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Posts Tagged ‘Heidi Melton’

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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It seems that fortunes favors the bold. Although the weather was far from good, I had decided not to see today’s Götterdämmerung and only changed my mind in the last minute. I am glad I did change my mind, for not only was it the best performance by far in this cycle, but also a good performance for any standard. First of all, the orchestra seemed to find its lost affection for Wagner’s music and played with full commitment – and Donald Runnicles did not miss the opportunity to offer an alert and dramatic account of the score. This evening – as it should – the orchestra was very much in the center of the events, eagerly commenting the recapitulation of Leitmotive in the Prologue, heightening the atmosphere in Brünnhilde and Siegfried’s duet, relishing the effects in Siegfried’s journey through the Rhine and so on. It is curious that, last year, the Gibichungenhalle scene didn’t seem to start off, while this evening it was particularly effective in its supple organicity. Although the Waltraute scene did not keep up with the overall animation and the ensuing scene with Brünnhilde and Siegfried could be a little bit more intense, act II regained some of the excitement in spite of some mismatches between chorus and orchestra. The conductor deserves credit for his ability to balance singers’ needs and the intent to maintain a large orchestral sound, especially in the Immolation Scene, soon after an impacting Trauermarsch the climax of which was very coherently built. In a nutshell, this was not the last word in Götterdämmerung, but it was nonetheless a very competently done performance with one or two truly interesting scenes. It is only a pity that the remaining operas in the tetralogy did not show the same level of care and involvement.

After getting off on the wrong foot in Siegfried, Janice Baird seemed ready to clean her records this evening. Although her middle and especially her low registers lack volume, she was well in command of her high notes and produced required dramatic acuti whenever this was necessary. More than this, her phrasing was often clean and consequent (provided there were no low notes on the way). Even if she is not a very specific interpreter, she was not sleepwalking either. A very decent job, considering what one hears around. With her focused, pleasant-toned soprano, Heidi Melton is almost luxurious casting as Gutrune. I couldn’t help noticing she has lost some weight too, the right decision in order to build a career as important as she deserves. Replacing Karen Cargill, Christa Mayer offered a very subtle and expressive if a bit underpowered Waltraute. The Norns (especially Liane Keegan) and the Rhinemaids (I feel badly for singling Clémentine Margaine out, since the three of them were excellent, but a contralto dark-toned and focused as hers calls attention) were all cast from strength from the ensemble.

Siegfried is a role a little bit on the high side for Stephen Gould and yet he can pull it off almost without accidents. Although his tone becomes taut when things get high and fast, he managed his resources expertly reaching his last scene in better shape than most. His voice is refreshingly big and firm, his diction is very clean and, considering the baritonal sound of his voice and his physical frame, he was able to suggest boyishness without looking silly. It was very rewarding to realize how Markus Brück’s Gunther improved since last year – his performance is free now free from the blustering and hamming that disfigured it last time and one could sample the richness and forcefulness of his singing the way it should be. I was also surprised to notice that Matti Salminen, at 66, can still be an effective Hagen, actually really better than he was last year. Only those who knew his younger self could notice the effects of time in a voice still powerful, firm and incisive enough for this key role. Actually, his scene with Alberich had the effect of exposing Gordon Hawkins’s lack of charisma in the role of Alberich.

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Practice makes perfect and the extra rehearsal time since Wednesday proved most positive to the last item in the first cycle of the Deutsche Oper’s Ring. Although the Gibichungen scene in act I had its longueurs (always a tricky scene for the conductor), this evening’s performance had everything a Wagnerian should expect: the orchestral sound was exemplary, textures were clear yet dense and a palpable sense of theatre, particularly in the passages in which the orchestra has to tell the story alone, a kaleidoscopic account of Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt and a truly incisive  account of the Trauermarsch.

The revival of Götz Friedrich’s staging involves a rather shabby Gibichungenhalle and a poorly timed and unimaginative closing scene. The performance was particularly poorly lit, for catastrophic effects in the Hagen/Alberich scene. I am not sure if I like the idea of incestuous overtones for the Gibichungen either – although it could make sense, Wagner already explored this line of thought in Die Walküre and that should be enough.

This evening, Evelyn Herlitzius seemed determined to prove that she can shade her voice when necessary, but the success of this decision is debatable. She does not master the art of mezza voce and her attempt to soften the tone brought about an unfocused quality that disturbed even more her already unflowing phrasing. As in act II Brünnhilde has very little time for musing, Herlitzius could play her trump card and flash some really exciting Spitzennoten. Although she was in tiny little bit less exuberant form in the Immolation Scene, she still offered a healthy and powerful account of this difficult passage. In spite of all the shortcomings, these Nilssonian acuti are reason enough to reserve her some praise, especially in an age when few sopranos seem able to do something like that. And it does not hurt either the fact that she is a committed singing actress.

As a replacement for Manuela Uhl, Heidi Melton proved to be a most welcome surprise as Gutrune (and as the Third Norn, as originally planned). Her voice is large, bright, firm, focused and remarkably beautiful. If I write that she owes her notable talent a serious attempt to loose some weight, I do not do it out of pettiness. Although she is far from clumsy in the acting department, her overweight might be an obstacle for her casting as Elsa, Elisabeth or Eva, roles which would suit her to perfection. The remaining Norns, Liane Keegan and the fruity-toned Ulrike Helzel, were similarly cast from strength. Only Karen Cargill’s mezzo soprano lacks cutting power for the role of Waltraute and her handling of her registers could be a bit smoother too.

During act I, the evening’s Siegfried, Alfons Eberz, showed such warm tone, clarion top notes and sheer voluminousness that the words “golden age” came to mind. After the first intermission, a slight reduction in harmonics and amplitude would impose upon his performance. That said, I have rarely seen a Siegfried survive in such good shape to his death scene, let alone survive the test of miming the Waldvogel so adeptly as he did today. Any opera house would call itself lucky to secure such a reliable singer in this impossible role.

I had a most positive impression of Markus Brück in his performance as Wolfram last year in the Deutsche Oper, but since then I have to confess that his singing in the Wagner Wochen’s Meistersinger and in this Ring showed a rather unalluring vocal nature, very different from the smooth- and round-toned quality he displayed as Wolfram. To make things worse, his hamming, unaided by awful make-up and a costume unbecoming to his disadvantageous physique, simply ruined the role of Gunther for me. I cannot say how much the Spielleitung is to blame, but I understand that the character as written by Wagner is not supposed to be something of a ridiculous clown. Tomasz Komieczny’s last appearance in the Ring crowned a faultless performance. Any staging of the Ring that takes itself seriously these days must feature his Alberich in its cast. Pity that the role of Hagen has now become a bit of a stretch for Matti Salminen, whose performance in this role I had the pleasure to see at the Met in 1997. Back then no orchestra was too loud for him. Today he has to cheat a bit, but his charisma and experience finally pay off in his uniquely sinister and menacing approach to this complex role.

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