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Posts Tagged ‘Annette Dasch’

Although Schubert is probably the most famous and prolific Lieder composer, he had an unrequited love for opera that never resulted a stage work currently in the repertoire. He flirted too with oratorio, but his religious drama in three acts has only survived in incomplete form. Nobody knows if Schubert gave up composing it in the beginning of act II or if he composed further than the extant material. It seems that there is very little doubt about the incompletion of the work – apparently, the exalted final scene was a puzzle that the composer could not solve. In any case, one would be surprised by Schubert’s proto-Wagnerian use of a durchkomponiert structure in which the boundaries of arioso and accompagnato are blurred and by the sustained nobility of his melodic invention. If the subject is extremely non-theatrical, it is not really his fault.

It is, then, particularly curious that Claus Guth has decided to stage this unstageable work. For that purpose, Guth and Dramaturg Konrad Kuhn have completed the piece with Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question and “The “Saint-Gaudens” in Boston Common and choral pieces by Schubert himself plus Webern’s orchestral version of Der Wegweiser from Winterreise. I was surprised by how effective the connection of the incomplete aria and Ives’s piece for trumpet, woodwind and strings. What happened after that – it is probably my lack of imagination – did not add anything to the “story”, to Guth’s own scenario or to the issues discussed in the libretto, unless we consider that as an image of the impossibility of discussing the theme. In any case, the “action” is set in an airport lounge. A man knows he is going to die and, utterly alone in the crowd, projects his doubts and thoughts in different persons in the crowd before he actually dies. The second scene shows an empty version of the lounge – the “characters” from the man’s imaginary dialogues are now his family and friends, including the suicidal Simon. After his funeral (i.e., the end of Schubert’s composition), there are dream-like passages involving the chorus, the depressive Simon and a sense that life goes on. I still dislike the fact that August Niemeyer’s libretto does have an ending (which everybody knows from the Bible) and this has been disregarded. I also have a problem with some silly/lazy scenic solutions: since Nathanael speaks about Jesus, he is a priest; Jemina speaks of roses, so she spreads petals on the airport lounge ground; Maria is here a modern woman and when she becomes too XIXth century in behavior, she has a “what am I doing?!”-gesture. However, all that said, it is praiseworthy that Guth and his creative have actually tried to do something out of this – and the staging has many visually catchy moments. Also, the soloists and chorus members are exceptionally well directed.

I know Lazarus exclusively from Helmut Rilling’s recording. Conductor Michael Boder offers something far more dramatic and Sturm-und-Drang compared to Rilling’s Biedermeier spiritual serenity. The Wiener Symphoniker responded to this approach with lean and dry sonorities, aptly more classical than Romantic. The Arnold Schoenberg Chor has sung again with great polish and beauty of sound. This is a challenging work for soloists: Schubert requires the kind of instrumental and multicolored vocalità that does not go really well with orchestral sound. In Rilling’s recording, all soloists – with one exception – are Lieder singers aided by kind microphones who offer performances of apollonian beauty (and little drama). For instance, Sybilla Rubens (Rilling) is Schubertian grace incarnated, while Annette Dasch’s performance as Maria is wider in range, richer in tone and not less stylish and musicianly. Actually, this is probably the best performance I have ever heard from her. Stephanie Houtzeel (Martha) too sang elegantly and expressively, but was sorely taxed by Schubert’s incomplete aria (of which Camilla Nylund offers a most commendable account for Rilling). Çigdem Soyarslan (Jemina) is a name to keep – the tone is fruity and gentle and her phrasing is appealing and sensitive. Kurt Streit’s tenor has seen firmer and rounder days, but it is still a pleasant, clear voice – and he sings with great purity of line and excellent diction. Ladislav Elgr’s sound is healthier and better focused, but he is working hard here to produce a Schubertian sound. Both are somehow exposed by Jan Petryka, a tenor invited to sing a solo in Schubert’s choral piece “Nachthelle”, whose soaring high register and appealing mezza voce are everything this music requires. Florian Boesch offered a gripping, stylish and expressive performance of the score’s most interesting aria – and he could get a Tony for his acting. I still believe that there is more in his voice than he is actually using, but anyway he can do no wrong in Schubert.

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In an interview for Gramophone, Marek Janowski said that his idea for his Wagner’s opera omnia series with the RSB was his dissatisfaction with contemporary German opera directors, who don’t understand the master’s work. Thus, in concert version, his operas could shine at their brightest without any “interference” from the theatrical überall Wahn. Curiously, the conductor did not explain what kind of theatrical direction would be, in his opinion, ideal for Wagner operas. This introduction might seem irrelevant, but it made me remember that one of my eight or nine readers, Stefan, on explaining why he did not stay for the second act of Janowski’s Meistersinger because “the conductor obviously did not care about the drama of the piece”. I wonder what Wagner himself would think of this dichotomy between music and drama in the context of Musikdrama – is it legitimate to say that a performance of a Wagner opera gains in musical values for not being disturbed by being staged? One might said that it depends of the director. I would add then that the advantage of a concert performance depends of the conductor as well.

I have seen staged performances of Wagner operas that were musically uninteresting but theatrically compelling, staged performances who were dull in terms of theatre but musically illuminating – and Wagner operas performed in concert version that were actually “dramatic” and some that were neither dramatic nor musically interesting. In other words, although there is no golden rule here, in view of Maestro Janowski’s opinions, I was ready to be overwhelmed by something revelatory in terms of conducting this evening. I haven’t – Daniel Barenboim “accompanying” either Harry Kupfer’s or Stefan Herheim’s stagings actually offered me something far more overwhelming. I do not mean that this evening’s was a bad performance – it was certainly not – but it hadn’t been special either. If one has in mind that it has been organized with the purpose of being recorded, it was supposed to be memorable – otherwise why release a CD of it, isn’t it? As it was, this was an outstandingly clear reading of the score with rhythmically accurate ensembles. If there is one opera the prelude of which is supposed to set the mood for what lies ahead, this is Lohengrin – not this evening, I am afraid: violins lacked floating quality in their pianissimo playing and the climax was so deliberately built that it actually hang fire. To tell the truth, strings lacked volume throughout, violins sounding particularly thin. Since brass were in healthy shape, this could be often problematic. Act II had a better start, the dark side of the opera apparently has more appeal to the conductor – the Ortrud/Telramund scene displayed superior structural coherence and the orchestra commented with some passion, when not reined in to spare singers in difficulty. The Rundfunkchor Berlin proved to be the trump card of today’s Lohengrin – no wonder that the ensembles were invariably the most exciting moments this evening. Lohengrin’s arrival in act I was particularly praiseworthy, one of the best I have heard either live or in recordings. By the third act, things seemed to gain somewhat in interest – the prelude to act III is one of Janowski’s specialties, but I have heard him conduct it more excitingly with this same orchestra in other occasion (here again strings lacked volume). In all honesty, one cannot blame the conductor alone for the lack of excitement. It is very generous of these singers to perform pro bono and I respect all of them for that, but this was no dream team for this opera – and one could see that Janowski had to make them many concessions that ended on impairing some key dramatic moments. A good example was Ortrud’s last intervention – the orchestra, for once, was ready to give it all, but the conductor had to scale things down and he deserves high praise for being able to keep some excitement there through articulation and accent alone.

Pregnancy seems to become Annette Dasch – although the role of Elsa requires a larger voice than hers, she sang it this evening really better than when I saw her in Bayreuth. Today I found her middle and low register particularly fruity and appealing and her attempts to produce pianissimo more effective. Her interpretation has deepened too and, even if her Elsa has more than a splash of “Gossip Girl”, it is also theatrically alert and attentive to the text. Susanne Resmark too knows everything she should know about Ortrud, but the role is impossibly high for her voice, making her sound hooty, breathy and sometimes off-pitch. I have seen Klaus Florian Vogt as Lohengrin in various occasions and so far this has been his best performance in this role and I am glad that it has been recorded. His strangely ethereal yet forceful tenor fits the “role description” and he sang it particularly mellifluously this evening, while almost avoiding the abrupt ending of phrases that sometimes disfigure his singing. Gerd Grochowski masters the crispy declamation necessary to sing Telramund but, as his Ortrud, finds the role high for his voice, sounding often gray toned and limited in volume in the higher reaches. Together with this evening’s tenor and the chorus, the shining features of this performance are the outstanding Günther Groissböck, an exemplary Wagnerian voice, as King Henry and Markus Brück’s powerful Herald.

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