Posts Tagged ‘Wagner Wochen’

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.

Der fliegende Holländer, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

12 February, 2010

The stars of this performance were Manuela Uhl as Senta, and Hans-Peter König as her father Daland. Both sang very strongly, and along with Endrik Wottrich as Erik, they portrayed their roles with great sensitivity. Egils Silins as the Dutchman was not in the same league as Uhl and König. He would have made a good Hunding in Walküre, but did not have the voice to dominate in this particular cast. His stage presence was also weak, and when facing Senta alone on stage he held a rather pathetic stance. A good director should be able to overcome this, but I’m afraid Tatjana Gürbaca was not up to the job. She was probably more concerned with her own strange concept, in which the men were shown as financial traders, and the women as performers and party girls. In the end the Dutchman gave Senta a knife to kill Erik, which she did, and Senta’s nurse Marie killed Senta the same way. I haven’t the faintest idea what story Ms. Gürbaca was trying to stage and, judging by the enormous amount of booing at the end, nor did most of the audience. The words, however, were by Wagner and so was the music, beautifully played under the direction of Jacques Lacombe.

In the previous two operas this week, Lohengrin and Rienzi, the lighting was wonderful but there was no mention of the lighting designer. In this opera, however, Wolfgang Göbbel took credit and it was appalling — far too bright much of the time, and when lights were shone directly into the auditorium it suggested that the director wanted to insult the audience as well as Wagner. Indeed the director was the problem, rather than Herr Göbbel, who designed wonderful lighting for Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt at Covent Garden a year ago. But if you closed your eyes, as I did most of the time, the great music still came through with fine effect.

This is apparently Ms. Gürbaca’s first Wagner opera, and I hope it may be her last.