Posts Tagged ‘Angela Brower’

If you are in South America in 2018 and have missed a performance of R. Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, then you really did not want to see it at all. It has been an item in the season of Buenos Aires’s Teatro Colón, São Paulo saw it staged for the first time by a Brazilian company in the Theatro Municipal and now the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo offers Bogotá its Colombian première.

Spanish conductor Josep Caballé-Domenech, artistic director of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá, is the man behind the Colombian première of R. Strauss’s Salome in 2016 and renews his advocacy of the Bavarian composer’s music introducing the Feldmarschallin to the audiences in the Teatro Mayor. His view of this score is very objective in a non-Karajanesque way. His main purpose seems to be clarity and, if he allows his singers enough flexibility, he never seems to loose sight of forward-movement. This is actually a sensible choice if one keeps in mind that his orchestra lacks tone. When things are loud and fast, it acquires something of an edge that carries across the auditorium. Below that dynamic level, it sounds very much in the background, leaving singers to fend for themselves. This has been particularly harmful in the Presentation of the Silver Rose. In terms of articulation, the string section was often left wanting, what make the third act something of a blur until a final trio in which the conductor demanded everything from his musicians and got enough to produce some excitement. In any case, if one did not had the Vienna Philharmonic in mind, the performance did not fail to show the complexities of R. Strauss’s orchestral writing but rarely delivered its emotional content as it should.

In terms of casting, this is a group of singers one could have seen in a non-festival evening in the Bavarian State Opera, some of them in A-casts in Berlin and Salzburg. Michaela Kaune, for instance, is an experienced Marschallin who knows music and text inside out. In purely vocal terms, this is probably her best part. Its rather central tessitura flatters her warm middle register and does not expose too much her unfocused high notes. Her interpretation is often Schwarzkopf-ian in her intent to point out the meaning of every syllable, but she knows the moment to let things more spontaneous. This was particularly effective in Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding, when she could find a very particular and intimate vocal coloring that worked the magic by itself. No wonder it inspired her Octavian to produce her best singing after that. Although Angela Brower is billed as a mezzo soprano, her basic sound is that of a lyric soprano and not a particularly heavy one. In terms of weight and color, it sometimes made me remember Irmgard Seefried’s recording with Karl Böhm. Ms. Brower, however, is not as crisp clear in her delivery of the text, but wins the audience over with the artlessness of her phrasing and the beauty of her mezza voce. She is too girly an Octavian, what makes the Mariandl episodes a bit confusing for the audience. The fact that she handles soft dynamics far better than her Sophie could also be a bit puzzling. Anna Virovlansky’s bell-toned soprano shines in most of what Strauss wrote, but high mezza voce eludes her entirely. She rushed through the delivery of the silver rose and her attempt to float high notes often sounded wiry and sometimes below pitch. This is a pity, for she handles the conversational passages most efficiently and the tone itself is pleasant and silvery as it should. Although Franz Hawlata’s bass has lost resonance in both ends of his range since the days where he was omnipresent in the role of the Baron Ochs, it is still dark and firm. Even in his prime, he never was very precise in it and rather concentrated in the theatrical aspects of the role. In this sense, he is still efficient in his delivery of the text and in tone coloring. After a lifetime singing this opera, his paintbrushes are now rather broad, but that does not seem to bother the audience, who had fun with his comedy timing and acting abilities.

Among minor roles, one must mention Robert Bork’s Faninal, forcefully sung without the usual disfiguring exaggerations and Martina Dike’s very hearable Annina (a rarity in this part). Sara Caterine’s Marianne Leitmetzerin deserves mention for her firm top notes and very expressive face too. Humberto Ayerbe was a warm-toned Valzacchi, a bit too discrete, and César Gutiérrez did not seem to find the Italian tenor’s aria too high-lying.

Alejandro Chacón’s staging is extremely traditional in terms of Personenrégie and veers dangerously close towards cuteness. Many scenes that would gain a lot in terms of expression are underplayed for business and overexplanation. The visual aspect of this production is hard to define. It is rather poorly executed and sometimes amateurish, especially the sets. I still do not know what to make of the concept of having the boiseries painted with tropical motives, although there seems to be something there. Seeing the grand-monde’s small dramas unfold among the images of the jungle is an idea that could work in more expert hands, but the concept was polluted by lack of clarity to start with. Costumes, on the other hand, were quite correct and well-fitted to these singers.

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Since Les Contes d’Hoffmann is technically the only opera of a composer of operettas, one forgets how it is theatrically and musically difficult. The fact that Offenbach could not prepare a definitive score has a great deal to do with it. As it is, although the various editions around offer different solutions, they all basically try to make it sound less of the patchwork it essentially is: style changes a lot during the opera; the idea of one soprano and one bass-baritone for various roles is as unpractical as having a crowded cast; and the title role is a very tough piece of singing (to say the truth, every role here is far from easy, but the tenor sings far longer than anyone else). The New National Theatre’s present staging, premièred in 2003, uses a composite version – it is basically a generously cut Oeser edition colored by borrowings from the Choudens version (especially in the Giulietta act, where one – most fortunately – can listen to the “inauthentic” diamond aria and the sextet).

Philippe Arlaud’s production has many splashes of kitsch in its acid colors, fake perspectives and cute choreographies. Its overbusyness makes for very little atmosphere and the main characters are often surrounded by dozens of extras. There are some very striking images now and then, but curiously none of them involve the supernatural episodes in the plot, which are very uninterestingly conceived by the creative team. Conductor Frédéric Chaslin too believes in overbusyness – everything here sounded fast and furious. At first, I wished for a little bit more charm and detailed expression, but considering the cast’s limitations, this proved to be a wise decision in a long opera (prologue and epilogue included). There were many moments where singers would be drowned by the orchestra, but judging from what you could still hear from them most of the time, the big orchestral sound was a good trade off.

I had never heard Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz before and I cannot tell if his voice usually sounds as colorless and devoid of squillo as this afternoon. I hope not. In order to send some sound into the auditorium he had to work really hard. Fortunately, he has enough stamina to run a marathon. In the Giulietta act, his middle register was raspish and grey-toned and the low notes were long gone, but he could still muscle up for his high notes without any hesitation. His French is quite passable and he tried to avoid excessive Italianate-ness. It must be said that he has charisma and the perfect attitude for the role, acting with true abandon.

His three love interests were cast with Japanese singers. Hiroko Kouda (Olympia) is the only survivor from the 2003 cast. Her voice is a a little bit richer than one usually hears in this role, but she tried – not without some strain – some very high options. There have been more coruscating Olympias on stage and in records, but Ms. Kouda deserves praise for the intelligent way she portrayed her character’s mechanical nature without tampering with musical values. Keiko Yokoyama (Giulietta)’s soprano has a basically interesting color, but her method involves too much pressure and, even if it seems voluminous enough a voice, imperfect focus does not grant it enough carrying power. Moreover, the role does not fit her placid personality. Although the part of Antonia is on the high side (and the trills off limits) for Rie Hamada, her complex, extra-rich soprano with a touch of Martina Arroyo and sensitive, musicianly phrasing made her the most interesting singer this afternoon.

The Nicklausse, Angela Brower, has a soprano-like mezzo, modest in size but bright enough to pierce through. She is at ease with French style and has good pronunciation of Racine’s language. Hers was a congenial, pleasant performance. Mark S. Doss’s voice is one size smaller than required for the bad-guy roles and a bit curdled in tone, but he is an intelligent singer who offered the best French in the cast, athletic divisions as Dr. Miracle and even managed a smooth Scintille, diamant.  This is an opera without unimportant roles and one could have had some imports from France to add some spice. In any case, someone minimally acceptable for the role of Crespel.

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