Monday, February 15, 2010

Bon-Bons from Bonne Bonn

WAGNER : TANNHÄUSER
Theater Bonn
7 February 2010


I’ve made three trips to Bonn from Cologne in the past month (less than 30 minutes by train), twice to hear the last performances this season of Tannhäuser. As I suspected, the best thing about Klaus Weise’s new production is how new it looks.

Following the current trend, the musical format mixes the Dresden (1845) and Paris (1860) versions. For those members of the Great Unwashed who don’t know the key differences between the two versions: the Paris Edition has a ballet; the Dresden version has more singing, primarily in the second act. The mixed version going around these days purveys the ballet and more singing. For purists, this might not make sense: The later version is significantly more sophisticated. As the fat lady tauntingly told her husband though: All in all, there’s just more to love.

What’s truly to love in Bonn’s new production is Scott MacAllister. I never thought I would ever hear a Heinrich (that’s T’s first name) so well sung. All the more surprising, because I heard him sing a number of roles (mostly Mozart) 20 years ago in Mannheim, and I could not have imagined that I would ever hear him attempt, let alone achieve excellence in a Wagner opera. The voice in its current estate has no perceptible register breaks. It’s bright and open at the top, solid in the middle and below. The sound is clean, large and remains sweet under pressure: Think Bjørling meets early Max Lorenz. MacAllister needs at least one strophe of his Hymn to Venus to warm up, but once he hits his stride, he’s full-throttle right up to the final curtain. Of the 15-odd tenors I’ve heard as Tannhäuser over more than 30 performances, including Hans Hopf, James McCracken and Peter Seifert (and oh, yes, Pekka Nuotio, too), none come close to challenging him. Unfortunately though, the size of his midriff has increased in direct proportion to the outsize amplitude of his voice.

Elisabeth on 7 February was Ingeborg Greiner, who was satisfactory, following a nervous start. Far superior was Anna-Katharina Behnke, who sang the role in Bonn last month. She has grown musically by leaps since I first heard her as Aida in Halle about 12 years ago, but she remains an underestimated quantity.

Anna Magdalena Hofmann was an attractive Venus and Lee Poulis a dignified Wolfram. Both received a big round of applause at the curtain calls. The other principals carried out their duties efficiently: Ramaz Chikviladze (Hermann), Mirko Roschkovski (Walther), Mark Morouse (Biterolf), Mark Rosenthal (Heinrich der Schreiber), Marton Tzonev (Reinmar). No standouts though.

Stefan Blunier drew some excellent playing from the house orchestra.




On the third of my three recent trips to Bonn, I attended a recital by Monserrat Caballe. She's now 76 and walks with a cane. Time and fevers, to borrow from Auden, have taken their tolls, but her radiance remains undiminished. 'Nuf said.


Caballé in 2007


© Sam H. Shirakawa

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