Posts Tagged ‘Michael Schønwandt’

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.

Lohengrin, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

10 February, 2010

This Götz Friedrich production, with sets and costumes by Peter Sykora, has a warmth and immediacy that emphasises the human weaknesses and machinations of the story. Friedrich’s excellent staging is well supported by the performers, particularly Waltraud Meier, who plays the evil Ortrud with subtle malice, and Eike Wilm Schulte, who portrays a fiercely tendentious Telramund with a commanding voice — this nasty pair both exhibit great stage presence. King Henry the Fowler was beautifully sung by Markus Brück, and Elsa was well portrayed, with suitable frailty, by Ricarda Merbeth. She sang well and I only wish she’d shown less tension in her face during Act I, as I prefer to see Elsa exhibit sublime confidence in finding a champion against the malicious accusations that she has killed her young brother Gottfried. The hero she awaits, who will defeat Telramund and his sorceress-wife Ortrud, is Lohengrin himself. This was Ben Heppner, who sang out boldly with great lyricism, though his stage presence was mainly notable by its absence.

The orchestra was excellently conducted by Michael Schønwandt, and I loved the horns on stage, and later off-stage. These were glorious instruments without valves, beautifully played by Gerhard Greif, Kurt Kratz, Ulrich Riehl and Joachim Weigert. The staging and the music were both very fine, and the lighting was quite remarkable. The gradual fade-outs on Telramund and Ortrud, and the glow on Elsa, were particularly well done. The bridesmaids and church choristers were nice touches in this production, and as Elsa enters the church at the end of Act II she pauses to look back at Ortrud, a moment that was well lit and dramatically emphasised.

Although Lohengrin is my least favourite Wagner opera — I find Act II overlong, and have a secret admiration for Rossini’s alleged comment that, “One can’t judge Wagner’s opera Lohengrin after a first hearing, and I certainly don’t intend hearing it a second time” — this production is wonderful, and perhaps the best I’ve ever seen.

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.