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Posts Tagged ‘Deutsche Oper Berlin’

On explaining his new production of Verdi’s Falstaff for the Deutsche Oper, director Christof Loy says he was influenced by Brecht-ian heritage in Berlin, by the fact that this year is Verdi’s jubilee and by the role aging plays in one’s relationship with society (as related to the fact that Verdi composed Falstaff as an old man, that he founded the Casa Verdi for retired musicians and by Daniel Schmid’s documentary “Il Baccio di Tosca”). Hmm. He also says that he had to find the courage to stage comedy these days. In other words, comedy is not really his thing. One could say that it is not really Germany’s thing. In Italy, I would rather believe that a director would need some guts to stage… a tragedy with philosophical and intellectual undertones – the audience would take rather naturally to comedy. And I don’t mean that Italian comedies are superficial; on the contrary, the most famous examples of Italian cinema show that Italians have an instinct for finding the hidden tear behind the laughs… or the laugh behind the tears. The keyword here is “naturalness”.

If someone has to explain something to you, then the concept is not very clear. As much as I have found the bogus documentary shown before the opera probably the funniest thing this evening, was it really necessary? Well, it was – otherwise, you would not understand that the action takes place in the Casa Verdi… do you see my point? And do you really need to know that? Well, if the point had been naturally conveyed through the staging rather than upon the staging, no… In other words, there were two events in place this evening: Verdi’s Falstaff and the director’s thoughts inspired by Verdi’s biography. In act I, these events often collided in an uncomfortable way. Characters are all showed as pensioners in Casa Verdi and they all (except Nannetta and Fenton) look elderly. As the plot begins to unfold, the action brings them back to their youth. It is not clear if everybody knows that this is a play in the play and their rejuvenescence is only a symbol of the way they feel or if the play is really the play. I can live with that. However, from act II one, Casa Verdi pretty much disappears and everybody is in tenue de soirée, there are waiters, champagne aplenty and it looks a lot like Robert Carsen’s let’s-make-it-chic staging for La Scala, only more intelligently and efficiently directed. In the closing scene, it seems that someone thought “Oops… what about the Casa Verdi?!” and everybody puts on their elderly-people costumes again. I mean: I would have enjoyed either a Herheim-like “Casa Verdi” staging or a Claudette Colbert/Don Ameche glamorous production, but it seems that a decision has not been made. In any case, I like Christof Loy and (especially from act II on), I’ve had fun with the beautiful sets and costumes, the excellent Personenregie and some intelligent/elegant ideas. Everyone else seems to have found no problem in the incoherent concept – it’s been a while since I’ve last seen a boo-less opening night at the Deutsche Oper.

Actually, my problem lies rather in the musical side of the performance. The program book says, at some point, that “the orchestra leads the stage direction”. Exactly. In Falstaff, the orchestra does not only tell the story, it embodies the story. Every little dot in the score IS the story. If a note goes astray or unnoticed, you’ve missed part of the story. This requires a very specific orchestral sound – clear, transparent but very much present, as you would find at La Scala – a Swiss-clockmaker precision in balancing stage and pit and  urgent conducting that will keep ebullience up to the last bar. The Deutsche Oper Orchestra is very German in sound, but some conductors have made wonders in giving it an Italian soul. Unfortunately, the house’s GMD has never been one of them. This evening, for instance, the thick and indistinct orchestral sound did not seem to convey any theatrical point rather than accompanying the singers (or drowning them at many occasions). And that is a no-go in this score. Pity, for there was a good cast (both in musical and dramatic terms).

Barbara Haveman, a singer I had never heard before, was an almost ideal Alice – clear-toned, nimble, spirited and charming. The always efficient Jana Kurucová was an exceptionally pleasant and attractive Meg. The fact that I mention her just right after the prima donna shows how good she was. Elena Tsallagova was a healthy, creamy-toned Nanetta who produced ideally ethereal pianissimi in her aria. Dana Beth Miller relished the upfront chest-voice routine as Ms. Quickly with aplomb and it must be mentioned that the gear change to the middle register was expertly managed too. Joel Prieto (Fenton) took some time to warm but once he got there sang with abandon and good taste. I am not sure if Ford is a very good role for Michael Nagy – he seemed a bit overparted and sounded often monochromatic, but that one color was pleasant enough. Replacing Markus Brück (although the Deutsche Oper explains that he was sick, this must be a very long disease, for the replacement appears both in the opening film and in every rehearsal photo), Noel Bouley proved to have the necessary charisma and dramatic engagement. He competently embraced the director’s idea of showing that Falstaff never let the child in himself go and that this makes him special. He has a forceful but not truly large voice, good low and high notes, but he does not yet vocally inhabit the text as a singer with long experience in the role would do. I have recently seen Ambrogio Maestri sing it and, well, I’m afraid I was spoiled by the experience… Last but not least, Thomas Blondelle, Gideon Poppe and Marko Mimica really made something of the roles of Doctor Caius, Bardolfo and Pistola.

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When the Deutsche Oper premièred Marco Arturo Marelli’s production of Don Carlo back in 2011, Anja Harteros was its selling feature and her cancelling would have made me very disappointed if it did not mean hearing Lucrezia Garcia for the first time. This evening, however, La Harteros not only did not cancel but also volunteered to cover for Barbara Frittoli next week. This has also been an opportunity to make sure that, good as Ms Garcia was, Harteros is in altogether another level. First, she can act. Second, she has a wonderful attitude for aristocratic roles. Third, she has this uniqueness only great singers have. I have often discussed with my fried Cavalier here about German singers in Italian roles – and I have often said that Anja Harteros should concentrate more on German roles, which highlight her best qualities. Although her voice still lacks that typical Italian brightness, she brings undeniable assets to the role of Elisabetta – a substantial lyric soprano with solid low notes, powerful acuti, soaring mezza voce and elegant phrasing. Experience in this repertoire has helped her to find a more authentic Verdian style – she is learning to play her chest notes, to build interpretation from atmosphere rather than word-to-word tonal coloring (“German style”) and even knowing how to utter her parole sceniche to thrill the audience in key moments. As she was in very good voice, her performance grew steadily in strength to a Tu che le vanità wide ranging in expression and a ideal rendition of the final duet.

I saw Violeta Urmana sing the role of Eboli back in 2005. Then I praised her absolute homogeneity and pondered that, if her poise was welcome, it was ultimately dull in this repertoire. But that was eight years ago – she was a mezzo with impressively easy high notes back then. Now that she is billed as a soprano, her high notes have lost the exuberance  (and homogeneity is not always there either) . I have noticed that in her Parsifal in Berlin last March and it seems that this is the moment for an engine check. Seriously. Basically, every high note sounded strained, tense and effortful this evening. O don fatale had a perilous start until the stretta, when she surprised me with a very powerful and accurate ending.  

I had never heard Russell Thomas’s name before this evening and I am still not sure of the right way to describe his performance as Carlo this evening. This American tenor has an appealing vocal quality – his voice is rich, large and dark, but irregularly supported in the middle and (especially) in his low register. He squeezed too often his high notes (especially in the beginning) and his mezza voce was often poorly focused. That said, he has very good Italian, an instinctive grasp of Verdian style and, if he was not always subtle, he was never vulgar either. He showed great sensitiveness in his final duet with Anja Harteros, shading his voice to match the German soprano’s now legendary ductility.

Dalibor Jenis was an emotional Rodrigo in his warm and vibrant baritone, in great shape this evening. The role is a little bit on the heavy side for him and he had some patches of fatigue (especially in his big scene with the king). His death scene was generously and convincingly sung.

Hans-Peter König’s Filippo is an interesting chapter in the above-mentioned “German singers in Italian roles”-debate. This Wagnerian bass has a big, solid voice, exceptionally powerful in its lower reaches, but rather clear and slightly straight in its higher reaches. Although the tonal quality is very German, his approach is legitimately Italian (his pronunciation is only occasionally very lightly accented). Because of the lack of vibrancy and darkness in exposed high notes and also of a somewhat placid temper, some key moments in the opera sounded rather discrete than imperious, but this very self-restraint helped him to build an intimate and direct Ella giammai m’amò. Albert Pesendorfer too was a powerful Inquisitor, but the low register could be a little bit more percussive. Last but not least, Tobias Kehrer was a strong and incisive Monk.

Compared to last time, Donald Runnicles performance was far more compelling this evening – the orchestral sound was consistently big and rich (what proved to be testing to some members of this cast), but he still has not learned to produce cumulative tension in this repertoire. For instance, the introduction to Elisabetta’s big aria, a moment in which a German orchestra’s beefy sound always produces the right effect, failed to develop in strength and the soprano had to create the necessary momentum basically by herself.

I have written about the production last time and I would only observe that it seems that there has been some welcome cleansing in the direction and that it had seemed somewhat more effective this evening (a better acting cast has helped that impression too).

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How much metalanguage there is  Philipp Stölzl’s 2012 production of Wagner’s Parsifal is a matter for discussion. The staging turns around the idea of the power of symbolism in two levels: first in what related to objects of worship as in the case of relics; second in the idea of recreation of religious episodes in the shape of mystery plays, more specifically tableaux vivants. The staging of passion of Christ is a very much alive tradition in many countries, and they tend to develop a mystique around themselves – who is going to play Christ this year, for instance? A famous TV actor? Back to our Parsifal, Stölzl’s makes clear that what you see is a representation – the rocky landscape where you see the crucifixion as witnessed by Kundry is clearly set in a large hall lit by cold lamps. At first, I was shocked by how kitsch everything looked – but then it is hard to tell if the concept is kitsch or if the “play within the play” was kitsch (i.e., made to look kitsch on purpose). In any case, the very concept of kitsch involves objects whose practical purpose and aesthetic concept are ill-matched.

As it is, the first act shows us a rocky landscape that confines the stage action downstage, making many scenes unnecessarily crowded or awkward. There is a castle in very poor perspective in the background. Costumes are in Life-of-Brian-style but for Parsifal, who wears a suit. Here time and space are indeed the same thing, for the Verwandlungsmusik accompanies no Verwandlung. Parsifal and Gurnemanz exit, a bunch of self-flogging guys show up and Parsifal, Gurnemanz, Amfortas and a very perky Titurel make their entrance to a ceremony involving Amfortas’s stigmata dripping blood over the crowd. During the many narrative passages, we are offered small tautological flash-black tableaux in top of either of the rocky formations.

Act II looks as if the director visited the Fundusverkauf in Behrenstraße to shop for old productions – the sets could have been borrowed from Götz Friedrich’s Elektra (as on DVD). So, Klingsor has an African-style outfit and is followed by a cult of zombie-likes Flowermaids. Kundry keeps her shabby dress from act I to the end of the opera. The scene itself is very conventional, but Parsifal doesn’t make the sign of the cross. He just kills Klingsor with the holy spear. The closing act shows us the ruined version of the rocky landscape with some people with Lacoste outfits who seem to be in some sort of religious pilgrimage. Among them, Gurnemanz too seems to have had a fashion makeover in Friedrichstraße. Kundry makes her appearance, the Lacoste people are a bit shocked, but the Gurnemanz-guy (what exactly he is to these people is not clear…) tells her that spring has already come (not really…). Parsifal shows up, the Lacoste people anoint him, while Kundry prefers not to join in. In the meanwhile, Amfortas is in his via crucis (literally), Kundry tries to be helpful this time and offers him water, but people keep flogging him. Parsifal shows up and, again!, kills some one with his spear. Actually, this time it was not his fault – Amfortas jumps into it. Everybody knees down and prays, while Kundry stays back and seem unconvinced.

At this point, you probably have guessed that I share Kundry’s disbelief. The concept is at the same time superficial and all over the place, the sets and costumes suggest rather  Night in the Museum than Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia (as the performance book seems to suggest) and the fact that religion is here taken in face value makes it almost a traditional production in disguise. A labored and unclear one.

When it comes to the musical aspects, this evening was quite successful. After a prelude where the violins could be a little bit more refulgent, Donald Runnicles settled for a no-nonsense performance, with ideally Wagnerian full but not overloud orchestral sound, forward-movement and clarity. Act II was particularly coherently conceived – the Parsifal/Kundry scene well-structured and intense. The cast had its ups and downs. Both soprano and tenor were clearly not in a good-voice day. I saw Violeta Urmana’s Kundry in a concert performance in Munich with James Levine back in 2004 and she was note-perfect then. This evening, even if she has showed a deepened understanding of the text and an engaged stage presence, her high register was unwieldy and harsh. By the end of act II, she was clearly tired. Stephen Gould and Parsifal are not a match made in heaven –  his voice and physique do not suggest any boyishness and he himself seemed detached throughout. Moreover, his high notes were tight and his phrasing a bit stiff. By the 3rd act, he seemed to have warmed and produced some beautiful turns of phrase. Replacing Thomas J Meyer in the last minute after singing Amfortas yesterday in Zürich, Detlef Roth still finds this role on the heavy side for his voice, but shows absolute commitment. Liang Li is an imposing-voiced Gurnemanz with very clear diction and some charisma. His bass is sometimes a bit grainy and there is not this irresistible sense of story-telling that the very great Gurnemanzes provide. But this is definitely a name to keep in mind (he would have been a forceful Hunding or Fafner, since we have been talking about that). Last but definitely not least, Samuel Youn’s powerful, cleanly-focused singing in the role of Klingsor is beyond any criticism. An exemplary performance.

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My six or seven old readers might remember that I had first found  Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in the Deutsche Oper  dreadful and then old-fashioned. Today, I could even imagine that it could actually become interesting if a stage director could be found to make its seediness purposeful. The fact is that, in this worn-out production, Olga Peretyatko seemed somehow too brand-new. She has many and many ideas about Lucia and she diligently tried them out – in the Mad Scene, she cared to try sexiness, crudeness and even grotesque – but without the help of a director, coherence was not really there. The effort is nonetheless more than welcome. Moreover, she has physique de rôle for romantic heroines and moves gracefully (albeit in a very standardized way) on stage.

The musical side of her performance similarly shows a serious intent of making sense of everything, in the way an important singer should do. I am not only sure that, at this stage of her career, she has the “important” voice to put her ideas into practice. To start with, her soprano is a couple of sizes too small for Lucia; Donizetti’s orchestration can hardly be called “heavy”, but Peretyatko was often inaudible – not in her high register, it must be said, which is always clear, round and pleasant. She has very good trills, very smooth (but not athletic à la Sutherland) coloratura and beautiful staccato. Her in alts are a bit fragile, but very reliable, and her low notes are particularly solid for such light a voice. She understands the dramatic situations, but – having to operate at 100% most of the time – she does not really have leeway for tonal colouring “on the text” as true bel canto style demands. I had the impression that, in a lighter role, one could sample her artistry (and not merely her technique or loveliness) more properly.

The announcement of Joseph Calleja’s cancellation was received with booing – and his replacement by an ensemble singer was not really encouraging. I had seen Yosep Kang before as Tamino and Don Ottavio and had nothing to write home about both times. This evening, however, he really showed what he can do. Although the voice has no inbuilt charm in it, the Korean tenor has very easy high notes and can pierce through the orchestra, although his voice too is a bit on the light side for Edgardo. That very lightness, though, made his Edgardo  sound young and vulnerable, his very clear phrasing (sometimes a bit short on legato) and diction made everything he sang sound sincere and – even if the libretto does not give him much to work on – he could find the right note of melancholy, of helplessness in his role. One could almost see the suicidal element lurking on from the beginning. I have to confess that I found his hardly-for-the-ages but truly fresh performance the most interesting thing this evening.

I had seen Luca Salsi long ago at the Met as Sharpless and my impression then was of a spontaneous voice. Not this evening, I am afraid. His baritone lacked projection and his performance was a bit faceless. As always, nobody really gave the rest of the cast lots of thought – and one could hear that. Roberto Rizzi Brignoli could help his under-rehearsed cast out, but not his under-rehearsed orchestra. The opening scene was embarrassingly messy – and, even if things got a bit better afterwards, these musicians did not seem to be “into” this performance.

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If someone actually paid me to write in this blog, I would say that the text I am about to write was written for the money. On writing about Verdi’s Il Trovatore, everybody quotes Caruso’s famous line that says that all you need are the four greatest singers in the world. And I won’t make an exception – I have just quoted it!  – and that is why I feel it is somehow unfair to say that this tenor or that soprano had their share of shortcomings in a work in which almost everybody – even the greatest ones – has their shares of shortcomings. But I thought that Cavalier is such a faithful reader and that he would like to read it – so here it goes. This evening, the Deutsche Oper offered the first of two concerts featuring Verdi’s rawest and earthiest opera. Although the score is often laughed at as simplistic (“big guitar” is the expression often used), it is quite puzzling how the results are rarely effective live. It is raw music, with violent percussive use of the orchestra, vertiginous rhythms and exciting ensembles with glittering effects, especially in the violins. The use of the word “glittering” is not accidental – you just need to listen to the last scene in act I in Karajan’s eccentric 1977 studio recording to see how the Berliner Philharmonic is at its brightest-sounding, its violins gleaming upfront along with singers, exactly as La Scala’s orchestra had in Karajan’s 1956 mono recording with Maria Callas. The Deutsche Oper Orchestra is, of course, typically German in sound and is always at its best in Wagner. But under the right guidance, these musicians can get into cisalpine mood with the extra richness and roundness reserved for key moments. Not this evening, I am afraid. Although young conductor Andrea Battistoni is indeed Italian, he certainly did not inspire his musicians to make the southbound “spiritual” journey. I have to confess that I have never heard this orchestra so colorless in sound as this evening. The maestro jumped, gesticulated, moved about his arms and I could see no difference in animation, dynamic or intensity as a result. The powerful climaxes sounded just loud, the fast tempi mechanical, the frisson left to imagination. Battistoni is keen on keeping things a tempo – which is probably the right choice for this music – but if you are not breathing with your singers, the effect is just straight-laced and spasmodic. The chorus had sometimes problem with following his beat in tricky passages (the stretta of the opening bass aria, for example) and his soloists often had a could-you-please-give-me-some-time? expression on their faces. It had been a while since I last saw a conductor booed at the Bismarckstraße (differently from directors, who are almost always booed there), but this evening those were not isolated manifestations of displeasure.

This evening’s selling feature was probably Anja Harteros’s Leonora. Like everybody who has ears, I am an admirer of this German soprano – especially when she is singing German repertoire. The fact that hers is not an Italianate voice could be called secondary in a role where one is just happy to find someone who can actually do this music justice. Would you call Leontyne Price’s tonal quality Italianate, for example?  If I had to say “yes” or “no”, I would say that Harteros was a successful Leonora – her voice is big, warm and homogeneous, she can trill, phrases with utmost sensitivity and good taste, has listened to her Callas CDs and did not seem desperate with what she has to do. But still the style doesn’t come very naturally to her. Her interpretation is often too “intellectual” in approach (as opposed to “emotional”), her “Italianate” effects sound a bit calculated and she doesn’t do low register Italian way.  Moreover, I would say she was not at her best this evening: she worked hard for mezza voce and was sometimes a bit flat. Writing all this is a bit embarrassing – she was probably better than any other Leonora one would find in big opera houses today, but still a singer of her caliber should always be compared with the very best. And I mean it as a sign of respect. If I have to keep a souvenir of her performance this evening, this would be her direct, touching, heartfelt Miserere – her Mozartian background used to the best effect in purity of line and sincerity of expression.

Stephanie Blythe had been originally announced as this evening’s Azucena, but was later replaced by Dolora Zajick. It was very heartwarming to see how Harteros made a point on showing deference to this almost legendary Verdian mezzo-soprano (and how gracefully Zajick received it and made a point of acting likewise). If you think of how long she has been singing these impossibly difficult Verdi roles in some of the world’s leading opera houses, one must acknowledge her abilities. At this point of her career, her voice is “merely” very, very big (compared as to how gigantic it used to be, say, 10 years ago), her middle-register has recessed a bit and become sometimes rather nasal and her vowels are now and then unclear. But, whenever things become really testing, she is still admirable – she tries every trill, never recoils from singing piano, ventured into her optional high note in the act II duet with Manrico, you name it. I had seen her sing this role at the Met in a day in which she was not truly in the mood, but this evening – without costumes and scenery – she simply lived through Azucena’s predicaments, the character’s conflicts all clearly presented. And, God, her “sei vendicata, o Madre!” was dramatically, vocally, spiritually (choose an adverb and fill in the blanks here) thrilling. She alone brought the edge to a blunt performance of an opera that is about edge.

I had seen Stuart Neill before only once ages ago in a Verdi Requiem with Denyce Graves in Rio (don’t ask me when was that – I have no idea). My distant memory of the event tells me of a voice big enough and right in style in a not really musically elegant singer. This evening, in the context of his competition, I would say that – in a concert version where his bulk is not a hindrance – he is fairly viable choice for the role. His voice was built around an Italian sound, his pronunciation is extremely convincing, he sounds believably “rustic” and even has functional mezza voce. It is also true that his phrasing is a bit emphatic and not very keen on legato and his notes too often crudely finished off. Ah, sì, ben mio was not graceful or heartfelt, but Di quella pira – highly adapted, as it often is, to the necessities of the final acuto – put across its “message” (in the sense that it sounded all-right heroic and athletic rather than desperate and arthritic). If I had to be really honest, I found Dalibor Jenis’s Count di Luna the all-round most reliable performance this evening. When I saw him in Un Ballo in Maschera, I couldn’t see all the qualities he displayed this evening – a forceful, dark voice with the right touch of harshness, but also supple enough for a sensitively sung Il balen. Finally, Marko Mimika was a decent Ferrando who could do with a tiny little bit less wooliness.

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Maybe because im mildem Lichte leuchtet der Lenz, the Deutsche Oper thought that two isolated performances of Wagner’s Die Walküre would be a nice springtime offering, although Götz Friedrich’s staging is rather in the winter of its existence. Martina Serafin was originally listed as Sieglinde, but was replaced by Heidi Melton, the Deutsche Oper’s official Gutrune. The American soprano has sung the role before in San Francisco, in Runnicles’ Grand Teton Festival and in a concert in Edimburgh- and had the opportunity to “visit” this production as Helmwige. Sieglinde is a tricky role and three times is hardly a lifetime – and the good news are that what lies ahead promises to be very exciting. This evening, there were many exciting moments – but they still need to develop into a whole, coherent performance. There are uncertain moments, some miscalculations (for instance, sometimes she unnecessarily feels that she has to give more and ends on pushing a bit) and some nervousness when soft dynamics are required. That said, for someone relatively new in the role, what she has offered is more than praiseworthy. First, her jugendlich dramatisch soprano is extremely pleasant on the ear, well-focused and rich in its lower reaches. Second, she is an elegant, musicianly singer. Third, she has a radiant stage presence and proved to be a particularly alert and engaged actress. Moreover, she could find the right note of vulnerability in her Sieglinde – and her expression of gratitude to Brünnhilde in act III was powerfully, richly and most sensitively sung.

Catherine Foster’s Brünnhilde has one of those lean, cold-toned voices that flash high notes without much effort à la Catherina Ligendza. Although it is refreshing to see that she really does not find it exhausting to sing this difficult role – and she can be surprising adept in key moments, especially the long crescendo in ihm innig vertraut -trotzt’ ich deinem Gebot – one has the feeling that there are still harmonics waiting to be used in her voice. Her middle register sometimes fails to pierce, there is some sharpness going on and her projection is sometimes unidirectional (in the sense that when she is not singing in your direction, you hear noticeably less). She has an interesting approach to her role – although she is very convincingly tomboyish, Brünnhilde’s more tender side is always at a hand’s reach. And she can shift into these two keys very precisely and effectively.

Daniela Sindram’s voice is still on the light side for Fricka, but her performance is a lesson of how to produce impact through inflection, rhythmic propulsion and clear attack. She is a remarkably intelligent singer, who knows every little nuance in her scene. No wonder she was so warmly applauded.

Torsten Kerl has a very likeable personality and voice – although neither are truly Siegmund material, one still feels inclined to like him. For instance, his Siegmund is far more buoyant and boyish than what one usually sees, but the perkiness is often overdone and ultimately looks hammy. As for the voice, it is round, spontaneous, very keen on cantabile and the low notes are usually rich – and yet a couple of sizes smaller than what one needs to ride a Wagnerian orchestra. He is also a bit free with notes – and, although he was not alone in what regards false entries, he had probably the largest share this evening. Last time, I wrote that Greer Grimsley’s quality as Wotan was basically his big voice. This evening, I would say that he offered really more than that. First of all, even if there still are rough edges, this evening he was in good voice, far firmer than last year. There are more sensitive, more specific, nobler-toned Wotans – but Grimsley is never less than committed and is particularly effective when Wotan looses his temper. That said, he was surprisingly self-contained and illustrative in his long act-II narration. Only in Wotan’s last scene, one felt that he could relax a bit more. But all in all, a raw, powerful performance. Attila Jun is a dark-voiced, forceful Hunding – he is sometimes unintentionally funny on stage and, if he worked on that, he could offer an even more compelling performance.

I still haven’t seen a really satisfying Walküre from Donald Runnicles in the Deutsche Oper – and this evening was no exception. I have noticed that I often write that a performance of Die Walküre often takes off from act II on, and, yes, it does make sense: it is the more “romantic” act and one wants softer tonal quality, a more flexible tempo, a bit more Innigkeit, but at the same time, this is still a big echt Wagnerian orchestra. If the conductor and his orchestra cannot achieve this lightness without loosing focus (both in the sense of clean articulation and of a distinctive tonal quality), then the sound picture becomes often matte and shapeless – as this evening. If act II worked better, it is because the dark, weighty sound are more appropriate for the prevailing gloom. But still, at some moments, one could feel how long act II is. I know, most people are sick of the Walkürenritt – not me, I always like it as if it were the first time. This evening, it started most commendably – absolute structural clarity until the valkyries started to sing. Not only the conductor could not find the right balance between singers and orchestra, but also the singers were not truly well adjusted between themselves. After that, the performance settled in a comfortable, often convincingly rich-toned but hardly unforgettable frame.

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Even among Verdi’s early works, his sixth opera, I Due Foscari, is a rarity. Compared to Nabucco or Ernani, it takes a long while to launch – I would say it actually does it in a powerful closing scene. Some (Verdi included) blame the libretto inspired in Lord Byron’s dramatically tame play. Although Piave basically repeats the same structure for every scene – someone interrupts something that eventually happens anyway – the historical events around Venice’s Doge Francesco Foscari are indeed operatic material. I would rather blame Verdi himself, who was not at his more melodically inspired and not really able to depict the dramatic situations – the first performances in Vienna had the audience laughing at a waltz reminiscent of Johann Strauss in one very depressing scene.

In any case, when you have a cast up to the challenging vocal parts, it can be a rewarding experience. The Deutsche Oper should be praised by its serious attempt of resurrecting the opera. Conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli, for instance, seemed to be determined to prove that there is drama from bar one in the score. With the help of of a fully engaged orchestra and top-class choral singing, he certainly fared better than the bureaucratic Lamberto Gardelli in his studio recording with the ORF orchestra. However, there was a price to pay for the intensity, which was loudness. Without that, the distinguished cast here gathered could be even more convincing.

American soprano Angela Meade, who has made me an admirer since an impressively sung Semiramide a couple of years ago, showed Berlin what golden age is about. Her lyric soprano has gained richness and power without any loss of clarity, offering round, creamy, unforced tones throughout. Although Katia Ricciarelli’s soprano is more immediately seductive in the studio recording, Meade is simply more at ease with the demands and excitingly coped with faster tempi. She could not restrain herself from wowing the audience with an extra in-alt, Caballé-ian high pianissimi and kilometrically long phrases without breathing pauses. The way she presided over ensembles was particularly chilling. Although she is not the sacro-fuoco kind of singer, she is far from musically bland either – and sang the role of Lucrezia Conterini with the necessary passion. Exhilarating as her performance was, I wish that she and the conductor could relax a bit more for her to sculpt a bit more her phrasing, as Ricciarelli often could do – in other words, giving the music and the text a bit more time. But that’s me trying to make something truly exceptional a bit more believable for my 12 or 13 readers. In Gardelli’s CDs José Carreras takes the role of Jacopo Foscari, singing with unbridled impetuosity. Healthy in its exuberant high notes as the Spanish tenor’s recording is, I am afraid I prefer Ramón Vargas’s more sensitive and restrained approach. His voice is on the light side for this role, but the tonal quality is so pleasing and he phrases with such good taste that the trade-off is more than worthwhile. It is amazing that the 70-year-old Leo Nucci still sings with such firmness and power, but – even in his prime his singing was never warm, noble and smooth as Piero Cappuccilli’s (again in Gardelli’s CDs). What made his Foscari interesting was his high theatrical voltage – and that he’s still got. The dramatic solo when the Doge is asked to resign in act III was delivered with formidable intensity, bringing the house down with shouts of bravo and applause. I cannot say how complete this performance was, but I have missed the arioso Oh, morte fossi allora for the baritone in the scene that opens the second part of act III. I might be wrong – I don’t intend to seem a connoisseur of early Verdi… Last but not least, Tobias Kehrer deserves special mention – his rock-solid, forceful, dark bass will procure him a great career. Although his Italian is good enough, if he could be a little bit more idiomatic, he could certainly navigate the Italian repertoire, as René Pape has done.

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