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Posts Tagged ‘Greer Grimsley’

As far as I could understand, the Kanagawa Art Foundation has established a partnership with the Nikikai Opera Company that has resulted co-productions with Biwako Hall (in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture) of operatic performances since 6 years ago. For Richard Wagner’s 200 anniversary a new (at least, this is what I’ve understood) production of Wagner’s Die Walküre with international guest soloists has been featured.

The name of Belgian director Joël Louwers does not ring a bell with me. If I have in mind what I saw today, I would have remembered. Although Tina Turner sings “We don’t need another hero”, Wotan begs to differ by singing “Not tut ein Held…”. Why then the Mad Max aesthetics (in a high school musical production standard) have been chosen? Considering the prevailing cluelessness (there is an interview translated to Japanese in the program that might provide something that should stand in as an explanation, but I am unfortunately unable to read it), I would rather not hear the answer to that question. First, there is some serious misunderstanding going on here. For instance, the Todverkündung scene. Sieglinde is supposed to be asleep then – and this is no small detail. Not only do Siegmund and Brünnhilde mention the fact countless times, but also – if she is awake (as this evening) – there should be no surprise in act III on hearing the news that she is pregnant. On discovering that she is going to be a mother, she decides to go on living. So, if she had known it in act II, her whole attitude in act III would seem pointless. This is no isolated example of poor decision. For instance, the magic fire music is here background to Siegmund crashing a family dinner party (Wotan, Fricka and the valkyries…) in the Walhalla. Also, the staging itself is exotically conceived – in less than 5 minutes, curtains go up and down many times to show some tautological flashbacks (Wotan by the ash tree, the young Sieglinde surrounded by Hunding and his gang…) or some truly “illuminating” titles (“The Punishment”, “The Flight” etc). The director seems to hate the possibility of having characters on stage when not singing; as a result, whenever Wagner has an orchestral passage, short as it may be, there would come the curtains and flashbacks and/or titles. And Fricka – in this staging, we get to see Fricka all the time.  She is so ubiquitous here that she has to be ironic when she says “Wo in den Bergen du dich birgst, der Gattin Blick zu entgehn”. Although there is some (misguided) insight here, the fact is that the Personenregie is also very superficial – everybody weeps when they are sad (Wotan included), Siegmund behaves as if he had some mental disorder, whirling Sieglinde ballroom-dance-style in every possible occasion. All that involved complex set changes – and this operation must be expensive. It is sad to see so much money spent that way, when something simpler, truer and deeper could have been achieved with lower costs (and more expertise).

Conductor Ryusuke Numajiri has built his career in his native Japan and in Germany (it seems he conducted Don Giovanni at the Komische Oper in Berlin, but I have missed that). For this performance, he had the joint efforts of the Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra and the Japan Century Symphony Orchestra in the pit. The prospects had not seemed encouraging, but Numajiri proved to be the right man for the task. The word “kapellmeisterlich” comes to my mind in the positive sense of someone who has built an orchestral sound (rather than profiting from an orchestral culture of a world-class team) within the limits and possibilities of his musicians. Also his approach to this music does not seem to stem from any established tradition, but rather from studying the score in its face value. The results were fortunately quite refreshing, if not thrilling, overwhelming or truly moving. First, the conductor made a virtue of his orchestra’s bright but recessed sound, achieving a comfortable balance for his singers in the context of an orchestral sound that was not truly substantial or full but that retained enough timbre nonetheless. Second, he gave his musicians time to produce the necessary effects within the minimal levels of quality. In other words, tempi were unrushed but not ponderous, phrasing was comfortable, musically clear even if not terribly expressive. Third, he let the music speak for itself and you might be surprised of how eloquent it can be – even with less than optimal forces – when there is not a conductor trying to force his personality into it. Of course, when a conductor has a striking personality and great talent, it can be even more eloquent. But how often does that really happens?!

Since I saw Yuka Hashizume’s Kundry last year, I’ve been eager to see her again – especially in Wagner. She is an extremely talented singer who deserved an international career. If her Sieglinde was not striking as I had imagined, it was still far superior to many singers I’ve seen in this role. Her fruity soprano has a unique blend of warmth and cutting edge, her lower register not only is extremely comfortable but also seamlessly connected into her perfectly homogeneous soprano. She is never less than stylish and utterly musicianly, scales down to beautiful mezza voce whenever this is necessary and has reserves of power for the key dramatic moments. This evening her interpretation was rather generalized and she missed the tingling effect in act III – but I would rather blame the circumstances. I was not truly excited about the opportunity of hearing Eva Johansson as Brünnhilde at this stage of her career, but I have to say that she was in exceptionally good voice this afternoon. She still has her sharp/emphatic/fluttery moments, but she proved to be far more disciplined that I could have imagined and sang with the kind of firmness and fullness I thought she had left behind long ago. There was little finesse and variety in her singing, and yet she could find a softer quality for her long scene with Wotan in act III. In comparison, Etsuko Kanoh’s Fricka was far more interesting in her subtle but sure word pointing and dramatic instincts, even if the role is heavy for her voice and her low register now lacks space and color.

This evening’s Siegmund was Tetsuya Mochizuki, a singer I have previously heard as Tamino (a performance that left me no good memories) in the New National Theatre. He is far more comfortable in Wagner – he knows the style, the Italianate touch is not unwelcome, the voice has an appealing old-style fast-vibratoish quality when not tested in dramatic passages (when it acquires a Spiteltenorisch edge) and he can phrase with elegance when he finds it necessary. Yet he is overardorous and hams as his life depended on it. He lost some steam in act II too. I’ve seen Greer Grimsley sing Wotan both in Berlin and in New York. In a good day, he can be a very powerful Wotan. And today was one of these days – he was the aural image of vocal health, singing with unfailingly firm and dark tone throughout. In the closing scene, I remember more subtlety and shading in Berlin, but I guess he just couldn’t resist to pour voluminous and rich sounds in the hall as he could do today. Last but not least, Koji Yamashita was very well cast as Hunding. The team of valkyries too deserve praises – especially the fearless Miyuki Hibino as Helmwige.

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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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