Posts Tagged ‘Johannes Martin Kränzle’

Götterdämmerung, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

11 April, 2013

When the Rheinmaidens playfully tease Siegfried at the start of Act II, their musical movements were far better than the unmusicality of the irritatingly intrusive dancers, who reappeared in this final part of The Ring. Their manipulation of silk sheets was fine, but this is the first time I have seen opera ladies move more gracefully than dancers, which suggests Belgian director Guy Cassiers should abandon them and let Wagner’s music speak for itself.

Act 1, images ©MonikaRittershaus

Act 1, images ©MonikaRittershaus

Under Barenboim’s direction it did so in spades, with a grippingly emotional Siegfried funeral march movingly complemented by a  red glow in the lighting. But after this the production failed to carry conviction. Siegfried’s arm merely flopped to one side rather than rise in warning to Hagen, who stayed where he was before quietly leaving the stage. He suddenly returned from stage-right to shout Zurück vom Ring, before barging his way through the onlookers to get to the Rhein, but why wasn’t he anxiously waiting and following Siegfried’s body with his eyes? It didn’t make sense.

Nor did some of the video imagery of faces with tongues hanging out, but there was fine singing in abundance. Waltraud Meier, an exceptional Sieglinde in Walküre, returned to sing Second Norn with a lovely evenness of tone, and reappeared strongly as Waltraute in a well wrought conflict with Brünnhilde. Iréne Theorin was commanding in that role, singing with effortless intensity. Siegfried was boldly sung by Andreas Schager, slim, youthful and convincing, as was Mikhail Petrenko as Hagen, and Johannes Martin Kränzle reprised his deeply powerful Alberich. Anna Samuil returned from her Freia in Rheingold to sing Gutrune, and Gerd Grochowski was an immensely effective Gunther, his firm voice complementing a melancholy stage presence that reminded me of a younger Jeremy Irons. His performance was an unexpected pleasure.

Brünnhilde, Hagen, Gunther

Brünnhilde, Hagen, Gunther

Overall, this production has its strong points, particularly in the lighting and some of the better video imagery, but its weakest points lie in the use of dancers. Rheingold was particularly bad in this respect, and Walküre was easily the best part, and the only one in which dancers were entirely absent. An interview in the Walküre programme showed Belgian director Guy Cassiers to have some rather naïve political ideas that included blaming Europeans for much of the poverty in the world. Perhaps his attitudes stem from Belgium’s poor colonial record, but noting that Wotan is cleverer than many of today’s politicians is a bit jejeune.

That Monsieur Cassiers is inspired by concepts relating to the interplay between good and evil, and success and failure, is no bad thing, but the unifying force that makes this Ring work so brilliantly is surely the musical direction by Daniel Barenboim. That plus a clever choice of singers who fitted their roles made this a hugely musical pleasure.

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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.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne, May 2011

22 May, 2011

This new production of Meistersinger by David McVicar elicited thunderous applause at the end. And what an end it was, with Hans Sachs’s monologue being given its full force in a way I’ve not seen before.

Finley as Sachs in the final scene of Act III, all photos by Alastair Muir

When Walther refuses the award of Mastership from Pogner, Gerald Finley as Sachs draws him aside to stage right, and his first few lines, Verachtet mir die Meister nicht …, begging Walther not to spurn the Masters, are sung privately to him while the others talk in confusion among themselves. As Sachs moves forward with his great monologue, explaining how the Masters have nurtured true art through difficult times in the past, he moves to stage left and grasps Beckmesser by the arm. This is a nice touch because the poor old town clerk, pompous ass though he is, has made such a frightful mess of things and was moved to shed a tear as Walther sang his prize song. Then as Sachs continues to develop his great monologue he rushes round the stage urgently addressing everyone. His Hab’ Acht!, when he warns of German Art falling under false rule, is a wonderful moment. There is nothing sententious here, nothing to be taken amiss, just an appeal not to be led astray by false and foreign ideas, and it resonated with me as a striking comment against that awful 12-year rule known as the Third Reich. The chorus comes in with enormous force, Eva places the wreath on Sachs’s head, and he pitches it up to the revellers at the top of the bandstand. The curtain stayed up, the audience roared their approval, and the performers and production team on stage received a hugely vocal standing ovation.

Some say that Glyndebourne is too small a venue for Meistersinger, and it’s only their second Wagner production, but it was terrific. The designs by Vicki Mortimer are simply wonderful. I loved Sachs’s study in the first part of Act III with the wonderful summer morning light entering through the window. Paule Constable’s lighting is superbly calm, but also thrillingly dramatic as that warning shaft of light emerges in Act II at the moment Walther and Eva are about to elope in the darkness.

Beckmesser and Sachs in Act II

This is just before Beckmesser arrives to serenade Eva, and here and in the other two acts, Johannes Martin Kränzle was perfect in both voice and dramatic interpretation. He took full advantage of David McVicar’s clever production ideas. When he creeps into Sachs’s study in Act III the music allows time for plenty of side play and it was very funny: his tumbling over the bench, the paper sticking on his hand, and then his shoe, the boxes falling out of the shelves. It was all done with perfect comic timing.

Kränzle and Finley as Beckmessser and Sachs were the stars of this performance, and Finley opened out Sachs’s role in interesting ways. In the Flieder monologue of Act II, as he thinks of the Masters’ rejection of Walther’s Act I performance, he exhibits huge frustration. And in the Wahn monologue of Act III he shows enormous anguish, even kicking a chair over at the beginning, but calming down as he sings of his beloved Nuremberg and the customs and contentment in deed and work. Then after he expostulates about the events of the previous night, the London Philharmonic under the brilliant direction of Vladimir Jurowski, rises beautifully to the challenge of Sachs’s Der Flieder war’s: Johannisnacht! (It was the Elder-tree: Midsummer’s Eve!) Nun aber kam Johannistag! (But now there comes Midsummer’s Day!). These great monologues by Sachs are almost always stirringly sung, but Finley brought them out with huge emotion. A great performance.

Pogner enters with Eva in the final scene

His interaction with the other cast members was excellent, and the quintet in Act III was beautifully sung with Marco Jentzsch, Anna Gabler, Michaela Selinger, and Topi Lehtipuu in the roles of Walther, Eva, Magdalena and David. Alastair Miles was excellent as Eva’s father Pogner, and Marco Jentzsch was a strongly voiced Walther with a heroic tone. Anna Gabler also sang strongly as Eva, but perhaps a bit too forcefully for my taste. When Eva goes to see Sachs early in Act III, I’m used to her being very anxious, but here she seemed ill-tempered, so that rather than seeing her as a glorious future wife for Walther, I wondered if he knew what he was letting himself in for. Also in Act II when she hits Sachs she appeared more as a leading lady for Richard Strauss rather than Wagner. Her young nurse Magdalena often comes over as the more forceful and difficult of the two, but here it was the reverse, and Michaela Selinger’s well-sung Magdelena seemed perfectly charming. While on the topic of performance, Mats Almgren sang beautifully as the Night Watchman.

The jugglers in Act III

Among many lovely points about this production, I rather liked Augustin Moser, one of the mastersingers, bringing his small daughter into Act I where she sits on his lap until Frau Moser retrieves her. This was a nice touch, but I was not so wild about the fight at the end of that act. There were more women in nightshirts than men, and the choreography for the rent-a-mob fight crew was just too much. This is supposed to be an impromptu row caused by all the noise, and it should look like it. By contrast, the choreography for the dance in the final scene of Act III was very good: the girls from Fürth swishing their skirts, slapping their thighs and dancing in circular formation in the bandstand, with the boys joining in on the outside. I loved the jugglers, particularly those on stilts — they were brilliant. And the way Pogner brought Eva in on his arm reminded me briefly of the recent Royal Wedding. Then immediately Sachs came on the chorus made a glorious sound, and Finley’s Euch macht ihr’s leicht, mir macht ihr’s schwer . . . (For you it’s easy, but you make it hard for me . . .) was riveting. This was Finley’s first Hans Sachs, and as he matures into the role it will only get better.

My view of the stage from the upper circle was perfect, and if you can get ticket returns anywhere in the theatre, go for it at any price. Performances continue until June 26 — for more details click here.