlin performance of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, with Mark Padmore, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Bernarda Fink and Marue-Claude Chappuis, conducted by René Jacobs.
  • Musiq3 - Which has just done a major overhaul of its schedule, is now offering it's opera on Sunday afternoons. The week it's the October 2006 performance of Verdi's Otello from the Vienna State Opera, with Johan Botha, Falck Struckmann and Krassimira Stoyanova, Daniele Gatti.
  • WHRB - Is in the final week of it's Orgy ® season. Sunday afternoon, in memory of Anna Russell, who died this past year, they offer a two-hour Anna Russell Orgy ® - hear yet again her classic Gilbert and Sullivan and Ring Cycle routines, among other things.... Enjoy!

Happy listening,

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Saturday's Offerings - 1/20/07 - Part 2

With the Metropolitan Opera on its mid-January hiatus this week, most of the European stationa on its network have chosen not ot carry the 1958 Callas. Several are carrying their own live operas from other venues (including BBC 3, btw), while two have chosen to air Met broadcasts from earlier in the season (if you missed them, you can still catch The First Emperor and Don Carlos - see below).

And continuing with the listings:

  • Metropolitan Opera (numerous stations and also on the Met's own Real Player stream) - A rebroadcast of a performance originally aired on December 8, 1956, of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, with Maria Callas, Giuseppe Campora, Enzo Sordello, Nicola Moscona, and James McCracken, conducted by Fausto Cleva. Lyric FM in Ireland will, per usual, be carrying this on a delayed basis.
  • NRK Alltid Klassisk & NRK P2 - From Covent Garden in London, a December 30th performance of Bizet's Carmen, with Marina Domashenko, Marco Berti, Laurent Naouri, Liping Zhang, Roderick Earle, Grant Doyle, Ana James and Liora Grodnikaite, conducted by Philippe Auguin.
  • WVIK (NPR World of Opera) - From Lausanne, Switzerland, Rossini's Il Turco in Italia, with Inga Kalna, Kenneth Tarver (who just this week made quite a splash as the Rodrigo in Rossini's Otello with OONY at Carnegie Hall), Riccardo Novaro, Brigitte Hool, Simone Alaimo, Alberto Rinaldi and Davide Cicchetti, conducted by Paolo Arrivabeni.
  • Espace 2 - Yet another rebroadcast of the December 7th Opening Night La Scla Aida with Roberto Alagna, Violeta Urmana, Ildiko Komlosi, and Carlo Guelfi, conducted by Riccardo Chailly.
  • Latvia Radio Klasika - As it operatic offerin, an October 25th performance from Vienna of Bellini's La Sonnambula with Anna Netrebko, Antonio Siragusa, Mikele Pertusi and Simina Ivana, conducted by Giorgio Morandi.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Bernstein's Candide, with Brandon Jovanovitch, Laura Aikin, Alan Opie, Carole Farley, William Dazeley, Cinzia Rizzone, John Graham-Hall, Gregory Bonfatti, Armando Gabba, Hector Guedes, Thomas Morris and Andrea Martin, conducted by Jeffrey Tate.
  • WOMR - After it's airing of the Met's historic Callas Lucia, this station will carry David Frost's December 10, 1970 interview with Maria Callas.
  • A couple of European stations are taking the opportunity presented by the Met's January hiatus to catch up on past broadcasts. If you missed them, now is your chance to hear Don Carlo (on Sveriges P2) or The First Emperor (on Klara).

Happy listening....

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Saturday's Offerings - 1/20/07 - Part 1

Here is the first installment of today's listings:

  • NDR Kultur - Just starting now, a live transmission from Staatsoper Hannover of Wagner's Tannhäuser with Albert Pesendorfer, Robert Künzli, Jin-Ho Yoo, Pedro Velázquez Diaz, Young Myoung Kwon, Hans Sojer, John In Eichen, Brigitte Hahn, Khatuna Mikaberidze and Hinako Yoshikawa, conducted by Wolfgang Bozic.
  • DR P2 & DR Klassisk - A performance from Paris of Vivaldi's L'Olimpiade with Brian Asawa, Gemma Bertagnoli, Martin Oro, Barbara Di Castri, Anke Herrmann, Robert Ogden and Furio Zanasi, conducted by Alessandro de Marchi.
  • France Musique - From Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, an October 2006 performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare with Andreas Scholl, Rosemary Joshua, Sonia Prina, Alice Coote, Franco Fagioli and Mario Cassi.
  • Latvia Radio Klasika - an October 2006 performance of Beethoven's Symphony No.9 in D minor, 'Choral' 67' with Orla Boylan, Anna Burford, Stefan Margita, Neal Davies and the Hallé Choir, conducted by Mark Elder.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands - From De Nederlandse Opera, a January 7th performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni with Pietro Spagnol, José Fardilha, Myrtò Papatanasiu, Charlotte Margiono and Mario Luperi, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher.
  • WMUK (NPR World of Opera) - From the 2006 Salzburg Festival, Mozart's Lucio Silla, with Roberto Saccà, Annick Massis, Monica Bacelli, Veronica Cangemi, Stefano Ferrari and Julia Kleiter, conducted by Tomas Netopi.
  • BBC Radio 3 - Has decided not to carry the Met's historic rebroadcast of the Callas Lucia, and instead offers a rare performance of Lully's Amadis, recorded live at the 2006 Vendee Festival in France, with Matthieu Heim, Camille Poul, François-Nicholas Geslot, Guillemette Laurens, Bertrand Chuberre, Françoise Masset, Céline Ricci, Florian Westphal and Matthieu Heim, conducted by Hugo Reyne.
  • MDR Figaro - After a half-hour tribute to Renata Tebaldi in honor of her 85th birthday, a live performance from Neues Palais Potsdam Sanssouci of Galuppi's Le nozze di dorina, with Joseph Cornwell, Xenia Meijer, Maria Grazia Schiavo, Giulio Mastrototaro, Cecile de Boever, Matthias Vieweg and Hans Jörg Mammel, conducted by Sergio Azzolini.

More to follow shoirtly....

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Thr First Emperor and all that....

As was the case last week, all eyes are on the Met, this time for it's broadcast of Tan Dun's new opera The First Emperor. As a result there are fewer live offerings elsewhere this weekend. Also, with New Zealand and Australian stations now broadcasting the Met on a three or four week delay, there is now opportunity to catch up with any of the previous Met offerings that you may have missed.

Here's the lineup of live offerings for Saturday and Sunday:

  • Radio Oesterreich International - From Linz, a December 3rd performance of Kienzl's Das Testament, with Klaus-Dieter Lerche, Cassandra McConnell, Christian Zenker, Martin Achrainer, Hans-Günther Müller and Franz Binder, conducted by Ingo Ingensand. [It is Kienzl's birthday about now, so on Sunday, WPRB will be offering a recording of Kienzl's Der Evangelimann.]
  • WMUK (NPR World of Opera) - Another chance to hear last week's NPR offering, a performance of Verdi's Otello from the Vienna State Opera, with Johan Botha, Krassimira Stoyanova (who does some really lovely singing here, we thought), Falk Struckmann, Marian Talaba, Cosmin Ifrim, Nadia Krasteva, Ain Anger and Vladimir Moroz, conducted by Daniele Gatti.
  • WVIK, WDAV (both NPR World of Opera) & Latvia Radio Klasika - From last summers's Salzburg Festival, Mozart's Lucia Silla, with Roberto Saccà, Annick Massis, Monica Bacelli, Veronica Cangemi, Stefano Ferrari and Julia Kleiter, conducted by Tomas Netopi.
  • Metropolitan Opera (on numerous stations) - A live performance of Tanb Dun's The FIrst Emperor, with Placido Domingo, Elizabeth Futral, Paul Groves, Hao Jiang Tian, Michelle DeYoung, Haijing Fu, Wu Hsing-Kuo and Suzanne Mentzer, conducted by Tan Dun. Note that Ireland's Lyric FM will be carrying this on a delayed basis, starting at GMT 2000/EST 3:00PM.
  • Concert FM (New Zealand) - The Metropolitan Opera broadscast of Verdi's Rigoletto, with Ekaterina Siurina, Joseph Calleja, Carlos Álvarez, Robert Lloyd and Nancy Fabiola Herrera, conducted by Friedrich Haider.
On Sunday:

  • ABC Classic FM (Australian Broadcasting) - Will be offering it's first Metropolitan Opera broadcast of the season, Mozart's Idomeneo, with Dorothea Röschmann, Alexandra Deshorties, Magdalena Kozená, Kobie van Rensburg, Jeffrey Francis, Simon O'Neill, conducted by James Levine.
  • Catalunya Musica - A performance from Geneva of Verdi's Jérusalem, with Marina Mescheriakova, Marcello Giordani, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Philippe Rouillon and Simon Edwards, conducted by Fabio Luisi.
  • Radio Cultura - Last week's Metropolitan Opera broadcast, Bellini's I Puritani, with Anna Netrebko, Eric Cutler, Franco Vassalo and John Relyea, conducted by Patrick Summers.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From Teatro La Fenice di Venezia, a performance of Meyerbeer's Il Crociato in Egitto, with Marco Vinco, Laura Polverelli, Bruce Ford and Flavio Oliver,conducted by Emmanuel Villaume.
  • RDP Antena 2 - A September 2005 performance of Anfossi's La Finta Giardiniera, with Maria Grazia Schiavo, Valentina Varriale, Doledad Cardoso, Léa Pasquel, Daniele Maniscalchi, Laurent Bourdeaux and Pierrick Boisseau, conducted by Antonio Florio.
  • Bayern 4 Klassik - A performance of Franz Waxman's oratorio, Joshua, with the Prague Philharmonic and Chorus, and Maximilian Schell (Speaker), Ann Hallenberg, Peter Buchi, Patrick Poole and Rod Gilfry, conducted by James Sedares.
  • Deutschlandfunk - From Musikfest Bremen 2006, a May 2006 performance of Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso, with Marijana Mijanovic, Julianne Young, Veronica Cangemi, Max Emanuel Cencic, Christian Senn, Barbara di Castri and Blandine Staskiewicz, conducted by Jean-Christophe Spinosi.
  • KUAC - repeats the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Tan Duns The First Emperor.

Happy listening.

I hope you will read Part Two of Sam Shirakawa's report of his opera-going trip to Germany in November. I have also made some revisions to Part One of his report.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sam's Latest Operatic Caravan - Part 2

Here is the second part of Sam Shirakawa's repost of his operatic travels in Germany this past November (you can read the first part here):

Leipzig: Lohengrin (November 18, 2006)

Leipzig has a long if not always distinguished tradition of presenting the works of one of its most famous native sons. Richard Wagner was born and raised here. He cut his musical teeth at the Thomaskirche, often performing on the same organ played by his most illustrious predecessor, Johann Sebastian Bach. But Leipzig did not present a Wagner opera until 1853-54, when Bernhard Rudolf Wirsing, who worked with Wagner at Magdeburg, became director of the city’s theater and staged Tannhäuser and Lohengrin within a few months of each other.

Lohengrin grew into one of the most popular of Wagner’s stage works during his lifetime, and it remains frequently performed to this day. In 1949, Thomas Mann called the opera “the very summit of Romanticism” and confessed that hearing its “pure and haunting” prelude to the first act always recalled for him the wellsprings of youthful love. Which may explain why the new production mounted by the Leipziger Oper drew so many young people to its premiere on November 18th, which I attended.

Steffen Piontek’s production, as it turned out, was better heard than seen. The sets and costumes by Hartmut Schörghofer and Joachim Herzog respectively are a colorful mishmash of viewpoints, starting off as a reactionary, no-nonsense spectacle, replete with mail tunics, escutcheoned shields and winged helmets. The second act is dominated by an industrial spiral staircase that looks like it may have been borrowed from Harry Kupfer’s recent production of The Flying Dutchman at the Berlin State Opera. Numerous alternatives for getting on and off stage were available to Piontek, but he opted for having poor Elsa schlep up and down the narrow winding stairs with exhausting frequency. The third act began with a framed bridal chamber that takes its luxurious cues from back-issues of House Beautiful [lots of lace and opaque white curtains]. The finale winds up back where the first act started with the entire cast decked out in Teutonic drag.

While this new production was confusing to watch, the cast was a pleasure to hear, partly because Axel Kober elicited translucent and occasionally deeply moving sonorities from the orchestra. Sergei Leiferkus in the thankless role of Telramund and Lioba Braun as his shrewish spouse were the brand-name singers on the boards. Leiferkus sounded warmer and more musically involved on this occasion than he usually sounds at the Met. Braun proved to be an insidious Ortrud, whispering manipulative innuendoes into Elsa’s ear in the second act, and following them up with a multi-digit decibel appeal to her profane gods. Mind you, she’s no Eva Marton or Rita Gorr in the part, but her ranting was exhilarating.

Stefan Vinke in the title-role surmounted the distraction of his goofy costumes and delivered a sympathetic swan knight, whose best intentions are no match for the vicious machinations that prevent him from saving his beloved Elsa from herself. Vinke has the raw material to become a world-class Wagner tenor. His voice has strength and sweetness in all the right places. But he needs to work on integrating his estimable gifts.

Hillevi Martinpelto is a major find. Even as she uttered Elsa’s first words [“Mein armer Bruder”], she invoked a gallery of august sopranos, who have also inflected this line with unremitting longing. Whatever praise you might heap on her elegant phrasing, bulls-eye intonation and extra-sensory musicality, it is the sheer sound of her voice that enchants and inspires through nearly four hours of middle-high Wagner. But Martinpelto may not appeal to all tastes: especially if you prefer Riesling to Mosel. If her performance at the premiere was more than a flash in the scan, one might well ask: Where has this Scandinavian Victoria de los Angeles been keeping herself? Or, given the current-day insanity of agents and stage directors calling the shots, WHO has been keeping Hillevi Martinpelto from a big international career?


Berlin Staatsoper: Tristan und Isolde (November 19, 2006)

In a day and age when cheap thrills in opera-going are hard to get, I thought it might be fun to hear two performances of Wagner in as many days. I’ve done it before, and I’ve always gotten a buzz out of it. So I skipped the curtain calls at Lohengrin and raced to jump on the last express train from Leipzig back to Berlin. I caught enough sleep to face an almost-new production of Tristan the next day at Berlin’s Staatsoper. With Daniel Barenboim on the podium and Waltraud Meier as Isolde, how could I go wrong?

If Lohengrin in Leipzig was confusing to watch, Tristan in Berlin was a bore to look at – stultifying, at least, until the end of the second act. Stefan Bachmann’s turgid staging shrank the proscenium into a letter-box frame, giving it the feel of a wide-screen movie being shown on non-HD television: a shrewd “artistic” move, if you’re trying to save money on scenery. But cheap proved cheesy: When King Mark discovers the lovers trysting, a major mechanical function ensued that caused the set [by Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron] to break apart and bring one of the scrims down, all but shrouding Frau Meier. She was not injured, but she had an awkward instant, acting her way out of what, at that point, looked like a billowing paper bag. [Ironically, Herzog and de Meuron were prize-winning architects before they began moonlighting as stage designers. You may want to check if they designed a building you frequent…]

Following a longish intermission, during which some members of the audience at the bar downing their third glass of Sekt remarked how clever the sudden disruption seemed, the stage manager appeared on stage to make an announcement. He apologized for the aforementioned mishap and said the third act would be performed with some modifications – in other words, in semi-concert form, which is what it had been all along. Maybe future series of this awful production would be best presented entirely in concert-form.

Despite the unscheduled replacement of Peter Seiffert as Tristan by Clifton Forbis, the musical side of the performance went off uneventfully, as though it had been pre-recorded. If you overlook her two approximated high C’s in the second act, Meier presented the same stalwart Isolde she always delivers at the Staatsoper, elsewhere and on recordings, Rosemarie Lang was a vocally resourceful Brangaene, and Barenboim led the Staatskappelle unassailably. Kwangchul Youn as King Mark keeps going from strength to strength as his career widens around the world. To his strengths, you can add a deadpan face, as the world literally crumbled around him during the fiasco in the second act.

Beefy may best sum up Clifton Forbis. Beefy voice – think Ludwig Suthaus or John Mitchinson – and beefy stage presence – think a size-48 James McCracken. Forbis may be a tad bland, but he has stamina, and he stays on pitch.

A footnote to this journey: I was undergoing treatment in Berlin during my trip for a neuropathic condition in my left forearm and hand, following a fall in the subway several months ago. The series of treatments produced some relief, but extended traveling on trains and sitting through certain performances aggravated the discomfort. Typing notes and even the drafts for this report often became arduous indeed. Conversely, I found that the distress subsided during certain performances and hearing on-the-money singing -- especially by Uhl, Martinpelto and Porta. In fact, the performance of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito at Potsdam was so compelling and soothing, that I fell into a deep sleep on the train back to central Berlin. When I woke up, the train was pulling into Frankfurt-an-der-Oder at the Polish border! I mention this, because my experience may lend some anecdotal credence to those studies purporting to show that Mozart’s music can have a salubrious effect on infants and in treating a variety of ailments. I hasten to admit, though, that listening to Mozart on the radio the next day improved my discomfort only marginaly. And the ride back to Berlin in the dead of night was not nearly as restful.

-- Sam Shirakawa

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Netrebko leads the pack!

The opera being broadcast by the most stations this afternoon is - hands down - I Puritani from the Metropolitan Opera, with Anna Netrebko, Eric Cutler, and others. After the first few weeks of the new Met season, when only a small handful os European Stations have picked up each broadcast, this week we show thirteen (13) Europen stations for this Puritani! I guess everyone is just plain curious about Netrebko - will she be able to handle the Italian....? the coloratura....? the....? Inquiring ears must know.... Most of the folks we have heard from on the internet who have actually attended any of the previous performances of this run have been favorably impressed with her performance, and with Eric Cutler's, as well (he was a late replacement for Gregory Kunde).

Because so many stations have opted to carry the Met, the remaining live offerings are sparser than usual. So here goes:

  • Catalunya Musica - Live from Gran Teatre del Liceu, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, with Edita Gruberova, Anthony Michaels-Moore, Josep Bros,Giacomo Prestia, Vicente Ombuena, Mireia Pintó and Josep Fadóconducted by Josep Caballé-Domènech.
    Deutschlandradio Kultur - From Flemish Opera in Ghent, a November performance of Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perle, with Annick Massis, Marc Laho, Geert Smits and Kurt Gysen, conducted by Patrick Fournillier.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands - From De Nederlandse Opera, a Christmas Eve performance of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, with Danielle de Niese, Luca Pisaroni, Garry Magee and Cellia Costea, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher (For those of you in Europe, I believe that this is a TV simulcast).
  • Metropolitan Opera (on numerous stations) - Bellini's I Puritani, with Anna Netrebko, Eric Cutler, Valerian Ruminski, Franco Vassallo, John Relyea, Eduardo Valdes and Maria Zifchak, conducted by Patrick Summers.
  • NRK Alltid klassisk and NRK P2 - The New Year's Eve performance of Struass' Die Fledermaus from Wiener Staatsoper, with Ildikó Raimondi, Cornelia Salje, Adrian Eröd, Diana Damrau and Robert Meyer, conducted by Bertrand de Billy (we wonder what will appear in the party scene on this gala occasion?).
  • NPR World of Opera (WVIK and YPR) - Another performance from Wiener Staatsoper, this time Verdi's Otello, with Johan Botha, Krassimira Stoyanova, Falk Struckmann, Marian Talaba, Cosmin Ifrim, Nadia Krasteva, Ain Anger and Vladimir Moroz, conducted by Danieli Gatti. On WMUK, catch last week's NPR offering, Rossini's Cenerenteola, from Washington National Opera, with Sonia Ganassi, Jesus Garcia, Alfonso Antoniozzi, Simone Alberghini and Paolo Pecchioli, conducted by Riccardo Frizza.
  • Klara - A concert performance from London's Barbican Center, featuring the forces of the Royal Opera House, of Halevy's La Juive, with Dennis O’Neill, Marina Poplavskaya, Alastair Miles, Darío Schmunck, Nicole Cabell, Darren Jeffery and Matthew Rose, conducted by Daniel Oren.

Happy listening!

P.S.: And please do take a look at the previous post, Sam Shirakawa's reviews of several operas he caught while in Europe this past November

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Sam's Latest Operatic Caravan

Our dear friend Sam Shirakawa travelled to Germany in mid-November to see several operas. Before he left he pledged to deliver reviews of what he saw. It's always a treat to read Sam's lucid takes on live performances as well as his general observations on the opera scene. After his arrival in Berlin on November 9th, he saw a performance of Traviata, then proceeded to Magdeburg for two operas, then on to Cologne, back to Potsdam and Berlin and finally to Leipzig. Here is the first half of Sam's report (Enjoy!):


Deutsche Oper Berlin: La Traviata (November 9, 2006)

They say, it can’t go on forever, but Berlin still supports three opera houses. The city is about 75 billion dollars in debt, but the subways and buses still run pretty much on time, possibly at the expense of human services, such as public health care. No doubt about it, Berlin is ever increasingly a “happening” place in spite of everything.

On the night I arrived, though, the only opera on the Spielplan was Traviata, playing at the Deutsche Oper. It had been hastily assembled upon the abrupt cancellation of the revival of Hans Neuenfels' production of Mozart's Idomeneo, dating from 2003. In case you haven't heard, it took someone three years to take offense at a scene near the end of Neuenfels' production, which shows large headless statues of Poseidon, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. [Apparently it is a sacrilege to visualize the Prophet Mohammed in any form - even without his head. The rules on showing Jesus, Buddha and Poseidon may not be as clear. By the way, why were Abraham and Zoroaster excluded?] A phone call threatened trouble if Idomeneo went on. Swept away by a wave of titanic artistic courage, the Intendant Kirsten Harms sank under “advice” from police and deep-sixed all six performances that were set for November and December. The cancellation made headlines around the world. Cries of outrage ensued from the city, state and even a few members of the general public. Intendant Harms again buckled under all the hoo-hah and rescheduled several performances that had been set for December. One of them was attended by a delegation of politicians and religious leaders in what looked like a show of Solidarity for Artistic Freedom.

Just before this curious event was to take place, two things happened: several leaders of Berlin’s sizable Islamic community sent word that they were snubbing the performance, because they didn’t want to feel “manipulated.” Then came word that all four of headless paper-mache statues were “missing” from the Deutsche Oper’s scenery warehouse. A new quartet of headless statues was hastily pasted together, and the show went on under tight security and without incident. But it was hardly a sell-out. About 200 seats went unsold at curtain time. How did the audience of notables enjoy Mozart’s masterpiece? So far, there have been no further threats.
What was not so prominently reported about the furor, was that Harms was about to cancel the string of Idomeneo performances, probably because of poor ticket sales. The bomb threat, or whatever prompted the police to advise cancellation, provided the exact excuse she needed to nix Idomeneo and replace it with Traviata, which played to a nearly full house at the performance I attended.

Inva Mula as Violetta Váléry and Tito Beltrán as Alfredo Germont

Casting Traviata is becoming more difficult as the years go by, especially on short notice. But the management was able to round up three “name” singers in the principal roles, and pardoning a minor lapse here and there, the performance I attended was quite well sung and produced. The late Götz Friedrich’s production dating from 1999 restores the first statements of the cabalettas for Alfredo and père Germont in the second act. Friedrich clues in the audience on Violetta’s terminal illness from the start, revealing her in bed, pallid and still, during the prelude. She springs abruptly to life at the festive introduction to the first act, as Annina hastens to dress her for the party at which she will meet the great love of her life.

Andrea Rost acquitted herself in the long first act finale, offering a firm but hardly fervent vow to remain sempre libera. If she has an E-flat up there somewhere, she kept it to herself. She sounded more comfortable in the second and third acts, but she remained essentially the same robust sounding Violetta from start to finish. Roberto Aronica was in excellent shape as Alfredo. He had few insights into his character, but he was a treat hear, knocking off a sustained high C at the end of “O mio rimorso” with thrilling abandon. Roberto Frontali was a serviceable père Germont. Pacing appeared to be Yves Abel’s first priority, and his tempi tended to hover over the right side of the speedometer. But brisk does not necessarily induce breathtaking – pace Toscanini’s 1946 NBC broadcast, and the end-effect of Abel’s swift tempi left me with a sense of thank-goodness-that’s-over.

Magdeburg: Tannhäuser (November 5, 2006) / Schön ist die Welt (November 9, 2006)

Magdeburg’s opera house was severely damaged during the war, and its reconstruction was finally completed only about 10 years ago. The city was one of the DDR’s [1950-1991] major operatic venues, and the current management of the Municipal Opera remains committed to facing all its musical challenges with casts drawn primarily from its resident ensemble. That means few if any guest singers. The house has ties with Richard Wagner dating back to 1832 when the composer was hired as Kapellmeister of a traveling opera company that was based in Magdeburg. Wagner wrote Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love), based on William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, during this period, and it was staged for one performance at Magdeburg in 1836. The troup ran out of money and disbanded before the second performance, which left the composer (not for the last time) in serious financial difficulties.

On November 5th, the house unveiled Holger Pototzki’s production of Tannhäuser with the current musical director Francesco Corti on the podium. So was it the Dresden [1845] or the Paris [1861] version he led? Actually both. This production follows the current trend of restoring most of the cuts Wagner made for Paris, but replaces the Dresden Overture with the Paris Overture-Ballet. Net-net: the Song Contest in Act II runs long, but it also gives more contestants a chance to be heard.

Magdeburg has enough bench strength in its ensemble to double-cast some of the roles. I attended the second premiere on November 11th with Manfred Wulfert in the eponymous role and Ulf Dirk Mädler as Wolfram. While Wulfert might benefit from a weight trimming program, his voice is in excellent estate: well-focused and solid from top to bottom. Anita Bader as Elisabeth is a Milanov look-alike, but the similarity ends there. She looked older than her father the Landgraf, sung dependably by Paul Sketris, but she certainly has what it takes to develop an international career: Leonie’s heft and Gundula’s way with turning ice into fire.

It’s hard to make sense of Holger’s production, which is dominated by a king-size bed that rises and descends as Holger needs it. Venus cavorts on it with both sexes in the first act; Elisabeth sits on it before standing to greet the Hall of Song at the start of the next act. To paraphrase Big Mama in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” when a production goes on the rocks, the rocks are right there in bed.

Four nights later, I returned to Magdeburg to hear Franz Lehar’s rarely performed Schön ist die Welt [Life is Beautiful]. This operetta was for Franz Lehar perhaps what Madama Butterfly was for Puccini. Both works were flops in their first incarnations. Puccini reworked his love child and turned it within months into an international hit at its second premiere. Lehar took more than 15 years to transform Endlich Allein [Alone at Last] from mediocrity into the mega-hit of its time. Unlike Butterfly, which continues to attract a huge audience, not only to itself, but to opera in general, Lehar’s confection about love lost and found – all within the framework of a movie theater – has rarely found an audience outside Germany and Austria since its premiere in 1930 with Richard Tauber and GittaAlpar.

What distinguished this production for me were the singers, several of whom appeared in the performance of Tannhäuser I had heard. Manfred Wulfert seemed to be having a good time playing a prince, who falls in love with one woman while becoming engaged to another. He hardly cuts a romantic leading-man figure, but he made the transition effortlessly from Heldentenor to romantic lead and evinced a gift for comedy that one would have hardly suspected from hearing his Tannhäuser alone. Ulf Dirk Mädler switched from the rigors of Wolfram to a weasel-ish lackey with even more surprising ease. But the delight of the evening was Ute Bachmaier as the object of the Prince’s affection. She easily overcame the technical challenges Lehar flung at Gitta Alpar in the songs he composed for her in the original production. Alexander Steinitz’s lively tempi managed to preserve the idiomatic grace and lilt that is so crucial in giving this genre life.

Köln: Hänsel und Gretel (November 12, 2006)

What perhaps was most remarkable about this performance of Hänsel in Cologne was neither the singing, which was uniformly excellent, nor the production, which was attractive, if not elaborate, but the audience. More than half the seats of the sold-out house were taken by youngsters, most of them clearly under ten.

Kids can be a performer’s nightmare, for their attention spans are easily broken, and their show of impatience can be merciless. For more than two hours, though, they were as quiet as church mice, clearly held in thrall. The work has often been condescendingly described as a “children’s musical,” but the remarkable reaction the production in Cologne received from its young audience amply proved that it is a work of subtle sophistication. In Jürgen Rose’s production, the Mother and Witch are one and the same [Katharin Andonian on 12/12/06].
Dalia Schächter (Knusperhexe), Regina Richter (Hänsel), Claudia Rohrbach (Gretel) |
Vorheriges Foto | © Klaus Lefebvre

In combining these two characters, Rose transforms the work and invokes the spirit of childhood in all of us. He shows us that the adventure of Hänsel and Gretel has important lessons to teach children and poses crucial reminders for adults. The journey of Hänsel and Gretel into the forest dream world amounts to a rite of passage that every child undertakes on the path to individuation: By maneuvering the malevolent witch into her own oven, in order to escape being baked into gingerbread zombies, Gretel saves both herself and Hänsel. In surmounting this trial by fire, she grows closer to her brother. Together, the children ultimately grow toward understanding their mother, who, in Rose’s view, is the witch’s benevolent twin. Through his glorious melodies, Humperdinck enlivens this cautionary fable of maternal cannibalism that all children must experience before they take on the rigors of guardianship and parenthood. Along the way, his spellbinding harmonies remind the informed Innocent in all of us, that material poverty need destroy neither the wealth of spirit to which every child is heir nor the will to be generous that adults are prone all-too-soon to abjure.
The entire cast -- Regina Richter as Hänsel, Katharina Leye as Gretel, Andrea Andronian as the Mother/Witch, Leandro Fischetti as the Father, and Insun Min as the Sandman were in superb form under Alvaro Palmen’s baton.

Potsdam – Neues Palais Sans Souci: La Clemenza di Tito (November 14, 2006)

The primary target for tourists visiting Potsdam on the southwestern outskirts of Berlin, of course, is the magnificent palace Sans Souci. Its ornate rooms and spacious gardens are worth visiting repeatedly. But even many Berliners are unaware of the equally impressive “Neues Palais” – a huge stately annex standing just behind San Souci. Climb two flights up the wide marble staircase, and you’ll find a miniature private opera house in the late baroque style, tucked away behind an unassuming painted door. It was designed for Kaiser Friedrich II by J.C. Hopenhaupt, completed in 1768, and has stadium seating on the parquet level! The Hans Otto Theater of Potsdam occasionally presents opera here, and to round off its celebration of Mozart’s 250th birthday year, the company mounted La Clamenza di Tito and Cosí fan Tutte.

Interior of Neues Palais, Sans Souci

I wanted to attend both operas in this wonderful setting, but time constraints permitted me only the chance to hear Tito. And what a bonne bouche it was to hear first-rate musicians and healthy young singers performing Mozart under conditions for which he composed! The theater accommodates only 225 people and has perfect acoustics. You can even feel and hear the air drafting from the stage as the curtain parts!

The quality of mercy may be put to the test in Wolfgang’s final opera seria, but such cannot be said of the splendid vocalism displayed by the virtual unknowns in Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s period production under the direction of Michael Helmrath -- not at least on the night of November 14th. Hearing singers such as Lothar Odinius (Tito), Nancy Weißbach (Vitellia), Antigone Papoulkas (Sesto), Jeannine Hirzel (Annio), Anna Palimina (Servilia), and Matthias Ehm (Publio) – who all are as attractive as they are technically secure -- gives hope for the future of opera. Primus inter pares was Antigone Papoulkas, who, given the difficulties these days in finding a genuine castrato – at least a castrato who can sing -- made the part sound as though Mozart should have composed it for a female voice.

Deutsche Oper Berlin: Germania (November 17, 2006)

I’ve always been curious about Alberto Franchetti’s Germania, because Caruso created the lead role under Toscanini’s baton in 1902 at La Scala Milan and included one of its big arias in the first batch of recordings he ever made. Those recordings, also made in 1902 for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company, followed by his debut at the Metropolitan Opera a few months later, turned Caruso into a household name. Despite Franchetti’s rousing pot-boiler score [think Boito’s Mefistofele or Nerone], Germania fell into obscurity, and it was proscribed during the Third Reich because its composer, while Italian and a Germanophile, was also Jewish.
News of the Deutsche Oper’s new production, which premiered October 15th, aroused a lot of anticipation, primarily because it was the first production presented by the new Intendant Kirsten Harms and her music director Renato Palumbo. It also turned into a closely watched trial balloon for Harms, coming on the heels of her decision to cancel Idomeneo. Palumbo’s competence and Harms’ sensible, middle-of-the-road approach to a love triangle set within a German student uprising against Napoleon’s invasion enabled them both to emerge safely though slightly singed from critics on a witch hunt.

Despite several personnel changes by the time I got to hear it on November 17th, neither the orchestra, now led by Attilio Tomasello, nor the singers had lost enthusiasm for the work. It was thoroughly satisfying to find gifted youngish singers prepared to deliver verismo can belto at the top of their lungs with such heart and musical sensibility. The Argentinian Gustavo Porta portrayed Frederico Loewe with the requisite brownish timbre, kneaded by that bristling burr, apparently unique to singers of Latin blood. Frederico was written for Caruso, and Porta never forgot it, taking command of the stage whenever he got the chance. But he was also a considerate colleague, especially in his scenes with Silvio Zanon as Carlo Worms. The program notes indicate Luciano Pavarotti as one of Zanon’s coaches, and his consistent vocal warmth, showed that his work with Pavarotti has not been wasted.

Ah, but the big surprise was one Manuela Uhl (pictured at left) as the third corner of the love-triangle, Ricke. Her voice defies categorizing: a burgundy lower register, a claret mezzo-middle, and a simply intoxicating top, distributed flawlessly throughout and energized with mordant morbidezza. Her talents may be more suited to Salome and Agäthe, but they are not necessarily specific to such roles, especially when it dawns on you, that she has also essayed the Queen of the Night to critical acclaim. So look out Nebtrebko! Frau Uhl not only has a solid high F, she can look even prettier while singing it. If you’ve never heard of Manuela Uhl, go out of your way to hear her, and remember where you read about her first!

-- Sam Shirakawa


I will be posting the rest of Sam's report in the next day or two.

Revised (1/8/07) to add some additional photos and (1/9/07) to add the review of Hänsel und Gretel from Cologne (which inexplicably got dropped in the first go round).

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