Posts Tagged ‘Kirsten Harms’

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, a retrospective, February 2010

17 February, 2010

Five Wagner operas in six days — LohengrinRienziDer fliegende HolländerTannhäuser, and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg — was quite a marathon, but well worth it, particularly for three of the productions. Lohengrin and Meistersinger, both under the direction of Götz Friedrich were excellent, and Philipp Stölzl’s Rienzi gave us an intriguing representation of Hitler and the Nazis — very appropriate when one recalls that Hitler loved the opera and possessed the original score, which presumably went up in flames in the bunker when he died. Interestingly enough, Wagner had already disassociated himself from this early opera well before he died, which was before Hitler was born. Of the other two operas, the production of Tannhäuser by Kirsten Harms was effective in the first two acts, but disappointing in the third, while the one-act Holländer was given an absurd production by Tatjana Gürbaca. Opera houses that put on such nonsense shoot themselves in the foot, as word gets around and many seats remain unsold.

Some of the singing was outstanding. Anyone who did not attend Tannhäuser missed a superb performance by Stephen Gould, who seems perfectly suited to this role. In November 2011 he will sing it at the Wiener Staatsoper, where he will also perform Siegfried in the last two Ring operas. Mentioning singers who fill a role to perfection, I thought Torsten Kerl performed very well, and was convincingly narcissistic, as the title character in Rienzi. And a similar wonderful pairing between singer and role was Klaus Florian Vogt as Walther in Meistersinger. It’s one of his main parts, along with Lohengrin, and I would rather have seen him in that opera than Ben Heppner, whose power seems to have weakened in recent years, though he retains his lyricism. As it was I thought the best performers in Lohengrin were Waltraud Meier and Eike Wilm Schulte, who were wonderfully mendacious as Ortrud and Telramund. King Henry the Fowler was also very strongly sung by Markus Brück, who gave us a superb Beckmesser in Meistersinger, young, smug and appallingly lacking in self-esteem — it was a wonderful act. Holländer is hardly worth mentioning since the singers cannot do their best in such an absurd production, but I found the strongest member of the cast to be Hans-Peter König singing Daland, as he did a year ago at the Royal Opera.

As far as the conducting went, Jacques Lacombe’s rendition of Holländer came over well, and since the production was so awful I kept my eyes closed and concentrated on the music. Sebastian Lang-Lessing did well with Rienzi in the cut-down version that was performed here, and I very much liked Michael Schønwandt’s conducting of Lohengrin. Ulf Schirmer did well with Tannhäuser, but although I found Donald Runnicles’ conducting of Meistersinger to be very sensitive to the singers, I wasn’t sure he had taken enough time to rehearse. Being later in Wagner’s oeuvre than the other operas during the week it is musically more sophisticated and I felt there was some raggedness in parts.

Altogether, however this was a great week of Wagner. I particularly loved the Götz Friedrich productions of Lohengrin and Meistersinger, and found Rienzi stunning after a rather dubious first half. Congratulations to the Deutsche Oper for putting it on in this new Philipp Stölzl production.

Tannhäuser, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

13 February, 2010

With Stephen Gould as Tannhäuser, and Nadja Michael as Venus/Elisabeth we had the singers for a great performance, and they didn’t disappoint. Reinhard Hagen as Landgraf Hermann also sang strongly and with a lovely tone, and Dietrich Henschel was an earnest if somewhat underpowered Wolfram. The chorus was powerful, as was Ulf Schirmer’s musical direction, but what really made the evening was Stephen Gould’s Tannhäuser. He was forceful and articulate with a superb tone and strong stage presence. This is the sort of singer one wants as Tristan or Siegfried — Covent Garden please note.

The production by Kirsten Harms was well lit by Bernd Damovsky who also designed the sets and costumes. It had some interesting and powerful moments, particularly the silver armoured horses and riders that met up with Tannhäuser in the second part of Act I, and reappeared at the back of the stage at the very end of the opera when miraculous news from Rome shows that Tannhäuser is forgiven and redeemed. At the start of Act II forty suits of armour appeared on stage and remain suspended above the action for the rest of the opera. These matched the forty beds in Act III, for the healing of the pilgrims, but those I could have done without. I want to see the pilgrims returning from Rome — the heavy tread of these exhausted men is there in the music, and when I first saw this opera, in a Götz Friedrich production at Bayreuth in 1974, they made a huge impact. Here we merely had them in the beds of a hospital ward, which I found disappointing and lacking impact.

That aside, this production was good, and Nadja Michael in her simple long white dress gave a wonderful performance as both Venus and Elisabeth. The transformations between the two were accomplished quite subtly on stage by modifying her hair, long for Venus, and braided on top for Elisabeth. But in the end this was about the singing, and that is where Stephen Gould and Nadja Michael, along with the chorus and orchestra carried it all off with great effect.

Wagner Week at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, February 2010

31 January, 2010

On February 9th I shall be in Berlin for a week of Wagner operas at the Deutsche Oper. Here is the list, with details of the performers.

Lohengrin: production by Götz Friedrich, conducted by Michael Schønwandt, with Ben Heppner as Lohengrin, Ricarda Merbeth as Elsa, Waltraud Meier as Ortrud, and Eike Wilm Schulte as her husband Telramund. I recall that Shulte sang a very strong Kurwenal in the Metropolitan live relay of Tristan in March 2008.

Rienzi: production by film director Philipp Stölzl, conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing, with Torsten Kerl as Rienzi, who sang Tristan at Glyndebourne in summer 2009. Camilla Nylund will be his sister Irene, Kate Aldrich her lover Adriano, and Ante Jerkunica as Adriano’s father.

Der fliegende Holländer: production by Tatjana Gürbaca, conducted by Jacques Lacombe, with Egil Silins as the Dutchman, Hans-Peter König as Daland, Manuela Uhl as his daughter Senta, and Endrik Wottrich as Erik. Ms Uhl had the misfortune to portray the eponymous role in the dreadful production of Salome by the Deutsche Oper last year, but let’s hope she has the advantage of a sensible production for this opera. Mentioning last year in Berlin, I recall Jacques Lacombe conducting an excellent Ariadne auf Naxos for the Deutsche Oper, and last summer a very fine Tosca for the Royal Opera in London.

Tannhäuser: production by Kirsten Harms, conducted by Ulf Schirmer, with Stephen Gould as Tannhäuser, Nadja Michael as Venus/Elisabeth, and Dietrich Henschel as Wolfram. Both Stephen Gould and Nadja Michael were together at the Royal Opera last January in Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt, an opera, like Tannhäuser, where a young man is pulled into a vortex of desire by a woman portraying two roles.

Die Meistersinger: production by Götz Friedrich, conducted by Donald Runnicles, with James Johnson as Hans Sachs, Klaus Florian Vogt as Walther, and Michaela Kaune as Eva. She was the Marschallin in the Deutsche Oper’s Rosenkavalier last year, and I saw both Vogt and Kaune in the Bayreuth Meistersinger this past summer, where he sang brilliantly despite the diabolical production. Beckmesser will be Marcus Brück, with Ulrike Helzel as Magdalena, and Paul Kaufmann as David.

Cassandra by Vittorio Gnecchi, and Elektra by Richard Strauss, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Feb 2009

15 February, 2009

Cassandra, by the Italian composer Gnecchi, was written four years before Stauss’s Elektra. It tells of Agamemnon’s return to his wife Klytemnestra, who intends to kill him as revenge for his sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia at the start of his voyage to Troy, and of course to preserve her relationship with Aegisthus. Agamemnon brings Cassandra with him from Troy, and she prophesies death. He believes her, but his wife whisks him away and the deed is done. The opera ends with the death of Agamemnon, though Cassandra will die later because that is her fate when someone finally believes her prophecies. The main role was for Klytemnestra, brilliantly sung by Susan Anthony, and her lover Aegisthus was well sung by Piero Terranova. Cassandra herself was very well portrayed by Nora Gubisch, but she only appears late in this fifty-minute opera. Agamemnon was Gustavo Porta. The late Romantic music was melodic, but tended to be at fever pitch without much of a let-up — it needed more light and shade.

Elektra had a very strong cast of female singers: Janice Baird as Elektra, Hanna Schwarz as Klytemnestra, and Manuela Uhl as Chrysothemis. Both the latter two, who were in Salome three days earlier as Herodias and Salome respectively, sang their roles in this opera particularly strongly. The small part of Aegisthus was well sung by Burkhard Ulrich, and Orestes was ineffectually portrayed by Egils Silins.

The director for both operas was Kirsten Harms, with scenery and costumes by Bernd Damovsky. In both operas the sets were very plain, having high walls with no top in sight, and the women’s costumes were modern and plain, mainly black dresses. Agamemnon in Cassandra, and Orestes after the murder in Elektra, were both covered in pinkish/red paint from top to waist, and looked like simple butchers.

The conductor was Kazushi Ono, but in Elektra, which I have heard many times before, the orchestra seemed out of control on the loud passages, with the brass too harsh. He certainly brought the quiet passages under control, almost as if in a chamber opera, but I found myself unmoved by the effect.