Posts Tagged ‘René Pape’

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.

Advertisements

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.

Parsifal, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 2 March 2013

3 March, 2013

A stunning performance with a wonderful cast under superb musical direction by Daniele Gatti could make for a series of tiresome superlatives, so I shall start with a more interesting observation.

Kundry, Parsifal, Gurnemanz, all images MetOpera/ KenHoward

Kundry, Parsifal, Gurnemanz, all images MetOpera/ KenHoward

This endlessly intriguing opera allows every production to bring out some new aspect. The brilliant Bayreuth production relates it to the history of Germany in the first half of the twentieth century, but this one by François Girard has a more ethereal nature in which I found myself drawing a comparison between Act II of Parsifal with Siegfried.

In that middle section, Evgeny Nikitin, whose body tattoos caused his last minute rejection as the Dutchman at Bayreuth this past summer, made an extraordinary Klingsor reminiscent of Alberich in Siegfried. Here was a magician who held power by his determination to thwart the world, but is being defeated by forces beyond his control. And as Katerina Dalayman’s seductive Kundry cast her spell over Jonas Kaufmann’s simple, yet nobly portrayed Parsifal, singing of a mother’s yearning and a mother’s tears, I almost expected him to burst out with O heil der Mutter, die mich gebar! (O hail to the mother who gave me birth). But this is not Siegfried. Parsifal has a hidden inner strength and finally bursts out with Amfortas! …, recalling his great mission to relieve the enduring pain and mortal failure of the king, and renew of land of the Grail.

In Act III as he blesses Kundry, allowing her to die in peace, and heals the wound of Peter Mattei’s agonized Amfortas, so he can do the same, the excellent lighting and video designs by David Finn and Peter Flaherty change the bleak landscape to one of warmth and sunrise. Everything is entsündigt und entsühnt (redeemed and atoned for), though the subtitles gave a very odd translation of the German at times.

4.parsfd_7893a

The cinematography by Barbara Willis Sweete was exceptional, giving us a full stage picture with close-ups that never intruded to spoil the magic. In fact it enhanced the production in some places, as when Parsifal and Gurnemanz travel together to the Grail and we hear those wonderful lines Ich schreite kaum, doch wähn’ ich mich schon weit. Du siehst mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit (I scarcely step yet seem to move apace. You see, my son, here time is one with space). The camera views them from below, and manages the feat of rendering Gurnemanz larger than Parsifal.

As Gurnemanz, René Pape gave a performance of huge power, with fine diction. In Act I his expressions of emotion gave us a man who cares deeply for his beloved land of the Grail, and in Act III his sanctification of Parsifal was a sublime moment. The whole cast sang superbly, as did the chorus, and Carolyn Choa’s choreography for the Flower Maidens was attractively subdued and musical.

Good hosting by Eric Owens, who was a memorable Alberich in The Ring, and congratulations to the Met for this intelligent screening of Wagner’s final opera.

Faust, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2011

11 December, 2011

The huge power of this performance was the work of the devil.

René Pape as Faust, all images Met Opera Ken Howard

And as Mephistopheles, René Pape was not just vocally superb, but had a stage presence oozing power and devilment. An immensely smooth operator of huge gravitas who could nevertheless move across the stage while lifting a leg as if in a grand jeté, in this well choreographed production by Des McAnuff, which even included some pirouettes in Act II as the chorus sings Et Satan conduit le bal!

After the interval, as Act III starts, Siébel’s soliloquy was beautifully sung by Michèle Losier, both she and Pape repeating their wonderful performances from a different production of Faust this past September in London at the Royal Opera House. Here at the Met they were joined by the incomparable Jonas Kaufmann as Faust, his high notes and diminuendos superbly sung, and his Quel trouble inconnu … in early Act III strongly emotional.

Marguerite and Faust

In Act IV Marina Poplavskaya finally came into her own as Marguerite. In the first interval when interviewed by Joyce Di Donato — an excellent host — she gave the impression that she too had suffered loss. Perhaps this is why she came over so emotionally in Acts IV and V, though I found her less convincing as a simple young girl fascinated by the jewels appearing in Act III. Her singing was beautiful but it was in the later part of the opera that she really convinced me, and her performance was riveting.

Marguerite with the dying Valentin as Siébel looks on

As Act IV came to its conclusion, Russell Braun came through with great effect as Valentin, fighting and losing against Faust, and cursing his sister Marguerite. He sang so strongly, while looking so seriously wounded, you wondered how he did it. Moving into Act V as the chorus sings S’allume et passé un feu qui luit! we see an atomic explosion projected on the backdrop, all part of the production idea that Faust works in a mid-twentieth century laboratory where the nuclear bomb was being designed.

It’s the same production I saw at the English National Opera in September 2010, but with a few tweaks. Care had been given to details and I liked the way a young woman ran across the stage at the start of the big scene in Act III, somehow managing to move in time to the music. Then as the male chorus roared into action it felt as if we were suddenly in a powerful French rendering of the Marseillaise.

Conducting by Yannick Nézet-Séguin was terrific. He brought out the drama in music that can sometimes sound too beautiful and melodramatic, and with an all-star cast this was a glorious performance.

Filming by Barbara Willis Sweete, by the way, was excellent, incorporating occasional full views of the stage with the right amount of detail of the singers.

Performances at the Met continue until January 19 — for details click here.

Faust, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2011

22 September, 2011

Covent Garden has a talent for staging nineteenth century operas in sumptuous productions with excellent singers, and this is another fine example.

Gounod’s Faust, with its libretto by Barbier and Carré based on Carré’s earlier play Faust et Marguerite, is loosely fashioned on Goethe’s great work, though it’s hardly Goethe. David McVicar’s production, with its sets by Charles Edwards and costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, all superbly lit by Paule Constable, are wonderfully evocative of the period when this 1859 opera was created. It may be high-brow French pantomime, but many of the scenes are very effective, and Gounod produces some excellent orchestration with a lovely melodic line.

After Dmitri Hvorostovsky sang Avant de quitter ces lieux in Act II the second-night audience roared their applause, and we were treated to glorious singing by an all-star cast. After an unconvincing start as a venerable academic, Vittorio Grigolo sang his heart out as the youthfully revived Faust, and literally bounced onto the stage at the end to take curtain calls. His elegant Marguerite, more debutante than village maiden in this opera, was stylishly portrayed and lyrically sung by Angela Gheorghiu. Add to this the beautiful voice of Michèle Losier in the trouser role of Siebel, and the cast gave a wonderful rendition of the vocal roles, superbly grounded by René Pape as the ever present Mephistopheles, his voice and stage presence giving huge depth to the whole performance.

Conducting by Evelino Pidò gave Gounod’s music just what it needs, and if the stage action is a bit melodramatic . . . well that’s what this opera is, but the whole performance is visually appealing and vocally superb.

The production continues until October 10, though with cast changes for Marguerite and Valentin in some later performances — for details click here.