Tuesday, June 30, 2009

OperaCast.com is Back Online

We are finally back up online, after much loud complaint to our web hosting provider. From sometime around 10:00PM EDT on Monday night until about 3:40AM this morning, our site was showing only blank white pages (not even so much as a "404-Page Not Found" message). All this a mere five days after we ahd authorized another annual renewal with said provider. We are NOT happy - just grateful that iut didn't happen at high noon on a Saturday.

But we are back up....
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Being Bohemian

Picture, if you will, a student production of Puccini's La Boheme, staged as an opera within a documentary. Well, Sam Shirakawa was in Munich on June 17th for the premiere of just such a production. He reports:
PUCCINI: LA BOHEME
A production by
the Bayerische Theaterakademie August Everding, Munich

Premiere 17 June 2009


I usually anticipate attending student productions of operas with a mix of curiosity and dread. They bait curiosity because you never know if a future Caruso or Callas may be taking the stage. They arouse dread because there is nothing quite so dreadful as a vocally dreadful performance of an opera.

In recent years, though, I’ve found that student opera performances of opera are getting better. Professional preparatory academies seem to be turning out singers who appear more confident in knowing they have the right stuff. The tension arising from having a now-or-never opportunity to prove it endows their performances with that extra dollop of excitement that’s becoming increasingly rare at “big” opera houses.

That shared anxiety between performers and audience produced an especially exciting performance of La Boheme on 17 June at the Theater Academy of Bavaria August Everding (Bayerische Theaterakademie August Everding) in Munich, primarily because the singing was so good. I frequently had to remind myself that these are students -- most of them around 30 years old and taking their vocal training at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München -- because they’re not merely ready for prime time, they are performing as though they are in prime time.

The Mimi, Myung-Joo Lee, from South Korea, is in full possession of a warm lyric soprano that opens out effortlessly above the staff. Her “Mi chiamamo Mimi” had a melancholy timbre reminiscent of Ileana Cotrubas. But she had her own way with the sad nostalgia reflected in “Donde lieta uschi...”

As her lover Rodolfo, Jun-Ho You, also from South Korea, displays a tightly focused lyric-spinto tenor, some of whose inflections remind me of Jussi Björling. His upper register is thrilling, but maintaining its bracing freshness is the challenge he and all those with similarly bright potential face.

American-born Vanessa Goikoetxea is a Musetta who is a born showgirl -- leggy and shamelessly flirtatious. Her middle and upper registers contain a fine resin that gives her voice an unusual personality. Her options are wide open.

Christian Ebert’s sonorous Marcello is a guy who can’t live with his Musetta, but can’t live without her either. His ample warm baritone points to Posa via Onegin. Nice sound. I wonder if he’s listened to Gerhard Hüsch....

Benjamin Appi and Tareq Nazmi are excellent respectively as Schaunard and Colline. The roles of Benoit and Alcindoro are so well characterized, that you need to check the program to realize that Thomas Stimmel sings both. Mauro Peter deserves a bigger part than Parpignol.

The cast has the good fortune of having a first-class professional orchestra in the pit, the Munich Radio Orchestra, under the steady guidance of Ulf Schirmer, whose stints include the Vienna State Opera and, beginning next season, Music Director of the Leipzig Opera.

Both singers and orchestra are blessed with the superior acoustics of the Prinzregententheater, which is the Akademie's own performing space. Small wonder. The house was completed in 1901 by architect Max Littman, who based his concept on the designs of Gottfried Semper and Otto Brückwald for Wagner's Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. The acoustics of the "House on the Green Hill" are unique, but the

sonorities of the Prinzregenten Theater are thrillingly similar, especially after its recent renovations, which have also revitalized the Jugendstil decor in the access areas. It is a spectacular setting for any kind of performance. The building's interior is a must-see if you visit Munich -- but you must have a ticket for an event.

The singers also have a good deal more to do than sing. Balazs Kovalk's staging sets out to capture a slice of life through a documentary-in-the-making about bohemian life in modern-day Paris. The concept is relevant because Puccini’s music is the mother of all western film scores. (And how many shows have you seen that are shameless recycles of Boheme and Butterfly?) So the cast must not only enact the lives of starving Parisian artistes, but also enact those lives before multi-cams and crews. The audience can see portions of the taping on monitors and scrims and witness the difference between “Being and Seeming,” as a program note puts it -- or reality and appearance.

Theoretically it works: you get a behind-the-cameras look at Life In The Making. But I couldn’t help remembering what Wolfgang Wagner once told me, when I asked him why Leonard Bernstein never conducted at Bayreuth. “Bernstein insisted that his contract include a documentary on the rehearsals and preparations for the production,” he said. “I learned long ago, that when you allow film crews, everybody plays to the cameras. You lose the impact of what is LIVE. You can’t really rehearse for the performance.”

Indeed, the presence of a camera crew on stage vitiates the impact of the drama and tends to siphon off the impact of the music into a separate realm. There are simply too many people on stage in the love scene of the first act, for example, when only two of them -- the lovers -- really matter.

Bertolt Brecht might have loved this view of Boheme. Intentionally or inadvertently -- I can’t discern which -- Kovalik’s production gives new meaning to the term Brecht invented: Verfremdungseffekt, or, for want of a better translation, alienation. Brecht coined this term to force his audiences to pull back from emotional involvement in the plot and characters and to push them toward viewing the proceedings on stage critically.

The intervention of a video/film documentary crew within any setting, not to mention a love duet, rudely yanks everybody back from plugging into “reality.” But here is where Kovalik ups the ante: the shots the crew is recording -- close-ups, wide angles, pans, and so on -- are shown on monitors and mini-Imax screens, thereby thrusting the audience in the direction of yet another reality. Or the appearance of another reality.

Exploring levels of reality -- or the illusions of those realities within the framework of the stage as “the place devoted to articulating the conflicts between past and possible worlds, the dialogues between our perceptions of mundane experience and our desires” -- is at the root of the Akademie’s primary objectives under the guidance of Klaus Zehelein, who has been its president since 2006.

Zehelein was General Manager of Stuttgart’s State Opera for 15 seasons before he came to lead the Akademie. During his tenure, the Annual Survey of German Critics voted the Stuttgarter Staatsoper “Opera House of the Year” six times. He has accrued international recognition as both pedagogue and all-around man of the theater. When he decided to make a change, he received offers from several high-profile theaters including the Salzburg Festival and the Berlin State Opera. Zehelein declined them all, opting to take over the Akademie, one of Germany’s foremost teaching institutions for the performing arts. He explained at the time, that he wanted to do his part in securing the future of the performing arts by bringing young artists and technicians to the highest standards.

He also wants to further the cause of live theater as a forum. As he warns in the Welcome Page of the Academie website:
“If we abandon the stage, by consigning it to the compromises of mundane superficialities, we betray that part of our lives that constitutes an indispensable necessity for existence, which we risk losing beyond recall.
In times when the prospects of continued financial support for the performing arts look increasingly grim, Zehelein appears to be steering the Academie on a steady course. Hopes for his ability to enable the Academie to surmount the economic realities that are now threatening the arts everywhere may prove illusory. But his leadership through the challenges he now faces may well turn out to be exemplary, indeed the stuff of legend.

© Sam H. Shirakawa
Production photos © A. T. Schaefer

Revised 6/23/09 - 1:45PM EDT - added production photos; removed some theater photos.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Live Offerings - Saturday, June 20, 2009

Here's today's live lineup:

  • BBC Radio 3 - From the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, a double bill: Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, with Sarah Connolly, Lucy Crowe, Lucas Meacham, Anita Watson, Sara Fulgoni, Eri Nakamura, Pumeza Matshikiza, Iestyn Davies and Ji-Min Park; and Handel's Acis and Galatea, with Charles Workman, Danielle de Niese, Paul Agnew, Ji-Min Park, Matthew Rose, Juliet Schiemann and Philip Bell, both conducted by Christopher Hogwood.
  • CBC Two - From Vancouver Opera, a May 2009 performance of Strauss's Salome, with Mlada Khudoley, Greer Grimsley, John Mac Master and Judith Forst, conducted by Jonathan Darlington, followed by an interview with Dame Gwyneth Jones.
  • Deutschlandradio Kultur - From Musikfestspiele Potsdam Sanssouci, a live performance from the Schlosstheater Neues Palais of Haydn's Philemon und Baucis, with Lothar Odinius, Ruth Sandhoff, Ruby Hughes, and Magnus Staveland, conducted by Gary Cooper.
  • DR P2 - From Deutsche Oper and April 9th performance of Respighi's Marie Victoire, with Takesha Meshé, Markus Brück, German Villar and Jaco Huijpen, conducted by Michail Jurowski.
  • Dwojke Polskie Radio & WETA- From Flemish Opera in Antwerp a February 13 performance of Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, with Nikolai Putilin, Mikhail Kit, Leandra Overmann, Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Viktor Lutsiuk, Milcho Borovinov and Thorsten Büttner, conducted by Dimitri Jurowski.
  • Espace Musique - From La Scla in Milan, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with David Daniels, Rosemary Joshua, Emil Wolk, Daniel Okulitch, Natacha Petrinsky, Gordon Gietz, David Adam Moore, Deanne Meek, Erin Wall and Matthew Rose, conducted by Andrew Davis.
  • France Musique - From Opéra de Lyon a January 27 performance of Prokofiev's The Gambler, with Misha Didyk, Kristine Opolais, Alexander Teliga, Marianna Tarasova, Maria Gortsevskaja, Francesco Lorenz and Andrew Schroeder, conducted by Kazushi Ono.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands - From Nationale Reisopera, Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie, with Sophie Daneman, Paul Agnew, Eugénie Warnier, Maarten Koningsberger and Frans Fiselier, conducted by Jed Wentz.
  • Radio Clasica de Espana - From la Salle Métropole in Lausanne, a March 8 performance of Handel's Faramondo, with M. Emanuel Cencic, S. Karthäuser, M. de Liso, I. S. Sim, P. Jaroussky, X. Sábata, F. Bettini and J. Ebert, conducted by D. Fasolis.
  • WFMT Opera Series (on numerous stations) - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, with Deborah Voigt, Tristan - Clifton Forbis, Brangäne - Petra Lang, Kurwenal - Jason Stearns and Stephen Milling, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
  • XLNC1 & KING - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, with Nicole Cabell, Nathan Gunn, Eric Cutler and Christian Van Horn, conducted by John Mauceri.
  • KUSC - From Los Angeles Opera, Wagner's Die Walküre, with Placido Domingo, Michelle DeYoung, Linda Watson, Vitalij Kowaljow, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Eric Halfvarson, Ellie Dehn, Susan Foster, Melissa Citro, Erica Brookhyser, Margaret Thompson, Buffy Baggott, Jane Gilbert and Ronnita Miller, conducted by James Conlon.
  • Bartok Radio - Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, with Marc Laho, Patricia Petibon, Maria Riccarda Wesseling, Rachel Harnisch, Stella Doufexis, Nicolas Cavallier, Eric Huchet, Francisco Vas, Gilles Cachemaille, Bernard Deletré, René Schirrer and Nadine Denize, conducted by Patrick Davin.
  • NPR World of Opera - From Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, Berlioz' Beatrice et Benedict, with Joyce di Donato, Charles Workman, Nicolas Cavallier, Nathalie Manfrino, Jean-Francois Lapointe, Jean-Philippe Laffont and Elodie Mechain, conducted by Sir Colin Davis.
  • Latvia Radio Klasika - From Vienna, a February 8 performance of Bizet's Carmen, with Veselina Kasarova, Jose Cura, Ildebrand d'Archangelo, Geniia Kumeier, conducted by A. Fisher.
  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From the Vienna State Opera, Mozart's Don Giovanni, with Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, Alexandru Moisiuc, Ricarda Merbeth, Michael Schade, Roxana Briban, Rene Pape, Boaz Daniel and Michaela Seliger, conducted by Constantinos Carydis.
  • Radio Oesterreich International (OE1) - From the Vienna State Opera, a June 18 performance of Strauss's Die schweigsame Frau, with Kurt Rydl, Adrian Eröd, Michael Schade and Jane Archibald, conducted by Peter Schneider.
  • Sveriges Radio P2 - From Stockholm, Berwald's Drottningen av Golconda, with Carrie Nilsson, Marianne Öhrn, Ingvar Wixell, Erik Sundquist, Uno Ebrelius and Sven-Erik Jacobsson, conducted by Tor Mann.
  • Cesky Rozhlas 3-Vltava - From the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer, with Bryn Terfel, Hans Peter König, Anja Kampe, Torsten Kerl, Clare Shearer and John Tessier, conducted by Marc Albrecht.
  • Espace 2 - From l'Opéra de Lausanne, Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, with Fabio Capitanucci, John Osborn, Sabina Puertolas, Luciano Di Pasquale, Deyan Vatchkov, Isabelle Henriquez, Alexandre Diakoff, Manrico Signorini and Sacha Michon, conducted by Günter
  • Klara - From the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Rossini's Matilde di Shabran, with Aleksandra Kurzak, Vesselina Karasova, Enkelejda Shkosa, Juan Diego Flores, Alfonso Antoniozzi, Mark Beesley, Marco Vinco, Carlo Lepore, and Bryan Secombe, conducted by Carlo Rizzi.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From Teatro San Carlo in Naples, a March 23 performance of Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust, with José Bros, Sonia Ganassi, Erwin Schrott, Maurizio Lo Piccolo, Bernadette Siano, Loredana Conte and Antonello Cossia, conducted by George Pehlivanian.
  • WDAV - NPR World of Opera on a one week delay - From Teatro dell'Opera in Rome, Gluck's Iphigenie en Aulis, with Krassimira Stoyanova, Alexey Tikhomirov, Avi Klemberg, Ekaterina Gubanova and Beatriz Diaz, conducted by Riccardo Muti.
  • Concert FM (New Zealand) - From Parco della Musica in Rome, Vivaldi's Orlando furioso, with Romina Basso, Manuela Custer,. Sylva Pozzer, Anna Rita Gemmabella, Jordi Domenech, Xavier Sabata and Lorenzo Regazzo, conducted by Andrea Marcon.
  • ABC Classic FM (Australia) - From Theater an der Wien in Vienna, Handel's Partenope, with Christine Schäfer, Kurt Streit, David Daniels, Patrica Bardon, Florian Boesch and Matthias Rexroth, conducted by Christophe Rousset.

Happy listening,

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy hour @ Hunding's Hovel

Sam Shirakawa went to Essen recently to see Wagner's Die Walküre:


WAGNER: DIE WALKÜRE
ESSEN
11 JUNE 2009
[see Video Clip]

The curtain goes up long before the house lights dim. The audience attending Dietrich Hilsdorf’s new production of Die Walküre at Essen’s Aalto Theater has little choice but to contemplate a huge faded reception hall, fungus-stained green paint peeling from the walls and columns. The salle de réception, which doubles as a banquet hall, is designed in the mock-Hellenic style that characterized many bourgeois German mansions in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A few chairs, a long banquet table covered with a white table cloth, and a coal-burning stove are the only noteworthy furnishings. An enclosed staircase leads to an upper floor, and a wide escalier center-stage leads somewhere below. It’s a place that’s notable for its palatial size. The joint has seen better days.

So This is supposed to be Hunding’s hovel?

Yup.

Oh, so that rod with a handle sticking out of the column at stage left is really the sword Nothung!

Yessiree.

And that’s why the stove is so close to the column -- so the flames can light up the sword during Siegmund’s big solo!

In fact, this unit set is going to serve as the environment for all the proceedings that take place during the First Day of The Ring.

In his program note, Hilsdorf explains why he instructed his designer Dieter Richter to create such a room for all the action in Walküre:
“Hunding’s abode distills the essence of the world as the setting for the struggle for power and its loss. Despite changes in physical locale [throughout the opera], the inner setting remains unchanged.”
It’s a fascinating metaphor: A decaying mansion as the setting for power plays that ultimately produce no winners, only losers; its main remaining feature -- a banquet table where deadly deals are served.

Unfortunately, Hilsdorf doesn’t work his fecund conceit out. Once the idea of the idea is set forth, the players are left pretty much on their own -- to sit, stand and move around the banquet table -- sometimes rather awkwardly. For some reason almost everyone is dressed in evening clothes -- the Valkyries in crimson gowns and red Dorothy-in-Oz pumps, Fricka in a blue and white number, custom-tailored for a Cecil Beaton portrait sitting. Brünnhilde is in a party mood in her initial appearance, as she fills goblets of wine while flinging out the high notes of her Brindisi -- i.e. the War Cry. When Wotan puts his errant daughter to sleep, he leaves her slumbering erect at the banquet table, not on it.

A rude awakening awaits this Hilde: She’ll have to do the dishes...

We may never know which detergent Brünnhilde favors because Hilsdorf won’t be supervising next season’s new production of Siegfried. Essen is following the trend set by Stuttgart’s wildly successful Ring Cycle, which assigned each of the four operas to different directors.)

In one of Hilsdorf’s hilarious violations of the text, Sieglinde shows up in the second act very much in the family way. My, how time flies when you’re committing incest! Have the Wälsung Twins managed to elude Hunding, his henchmen, and their dogs for eight months between act one and two? Did they motel hop all that time? Slum with friends? (I thought neither had any.)

Oddly enough, though, the performance I heard on 11 June was spellbinding, owing primarily to Stefan Soltesz’ masterful leadership of a superb cast and orchestra. At age 60, Soltesz is becoming something of a cult figure. He’s well known on podiums throughout Europe, South America, and the Far East, but his appearances in the United States have been spotty. His well-deserved reputation as General Music Director in Essen brings visitors to his performances from far beyond the Ruhr area -- including me. His appearances are always well attended, if not sold out.

His view of The Ring has aroused huge expectations.

From the sound of Walküre, Soltesz is fulfilling those expectations. He served part of his apprenticeship under Karl Böhm, and the much-missed maestro’s influence is unmistakable. Soltesz tends to favor brisk tempos; the drive behind the tempo seems to be ruled more by the exigencies of the moment than a structural vision. At least, that’s how it sounded a few days ago. I’m looking forward to hearing how he takes things at a future performance.

Thomas J. Mayer is one of four Wotans cast for the current run of this production. (The others are Egils Silins (see photos), Terja Stensvold and Almas Svilpa.) Mayer is a bitter and angry Wotan -- bitter at how badly his shady deals have turned out; angry at himself for letting things slip so far and so fast. His fury is all the more alarming as he confronts his favorite errant daughter before her sisters. Through it all, Mayer never resorts to shouting out notes or barking to make a point. It’s clear that he’s heard Thomas Stewart’s recordings of the role at least once, and that by no means is a bad thing.

Idilko Szönyi as Fricka is truly a bad thing for Mayer’s Wotan, as she cooly exploits her diesel middle register to harass her wayward husband into submission. It’s been a while since I’ve heard Fricka sung with such elegant bitchiness.

Catherine Foster’s Brünnhilde could use a bit more shading, but for me, she can do no wrong, after the mini-vaudeville moment she essays, batting out those hellish Bs and Cs way over the Green Monster while, with steady hand, she fills goblets with Zinfandel. The glasses, helas, didn’t shatter. (But can she also rap out the War Cry while juggling a half-dozen raw eggs, and balancing a unicycle perched on a high-wire?)

Jeffrey Dowd sounds better, even more attractive, each time I hear him. He’s narrowed the vibrato in the upper register and deepened his middle and lower voice. His Siegmund is boyish and nervy -- especially effective in “Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater,” but his gestures and movements betray not merely an American Wälsung, but a Ziggy from New York. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it takes a bit of getting used-to.

Marcel Rosca’s Hunding also takes a bit of getting used-to. He’s not nearly as menacing as you might expect from a Hunding, but his svelte bass charms the ear. He may be better suited for Philip or Mephistopheles. In truth, he may be hampered by Hilsdorf's staging: His Hunding is a sappy middler, doomed to fall because of a mess that’s not entirely of his own making.

Now for the major find: I often wonder what Regine must have sounded like before she became Crespin. If a certain Danielle refuses to pack it in for family and security, she stands an excellent chance of becoming Danielle Halbwachs, the Sieglinde to be reckoned with. She’s sympathetic, warm and her immense soprano gains strength and amplitude as it rises above the staff. What she still lacks, though, is interpretive insight; her Wälsung sibling emerges at this point from her head, not from her heart. Despite a second act maternity costume that makes her look as though she’s just shoplifted a honeydew melon, it’s Danielle Halbwachs’ voice, a gorgeous instrument, that lingers in the memory.

No standouts among the Valkyrie Sisters, but they were all up for it.

© Sam H. Shirakawa 2009

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Live Offerings - Saturday, June 13, 2009 - Part II

More live offerings for this afternoon:

  • Cesky Rozhlas 3-Vltava - From Opera Bastille in Paris, Massenet's Werther, with Rolando Villazón, Alain Vernhes, Susan Graham, Adriana Kuc(erová, Ludovic Tézier, Christian Jean, Christian Tréguier, Vincent Delhoume and Letitia Singleton, conducted by Kent Nagano.
  • Klara - From Vienna State Opera, Mozart's Don Giovanni, with Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, Eric Halfvarson, Ricarda Merbeth, Michael Schade, Soile Isokoski, René Pape, Boaz Daniel and Michaela Selinger, conducted by Constantinos Carydis.
  • Latvia Radio Klasika - another chance to hear the Met broadcast of March 21, Bellini's La Sonnambula, with Nathalie Dessay, Juan Diego Florez, JAne Bunnell and Michele Pertusi, conducted by Evelino Pido.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From Rococo Theatre, Schwetzingen, a May 29 performance of Handel's Ezio, with Yosemeh Adjei, Mariselle Martinez, Hilke Andersen, Donát Havár and Marcell Bakonyi, conducted by Attilio Cremonesi.
  • BBC Radio 3 - Listen to the Song Prize finale of the Cardiff Singer of the World contest.
  • WDAV - NPR World of Opera (one week delayed) - From Washington National Opera, a double bill: Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, with Samuel Ramey and Denyce Graves; and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, with Samuel Ramey, Amanda Squitieri, Elizabeth Bishop, Antonio Gandia, Robert Baker, Christina Martos, Tony Teleky, Stefano de Peppo, Valeriano Lanchas, Trevor Scheunemann, Leslie Mutchler, Obed Urena, James Shaffran, David Morris and Matthew Osifchin, both conducted by Giovanni Reggioli.

Happy listening . . . .

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Live Offerings - Saturday, June 13, 2009 - Part I

I'm getting a late start to the blog today, so this will be a quick and dirty survey of what's on offer for this afternoon:

  • BBC Radio 3 - From the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Strauss's Elektra, with Susan Bullock, Anne Schwanewilms, Jane Henschel, Johan Reuter, Miriam Murphy and Frank van Aken, conducted by MArk Elder.
  • CBC Two - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Massenet's Manon, with Natalie Dessay, Jonas Kaufmann, and Christopher Feigum, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume.
  • Deutschlandradio Kultur - From Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz in Munich, Gilbert and Sullican"s Pirates of Penzance, with Robert Sellier, Thérèse Wincent, Rita Kapfhammer, Frances Lucey, Sonja Leitwyler, Holger Ohlmann, Gunter Sonneson, Florian Soyka and Martin Hausberg, conducted by Anthony Bramall.
  • Espace Musique - From Netherlands Opera, Haydn's Orlando Paladino, with Henriette Bonde-Hansen, Joan Martin-Royo, Marcel Reijans, Kenneth Tarver, Peter Gijsbertsen, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, Jörg Schneider, Elena Monti, and Martijn Cornet, conducted by Alessandro De Marchi.
  • Radio Clasica de Espana - From Vienna State Opera, a February 28 performance of Bizet's Carmen, with V. Kasarova, J. Cura, I. d’Arcangelo, G. Kühmeier, J. Monarcha, M. Pelz, I. Tonca, S. Marilley, C. Unterreiner and B. Kobel, conducted by A. Fisch.
  • RTP Antena 2 - From Vienna State Opera, an October 18, 2004 performance of Verdi's Don Carlo, with Iano Tamar, Cornelia Salje, Inna Los, Nadja Michael, Ramón Vargas, Benedikt Kobel, Cosmin Ifrim, Bo Skovhus, Alastair Miles, Simon Yang, Dan Paul Dumitrescu and Johannes Gisser, conducted by Bertrand de Billy.
  • WETA - From Theater an der Wien, Vienna, a performance of Handel's Partenope, with Christine Schaefer, Kurt Streit, David Daniels, Patricia Bardon, Florian Boesch and Matthias Rexroth, conducted by Christophe Rousset.
  • WFMT Opera Series (on numerous stations) - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, with Nicole Cabell, Nathan Gunn, Eric Cutler and Christian Van Horn, conducted by John Mauceri.
  • XLNC1 - WFMT Opera Series on a one week delay - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, with Gordon Hawkins, Morenike Fadayomi, Lester Lynch, Jonita Lattimore, Laquita Mitchell, Marietta Simpson, Jermaine Smith and Eric Green, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
  • France Musique - From l'Opera de Lyon, a May 26 performance of Britten's Death in Venice, with Alan Oke, Peter Sidhom, Christopher Ainsli and, Damian Thantrey, conducted by Martyn Brabbins.
  • NPR World of Opera - From Teatro dell'Opera, Rome, Gluck's Iphigenie en Aulide, with Krassimira Stoyanova, Alexey Tikhomirov, Avi Klemberg, Ekaterina Gubanova and Beatriz Diaz, conducted by Riccardo Muti.
  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From Lyric Oper of Chicago, Berg's Lulu, with Marlis Petersen, Jill Grove, Wolfgang Schöne, and William Burden, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
  • Radio Oesterreich International (OE1) - Haydn's L'isola disabitata, with Christiane Karg, Elisabeth von Magnus, Rainer Trost and Luca Pisaroni, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
  • Sveriges Radio P2 - From the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, a March 11, 2008 performance of Rossini's Matilde di Shabran, with Aleksandra Kurzak, Juan Diego Flórez, Vesselina Kasarova, Enklejda Shkosa, Alfonso Antoniozzi, Mark Beesley, Marco Vinco, Carlo Lepore and Bryan Secombe, conducted by Carlo Rizzi.

More to come....

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Weekend Child

Sam Shirakawa took a break from opera-going to attend the Berlin premiere of a new documentary about Otmar Suitner (this film was shown in at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City in November 2007 as part of the Berlin in Lights festival):

NACH DER MUSIK (English Title: A Father's Music) [105 mins]
A Documentary on Otmar Suitner by Igor Heitzmann
Premiere: Berlin 17 May
2009

Few are the documentaries about musicians that reveal more about their subjects than their audiences already know -- or should know. Little and much is known about the Austrian conductor Otmar Suitner (pronounced Sweet-ner), who is now 87 years old. Little besides the chronological facts is known about him professionally and personally, primarily because he spent most of his career behind the Iron Curtain, making only periodic guest appearances in the West and Far East. A lot, though, is known about him musically through his huge output of recordings on Communist-backed labels and Japanese imports.

The release of a documentary entitled Nach der Musik is remarkable, because it opens the door -- just a crack-- on a man and musician, who coulda-woulda-shoulda become a Titan among conductors in the second half of the twentieth century. And didn't. But the want of giga-stardom seems of no concern to Suitner. Nor does it worry film maker Igor Heitzmann, possibly because of his relationship to his film's subject:

Heitzmann is Suitner's son out of wedlock.

As Music Director of East Berlin's Staatsoper (1964-1989) and a privileged citizen of the Communist Block, Suitner was pretty much free to shuttle between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. What started off as a regular break from the bleakness of Bebelplatz became a regular necessity after he began an extra-marital relationship with a woman living in West Berlin. She eventually bore Suitner a son-- Igor -- a "Weekend Child" as such progeny were then called. Suitner's (recently deceased) wife discloses that she knew about both the relationship and the child, but she never sought to leave him. A telling glance, gesture, and inflection here and there conspire to obviate the necessity for explanation: there could be no other man for her. The same can be said for why Heitzmann's mother, who also appears in the film, remained single.

Heitzmann reportedly spent four years on the project, much of it, I imagine, chasing down archive performances and news clips. He disperses them generously throughout what emerges as an engrossing labor of love -- as rich in subtle detail as it is thoughtful in design. Heitzmann is indeed his father's son. And here is where Nach der Musik forks away from most other music documentaries: We get a cumulative sense of the ineffable human impulse that sparks the inexplicable musical impulse. Sometimes a book or an article can convey that sense, but only a film or video can (with lucky timing) capture it with that's-it! that's-it! immediacy. Heitzmann lucks out frequently.

Suitner all but disappeared from the musical scene shortly before the Wall crumbled in 1989. Many assumed the Stasi or some other evil had caught up with him. Indeed: Parkinson's. Suitner says he quit because he considered the disease unsightly, even though he acknowledges that some other well-known conductors (past and present) have persevered despite their afflictions. But his reasoning proves disingenuous when, in a revealing sequence, he conducts a portion of his favorite symphony (I won't name it) at a recent reunion with his former colleagues at the Staatsoper. A wonderful performance, profound in its simplicity. I suspect it wasn't embarassment that prompted his withdrawal from the podium; it was abrogation of will.

Suitner attended the premiere two weeks ago at Berlin's fabled art-deco cinema, Babylon. We spoke briefly, and he seemed agreeable to a lengthier conversation soon. I hope he keeps his word.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Live Offerings - Sat.urday, June 6 - PART II

More live offerings:

Radio Tre (RAI) - FRom La Scala, Milan, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Live Offerings - Saturday, June 6, 2009

A load of live performances today. Here's today's lineup:

  • KUSC - From Los Angeles opera, Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, with Patti Lupone, Anthony Dean Griffey and Audra McDonald, conducted by James Conlon.
  • CBC Two & ABC Classic FM (Australia)- From Vienna State Opera, Bizet's Carmen, with Vesselina Kasarova, José Cura, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, Genia Kühmeier, Janusz Monarcha, Marcus Pelz, Ileana Tonca, Sophie Marilley, Hacik Bayvertian, Clemens Unterreiner and Benedikt Kobel, conducted by Asher Fisch.
  • Deutschlandradio Kultur & Klara - From the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, a May 1 performance of Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, with Dario Schmunck, Eric Owens, Alastair Miles, Elina Garanca and Anna Netrebko, conducted by Mark Elder.
  • DR P2 & Radio Tre (RAI)- From La Scala in Milan, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with David Daniels, Rosemary Joshua, Emil Woilk and Daniel Okultich, conducted by Andrew Davis.
  • Espace Musique - From Gradz, Austria, Haydn's Die Jahrzeiten (The Sseasons), with Genia Kühmeier, Werner Güra and Christian Gerhaher, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
  • NRK Klassisk , NRK P2 & Espace 2 - From Deutsche Oper, Berlin, Respighi's Marie Victoire, with Takesha Meshé, Markus Brück, German Villar, Jaco Huijpen, Jörn Schümann, Simon Pauly, Julia Benzinger, Gregory Warren, Nicole Piccolomini and Yosep Kang, conducted by Mikhail Jurowski.
  • Radio Clasica de Espana - From the Stadthalle de Göttingen, An April 14 performance of Handel's Acis e Galatea (the Mendelssohn version), with J. Kleiter, C. Prégardien, W. M. Friedrich and M. Slattery), conducted by N. McGegan.
  • RTP Antena 2 - From The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, a September 2005 performance of Donizetti's Dom Sebastian, with Vesselina Kasarova, Giuseppe Filianoti, John Upperton, Lee Hickenbotton, Martyn Hill, Alastair Miles, Simon Keenlyside, Andrew Slater, Nigel Cliffe, John Bernays, Carmelo Corrado Caruso and Robert Gleadow, conducted by Mark Elder.
  • WETA - From Washington National Opera, Maw's Sophie's Choice, with Angelika Kirchschlager, Rod Gilfry, Gordon Gietz, Corey Evan Rotz, Clayton Brainerd, Erin Elizabeth Smith and Trevor Scheunemann, conducted by Marin Alsop.
  • WFMT Opera Series (on numerous stations) - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, with Morenike Fadayomi, Lester Lynch, Jonita Lattimore, Laquita Mitchell, Marietta Simpson, Jermaine Smith, Eric Green, David Darlow, Danny Goldring and Chuck Coyl, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
  • Bartok Radio - From the Budapest Festival, a November 30, 2008 performance of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, with Julianne Banse, Anke Vondung, Tassis Christoyannis, Topi Lehtipuu, Claire Ormshaw and William Shimell, conducted by Iván Fischer.
  • BBC Radio 3 - From Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Bellini's Romeo e Julietta, with Elina Garanca, Anna Netrebko, Dario Schmunck, Eric Owens and Giovanni Battista Parodi, conducted by Mark Elder.
  • Cesky Rozhlas 3-Vltava - From Vienna State opera, a September 27, 2008 performance of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, with Leo Nucci, Roxana Briban, Giacomo Prestia, Mario Malagnini, Dan Paul Dumitrescu, Florin Ormenisan and Donna Ellen, conducted by Yves Abel.
  • Dwojke Polskie Radio - From Vienna, a May 5 performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni, with Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, Alexandru Moisiuc, Ricarda Merbeth, Michael Schade, Soile Isokoski, René Pape, Boaz Daniel and Michaela Seliger, conducted by Constantinos Carydis.
  • France Musique - From Opéra de Lyon, a December 19, 2008 performance of Strauss's Die Fledermaus, with Nicola Beller Carbone, Olga Peretyatko, Stéphanie Houtzeel, Bernhard Berchtold, Otto Katzameier, Eberhard Francesco Lorenz, Andreas Macco and Timo Dierkes, conducted by Emmanuel Krivine.
  • NPR World of Opera - From Washington National Opera, a double bill: Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, with Samuel Ramey and Denyce Graves; and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, with Samuel Ramey, Amanda Squitieri, Elizabeth Bishop, Antonio Gandia, Robert Baker, Christina Martos, Tony Teleky, Stefano de Peppo, Valeriano Lanchas, Trevor Scheunemann, Leslie Mutchler, Obed Urena, James Shaffran, David Morris and Matthew Osifchin, conducted by Giovanni Reggioli.
  • Latvia Radio Klasika - From Vlaams Opera in Antwerp, a February 13 performance of Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, with Nikolajs Putilin, Mikail Kit, Leandra Overmane, Tatjana Pavlovskaya, Milko Borovinov, conducted by Dmitri Jurowski.
  • Radio Oesterreich International (OE1) - From Opéra Bastille Paris, a performance of Massenet's Werther recorded on March 6 and 12, with Rolando Villazon, Susan Graham, Ludovic Tézier, Alain Vernhes, Adriana Kucerova, Christian Jean, Christian Tréguier, Vincent Delhoume and Letitia Singleton, conducted by Kent Nagano.
  • WDAV - NPR World of Opera (one week delayed) - From Houston Grand Opera, Puccini's Manon Lescaut, with Karita Mattila, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Vladimir Galouzine, Dale Travis, Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Fiona Murphy and Jon Kolbet, conducted by Patrick Summers.
  • Concert FM (New Zealand) - From Washington National Opera, Handel's Tamerlano, with David Daniels, Plácido Domingo, Sarah Coburn, Patricia Bardon, Claudia Huckle and Andrew Foster-Lawrence, conducted by William Lacey.


Happy listening . . . .

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Chicken or the Egg

Sam Shirakawa is back in Cologne to see a new production of Strauss's Capriccio:

R. STRAUSS: CAPRICCIO NEW PRODUCTION
COLOGNE
30 May 2009


Which comes first in creating musical theatre – the music or the words?

Who cares? Of all things to be concerned about in 1942, as Armageddon approaches!

The premiere of Richard Strauss’ Capriccio took place that year on 28 October in Munich. The War was now in its fourth year, food rationing had begun, the deportation of Jews, Gypsies and other undesirables to death camps had been initiated. The Gestapo was everywhere, the number of wounded soldiers on leave was increasing daily.

Despite the huge costs of prosecuting the aggressions the Nazis had initiated, the performing arts continued to function with lavish support approved by Hitler himself. Keeping up the appearance of normalcy on the home front and distracting the public from worrying about the war were top priorities for the regime. According to historian Gerhardt Splitt, more than a dozen new books appeared that year, in addition to premieres of 17 new plays, seven films and three operas, including Capriccio.

If the intent of all state-sanctioned works at the time was distraction, what better theme for a distracting opera than what comes first --words or music? Strauss was particularly concerned with textual matters at the time, because he had long since lost two valued collaborators: Hugo von Hoffmannstal had died in 1929, and Stefan Zweig was forced to emigrate because he was Jewish. Strauss ultimately set the text of Capriccio himself, with the help of Clemens Krauss, who conducted the World Premiere in Munich.

What must it have been like to be a performing artist during that period? On the one hand, musicians, singers and actors had certain privileges, such as extra food rations, military exemption and preferred living accommodations. On the other hand, a false step could mean dismissal, even death. Strauss felt compelled to be especially circumspect, because he was protecting his Jewish daughter-in-law.

Such is the milieu in which Christian Götz sets his production of Capriccio at the Cologne Opera, which opened this past Saturday 30 May. Everything happening on stage takes place under the watchful eyes of the Gestapo. The backdrop at first shows a tilt-up view of a winding staircase leading to a dome showing mythological maidens dancing around the perimeter. Later, it depicts the staircase crumbling from an explosion and one of the maidens falling from the dome. Everybody tries to act normally, but even the act of acting takes on peculiar tension, as the Gestapo in grey leather trench coats reveal their menacing presence amid the bright silks, powdered wigs and 18th century costumes.

Götz has come up with a superb conceit that gives new meaning to the seeming triviality of the text and even the music, which many listeners have deemed a work of finely-laced drivel? In fact, the “Reichsdramaturg”Rainer Schlösser submitted a report on the premiere in which he called the libretto “a lovely Nothing, out of which Strauss could have composed a magical Something, had both [Krauss and Strauss] not become so talky.” But Götz and his designer Gabriele Jaenecke transform the prattle-filled dialogue into nervous gibberish, as the characters try to function under the stress of surveillance. Strauss’ self-pastiche is also turned into neurotic repetition, as he not-so-subtly reminds his Nazi masters of his past glories, with not-so-subtle whispers from Rosenkavelier and Ariadne. What sounded in the past like senile pastiche becomes through Götz' production a heartbreaking testament of a once-masterful composer broken by intimidation and reduced to pandering.

It’s still crap, you may argue. No rebuttal. But Götz takes his point from the Beatles: try to see it his way. And if you try, as I did after attending this performance, you can’t help but be moved.

Götz’ view was aided in no small part by a uniformly superior cast, as well as a born Strauss-sympathzer at the podim. At times, Solveig Kringelborn as the Countess, looked and even sounded like Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, perhaps the most-admired interpreter of the role. But Kringelborn makes the role her own, not merely through her soaring lifts in the Countess’ monologue, but by parsing out a series of telling gestures and glances that probably would never have occurred to the late great Liz. Only at the final moment, after delivering the Countess’ impassioned plea for an opera with words and music that avoid triviality, does it become clear who and what she really is: she changes clothes, dons an extravagant fur coat, picks up two suitcases, and is led away by the Gestapo… Both Götz' staging and Kringelborn are better than Capriccio deserves.

Lest one forgets the estimable contributions of Kringelborn’s colleagues, they were submitted in no special order, by Ashley Holland as the Count, Martin Homrich as Flamand, Miljenko Turk as Olivier, Michael Eder as La Roche, Dalia Schaechter as Clairon, Johannes Preißinger as Monsieur Taupe, Csilla Csovari and Benjamin Bruns as the Italian Singers, Ulrich Hielscher as the Hausmeister, and Luisa Sanch Escanero as the Dancer.

Cologne Opera’s Music Director Markus Stenz is proving himself as capable at steering late Strauss as he is in driving postdiluvian Wagner. The orchestra was in superb form.

Capriccio was the opera in which Kiri Te Kanawa took leave of the Metropolitan Opera. She’s hitting the job market again, by returning to the boards in Cologne next year. Maybe she’ll retread the Countess here too.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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