Saturday, January 29, 2011

Linzer Forte

Sam Shirakawa recently caught performances of Die Meistersinger and Lakme in Linz:

(New Production)
Linz 16 January 2011

DELIBES : LAKME (New Production)
Linz 19 January 2011

Die Meistersinger has always been a source of ambivalent pride for Wagnerites and, since 1933, a profound embarrassment for cultivated German-speaking peoples. On the one hand, it constitutes, to paraphrase a British music critic, the grandest conception ever to seize the human imagination. On the other, it raises to the level of high art the chauvinism and racist rubbish that greased the deadly motors of National Socialism for twelve hideous years -- Abschaum that still finds best-selling resonance.

In the latest effort to save Richard Wagner from himself, though, the producer of a new production of Meistersinger in Linz has committed a capital crime among orthodox Wagnerites. Olivier Tambosi has altered parts of the text. The gravity of this “misdeed” is hardly diminished by being perpetrated in Austria, where Hitler was born, and in Linz (a reputed citadel of musical conservatism), where a special Führer-approved production of the opera was imported from Berlin in 1941.

Olivier Tambosi’s most radical changes take place in Hans Sachs’ final peroration of Act three. In place of the section that begins with:
zerfällt erst deutsches Volk und Reich,
in falscher wälscher Majestät
kein Fürst bald mehr sein Volk versteht,
und wälschen Dunst mit wälschem Tand
sie pflanzen uns in deutsches Land;
was deutsch und echt, wüsst' keiner mehr,
lebt's nicht in deutscher Meister Ehr'.
Drum sag' ich euch:
ehrt eure deutschen Meister!
Dann bannt ihr gute Geister;
und gebt ihr ihrem Wirken Gunst,
zerging' in Dunst
das heil'ge röm'sche Reich,
uns bliebe gleich
die heil'ge deutsche Kunst!
Tambosi substitutes:
An Geist, an Wissen nicht mehr reich,
verarmt im Herzen und im Sinn,
gibt sich kein Mensch der Kunst mehr hin.
Mit seichtem Dunst und seichtem Tand
benügt man sich ringsum im Land.
Was Kunst uns gibt, wüsst’ keiner mehr,
Lebt’s nicht in wahrer Meister Ehr’.
Drum sag’ ich Euch,
Ehrt Eure wahren Meister,
dann bannt Ihr guter Geister!
Und gebt Ihr Ihrem Wirken Gunst,
zerging in Dunst
jedwedes ird’sche Reich,
uns bliebe gleich 
die ewig neue Kunst! 
 Or, in other words:
No longer rich in spirit or in wisdom, impoverished in heart and mind, people will forsake their devotion to art. People throughout our land will settle for shallow ephemera and frills. No one will understand the value of art; the nobility of the masters will disintegrate. So I say to you: venerate your true masters, invoke their noble spirits and honor their works, lest they fade from all earthly kingdoms, so that art may remain forever anew.
Gone are the obeisances to the Holy Roman Empire, the curtsies to matters German and the paranoid grumbling about evil foreign influences. For Tambosi master singing is about furthering the animus of art through love, not chauvinism.

In a program note, Tambosi is said to disavow any suggestion that his text changes should become standard. He has made them, according to the note, specifically and exclusively for the current production. He might have saved himself the trouble of forging an ersatz-text, by following the Metropolitan Opera’s procedure during the 1930s through the beginning of the post-war period: simply drop the troubling xenophobic lines. Or take his cue from Peter Konwitschny’s eyebrow-raising production in Hamburg some years ago, in which the music stopped momentarily to make room for an “impromptu” discussion of the nationalistic implications of Sachs’ speech. (I must admit, I found that discourse a bit hard to follow.)

Taken on their own terms, however, Tambosi’s changes work.

And those terms work primarily because he has a first-rate cast onstage and a master in his own right on the podium: Dennis Russell Davies -- Music Director of the Linz Opera.

Davies’ reading took a bit of adjustment for me, because I’ve never heard Meistersinger performed in such a small space -- about 700 seats. That’s less than half the size of Bayreuth and under 20 percent of the Met’s capacity. Nonetheless, as loud as the orchestra sounded, it never overpowered the singers, thanks to Davies’ straight-forward approach and the congenial acoustics of the theater.

To get an idea of how the imponderables of sound-bouncing work at the Landestheater, I sat near the front of the parquet level for the first and third acts and moved upstairs for the second act. While the bloom on the sound seemed a bit thin from the last row of the second tier, the lucidity Davies achieved in kneading the vocal lines with the instrumentation, no matter where I was sitting, was consistent and remarkable. His pacing struck me as a bit hasty at times, but he might have been forced to pick up the tempi, because the house is short on reverb: the price of clarity here is alacrity. As a result, his is a brisk, sunny Meistersinger that foreswears soul-searching.

The cast was replete with characterful vocalists. Albert Pesendorfer as Sachs towered over his coevals with his tall lanky frame and outsize voice. Despite an uncomfortable moment during the Schustermonolog of the second act, he lasted the distance triumphantly in this killer role. Michael Ende commands a pleasingly hefty lyric sound that suits him admirably as Walther. Bjorn Waag has bracing Nordic wind in his voice and purveyed one of the most vocally rewarding Beckmessers I’ve encountered to date. Domanik Nekel delivered a resonant Veit Pogner that reminded me of early Salminen. With the aid of a gleaming tenor, Matthäus Schmidlechner made David a thoroughly sympathetic rules-of-the-contest savant. Seho Chang was a delightfully disorganized Fritz Kothner.

Christiane Boesinger as Eva is a find. She has a huge voice that can traverse an equally wide dynamic spectrum, She turned “O Sachs, mein Freund” into a molten burst of affection.

A pity that Karen Robertson has relatively little to do as Magdalene; her snippets make you want to hear her doing something more substantial -- like Mére Marie. Among the master singers, Martin Achrainer could not help but be noticed as a cross-dressing Konrad Nachtigall.

The sound of the Landestheater Chorus was bigger than the number of its members might suggest. The Bruckner Orchester of Linz played with an attractively softened edge that apparently characterizes the Austrian way with Wagner’s instrumentation. The brass section was in rousing form.


Any experienced chef will tell you: no matter how you cook merde, nothing can change the fact that it’s still crap. The thought occurred to me when I returned on 18 January to the Landestheater to attend a new production of Leo Delibes’ Lakmé. No matter how mah-velously it’s produced or sung, the opera is still musically execrable. And mounting it is a sticky gamble. In addition to needing a soprano who can persuasively cuckoo-clock her way through the opera’s signature number, no production can do without a tenor who can stylishly animate the role’s demanding but dead-beat vocal line. On the night I revisited Lakmé for the first time in decades, the Landestheater’s production played half of its hand in aces, the other half in sixes and sevens.

Mari Moriya was born in Japan and has already appeared at the Met, but opera managements should find out if there are any more like her at home. She portrays the title role with an other-worldliness that can’t be faked and has a warm lyric voice that opens out gloriously at the top. Her fiortitura is immaculate and her technique rock-solid, always at the service of dramatic expression. Nowhere was this more evident than in “The Bell Song.” When Lakmé’s father forces her to sing in the market place, in order to ensnare her lover, Moriya uses the aforementioned cukoo-clock decorations not only to signal danger to her beloved but also to express terror at being ogled by passers by. The scales, trills and stratospheric leaps function simultaneously to render Lakme’s manifold peril. Thanks to Aurella Eggers’ contemporay but no-nonsense staging, Lakmé and Lakmé rise to a moment of thrilling tension. Unfortunately, Moriya’s formidable talents and Eggers’ cohesive thinking are insufficient to sustain this level of excitement over the span of the whole work. But if Moriya paces herself, she could become a Shadow Empress to be reckoned with.

It would be easy but not necessarily fair to dismiss Pedro Velázquez Díaz as inadequate for such a demanding role as Gerald, the soldier who falls for Lakmé. While he has the requisite metal for the part, he seemed out of sorts and unfocussed on the 18th, possibly pulled under by the lugubrious tow of Gerald’s music.

Rounding out the trio of principals, Seho Chang had a better time making Lakmé’s Priest-Father sound more interesting than a flat-footed religious thug. The role is not really suited to him, but he’s fortunate in having the chance to find that out at this stage of his career rather than later.

Three conductors are listed for this production in the program brochure. Daniel Linton-France conducted an orderly, well-paced performance on the 18th. It’s hard to say what he contributed to the musical proceedings, because there was no way to tell what he rehearsed. Too many chefs might spoil the sauce, but Lakmé is one stew that can use all the spice it can get.

No winter journey to Linz is complete unless you take the upwardly mobile streetcar to Pöslingberg (altitude: 1762 feet) and look down on the veil of fog enveloping the city and the setting Winterreise sun. Restaurants worthy of the name usually close around 10 pm, but you can find excellent dining after the opera at Dom 5, less than a 10 minute walk from the theater. And Linzertorte really does taste better in Linz than elsewhere, especially at Hofmann, a bakery on Landstrasse dating from 1862.

©Sam H Shirakawa

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mechanical Castanets

Sam Shirakawa was in Bonn on January 13th for a new production of Bizet's Carmen:

CARMEN (New Production)
BONN 13 January 2011

What is Bizet’s Carmen really about?

With its references to terrorism, workers’ rights and social injustice, Florian Lutz’s new production of Carmen at Theater-Bonn makes more of the opera than the cautionary tale of femme fatale comeuppance might usually reveal. The throwaway contemporary sets and costumes by Andrea Kannapee suggest a societal infrastructure on the verge of collapse.

Some witty interpolations also exemplify Lutz’ practical imagination: the castanets are “played” on an electric typewriter.

Amusing ideas notwithstanding, any concept imposed on an opera as familiar as Carmen requires singers who can flesh out the plan. Theater-Bonn’s production is double-cast, so Lutz’s ideas may work better with the ensemble I didn’t see on my most recent visit to Beethoven’s home town.

Anjara Bartz has a bright, colorful mezzo-soprano, but her talents are ill-spent on Carmen. She is better suited for Mozart, musica antiqua and musicals. George Oniani undoubtedly can sing Don Jose, but he falls short in conveying the desperation of a man who chucks all for deceptive love. His expansive midriff also betrays an aging career soldier rather than a wide-eyed recruit. Irina Oknina’s Michaela tended to sharpen under pressure, but hers is an essentially solid voice that might serve her more satisfactorily at another performance. If Mark Morouse’s Escamillo could only look as glamorous as he sounds... But maybe that’s the point: what Carmen sees in the toreador we can only hear.

Consistently superior vocalism and an aptness for the part was evidenced by Emiliya Ivanova as Frasquita. The rest of the cast was rounded out competently by Kathrin Leidig as Mercedes, Tansel Akzeybek as Remendado and Giorgos Kananis as Dancairo.

Robin Engelen drew some exciting playing from the Beethoven Orchester Bonn.

The most exciting part of the evening for me was chatting briefly during intermission with the woman sitting next to me. When she told me she had sung Carmen at some major opera houses during her career, I asked her what her name was.

I’ve heard Eva Randova only a few times, but I have never forgotten her. She was a riveting Kundry (with Rene Kollo under Horst Stein) on my first visit to Bayreuth, and at her Met debut in 1981 was the most appealing Rheingold Fricka I’ve yet to hear live. I also heard her at the Met in Tannhäuser and Katya Kabanova. A superb and much underrated singer. She now coaches singers in Czech operas and is currently at Theater-Bonn, working on its forthcoming production of Rusalka. Randova also told me that my all-time lieblings-Brünnhilde, Ludmilla Dvorakova, is now living in retirement in the Czech Republic.
Eva Randova as Kundry

So never leave a performance, no matter how dull or awful. The person sitting next to you could make your day.

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Live Offerings - Saturday, January 22, 2011

We have just changed the listing for ESPACE 2 on our Saturday page - Instead of the Elektra that had been scheduled, they will be airing this fall's performance from the Wexford Festival of Mercadante's Virginie, starring Angela Meade. If you did not hear it this past October, don't miss it!

And now for the rest of the live lineup for this afternoon:

  • Dwojka Polakie Radio, DR P2 & Latvia Radio Klasika - From the Vienna State Opera, Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, with Miah Persson, Caitlin Hulcup, Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, Topi Lehtipuu, Daniela Fally and Alessandro Corbelli, conducted by Jérémie Rhorer.
  • Deutschlandradio Kultur - From the Vienna State Opera, an October 23, 2010 performance of Hindemith's Cardillac, with Juha Uusitalo, Juliane Banse, Herbert Lippert, Tomasz Konieczny, Matthias Klink and Ildiko Raimondi, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst..*France Musique, Radio OEsterreich (OE1) Sveriges Radio P2 - From L'Opera Comique, a January 11 concert performance double bill: Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Milhaud's Le Bœuf sur le toit, with Hélène Guilmette, Ivan Ludlow, Werner Van Mechelen, Christophe Gay, Loïc Felix, Thomas Morris, Marc Molomot, Jeannette Fischer, Robert Horn and Edgard Guilet, conducted by Ludovic Morlot.
  • Metropolitan Opera (on numerous stations) - Verdi's Rigoletto, with Giovanni Meoni, Nino Machaidze, Joseph Calleja, Stefan Kocán, Kirstin Chávez, Kathryn Day, David Crawford, Edyta Kulczak, Eduardo Valdes, Quinn Kelsey , Malcolm MacKenzie, Joseph Pariso and Patricia Steiner, conducted by Paolo Arrivabeni.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands - From Lausanne, Lecocq's La fille de Mme Angot, with Maryline Fallot, Bénédicte Tauran, Alain Vernhes, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Sébastien Bou, Philippe Cantor and Michèle Lagrange, conducted by Nicolas Chalvin.
  • Radio Clasica de Espana - From Opéra Berlioz-Le Corum in Montpellier, a July 26, 2010 performance of d'Indy's L’Étranger, with C. Berthon, L. Tézier , M. Brenciu, N. Javakhidze, B. Roussenq, F. Bard, F. Werquin, P. Palazy, F. Mbia, J. Houpiez-Bainvel, M. Chaboud-Crouzaz and A. Douphin, conducted by L. Foster.
  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, a November 11, 2010 performance of Rossini's Otello, with John Osborn, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Dmitrij Korchak, José Manuel Zapata, José Maria Lo Monaco, Marco Vinco, Tansel Akzeybek, Fabrice Constans and Tansel Akzeybek, conducted by Evelino Pido.
  • KBIA 2, WABE Classical & WUGA, - NPR World of Opera: From Washington National Opera, Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, with Alan Held, Jennifer Wilson, Gidon Saks, Ian Storey, Janice Meyerson, Andreas Conrad, conducted by Heinz Fricke.
  • Espace 2 - From the Wexford Festival, and October 10 performance of Mercadante's Virginie, with Angela Meade, Bruno Ribeiro, Ivan Magri, Hugh Russell, Gianluca Buratto, Marcella Walsh and John Myers, conducted by Carlos Izcaray.
  • Klara - Cavalli's Artemesia, with Francesca Lombardi Marzulli, Sakiko Abe, Valentina Coladonato, Maarten Engeltjes, Roberto Balconi, Marina Bartoli, Silvia Frigato and Salvo Vitale, conducted by Claudio Cavina.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From the Berlin State Opera, Joneleit's Metanoia, with Annette Dasch, Daniel Schmutzhard, Graham Clark, Alfred Reiter, Anna Prohaska, Sophie Rois and Martin Wuttke, conducted by Daniel Barenboim.
  • WFMT - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Puccini's Girl of the Golden West, with Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, Marco Vratogna and David Cangelosi, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
  • Concert FM (New Zealand) & ABC CLassic FM (Australia) - From the Metropolitan Opera, Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, with Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, Lucio Gallo, Tony Stevenson, Keith Miller, Dwayne Croft, Hugo Vera, Trevor Scheunemann, Richard Bernstein, Adam Laurence Herskowitz, Michael Forest, David Crawford, Edward Parks, Philip Cokorinos, Ginger Costa-Jackson, Oren Gradus and Edward Mout, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.
  • KING - From Seattle Opera, Rossini's The Barber of Seville, with Sarah Coburn, Lawrence Brownlee, José Carbó, Patrick Carfizzi, Burak Bilgili, Sally Wolf, Daniel Scofield, Adrian Rosas and David S. Hogan, conducted by Dean Williamson.

Happy listening . . . .

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Vittorio's Secret

Sam Shirakawa has recently caught two performances with up and coming new tenor Vittorio Grigolo:

8 JANUARY 2011

12 JANUARY 2011

As I approached Berlin's Deutsche Oper on Saturday evening, January 8th, there were so many people begging for spare tickets, you'd have thought that Pekka Nuotio was making a comeback. Actually, the crush was being caused by the debut of Vittorio Grigolo as Alfredo in La Traviata.

In case you haven't yet heard the hoopla, Grigolo is being touted as the next/new Pavarotti.

It may well be Grigolo's destiny to become as well known as the late Luciano. (As a youngster, Grigolo was cast as the Shepherd in a performance of Tosca with Pavarotti in Rome.) But comparisons with El P are misplaced, because Grigolo stands a good chance of becoming an icon of his own making--if he can keep up with himself. Pavarotti was an oddity, a mega-chubby with the voice of an angel, who gradually transformed his God-given pipes atop his devil-endowed adiposity from freakadello to force of nature.

Grigolo, on the other hand, has an even more formidable challenge before him. He is proving with success, that handsome is as handsome does. If he and the forces backing him can continue convincing the public that what he does is more handsome than what his rivals are doing, the sky is hardly the limit.

At the moment, a surprising number of attractive young Italianate tenors are making the rounds, who are poised for super-stardom -- Beczala, Calleja, Cutler, Poli, Polenzani -- for starters. Several of them have arguably finer voices than Grigolo’s. But he's pulling ahead of the pack. and it's not hard to figure out Vittorio's Secret: he’s in full possession of the proverbial Total Package -- voice, Valentino (Rudolf) eyes, and, above all, public relations savvy. He has a natural affinity for making his estimable bundle of goodies project Hunkatino con bella voce -- as evidenced during a curtain call, when he swept his Violetta of the evening (Patrizia Ciofi) off her feet and carried her into the wings. The crowd went wild. Have any of his peers the spontaneous wherewithal to do that? Imagine Pavarotti trying to haul Sutherland off her porkas.

Since I last heard Grigolo as Gennaro in Washington two seasons ago, his voice has darkened and grown larger. At this performance, though, his top notes turned a tad stringent, noticeably at the conclusion of the second act cabaletta "O mio rimorso." While his acting remains primitive (could someone please tie his hands to prevent him from slashing and thrusting?), he moves about the stage with assurance in the late Götz Friedrich's production from 1999 and portrays the younger Germont as an ardent, impetuous young man. Musically, he bridges the technical and stylistic gap between Donizetti and Verdi easily and sings unselfconsciously from the heart, which seduces you into forgiving some arhythmia.

Patritzia Ciofi makes the most of a smallish voice by portraying Violetta as a dying consumptive out for one last glorious fling. Her decorations in "Sempre libra" were accurate but came up short on oomph. She was at her best in bed in the final act.

The surprise of the evening, I’m glad to report, was Leo Nucci as Pere Germont. I've heard him many times in several theaters over the past 20 odd years, and I’ve almost invariably found him to be vocal valarian. But age has animated his singing and enlivened his delivery big time. On this occasion, he nearly stole the show.

Nucci's appearances in Germany have been seldom, following his refusal to appear in a concept production of Rigoletto in 1986 in Hamburg. Rolf Lieberman, who was General Manager of the Hamburg State Opera at the time, ultimately fired the director in order to keep Nucci, a decision that the German opera public resented for years to come. But the audience in Berlin on the 8th was more than willing to let bygones pass by.

The grace under pressure that all three principals showed at this performance was no insignificant achievement, given some out-to-lunch conducting by Roberto Rizzi Brignoli. In one glaring goof, he trigger-jumped the end of “Deh’ miei bolenti spiriti” by signaling the final chord while Grigolo was still holding the penultimate note.

Vittorio Grigolo
Several days later, Grigolo turned up in Dortmund to kick off a six-city concert tour of Germany and Switzerland. The near-sellout crowd included a gaggle of foreigners who obviously were there to find out if there's more to Grigolo than meets the ear.

The event turned out to be extraordinary. Grigolo came out swinging with nothing less than Corrado’s first act aria from Il Corsaro. As a follow up, he launched into “Ma se m’e forza perdito” from Ballo in Maschera, before yielding the stage to Sonya Yoncheva, a young lyrico-spinto, who was brought along for fill-in and duets. She rendered a creditable “O mio babbino caro.” All satisfactory and convincing.

But the defining moment for Grigolo came toward the end of the first half of the concert. The program (5 Euros, btw) listed the three contiguous sections that conclude the first act of La Boheme as separate items. Why? As Grigolo, alone, introspectively began “Che gelida manina...” he picked out a woman sitting the first row and sang the aria to her. At one point, he knelt at the edge of the stage apron and all but reached for her hand.

For taking this electrifying risk, the audience gave Grigolo a show-stopping standing ovation. After that he could do no wrong. Whether he was crooning “Amapola” or embracing Yoncheva in a Mario Lanza/Dorothy Kirsten driven “La Vie en Rose” in a sucession of gelato e cappucino cross over numbers that constituted the second half of the program, Grigolo demonstrated that he knows how to make love to his vocal partner as well as to his audience. No meatball he.

Which is not to say, that he was flawless. Coordinating convincing pianissimi proved problematic in several instances, notably in an otherwise heartfelt delivery of “Una furtiva lagrima.” His lower register has support but can sound shallow at times. All told though, his voice is in a more advanced state of refinement than Pavarotti’s was at roughly the same age, when I first heard him as Tebaldo in La Scala’s production of I Capuletti e i Montechi in 1965. If Grigolo can keep his instrument as fresh as it sounds in its present estate, keep his oft-flaunted abs in six-pack condition, and keep at bay the lunatic fringe that inevitably attracts the adulation he is wont to invite, the opera world may sustain a longer autumn than some expect.

Lest we forget, the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie (Northwest German Philharmonic) under the stylish direction of Pier Giorgio Morandi performed their backup duties admirably.

©Sam H Shirakawa

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guys Who Like Guys Who like . . .

Our friend Sam is back in Cologne and recently saw a new production of Kalman's Die Csardasfürstin:

Cologne (First Production ever at Oper Köln) | 5 January 2011
Photo ©Paul Leclaire

At first, you'd think it's just a gimmick from an idea-starved opera director: A gay, nearly all-male production of Emmerich Kalman's popular operetta Die Csardasfürstin. But somehow, this first-ever production at Oper Köln works. Not only that, Bernd Mottl's staging reveals this popular chestnut dating from 1915, in a new and occasionally disturbing light.

All the more surprising, because neither the text nor the plot has been subjected to any perceptible changes. Hungarian variety star Sylvie Varescu (Christof Marti) has an ardent admirer in Edwin von Lippert-Weylersheim--a nobleman--(Carsten Süß). The mandates of class propriety forbid them to wed. So Sylvie embarks on a tour of America, leaving Edwin to enter loveless matrimony with his cousin, a (real) woman of appropriate pedigree. Before the betrothal takes place, though, Sylvie returns, having vanquished the New World. In the end, love conquers all, and Sylvie enters a brave new world with titled partner in tow.
Photo ©Paul Leclaire

What is remarkable about this production is that the usually ho-hum dialogue about filial duty and the survival of nobility is transformed into a transparent forum that addresses a thorny present-day issue: gay marriage. The effect is all the more powerful because the cliched euphemisms and code words are as starchy as the prevailing pre-World-War I/Ante-Stonewall mentality which utters them.

In a brilliant, sometimes unsettling stroke of theatricality, the production makes the audience participate in the demimonde of a gay nightclub, by moving it out of the opera house (currently under renovation) and thrusting it into a huge local venue named The Palladium, where the public sits at tables along intersecting runways that connect a pair of stages at either end of the hall. Since the action takes place all over the nightclub, it's difficult for anyone in the audience to leave unnoticed.
Photo ©Paul Leclaire

The well-known Swiss cabaret artist Christof Marti endows Sylvie with a smart Wallis Simpson tartiness that makes it easy to understand why a blue-blood could fall for him/her. Vocally, he attempts no operatics, but wigged-out charm, garish gowns and glamola make-up give birth to what looks like the all-grown-up love child of Charles Ludlam and Birgit Nilsson.

No report I've read has mentioned the canny resemblance between Carsten Süß's superb Edwin and Klaus Wowereit, Berlin's openly gay mayor. As he might put it: das ist auch gut so [...and that is good] (also the title of his autobiography).

The rest of the top-drawer cast, drawn mostly from Oper Köln's resident ensemble, includes Csilia Csvöri as Edwin's fiancee, Ludwig Sebus and Andreja Schneider as his parents, Martin Koch, Alexander Fedin and Burghard Braun.

Otto Pichler's campy choreography for his cross-dressed chorus line leave you wanting more production numbers. Friedrich Eggart's over-the-top costumes pay ooh-ahhh homage to Bob Mackie's legendary getups for Carol Burnett, Barbra Streisand and, not least, Cher. His nightclub setting, though, could have benefitted from the influence of Cher's latest film Burlesque.

Gerrit Prießnitz leads the starkly reduced Gürzenich Orchestra in a delightfully seedy reading of Kalman's score.

Owing to the acoustic vagaries of the Palladium as a night club, the singers are miked. Opera purists might kvetch, but the last time I visited a nitery with no sound system, there was also no electricity.

Hats off to Kalman's family for boldly granting permission for this outré production. Can you imagine the Rodgers and Hammerstein Foundation blessing a correspondingly avant production of, say, Flower Drum Song?

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Live Offerings - Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Met goes live today with Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, DR P2 has a promising-looking Tosca with Mattila and Kaufmann, you can catch rebroadcasts of this season's Met broadcasts of Pelleas, Don Carlo and its historic broadcast of The Bartered Bride. Here's the complete lineup0 of live offerings:

  • LRT Klasika Radio - Already underway, a reairing of the Met's Pellas et Melisande from last week, with Kozena, Degout, Finley, Palmer and White, conducted by Rattle.
  • Deutschlandradio Kultur - From Theater Osnabrück, a May 15, 2009 performance of Gombrowicz's Mario Wiegand, with Marco Vassalli, Anja Meyer, Kolja Hosemann, Eva Schneidereit, Genadijus Bergorulko, Natalia Atamanchuk, Mark Hamman, Frank Färber, Alrun Becker, Stefan Kreimer and Tadeusz Jedras, conducted by Hermann Bäumer.
  • DR P2 - From Munich, an August 28, 2010 performance of Puccini's Tosca, with Karita Mattila, Jonas Kaufmann, Juha Uusitalo and Christian van Horn, conducted by Fabio Luisi.
  • Metropolitan Opera (on numerous stations) - Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, with Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, Lucio Gallo, Tony Stevenson, Keith Miller, Dwayne Croft, Hugo Vera, Trevor Scheunemann, Richard Bernstein, Adam Laurence Herskowitz, Michael Forest, David Crawford, Edward Parks, Philip Cokorinos, Ginger Costa-Jackson, Oren Gradus and Jeff Mattsey, conducted by Nicola Luisotti. [Also being shown in HD in movie theaters this afternoon.]
  • Radio 4 Netherlands & Radio Oesterreich International (OE1) - A re-airing of the Met's Don Carlo, with Giorgio Giuseppini, Yonghoon Lee, Simon Keenlyside, Eric Halvarson and Maria Poplavskaya, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
  • BBC Radio 3 - A Mozart double bill: From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Le Nozze di Figaro, with Kyle Ketelsen, Danielle de Niese, Anne Schwanewilms, Mariusz Kwiecien, Joyce DiDonato, Lauren Curnow, Andrea Silvestrelli, Keith Jameson, Philip Kraus, Angela Mannino and David Portillo, conducted by Andrew Davis; and from Freiburt, La Clemenza di Tito, with Mark Padmore, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Bernarda Fink, Marie-Claude Chappuis, Sunhae Im and Sergio Foresti, conducted by René Jacobs.
  • Dwojka Polskie Radio - An October 10, 2010 performance of Cherubini's Lodoïska, with Sébastien Gueze, Nathalie Manfrino, Pierre-Yves Pruvot, Philippe Do, Alain Buet, Hjördis Thébault and Armando Noguera, conducted by Jérémie Rhorer.
  • KBIA 2, WABE Classical, WDAV, WHQR & WUGA - NPR World of Opera: From the Lucerne Festival, Beethoven's Fidelio, with Jonas Kaufmann, Nina Stemme, Christof Fichesser, Rachel Harnisch, Chrostoph Strehl, Falk Struckmann and Peter Mattei, conducted by Claudio Abbado.
  • Espace 2 - From Opéra de Lyon, a November 2010 performance of Rossini's Otello, with Anna Caterina Antonacci, Dmitry Korchak, José Manuel Zapata, José Maria Lo Monaco, Marco Vinco, Tansel Akzeybek and Frabrice Constans, conducted by Evelino Pidò.
  • Klara - From Los Angeles Opera, Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, with Nathan Gunn, Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato, Bruno Praticò, Andrea Silvestrelli, Kerri Marcinko, José Adán Pérez and Craig Colclough, conducted by Michele Mariotti,
  • Concert FM (New Zealand) & ABC Classic FM (Australia) - A re-airing of the historic Met broadcast of Smetanan's The Bartered Bride, from December 2, 1978, with Derek Hammond Stroud, Elizabeth Cross, Teresa Stratas, Jean Kraft, Jon Vickers, Nicolai Gedda, Martti Talvela,. John Cheek, Alan Crofoot, Colette Boky and Andrij Dobriansky conducted by James Levine.

Happy listening . . . .

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Is Bonn Burning?

After a quick visit back to the States, where he joined us a for a lovely dinner, Sam Shirakawa returned to Germany in time to catch a Gala evening in Bonn on New Year's Eve:


If you scanned the New Year's Eve schedule for state-supported music theaters in Europe, you probably found some opera, lots of operetta and even more musicals. The financially strapped Theater-Bonn, however, was one of the few venues that offered a gala concert -- boldly entitled 'The Best of a Night at the Opera." An event naming itself so similarly to the Marx Brothers' film classic was too much to foreswear. So I trained down from Cologne to the former capital of West Germany and managed to finagle a standing place.

As it turned out, there wasn't much opera and nearly nothing to recall the Marx Brothers' classic film. But there was a lot of fun anyway. Performers from the Theater's musical, spoken drama and opera divisions engaged themselves in an entertaining variety program that wanted only for jugglers and flying trapeze artists.

Which is not to say, there were no acrobatics. Lyric coloratura Emiliya Ivanova leaping the crossover gap from Juliette's "Je veux Vivre" to Sting's "It's Probably Me" was no mean feat. And Theater-Bonn's resident Verdi tenor Mirko Roschkowski jumping the time gap by doing a duet (quasi Il Divo) with Enrico Caruso's rendition of the Brindisi from Traviata was nothing short of thrilling.

Bonn's Beethoven Orchester (led throughout the concert by several conductors) sounded equally at home performing John Williams theme music from "Star Wars" as they were in doubling with a pop band in "Jig a Jag" from "East of Eden."

Galas sometimes showcase hidden talents, and on this occasion Mark Morouse and Mark Rosenthal, two American members of the Beethoven Orchestra's brass section, multi-tasked by singing the Duet from Verdi's Don Carlo and playing their respective solo parts. Trust me, it worked far better on stage than it does on paper. These guys probably won't be called in as stand-bys for Domingo and... well, Domingo, but their in-your-face enthusiasm delighted the crusty Bonn audience.

Günter Alt of the acting ensemble also did double-duty as two moderators -- sporting a formal jacket during the first part and donning even more gay apparel in the second half, by slipping into a floor-length gown. His witty repartee recalled the incomparable Danny La Rue. No drag he.

This was a rare evening, and such events are in danger of becoming rarer still. The slashes in government spending have already eliminated Theater-Bonn's ballet. The talk currently is of disbanding the Theater altogether and merging it with Cologne's theatrical operations.

Talk about bean-counting imbecility.

When Bonn was capital of West Germany, its theater was one of the nation's cultural crown jewels. The opera house designed by the Stuttgart architect Wilfried Beck-Erlang and completed in 1965, is a masterpiece, even though it has only one set of toilets to serve all 1,038 attendees for a sold-out performance -- persuasive evidence that members of the government, who most frequented the opera, were toads. The programs have usually been adventurous and the productions, more often than not, have made sense. To merge a company with such a distinct profile with Cologne, while the latter is sorting out its chaotic affairs is not merely imprudent, it is bonkers.

The madness of this plan literally crushed my thoughts as I boarded the train back to Cologne. In its finite wisdom, Deutsche Bahn down-sized the number of wagons for New Year's Eve (!) from five to three. Cutbacks everywhere. By the time the the train doors closed, I was packed in among at least 500 merry-makers -- most of them under 25, most of them already stewed or prepared to hit infinity with Liebfraumilch. They were loud but surprisingly well-behaved, though a petit Asian Mädchen standing next to me gave me that glassy-eyed look that intimated i'mgonnaheavealloveryou. During the interminable journey back to the City of Eleven-Thousand Virgins (so many?), I tried to distract myself by speculating how many of these passengers had also attended the opera that night. When that thought gave me a heave-ho sensation, I wondered how many of them were budding opera singers. As their tuneless, inebriated braying washed over me, I started feeling oddly better.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

Time-Shifting Pelleas

Confused when we heard not the Met broadcast of Pelleas et Melisande on WQXR at the appointed hour (Noon), we called the Met to find out what was what...and were told that the performance did start at Noon, but that the broadcast had been delayed for one hour and would not start until 1:00PM EST because many stations also were carrying the Vienna New Year's Day Concert which runs past Noon. But that's not quite right either, as we discovered by sampling the streams of a number of stations on our Met Page -- some East Coast stations were indeed carrying the New Year's Day Concert, but some started the Pelleas at Noon, as scheduled.

This is the first time in our memory that any lower-48 America station has been allowed to time-shift the Met broadcast. If this sets any sort of precedent it will make the elves at OperaCast very unhappy, as we will have a much harder time informing you listeners when to tune into these broadcasts.....

Happy New Year!

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