Posts Tagged ‘Mikhail Petrenko’

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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Siegfried, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

8 April, 2013

The first two operas of this cycle experienced slight problems: orchestra lights failed a couple of times during Rheingold, and stage backdrop lighting flashed and failed in Walküre. But Siegfried saw a more serious disruption when the eponymous hero failed to show up for Act I. Why, we were not told, but the role was admirably sung from the wings by Andreas Schager, with an assistant stage manager going through the motions on stage. So vocally effective was Schager that Daniel Barenboim brought him on for a special curtain call at the end of the act, and the audience roared their appreciation.

Awakening, all images © Monika Rittershaus

Awakening, all images © Monika Rittershaus

Canadian tenor Lance Ryan thankfully turned up for Act II, which was just as well since Schager was singing in a concert performance of Zauberflöte with the Berlin Philharmonic under Rattle later the same evening. At the end of Act II, Ryan declined a solo curtain call, and at the end of the opera, after a superb performance in Act III, the restrained applause marked audience disapproval for his early absence.  But he was exceptionally good, and I regret not hearing him in all three acts. His final scene with Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde produced glorious singing, and his Sei mein! followed by her beautifully gentle Oh Siegfried! Dein war ich von je! was a moving moment.

Forging the sword

Forging the sword

Of course Daniel Barenboim in the orchestra pit was the magician bringing Wagner’s great moments to fulfilment, and this third episode of the Ring was a musical triumph. Peter Bronder sang and acted strongly as the ill-favoured Mime, and Norwegian bass-baritone Terje Stensvold gave a commanding performance as The Wanderer.

Mikhail Petrenko sang a strong Fafner from behind the stage, but here we find one of the problems in this Guy Cassiers production. The dragon was portrayed by five dancers wafting a vast printed silk sheet, but since the voice came from elsewhere this lacked conviction, and after the dragon’s death they attached themselves to Siegfried, making interminably dull geometric patterns with five swords. The dismemberment of voice and body had already occurred to the Woodbird, with a double performing insipid and unmusical movements on stage while the singing Woodbird (Rinnat Moriah, a perfectly handsome young woman) was off-stage.

Siegfried and dancers

Siegfried and dancers

Good lighting and sets, except that the forging of the sword was essentially done by atmospheric lighting and seven flat screen videos, plus a few tap-taps in the upstairs part of the set, as if a saucepan were being mended. Otherwise I liked the intriguing design for Mime’s home, which Wotan navigated with admirable aplomb as it turned from horizontal to vertical. Forest lighting was wonderful, and the meeting of Alberich and the Wanderer in Act II was very effective. If the superfluously irritating dancers had been absent, this act would have been perfect — they were not there in Walküre, and I’m sure most of us hope for the same with Götterdämmerung.

This performance was on April 7, and the final instalment of The Ring takes place on April 10.

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.

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.

The Ring, Maryinsky Opera, London, July/August 2009

30 July, 2009

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Rheingold. This promises to be a wonderful Ring, as Valery Gergiev unfolded the music beautifully in this first opera, never rushing, but never flagging. He even held the first chord for longer than usual, but with excellent effect. George Tsypin’s powerful designs showed four giant horizontal human torsos that moved up and down at various times. With fine costumes and Gleb Filshtinsky’s excellent atmospheric lighting this was a very welcome change from the two operas I saw in Bayreuth at the weekend! I particularly liked the costumes for the giants, and the use of dancers in raising the huge silk representing the river. As to the singers, Nikolai Putilin was superb as Alberich, and was the star of the evening — I’m delighted he will appear again in the last two operas. This is not the case with all performers, and Evgeny Nikitin, who was a slightly underpowered Wotan, will reappear in Siegfried, but someone else will take over in Walküre. Fricka was well sung by Larisssa Diadkova, as were her brothers Donner and Froh by Evgeny Ulanov and Evgeny Akimov, with Zhanna Dombrovskaya as Freia, and Oleg Balachov as a strong Loge. When Donner roared out his last words Weise der Brücke den Weg it sounded like Russian, but that was fine with me because the cast were all entirely in character. Vadim Kravets was a beautifully voiced Fasolt, with Gennady Bezzubenkov as a surly Fafner, whom we shall see again in Siegfried, along with Zlata Bulycheva as a darkly voiced Erda. Andrei Popov sang Mime, but the part will be sung by someone else in Siegfried. Altogether this was a great start to the Ring, though standards slipped in Walküre the next night.

Walküre. The first act was disappointing with Avgust Amonov as an underpowered Siegmund, who gave the impression he didn’t understand the German he was singing, and Keiner ging—doch Einer kam followed by Winterstürme lacked emotional force. Gennady Bezzubenkov as Hunding, following his appearance as Fafner the night before, carried more power. Mlada Khudoley as Sieglinde was stronger than Siegmund, but again she couldn’t hit the heights. Her response to Brünnhilde’s annunciation in Act III with Rette mich Kühne was without impact. The best moments were the duets between Wotan and Fricka in Act II, and Wotan and Brünnhilde in Act III. The Wotan was not the same as last night — and the eye patch was changed from right to left eye — but though Mikhail Kit showed warmth in his voice, he lacked the strength of other Wotans I’ve seen recently, such as Tomlinson and Terfel. As Fricka, Larissa Diadkova was superb, with wonderful stage presence and complete command of the part — she was the best Fricka that I remember seeing. As Brünnhilde, Olga Savova was a powerful presence, commanding in her appearance to Siegmund Nur Todgeweihten taugt mein Anblick, appalled by Wotan’s revenge War es so schmählich, and convincing in persuading him to protect her by fire. Gergiev conducted with restraint and emotional support for the singers, never drowning them, and I felt that with stronger principals in Act I he would have let the orchestra leap forth with greater effect. The Russian brass and percussion were superb, and this is where a Russian conductor is so important. The production included four human torsos again, but bent at the waist, and the costumes were effective, particularly the Valkyries holding shields, like wings, in their right hands. Only the sword was a disappointment, with its battery-powered light in the handle, like a child’s toy — really naff (not available for fighting). I hope Siegfried forges it into something more worthy!

Siegfried. This was a more rewarding experience than Walküre, mainly because Leonid Zakhozhaev sang an excellent Siegfried, wielding the sword like a real weapon, and Evgeny Nikitin sang out well as Wotan, much better, I thought, than his appearance in Rheingold — the patch, by the way, was back on the right eye. Nikolai Putilin sang wonderfully as Alberich again, and Erda and Fafner were the same as in Rheingold, though Fafner’s voice as the dragon was amplified, which I didn’t care for at all. Mime this time was Vasily Gorshkov, who played and sang the part very well, and Anastasia Kalagina was a lovely woodbird. My only complaint on the singing was Olga Sergeyeva who took over as Brünnhilde, but whose voice had too much vibrato, and seemed out of pitch in the awakening duet with Siegfried. The orchestra played very well again under Gergiev who seems to be able to draw on immense reservoirs of emotion. Staging and lighting were fine as far as I was concerned, except that when Brünnhilde climbed onto the rock, where she is supposed to have been sleeping for a generation, the lighting was bright and only went dark after she lay down. If she was moving to a musical cue, then it was a lighting fault, but I rather suspect she was to blame, indicating that the whole thing was under-rehearsed. Now we await yet a third Brünnhilde in the final opera.

Götterdämmerung. Musically this was on a par with the others, and vocally it had some wonderful singers and lovely moments, but there were serious shortcomings, notably boule de suif Larisa Gogolevskaya as an unsuitable Brünnhilde, who simply didn’t have the voice for the part. Viktor Lutsyuk as Siegfried lacked voice control and was not as good as Leonid Zakhozhaev yesterday. But Nikolai Putilin was an excellent Alberich, as before, and Mikhail Petrenko a very fine Hagen. His half siblings Gunther and Gutrune were brilliantly sung by Evgeny Nikitin and Elena Nebera. Nikitin, who was Wotan in both Rheingold and Siegfried, was the best Gunther I ever remember seeing. In fact he and Hagen made me think immediately of British politicians Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson. Elena Nebera had a lovely voice and her acting was terrific. She moved like a ballerina with arms, head and body — I was impressed before she ever sang a note. Petrenko, Nikitin and Nebera formed a wonderful trio as Hagen, Gunther and Gutrune, and their scenes, along with the encounter between Alberich and Hagen at the start of Act II, were the highlights of the evening. As for the scene between Brünnhilde and Waltraute, sung by Olga Savova, who was Brünnhilde in Walküre, this merely became an ineffective clash of prima donnas.

The production itself had some good moments, but there were glitches too. Hagen’s appearance on the roof in the scene where Brünnhilde accuses Siegfried of treachery was very effective, making him seem like the puppet master he is, and his murder of Siegfried during the hunt was very convincing. But when he later goes to the bier to take the ring, Siegfried’s arm did not move, so it was inexplicable that he moved away again. Then at the end when Hagen should sing Zurück vom Ring!, where was he? And why did he not sing? The surtitles showed Away from the Ring! But there were no Rheinmaidens to take it, and no Hagen. With Brünnhilde singing weakly, and nothing happening on stage except for some clever lighting, the ending was disappointing.

I’m sure there will be serious criticism of this Maryinsky Ring, and quite rightly too since it failed on many of the high points, but there were wonderful moments, which often don’t come over as well as they did here, and I’m thinking particularly of the scenes with Hagen, Gunther and Gutrune, which were the best I’ve seen. Underlying it all was Gergiev and the orchestra, playing with great sensitivity, and there were some sublime moments, but it did seem that things trailed off a bit towards the end. I loved the lighting, and at least the staging did not insult our intelligence, unlike the recent nonsense in Bayreuth, but the under-rehearsing was most regrettable, considering the unusually expensive Amphitheatre seats.

Il Trovatore, Royal Opera, April 2009

9 April, 2009

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This was a terrific performance, with Sondra Radvanovsky and Roberto Alagna in superb voice as Leonora and Manrico. They could not have been better in this dress rehearsal for a new run of Trovatore, performed in a co-production with the Teatro Real in Madrid by Elijah Moshinsky, with good set designs by Dante Ferretti, costumes by Anne Tilby, and excellent fight sequences by William Hobbs. The orchestra played beautifully under the direction of Carlo Rizzi, and the supporting cast all sang well. Dmitri Hvorostovsky brought a sensitivity to the Count di Luna making him a slightly more sympathetic character than is sometimes the case. This fitted in well with the production, because at the end he stabs Manrico on stage and, told that he’s just killed his brother, holds him in his arms as he dies. Manrico’s surrogate mother, the gypsy Azucena, was well sung by Malgorzata Walewska, making her debut at Covent Garden, and Ferrando was Mikhail Petrenko. Altogether the cast worked well together, and the staging was very effective indeed, but what really put this into the stratosphere was Roberto Alagna as the troubadour Manrico, and Sondra Radvanovsky, whom I also saw as a superb Leonora in Chicago in November 2006.