Posts Tagged ‘Ekaterina Gubanova’

Die Walküre, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

6 April, 2013

What a spectacular ending to Act III this was, equalled in my recent memory only with Barenboim in the same production at La Scala in December 2010.

All images © Monika Rittershaus

All images © Monika Rittershaus

His sensitive handling of the orchestra framed those hugely gentle scenes between the sympathetic Wotan of René Pape and the intensity of Iréne Theorin as his daughter Brünnhilde, when for example when he tells her she is the daughter of the world’s wisest woman, and later when she coaxes him away from consigning her to a fate worse than death. These were tranquil and beautiful moments, as was the encounter between Brünnhilde and the noble Siegmund of Peter Seiffert when she announces his impending doom.

Yet all the singers came over with great force at times of high drama. Peter Seiffert’s cry to his lost father, Wälse! Wälse! in Act I had huge lyrical force, with the orchestra at full tilt, and Waltraud Meier gave Sieglinde a sublime intensity after Brünnhilde dissuades her from death by telling of a Wälsung in her womb. Rette mich Kühne! (Rescue me brave one) had tremendous lyrical force, and when Brünnhilde gives her the shards of the sword, and names him Siegfried, O hehrstes Wunder floated high above the orchestra, ascending to the gods themselves.

Wotan and Brünnhilde

Wotan and Brünnhilde

These great turning points in The Ring are powered by forces that Wagner extracts from deep mines of cultural history, but he sets it all going in dramatic style with that wonderful Act I. Here Seiffert and Meier beautifully vocalised their mutual passion, and the strongly youthful Hunding of Mikhail Petrenko represented the determined world of honour killing, supported by the fiery Fricka of Ekaterina Gubanova. And when Hunding kills Siegmund in Act II he does not merely fell him with a sword, but thrusts a spear through his body as it lies on the ground.

As he stands victorious on stage-right, Wotan on stage-left quietly commands him to kneel before Fricka. He remains motionless, and as Pape firmly emphasises the second Geh! he falls dead. Earlier in Act II, Pape showed utter exhaustion after telling Fricka she could take his oath, and his beautifully crafted portrayal of Wotan’s self awareness allowed him to project huge power in the final moments of Act III. As the music crescendos, his Leb’ wohl! to Brünnhilde swept with huge power through the orchestral sound.

Wotan's farewell to Brünnhilde

Wotan’s farewell to Brünnhilde

After the final bars the audience gradually recovered from the magic, and the sustained applause took in more than one appearance on stage by the full orchestra, and numerous curtain calls for Barenboim and the soloists, including the Walküren in their voluminous dresses. Immensely cumbersome though Tim Van Steenbergen’s costumes may be, they are effective, as is this whole production by Guy Cassiers with lighting and assistance on set design by Enrico Bagnoli. Thank goodness the dancers from Rheingold were entirely absent, leaving us to savour the heart and soul of the music.

This performance was on April 5, and Siegfried continues on April 7.

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Das Rheingold, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

5 April, 2013

The lights went down and all was silence. In the partially covered pit the conductor was invisible but slowly a quiet E flat emerged. Daniel Barenboim’s restrained conducting allowed huge clarity for the singers and plenty of scope for the brass at big moments. It was a coolly intriguing prelude to The Ring.

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ©Monika Rittershaus

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ©Monika Rittershaus

The stage was filled with water, albeit shallow, and Alberich and the Rheinmaidens were like a boy with three teasing girls splashing around in the water. After their mockery he is defeated and soaking wet. Then comes the gold motif and we’re off and away.

After Alberich takes the gold, dancers enter. They form everything from an arch for the entrance of Wotan and Fricka, to a throne for Alberich and an animated tarnhelm. They also writhe and express themselves to the music, but not everyone will like this aspect. Some of us prefer less distraction. It seems that the director, Guy Cassiers is keen to see perpetual motion on stage, whereas many in the Wagner audience are doubtless more keen to listen to the orchestral sound and the singers.

Loge and dancers

Loge and dancers

In this respect there was some very fine singing indeed. Johannes Martin Kränzle was a terrific Alberich, somewhat hampered by the dancers in this opera, and I look forward to his return in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Superb diction and tone from Iain Paterson and Mikhail Petrenko as Fasolt and Fafner, plus a very strong vocal presence by Stephan Rügamer as Loge, and mellow attractiveness from Ekaterina Gubanova as Fricka. Despite a subdued performance as Wotan, René Pape came through strongly when necessary, particularly after taking the Ring from Alberich when he gloats that his new possession will raise him to der Mächtigen mächtigsten Herrn (the mightiest of mighty lords).

Alberich and dancers

Alberich and dancers

The Ring itself in this production is a sparkling glove, and when Alberich loses it the end of his arm appears cut off. The glove idea has the merit of making the Ring obviously visible to the whole audience, and when Wotan heeded Erda’s warning he gave it up by simply tossing it over his head.

Costumes by Tim Van Steenbergen put the giants in dark suits, and the representation of the male gods reminded me of some rather odd dictators (the late Kim Jong Il came to mind in the person of Donner), and British readers will know what I mean if compare the appearance of Loge to violinist Nigel Kennedy.

Good lighting by Enrico Bagnoli, who collaborated with director Guy Cassiers on the sets, and I liked the video projections that at one point seemed to suggest a future world. Their reflection on the water was very effective, but I gather from friends that this was not visible from all parts of the auditorium.

This performance was on April 4. Die Walküre continues tonight on April 5, unencumbered by dancers if my memory of La Scala serves me right.

Anna Bolena, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, October 2011

16 October, 2011

This was the work that finally put Donizetti on the map. Having already produced over thirty operas in Italy, he suddenly became famous across Europe after the first performance in Milan on 26 December 1830.

Anna Netrebko as Anne Boleyn, all photos Brigitte Lacombe

The first Anna was the amazing soprano Giuditta Pasta, who less than three months later created the role of Amina in La Sonnambula, and exactly one year later on 26 December 1831, the role of Norma, all in Milan. Italian operas in what later became known as the bel canto style were all the rage at the time, but they went out of fashion in the late nineteenth century, and a serious revival had to wait until after the Second World War. By that time  Anna Bolena was a forgotten work. It needed a great soprano, and when Maria Callas raised the possibility of reviving it at the Met, Rudolf Bing dismissed it as “an old bore of an opera”. Fortunately La Scala was willing, and with Visconti as producer, Gavazzeni in the orchestra pit, and Callas in the main role, it was a huge success — the live recording was issued by EMI.

Anne and Percy

Now we have Anna Netrebko as Anne Boleyn, and what a queen she is. Sincere, emotional, and not to be trifled with, though that’s exactly what her husband Henry VIII does, setting her up to sweep her aside in favour of her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. After all the emotion of meeting her previous lover Percy she is still ready to give a powerful rendering to “Ah! segnata è la mia sorte” (Ah, my fate is sealed) at the end of Act I, seeing the prospect of her accuser (the king) being the one who condemns her. Percy was brilliantly sung by Stephen Costello, his high tenor having a heroic timbre, and the wretched Smeton (Mark Smeaton), a twenty-four year old musician who is secretly in love with the queen, was convincingly portrayed by Tamara Mumford. As for the king himself, Ildar Abdrazekov sang this bass role with excellent gravitas, and demonstrated power and cunning in equal measure. The role of Jane (Giovanna) Seymour was sung by Ekaterina Gubanova, whose voice was quite different from Ms. Netrebko, and the Met did well to produce such a strong contrast.

The king and Anne

In Act II it only got better, and Anna Netrebko came through with the emotions every time. So sincere in her soliloquy as she sings of how Catherine of Aragon was wronged, yet suddenly when Jane Seymour tells her she can save her own life by admitting guilt, she is furious, easily winning the exchange between the two women while not yet knowing that Jane is her rival in the king’s affections. The nobility of Anne and Percy shone through in the sincerity of their singing, and it’s hard not to feel that Henry VIII was a rogue, but then … he was an immensely powerful monarch, and David McVicar’s production emphasises this very well. In Act I as Percy returns from exile at the king’s wish, and bends to kiss the monarch’s hand he whips it away at the last minute.

Anne awaiting execution

Details like this help create a convincing atmosphere for this historical tale of two of the six wives of Henry VIII. For those unfamiliar with the list, just remember: divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived. Anne Boleyn was beheaded and Jane Seymour later died after giving birth to the king’s only son, the future Edward VI.

Musically this was a wonderful team effort with Marco Armiliato in the orchestra pit, but it was of course Anna Netrebko who gave it the diva touch. Congratulations to the Met for broadcasting it, and for extending their relays to Russia, which is highly appropriate in this case as the three main roles were sung by Russians!

The Tsar’s Bride, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, April 2011

15 April, 2011

This is about love, jealousy, guilt and remorse — ideal material for opera — ostensibly set in the time of Ivan the Terrible (late Tudor period in England). The power of the oligarchs and the state security police (the oprichniki) is part of the story, and director Paul Curran, who has lived and worked in Russia, sets it all in modern times. The result carries complete conviction, allowing the human emotions, insecurities and scheming to shine through in a milieu that is easy for us to understand.

Lïkov and Marfa in Act 2, all photos ROH/Bill Cooper

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote this opera at the end of the nineteenth century, and made no attempt to follow what was becoming an academically Russian style. Quite the opposite in fact, and in Act I the young man Lïkov, who is in love with the heroine Marfa, sings a beautiful arioso commenting favourably on the way things are done in Germany. This is immediately countered by a chorus singing the glories of the Tsar, and dancing girls who entertain the oprichniki at a party given by Gryaznoy. He is also in love with Marfa, and his mistress Lyubasha is insanely jealous, to the extent that she asks the Tsar’s pharmacist Bomelius to give her a potion that will destroy Marfa’s beauty. Gryaznoy also acquires a potion — to make Marfa fall in love with him — and he gets her to drink it before her wedding to Lïkov.

Act 3, the wedding party for Lïkov and Marfa

The Tsar himself we never see, but he’s in the process of choosing a wife, and his choice falls on Marfa. She, however, has taken the potion given her by Gryaznoy, and yet unbeknownst to him, Lyubasha has switched the potions. These multiple deceptions end in tragedy in the last Act, as Marfa, now the Tsarina, finds herself dying. To cover himself, Gryaznoy has accused Lïkov and killed him, but as Marfa becomes delirious she believes Gryaznoy to be her beloved Lïkov, and he is overwhelmed by remorse. He admits to his crime, only to be outdone by the scheming Lyubasha, who realises she’s lost him. Death all round, but in the style of great opera we were rewarded with glorious singing.

Marina Poplavskaya was a wonderful Marfa, so pure of tone and innocent looking. Johan Reuter portrayed a powerful Gryaznoy, and Dmytro Popov sang Lïkov with a lovely lilt to his tenor voice. The other fine tenor voice was Vasily Gorshkov as Bomelius the pharmacist. The bass role of Marfa’s father was well sung by Paata Burchuladze, and it was altogether a strong cast, with Ekaterina Gubanova singing powerfully as Lyubasha, particularly in her unaccompanied aria in Act I.

Act 4 in the Tsars palace, Marfa lies dead

The direction by Paul Curran was excellent producing well-nuanced and entirely convincing performances. Sets and costumes by Kevin Knight were superb, and I loved the women’s costumes in the Tsar’s palace for Act IV. The purples blended with the gold leaf in the background, and gave a perfection to what in fact is a frightful scene of madness and eventual death. The set in Act III was simply fabulous, a penthouse with an outdoor pool, and the lighting by David Martin Jacques was remarkable. The bright skyscrapers in the distance, and the reflection of the pool on the upper facade of the balcony drew spontaneous applause from the audience.

Act 4, Gryaznoy kills Lyubasha

This opera is a favourite Rimsky-Korsakov work in Russia, yet little known in the West. The trouble is of course that recordings, and even scores, were not readily available until after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but we need to be seeing more of these works. Mark Elder did a terrific job with the orchestra, bringing the score to life, just as the production brought the story to life. For anyone who thinks this representation of Russia is over the top, and I met one such, read Adrian Mourby’s excellent essay in the programme. Yes, Russia looks entirely normal, but the abnormalities are associated with the oligarchs, and this is essentially the setting of The Tsar’s Bride.

Performances continue until May 2 — for more details click here.

Die Walküre, La Scala, Milan, December 2010

24 December, 2010

The mighty cathedral in Milan — the third largest in Europe after Seville and Rome — contains vast columns reaching up to an immense height. Nearby is La Scala with its four tiers of boxes ascending to two further tiers of row-seats, and during the final curtain calls the performers looked heavenwards to right and left, relishing the applause from the gods, while Daniel Barenboim, who conducted a magnificent Walküre, waved to the rafters.

Brünnhilde and Valkyries, La Scala photos, Brescia and Amisano

What a performance it was, in a new production by Guy Cassiers, with simple abstract sets by Enrico Bagnoli, and clever video projections by Arjen Klerkx and Kurt d’Haeseleer. La Scala has seen its share of Verdi operas with their powerful family relationships, but Wotan and his daughter Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre is the equal of anything in Verdi, and here we had a young and glorious Brünnhilde in Nina Stemme. In the final scene, embraced by her father, with warm reddish light falling on her bare shoulders, she was the perfect sleeping beauty to be surrounded by fire until woken by a mighty hero in the next opera of The Ring.

That hero has yet to be born, but at the end of Act II, Brünnhilde drags his mother Sieglinde — magnificently sung by Waltraud Meier — away from the fatally wounded body of her lover and brother Siegmund, powerfully sung here by Simon O’Neill. After they leave, Sieglinde’s abandoned husband Hunding thrusts his sword deep into Siegmund’s dying body. This is too much for Vitalij Kowaljow’s sympathetic Wotan, father to Siegmund and Sieglinde, and with the emphasis on the second Geh! he sweeps a hand sideways, and Hunding falls dead. But what a Hunding this was, with his rich dark tone — the best I have ever seen — sung by Britain’s very own John Tomlinson. Wotan, of course, threw the battle to Hunding after his wife Fricka demanded it. She was strongly sung by Ekaterina Gubanova, and after his argument with her, his declamation “In eigner Fessel fing ich mich, die unfreiester aller!” (In my own bonds I’m trapped, the least free of everyone!) was strongly delivered with perfect diction.

John Tomlinson as Hunding

The appearance of the nine Valkyries at the start of Act III, in voluminous black dresses by Tim Van Steenbergen, was very effective. At this point, Sieglinde yearns only for death, but suddenly comes to life after Brünnhilde foretells her pregnancy. Her “Rette mich Kühne! Rette mein Kind!” (Rescue me, brave one! Rescue my child!) filled the auditorium, and her final “O herhstes WunderHeiligste Maid!” sailed over the orchestra and up to gods.

This was more than a miracle, it was opera magic, and at the end of the final act as red lighting bespoke the fire that would encircle Brünnhilde, an asymmetrical collection of twenty-eight red lights — a mathematically perfect number — descended from above. All praise to the production team and singers, but to no one more so than Barenboim, whose nuanced conducting brought out the full depth and passion of Wagner’s music.

For a more concise version of this review see the Daily Telegraph on 24thDecember.

Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2009

20 December, 2009

The main character in this fascinating opera by Offenbach is Hoffmann himself, gloriously sung here by Joseph Calleja. He first appears in a tavern where the menacing Count Lindorf is determined to steal his lover, the opera singer Stella. Lindorf has stolen a letter from her to Hoffmann, who entertains the company by describing three earlier loves, Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta, all of whom portray aspects of Stella. In the ensuing story, Lindorf first reappears as Coppelius, creator of Hoffmann’s first lover, the mechanical doll Olympia, brilliantly performed here by Kathleen Kim. His second transformation is as Dr. Miracle, overseeing the death of Hoffmann’s second lover Antonia, beautifully sung by Anna Netrebko. Miracle once oversaw the death of Antonia’s mother, and though banned from the house he manages to enter and persuade Antonia to sing. This leads to her death after she has just promised to marry Hoffmann. Lindorf’s third transformation is as Dappertutto, confidante to Hoffmann’s third lover, the courtesan Giulietta, who was sung by Ekaterina Gubanova. Dapertutto attempts to destroy Hoffmann by getting Giulietta to steal his image from a mirror, after which she disappears in a gondola. Hoffmann then finds himself back in the tavern where he loses Stella to Lindorf, leaving him to his muse and his drink.

Lindorf and the three thaumaturges are one and the same, and were all excellently sung by Alan Held. He, Joseph Calleja, and his muse, sung by Kate Lindsey, were the driving forces behind this fine performance, well aided by James Levine in the orchestra pit. Alan Held’s presence was suitably dark, and Kate Lindsey was outstanding as both a beautiful muse and Hoffmann’s friend Nicklausse, who is mysteriously present throughout. They are powerful forces of despair and recovery for Hoffmann, and Joseph Calleja performed that difficult role with glorious singing and a sympathetic stage presence.

This production by Bartlett Sher is powerful in its representation of the imagery behind Hoffmann’s passions, and is well aided by Michael Yeargan’s sets, Catherine Zuber’s costumes, and choreography by Dou Dou Huang. I particularly liked the fact that Hoffmann’s lovers were in the correct dramatic order, though so many other productions switch the order of Antonia and Giulietta. They do that because the producer finds the music for Antonia stronger than that for Giulietta, but the drama of the mirror in Giulietta’s scene is crucial because it allows the magus, alias Lindorf, to show Hoffmann that his image of himself is but an image that can be wiped out, leaving the poet to his muse and his companions.

My only complaint with this production is that it lacks the ending of the Giulietta scene when she drinks poison prepared for Hoffmann, and Departutto cries out, Ah, Giulietta, maladroite! With this ending to the act, Hoffmann has destroyed all three representations of Stella and is ready to live again for his muse.