Posts Tagged ‘Nina Stemme’

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.

Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera, October 2009

3 October, 2009

tristan[1]

This was the second night of Christof Loy’s new production for the Royal Opera, and I found it worked very well. The orchestra performed with distinction under Antonio Pappano, and the Opera House had put together a superb cast, led by Nina Stemme as Isolde. She was terrific throughout, and in the Liebestod she rose effortlessly above the orchestra — it was a wonderful performance. Tristan was Ben Heppner, whom I once saw give a marvellous rendering of the same role at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, but here unfortunately he had trouble with his voice at some moments in Acts II and III. But he sang strongly, and his interaction with Michael Volle as Kurwenal in Act III was very powerful. Volle was superb, and as good a Kurwenal as I’ve ever seen. This was hardly surprising, given his excellent portrayal of Dr. Schön in Lulu this past summer, and his wonderful performance of John the Baptist in Salome in February 2008. Sophie Koch as Brangäne sang beautifully, and John Tomlinson’s King Marke was a peerless example of how well this part can be performed — his stage presence was riveting, as always, and we are lucky he was able to take over from Matti Salminen who will now appear only in the last three performances.

The fairly minimal designs by Johannes Leiacker, and lighting by Olaf Winter, featured dining tables and chairs at the rear of the stage, occasionally occupied by King Marke’s men in their black dinner jackets — Marke himself wore a white one. A dark heavy curtain in front of the tables was sometimes open, sometimes closed, and sometimes moved to reveal the diners in a freeze, and then to reveal empty tables. None of this got in the way of the singing though, and I found Loy’s direction very good, particularly in the interactions between Isolde and Brangäne, and between Tristan and Kurwenal. There was no comparison to the frightful Bayreuth production I saw this summer, and the singers here were far better too, particularly Nina Stemme who completely outclassed Iréne Theorin at Bayreuth.

On this second night of the production, the Opera House management had clearly realised that almost all the action was invisible from the left hand edge of the auditorium. The Balcony boxes and side seats were entirely empty at the start, though they later filled with people from similar positions higher up in the Amphi. The inattention to sight-lines is a failing of Christof Loy, who did a similar thing with some extreme stage-right action in Lulu, and the House management should have been on the case far earlier. First-night critics who couldn’t understand the booing should take note. From their fine seats it behoves them not to be rude, as one or two were, about the intelligence of audience members in less exalted seats who simply couldn’t see most of the action.