Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

For someone who has fallen out of love with Verdi’s La Traviata, it seems that I have been writing about it more regularly that I would prefer. As Violetta Valéry says herself, the heart has nothing to do with it, but rather a morbid curiosity to see a singer in a part that requires everything a singer can do. Last time, I had a ticket to see Sonya Yoncheva in Berlin, but she cancelled the first performance and I wouldn’t see this of all operas twice in the same week, especially with a soprano I had never heard about. A ticket for another performance with Yoncheva was bought and that was it.

Some months later, on listening to an exquisite rendition of Rachmaninov’s song Zdes choroso with the 2015 Cardiff Snger of the World first prize winner Nadine Koutcher, I couldn’t wait for an opportunity to hear her on stage. That was the moment I realized that she was the stand-in for Yoncheva I had snobbed in Berlin.

After a failed attempt to see her as Amenaide in Santiago de Chile, I’ve finally had the opportunity to settle this affair when the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo cast her in the title role of Verdi’s La Traviata, a coproduction with the Fundação Clóvis Salgado in Belo Horizonte. Veteran director Jorge Takla concocted a very traditional performance the wow factor of which is Cássio Brasil’s glamorous costumes framed by Nicolás Boni’s pale-colored elegant sets. Everything else is predictable but for the unusual omnipresence of ballet dancers throughout the third act. Their choreography during the prelude was of dubious effect, but the idea grew on me when their rather outlandish presence brought about an unsettling touch to the prevailing coziness.

Ms. Koutcher’s control and focus in an extra slow account of Télaïre’s Tristes apprêts in Rameau’s Castor et Pollux conducted by Teodor Currentzis made me expect a performance of absolute purity of tone and polish of phrasing. However, expectations are a tricky thing. Although the Belorussian soprano is a model of clear diction and is incapable of doing anything unmusical, the voice has an acidulous tonal quality and lacks core, often sounding a bit tremulous. Her act 1 was more efficient than exhilarating. By the end of Sempre libera, there was a hint of effort, what is understandable for a voice a bit on the small side for the role.

Act 2 was surprisingly bureaucratic and monochromatic, the use of portamento more calculated than spontaneous. Curiously, act 3 seems to have pressed all the right buttons on the evening’s prima donna. Only then she caressed her lines with genuine feeling and even the instability added credibility to the character’s decaying health. To this point, her acting had more to do with looking and moving with charm (something she has indeed), but here she read her letter in idiomatic Italian and with the languor of someone who has already said farewell to this world. She also handled her dying scene in the most musical and effective manner. 

I saw tenor Fernando Portari as Alfredo in 2001 in Rio (with Eteri Lamoris and Eduard Tumagian) and even back then was not very convinced this showed him in advantage. Seventeen years later, he seems in better control of his instrument, offering beautiful mezza voce and reasonable flexibility, but the tone is even more nasal and open than it was and the overall impression of a Charaktenor in a lyric role. He also looks too old for his role and hams in dangerous levels.

Baritone Paulo Szot too is somewhat overparted as Germont, père, but his technique is admirable. His Mozartian baritone has a splash of Hermann Prey in its velvetiness and yet he could  shift for a while to fifth gear to emulate a Verdian voice. By the end of his long duet with the soprano he was evidently tired and the voice started to grate and have its wooly moments. In any case, in spite of two episodes of wayward intonation, he sang with unusual rhythmic accuracy, sensitivity and imagination. The way he colored the second version of Di Provenza Il mare is truly praiseworthy.

Maestro Roberto Minczuk‘s heroic intent of treating the score with the respect a conductor shows to a symphony by Beethoven is even more laudable in view of the limitations of the house orchestra. Given the restricted volume of his soloists, he kept the sound picture almost chamber-like and took profit of the extra transparency to highlight orchestral solos in almost concertante perspective with the singers and tried to be faithful to the composer’s instructions in terms of dynamics without affectations. However, strings lacked tone throughout and resented extremes of dynamics while his woodwinds seemed unable to scale down. This particular problem ruined an otherwise well-judged prelude to act 1. Other than this, the only moment in which his concept seemed problematic was the concertato in the end of act 2, when the pace was simply too slow and unfit for a soprano who lacked the reserves of power to preside over the ensemble as she should.


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Semiramide is Rossini’s most successful opera seria stravaganza, and this does not mean it is one of his most popular operas. First, it is long. Second, it is expensive in terms of production. Third, good luck casting it…! It is often staged to please the appetites of a bel canto diva, but the Met has history with it, glamorously opened with Patti and Melba. Many decades later, there was Marilyn Horne in the primo uomo role and the Met had less stellar sopranos such as Lella Cuberli and Christine Weidinger on the billboard. Of course, there was June Anderson for the video release. There, one can also see John Copley’s fantasy Assyria, the staging still in use in the present run of performances.

It is no coincidence that the one time I could see Semiramide (in concert performance) the prima donna was no other than Angela Meade. I had never seen (or heard) her before and was impressed by the roundness, volume and flexibility. Then the voice had a Margaret Price-ish quality now almost entirey lost. The “almost” is the key word here. Since then, I had seen Ms. Meade as Lucrezia Contarini and the Trovatore Leonora and noticed some tonal harshness that made her voice more formidable than pleasing. In a recent interview, she said that her voice was meant to sing Semiramide and, listening to her singing today, I agree with her. It has sounded almost as well as it did 9 years ago. Although the harshness is occasionally still there – and one could wish for a little bit more affection and cantabile – hearing that big voice sail through scales, roulades and all kind of difficult coloratura is truly exciting. Hers is not a flashing personality and, as much as last time, she makes the part convincing by adapting it to her personality. Here one believes she regrets the whole affair with Assur and the plot to kill her husband. There is a splash of Lucrezia Borgia (Victor Hugo’s, not the real one…) here in the sense of a lost soul desperately trying to be someone’s angel.

Elizabeth DeShong, in the role of Arsace, was one of this performance’s most shining features. When she first started singing, the words “Lucia Valentini-Terrani” came to my mind. This is a warm, fruity, charming voice, more comfortable in the contralto end of her mezzo, that produces Rossini fioriture to the manner born. She has very good Italian and delivers some of her lines chillingly. Her tonal quality, rhythmic precision and crispy textual delivery make her ideal in trouser roles, although the physique is not very convincing. I definitely want to hear more from Ms. DeShong.

To make things even more exciting, Mexican tenor Javier Camarena brought the house down with his dulcet tenor capable of supersonic coloratura and the firmest and brightest in alts in the market. Most tenors in this repertoire sound a bit whiny, but Mr. Camarena was convincingly heroic throughout. Bravo.

Ildar Abdrazakov is the Met’s resident Rossini basso. If his voice is a bit grainy, it is big enough and his coloratura is decent enough. Well, it is more than that, but I am trying not to compare him with Samuel Ramey. It would be unrealistic. Ryan Speedo Green was a powerful Oroe too. I wish, however, that the chorus could be half as good as the soloists.

Although the video shows some larger-than-life personalities, the revival is more believable in its intent of portraying these characters as people. Of course, it all looks museologic and clichéed, but that’s what this revival is about. Maurizio Benini’s conducting, reliable as it was, still made Rossini sound a bit museologic too. One expect to hear this repertoire with a little bit more spirit and energy these days.

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The revival of Patrice Chéreau’s production of R. Strauss’s Elektra is supposed to be the informal beginning of the Met’s new era. It features the house’s Brünnhilde-to-be, the new music director and even involves the debut of a German Kunstdiva to replace Waltraud Meier’s Klytämnestra. If it ultimately proved to be everything but exciting, let’s hope that the future is going to gain momentum at some point.

I had never seen Christine Goerke in the theatre before this evening and only knew her Elektra from a 2015 broadcast from Boston. As caught by the microphones, the voice sounded that of a mezzo soprano with an upper extension produced rather by will power than by nature. In any case, monochromatic and labored as it sounded, this seemed a plausible voice for the role. Some would have described famous Elektras from the past with words like these. Live at the theatre, it is a whole diferent story. First, it projects poorly. Other than in the lower reaches, it is hard to hear and the high notes are bottled up, fluttery and rattling. It must be mentioned that the extreme acuti, such as the high c’s fare better than most of the high g’s and a’s, although the amount of pressure involved is almost disturbing. Second, the tonal quality is greyish and variety is only achieved by means of distortion. Sometimes, a note starts off full but then a shrill, nasal quality creeps in as a vain attempt of producing a cutting edge. Third, although there are moments when one can see the potential of Straussian phrasing in more lyrical passages as long as they don’t climb up too far up from middle register, what one hears most of the time is a note squeezed in right after the one before.

Although Ms. Goerke is being marketed as the next hochdramatisch soprano, this is a voice that is not comfortable with either the high or the dramatic and, in its present fabricated state, it is hard to tell where its comfort zone is. In defense of Ms. Goerke, she did not look nervous, tired or desperate about anything she had to sing during the whole evening and her word pointing was apt and insightful. Even without the help of tonal variety, she was able to share some interesting ideas about her character and to suggest that Elektra was probably a young woman, what makes sense in the context of this staging. In terms of acting, her commitment is undeniable, but there were many moments when one had the impression she was repeating the Spielleiter’s blocking without fully understanding why. This made her Elektra unusually self-possessed and in control. There was nothing wild  in her acting, what made the final scene quite anticlimactic.

It must be said the new Spielleiter did not seem keen as the assistant to the late Mr. Chéreau on reproducing the director’s power of implying  a lot with very little. Today the stage looked busy and grandiloquent.

This evening Chrysothemis, South-African soprano Elza van den Heever sounded refreshingly bright in comparison to her Elektra, albeit in a glassy and green-toned way. She did not seem challenged by the high tessitura, but did not offer the kind of lyric expansion Straussian sopranos supply in the part’s key moments either. As much as Waltraud Meier, Michaela Schuster’s mezzo is not particularly rich in its lower register. She too sounded small-scaled in the Met’s large auditorium and her expressionistic take on the role looked out of context in this production. Alan Held’s Orest was two sizes larger than his colleagues, but his voice is rather on the rusty side these days and there is some lack of dramatic concentration, a problem shared by Jay Hunter Morris as Aegysth, who is still a bit at a loss with the German language. Among the smaller roles, Tichina Vaughan, a regular in German opera houses, could not help standing out with her spacious and firm low notes and clarity of purpose.

When it comes to Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s conducting, it is hard to say much in the context of his lightweight cast. The orchestra had to be kept on tight rein and the conductor’s fondness for rounding off sharp angles made it all sound very polite and sanitized. When some punch was unavoidable, the orchestra seemed ill at ease and abrupt. If it is true that R. Strauss once said that a conductor should navigate this as if it had been written by Mozart,  let’s not forget that Mozart’s music written for Electra (in Idomeneo) is anything but pretty and light.

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Although my experience with Sonya Yoncheva began quite off the beaten track when she sang Rameau in a gala concert with Emmanuelle Haïm and the Concert d’Astrée, it has since then taken me to some of the most pedestrian corners of the repertoire. Although I do like more than a couple of moments in Verdi’s La Traviata and Puccini’s La Bohème, having to sit through a whole performance and dealing with carnival scenes is something of a challenge for me – a challenge I only take on when it means the opportunity to see a singer of special interest.

Ms. Yoncheva’s Violetta Valéry in Berlin was a performance musically and dramatically sophisticated if not truly emotionally sincere, and I felt curious to see what she would make of Mimì, a role incompatible to mannerism and intellectualization. My first surprise this evening involved the very sound of her voice. While her Violetta had a touch of Callas in its tanginess, the soft-edged yet bright quality of her Mimì has more than a splash of Mirella Freni, especially in the youthful forward and light sounds she consistently produced in her middle register. If she did not suggest the same degree of spontaneity and naturalness of Ms. Freni (who does anyway?), this Bulgarian soprano offered a performance immune to criticism in its balance of musical and theatrical values. She even manages to infuse some spirit in a character that tends to the silly goose.

Vocally, Ms. Yoncheva has no trouble projecting into the big hall and usually presided over ensembles without much effort. There is only one element that elicits concern: the fact that her high notes more often than not flap in a way that might suggest wobble in the future. Some may say it is the frequentation of heavy roles, but I am not sure. I just hope this is something she is willing to look into.

My second source of interest this evening was tenor Michael Fabiano, whom I had never seen before. Based on what I had read and seen on YouTube, I was expecting some sort of stentorian voice used rather crudely if quite healthily. And this was very inconsistent to my impression live in the theatre this evening. To start with, I had the impression that he was not in his best voice today. He had to work hard for his high notes, the high c in his aria a bit colorless and labored and a couple of other notes below true pitch.

The voice itself is quite different from what I expected too: it is not big and it is also pleasantly darker than in recordings. In order to give it an edge, he often resorts to nasalization in a way that robs it of naturalness and charm. Although his phrasing is not really flowing and somewhat emphatic, it is also clean and more varied in coloring than he usually is credited for. Curiously, it is not very Italianate, even if his Italian is very good.

Susanna Phillips’s Musetta too lacks Italian quality. Her blond soprano only sounds at ease in this music when the singer manages to Mozartian-ize it. When the writing requires the brighter edge that is the hallmark of a soprano born in Italy, she is either hard to listen or awkward. Although she has acquitted herself quite commendably with her character, I have the impression that this is not the kind of role close to her own personality and temper.

Lucas Meachum’s baritone has a warm velvety quality and, even if short in its lower reaches, is sizable enough. He is also funny without exaggeration, but the lifeless Italian is a drawback. David Pershall was a firm-toned Schaunard, and Matthew Rose was a reliable Colline who could do with a little bit more emotional engagement in his aria.

At first, I had the impression that conductor Marco Armiliato did not seem in good understanding with his cast. The orchestra was often too loud and the tempo seemed to be timed to highlight the kind of expressive phrasing only his prima donna seemed ready to deliver. Later, he would find various levels of success in adjusting the sounds on stage and in the pit. It must be noted, however, that the orchestra did sound richer and more distinctive than under many a more famous conductor visiting the Lincoln Center.

I had seen the Zeffirelli production only once 2005 maybe (Ruth Ann Swenson and Franco Lopardo) and it looked grander and more beautiful in my memory. This evening, only the scene when Mimì visits Marcello in the osteria caused an impression in me in its soft blue Monet-like palette.

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It has been a while since I last wrote about a Liederabend and I had forgotten how difficult this is. Although an opera is something to be seen, it does not come close to a Liederabend in what regards the interaction between audience and singer. The lights are on, there is nothing to distract those in the hall and nowhere for the singer to hide. If a recital does not work out, one feels too involved and unwilling to dismiss the recitalist. One would rather blame the occasion. One could say that all chamber music concerts are supposed to feel the same way, but I would dare to say that a Liederabend exposes the soloist in a way a pianist or a violinist could not even imagine. It is like a group therapy session when you have to tell about your private life in front of 100 people.

Then there is the problem of writing about the accompanying pianist. Even if one tries really hard to be original, all reviewers write the same things about them, for the truth is that they fall into very simple categories: bad and good, the bad ones generally being those who resent not being the Schwerpunkt of the evening.

Again, it has been a while since I last attended a Liederabend. This actually reminds me that probably the first really echter Liederabend (i.e., 100% German art songs, no opera arias, no French mélodies, no 7 canciones populares españolas and no Cole Porter) I have ever seen featured Dorothea Röschmann back in 2004 (?). Those days she used to sing Handel and Bach and her big role was Susanna. This was before the Elsas, the Desdemonas, the Agathes. It could have been another life.

In her present state, Ms. Röschmann’s soprano has lost nothing in firmness, but the touch of velvetiness that made her Nanetta quite distinctive has developed into almost mezzo-ish fulness of tone. Her high notes have lost their former purity but now sound rather forceful in a way that one would easily call “operatic”. This was more evident in the opening Schubert items. Her Mignon Lieder had a Wagnerian scale that tampered a bit with textual clarity. When it comes to Schubert sopranos, one expects an instrumental quality that involve absolute clarity and spontaneity in high-lying passages. Is it coincidence that all famous sopranos in this repertoire usually are those who sing Bach? With her now vibrant and climactic high notes, Ms. Röschmann would have to work hard for Bachian style these days. In Kennst du das Land…, some passages sounded downright gutsy and unsubtle, but the omnipresent intensity somehow made Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt unusually coherent and visceral as the text suggests.

Ms. Röschmann’s emotional generosity and richness of voice proved to be more appropriate for the bolder brushstokes required by Schumann’s songs. Rarely have the Lieder in Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart sounded as regal and powerful as in this evening’s performance, probably the highlights of this concert. Mahler’s Rückert Lieder lacked Innigkeit and their long lines exposed the fact that the singer does not have a particularly long breath, often separating article from nouns and even sylables from the same word.

I was going to write something about the Wesendonck Lieder, but I have to be honest about what I expect from a singer here: if she is not Régine Crespin, than I just don’t like it. It is stupid, but my heart is not open to reasoning here. I would say that what I heard this evening sounded really distant from the sensuousness, tonal variety and glamor of Crespin, even if its emotional engagement did hit the right spot in two or three moments.

If I were to be honest, the encores, when the singer visibly felt elated by the audience’s response, were far more convincing: Liszt’s Es muss ein Wunderbares sein showed more intimacy than almost anything sung before that, Wolf’s In der Frühe similarly subtle and haunting. I confess I personally take the point of view of Schumann’s lotus flower and partake of its thrill of being bathed by moonlight, but Ms. Röschmann’s more objective view was refreshing for a change.

Now the pianist. In what regards unity of vision, Malcolm Martineau proved to be in perfect understanding with the singer. His Schubert was grandly Romantic as hers, his Mahler sounded short-breathed too in a way that one aches to hear it in the orchestral version and the Wagner reminded the audience that the piano goes into the percussion rather than the string instruments. You don’t have to guess that the Schumann was his best playing in the evening.

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When I first saw David McVicar’s production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore for the Met back in 2009, I remember feeling shortchanged when I left the theatre. This is an opera that thrives on white heat, and lukewarm won’t ever make do. Nine years of use have not made it more exciting, but rather duller and drearier. One could say that nobody goes to Il Trovatore for the staging, but then one would be entitled to an exciting musical performance.

Maestro Marco Armiliato is hardly the world’s most exciting conductor, but he is undeniably a reliable one who makes something of whatever he has to work with. Ths evening fulfilled some of the basic requirements: the tempi were ebullient enough, the conductor was attentive to dramatic effects and helped out his singers without making it too obvious. However, other than the world’s best anvils, the house orchestra sounds ill-at-ease in this work. Rereading what I wrote in 2009 – and what I have just written this weekend – I am forced to acknowledge that I am repeating myself, but here it goes again: the sound lacks brightness and flexibility. You actually can use a full-toned, full-powers orchestral sound in Verdi – as Herbert von Karajan had, for very exciting results, but his cast had some high-octane voices such as Elena Obrasztova.

This evening’s group of “four best singers in the world” started off with the replacement of Italy’s favorite new lyric soprano, Maria Agresta, by Jennifer Rowley, the Met’s favorite stand-in singer this year. I had seen her previously as Tove in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder in São Paulo and couldn’t help findint it curious to see her as Leonora. Hers is a voice forced into a sound different from the one intended by nature. In its manipulated present state, it has a nondescript tonal quality in its darkened vowels, and the insufficient focus does not truly carry it into the auditorium. When things get too high and fast, she lightens it a bit and then she manages to acquit herself quite commendably in some difficult passages, such as the cabaletta of the Miserere, Tu vedrai che amor in terra, and the ensuing duet with the baritone. As much as her hard work deserves praise, it is ultimately a performance about the mechanics. earthbound and short in expression.

This evening, Leonora and Manrico have more than the enmity of the Count di Luna in common: both have an extreme fondness for an artifficialy darkened sound. It is admirable the amount of energy employed by Yonghoon Lee to keep the illusion of a dramatic voice, and the fact that he is only very intermittently tired makes it even more remarkable. Although his idea of interpretation is a series of variations on ardor, it is also true that he is capable of singing piano and producing seamless legato now and then. His act-4 duet with Azucena particularly smooth. I confess I cannot really watch him doing his Bergonzi-like stand-and-deliver stage routine without sense of Fremdscham, but with my eyes closed the splash of James King in the sound of his voice made his Manrico quite appealing to my ears. If it were not for a Di quella pira reduced to one verse nonetheless shorn of many notes written by the composer to acommodate a long but not truly flashing final interpolated note, he could be the most decent Manrico in the market these days.

Luca Salsi’s baritone too is a couple of sizes smaller than the role of the Count, but, differently from tenor and soprano, his voice sounds natural and his diction is crystal-clear. Only when things get really Verdian – i.e., high and dramatic – his attempt of beefing up his high register ends up a bit hooty and wooden. In any case, he shares with the evening’s prima donna the ability of holding very long lines, even when tested by the writing. The fact that he is comfortable with the bad-guy attitude rounded off a performance in which the sum was greater than the parts. His interaction with a Kwangchul Youn in excellent voice made for some of the best moments this evening.

On paper, Anita Rachvelishvili’s mezzo is on the light side for the role of Azucena, but this resourceful Georgian singer did not seem fazed by that. Hers was a take on the role entirely different from everyone else’s. In her fruity tonal quality and ability to spin long legato phrases, she portrayed primarily the vulnerabilty, the bereavement, the loneliness. Her Azucena was more passive-aggressive than commanding – and only when the character’s mental imbalance is speaking does Ms. Rachvelishvili unleashes her reserves of power to produce a more conventionally dramatic sound. This vocal ambiguity made her take on the part revelatory in many ways. Also in terms of style. I could not help imagining that this was closer to what Verdi must have heard than the behemoth mezzo with abysmal chest register usually heard in this repertoire.

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For decades, a performance of a Wagner opera at the Met would mean that it would be conducted by the music director James Levine, whose credentials had been endorsed by 15 seasons in Bayreuth. Since decaying health and PR debacle put an end to his career, the New York opera house had its share of Italian maestros but finally has decided to look closer to home in its own new music director, Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Seguin. He is no newcomer in this repertoire, having conducted Lohengrin and Der fliegende Holländer in the Vienna State Opera, for example.

In the first bars of this evening’s performance I did think of my only Parsifal in Vienna (1999, Jun Märkl) in its clarity and cleanliness. Later on, the absence of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and its refulgent string section would be missed. The Met Orchestra can produce Wagnerian orchestral sound, but not really within the limits of this lighter and more transparent sound picture, when it veers towards the colorless and poorly articulated. It is no wonder that the purely orchestral passages would be the highlights of this performance.

Blaming the orchestra (and the chorus, whose lack of purity is particularly problematic in this piece) would be oversimplifying matters. Mr. Nézet-Seguin is an extremely objective Wagnerian, in a way that would make Georg Solti sound like Hans Knappertsbusch in comparison. As long as his straight-to-the-matter approach was allied to a certain directness in what regards tempo, this proved to be a viable and valid approach, not dissimilar to Riccardo Muti’s Wagner performances at La Scala (dismissed by many as overfast and unambitious). The first scene with Amfortas, however, hinted at a problematic turn in his concept. There, the conductor tried something more traditionally Wagnerian, i.e., flexibility of beat in order to achieve a certain gravitas to the proceedings. Then, one started to feel an increasing number of full stops in the discourse. Without depth of sound and no real profoundness of meaning, pauses sounded like silence and rubato sounded like lingering.

Act 2 is the one that generally benefits from conductors who keep things moving on, but here Mr. Nézet-Seguin seemed conflicted between Reginald Goodall and Pierre Boulez. His shifting from overslow to overfast would make some specialists in baroque opera envious. When you have singers of legendary tonal variety, they can fill in the blanks of the orchestral playing. Knappertsbusch had Martha Mödl and Régine Crespin in Bayreuth. This was not always the case this evening. As usual, act 3 tends to inspire conductors to give their best and the final note was rather positive, if not truly illuminating.

I had seen Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry in Tokyo and was a bit disappointed by the fact that she was caught short with the exposed acuti in the end of act 2. For this second encounter, I decided to hope that she would be in top form and flash Spitzentöne in the auditorium. I couldn’t be more off the mark. As a matter of fact, Ms. Herlitzius has never sung more subtly than she did this evening. She tried all kinds of softer dynamics and her intent to sing legato even involved the use of portamento. As she deals with the text adeptly, one felt drawn to her interpretation. The problem remains that, if her control of the passaggio was masterly, she still finds the dramatic high notes difficult, what is surprising for an experienced Brünnhilde. Sometimes, her voice sounded poorly focused, even if the squalliness was less pronounced than what one would expect.

Klaus Florian Vogt’s monochrome Parsifal is not the best fit to this performance. Whenever the conductor gave him time to produce a dramatic effect, one would just hear a note sung after the other with very little affection. Maybe I’ve grown too accustomed to James King’s recordings, but it all sounded reined in and lacking dynamic variety. It is true that the one color suggests innocence and youth, but this is a long opera and one needs a little bit more than that.

Peter Mattei’s tighly focused baritone is consistently pleasant to the ears and he phrases with the imagination and sensitivity of a Lieder singer. His Amfortas sounded particularly vulnerable and expressive. He would be tested when the writing demanded a little bit more power, and this was the only thing between him and complete success in this role. This was not a problem shared by Evgeny Nikitin, whose superpowerful bass-baritone finds no difficulty  in the role of Klingsor. Moreover, he seems to have fun in bad-guy roles. It is a pity that René Pape was not in his best voice. The way it grated whenever he tried mezza voce made me think he has the flu or something like that. He would sound more comfortable in act 3, but even then this does not compare to his usual standards in the role. In any case, this is still comparing him to himself.

I am not sure about François Girard’s 2013 production. It is indeed very creative in its low-cost quality and the way it explores powerful and simple symbols, but the red/black/white colors and the wet-baby-doll-contest Flower-maidens made me think of Las Vegas. Also, the male/female imbalance storyline has been – even if less clearly – more insightfully explored elsewhere.

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