The late Götz Friedrich is a director of almost legendary status in Berlin, and I wonder when the Deutsche Oper is going to show him respect by avoiding substandard revivals of his productions. A director of his reputation would never allow an old production to be shown to an audience only to be laughed at, as it often happens – and it certainly did today. If I had taken someone who had never been to an opera house before this evening, I would have apologize at the end. The sets are depressingly provincial; costumes are banal and nonsensical; the Spielleitung is so bad that you feel sorry for these people on stage trying to deal with props that they don’t know how to work or not to knock each other out in their poorly blocked interaction scenes; and I still wonder why someone would use some funny commedia dell’arte stage-hands who jump and flaunter on stage in the middle of Verdi’s Luisa Miller – a story in which an innocent girl and a decent old man are abused before she is finally killed by someone who was supposed to love her. Acting is, but for two singers, not this cast’s strong suit, but the Spielleiter just let them embarrass themselves without caring to know if this was working or not. Lamentable.
I understand that Verdi’s score is not of great help when one needs inspiration here, but the singers playing the roles in the Miller family have proved that true artistry transcends even the most hopeless circumstances. I don’t believe that the title role is meant for purely lyric sopranos, but Krassimira Stoyanova’s emotional sincerity, excellent technique, sense of style and commitment triumphed over her limitations in volume and cutting edge (especially in her high register). In the last act, she really transported me away from the prevailing shabbiness into the predicaments of poor Luisa Miller. She interacted beautifully with Gabriele Viviani, who replaced Leo Nucci, as Miller. He has a rather steely, slightly rough voice à la Paolo Coni, but his singing is so authentically Italian, his diction clear, his involvement so palpable that their last duet couldn’t help being hundreds of levels above the rest of this performance. Clémentine Margaine’s rich contralto is always a pleasure to the ears, but she had no direction to speak of and couldn’t find her way into the role of Federica. It is an ingrate part, often too low-lying, but I would say nonetheless that a mezzo with a solid low register is probably better suited to it. As it is, although one could still hear this French singer’s high notes, they did not have much color. Belonging to an ensemble is always a safe choice, but Margaine has true potential for a free-standing career in bel canto and baroque music, in which many a more famous contralto lack volume and heroic quality.
Zurab Zurabishvili was almost a late-minute replacement for Marcelo Álvarez. The Georgian tenor is not a beginner, but the voice is still fresh, spontaneous and resonant. Unfortunately, his sounds turn around different degrees of nasality and his high notes, if big, are tense and pushed, what made him more and more tired during the evening. More disturbing is his cupo phrasing, without much flowing quality and variety. Arutjun Kochinian voice might be large, but it is distressingly throaty. Orlin Anastassov’s bass is warm and dark enough, if distinctively Slavic. My neighbour this evening asked me why he does not have a bigger name – I guess there some lack of imagination, but mainly the voice lacks bulk for the great bass roles in operas like Don Carlo or Simon Boccanegra.
If I had not seen yesterday’s Macbeth, I would probably say that Paolo Arrivabeni’s conducting was all right, but I did hear the same orchestra under Ivan Repusic and, good as it was tonight, it was only a shadow of it was the night before. It is true that Macbeth had bigger-voiced singers (and a far superior score, one cannot forget), but one wants a nobler tonal quality here. Justice be made, the maestro did not linger and strove for excitement, but things often sounded just brisk. Not in the beautiful closing act, when the orchestra seemed gradually to plug in and, by the last scene, the effect was quite colourful and vibrant.