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Archive for October, 2013

Andreas Homoki’s all-purpose staging of… in the Komische Oper, this was Richard  Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, but here in the Tokyo New National Theatre it is supposed to be Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Anyway, I’ll walk you through the checklist – the color palette is limited to white/black/gray, there is only one set that comes apart at some point, there is a great deal of stylization/anachronism going on and singers are kept very busy throughout. To be honest, the production is 10 years old and I cannot say how many original ideas by Homoki are still in use. In any case, Spielleiter Yasuhiro Miura has done his job: in this sugar-rush approach – throngs of extras involved – everybody seems to be in the right place at the right time with the right motivation. It is all most uninterestingly efficient – and the animation from the cast is not of much help here.

“Animation” is the keyword to describe Ulf Schirmer’s conducting too, keen on fast tempi, crispy accents and regularity of pace. The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra was seriously tested in what regards clarity by the unrelenting beat, but never gave up trying. This has given the performance some spirit – and even if dazzling accuracy would have been welcome, I would choose spirit over mechanical correctness anytime… What the conductor seemed to be rather careless about was his singers. At some times, I wondered if there had been any full rehearsal, for ensembles were invariably poorly balanced and synched. Sometimes a singer would sound unhappy about the tempo chosen for his aria; in other moments, he or she sounded as if he or she would have benefited of some guidance in style by the conductor. If this were a cast of exceptional abilities, maybe the magic would have operated by itself.

Mandy Fredrich has many advantages for the role of the Countess Almaviva: her voice is clear and uncomplicated and, having dealt with the role of the Queen of the Night as early as in last year’s Salzburg Festival, does not seem to find anything in this part really high (actually, she sing her own high notes better than almost every Countess I have ever seen live). She can also produce very clean Mozartian lines and has crystalline diction. But – and again this is a big “but” – the voice has a cold, uncongenial tonal quality and she too often sounds prosaic in moments in which she should sound simply scrumptious (the entire Porgi, amor, for instance). Her Susanna, Kanae Kushima, on the other hand, is very congenial – her voice has a smile and she knows what kind of woman Susanna is. However, faulty intonation and technique (she desperately needs a plausible solution for her low register) make it very hard to enjoy her performance. Deh vieni, non tardar was below amateurish. If a soprano has so little affection for this lovely piece of music, she should not be singing this role. Ukranian mezzo-soprano Lena Belkina (Cherubino) too made very little of her arias – she and Mozart are not really best friends. Levente Molnár’s baritone has an attractive Thomas Allen-like color and – some “acting with the voice” apart – is quite stylish. He can be clumsy in some key moments, but something must have gone seriously wrong during the Count Almaviva’s big aria. The stretta was all over the place. As Figaro, Marco Vinco produced the right endearingly goofy impression – native Italian being a great advantage. The voice unfortunately has a muffled, not very youthful quality.

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Kwangchul Youn has established a reputation as a Wagner singer in Bayreuth and the most important opera houses around the world. He is particularly noted for his performances in the role of Gurnemanz, a role he never sang before in his native South Korea until this week. As far as I understand, one of the reasons is that this was the Korean premiere of Wagner’s last masterpiece here.

For this performances, the Korea National Opera has ordered a new production by Philippe Arlaud, a director who worked with Christian Thielemann both in Berlin and in Bayreuth. Those used to Regietheater productions on the Green Hill would probably find this staging unchallenging in its straightforwardness – I would say that it was a sensible idea to focus on telling the story to an audience who is seeing the work for the first time. Also, it is refreshing that a stylized, minimalistic approach (rather than a traditional approach in a country where this tradition means very little) has been chosen. Act I shows one tree trunk surrounded by an iceberg borrowed from Caspar David Friedrich – a symbol for a social order whose propelling energy is gone (a red glowing grail being the only warm color on stage); act II has no sets, Klingsor’s world being just make-believe; act III predictably has the decayed version of  act I. As one can see, nothing new here, but one should not underestimate the the fact that the cast showed great conviction under the coherent guidance of a director who took the pains of sharing his visions with his singers in a way that also made sense for the audience.

Saying that Lothar Zagrosek opted for comfortable tempi that made it possible for his musicians to produce adequate results would be oversimplifying it. His orchestra played with enthusiasm and was able to fill the hall with sound when this was necessary. Brass was less accident-prone than I would have imagined and strings would sound pale only in fast or soft passages. What is important is that the right gravitas has been achieved – and singers could find the necessary time to let Wagner’s text and music “speak” for itself. You might be thinking that this is no guarantee of success for act II. Indeed, a while after the exit of the flower-maidens, things tended to get a bit pointless. Orchestral passages missed denser strings – act III having a couple of problematic moments.

Although Yvonne Naef has her taut/narrow moments, her Kundry is dramatically alert, tonally varied and seductive in a Crespin-esque way. In actIII, her acting alone was effective as her singing. Christopher Ventris is less gripping, but subtle and youthful-toned. Also, he sings with unfailing technique and musicianship. Gerard Kim (Amfortas) has an interesting voice – dark with a cutting edge – and he is the kind of singer who knows how to test his limits in a positive way. Moreover, he has a very expressive face. Antonio Yang (Klingsor) too has an intense stage presence.  His dark and forceful baritone very much at home in this repertoire.

Kwangchul Youn does not need introduction in this part. He was also in superb voice and colored the text with the sure hand of a master.

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