Posts Tagged ‘Concertgebouw Orkest’

The Nederlandse Opera’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s Evgeny Onegin cannot help being a must-see: it features only Mariss Jansons and the Concertgebouw Orchestra in the pit and the controversial Stefan Herheim as stage director. Before I write further, I will say straightaway that it is worthwhile the trip.

Although I was disappointed to see Herheim repeating his historic approach as in his Bayreuth Parsifal (it would be sad if he, of all people, turns out to be predictable), the formula does work. Onegin is a man in search of identity – and Russia has faced a similar problem as a nation. When we first meet both in this staging, the shadow of the Romantic world still haunts them. Revolution makes its appearance with the end of innocence, when Lensky challenges Onegin to a duel before revolutionary soldiers. The ball in Moscow is a parade of Sovietic icons – ballet dancers, athletes, astronauts – a collective self-affirmation that does not provide answers to Onegin’s individual questions. In this ball, Tatiana and Gremin are just idealized visions. Their real appearance, in Putin’s Russia, finally proves to be more violent in their new money/old habits-milieu. Even if you disagree with the analogy, Pushkin’s storyline is given an interesting twist when told in flashback. Onegin is in a kitsch-glamour hall when he sees Tatiana as a socialite. Suddenly, the glass-and-metal room centerstage becomes Larina’s house by virtue of a revolving structure. Past and present intertwine: Tatiana and Onegin write their letters simultaneously while Gremin sleeps in his bed. Sets and costumes are ingeniously and beautifully conceived (I only dislike the cheap computer-made projections – and maybe the guy in a bear costume borrowed from Herheim’s Lohengrin at the Lindenoper) and make the complex shiftings in time and in scope (social/private) coherent.

Mariss Jansons offers a subtle and elegant view of the score. It does not sound typically “Russian” in its transparent textures, clear strings and avoidance of emotionalism, but is somehow faithful to the melancholic atmosphere of the work. His sense of balance between stage and pit is exemplary, not to mention his ability to increase volume without saturating the aural picture with excessive loudness.

Crowning the performance, Krassimira Stoyanova’s immaculate Tatiana. The voice is exquisite and expressive, the technique is solid and she inhabits the role musically and scenically. Elena Maximova too has the perfect voice and attitude for Olga, but her sense of pitch leaves something to be desired. Olga Savova and Nina Romanova are ideally cast as Larina’s and Filipevna. Andrei Dunaev is a reliable Lenski – the voice is spontaneous, but his big aria was not really thrilling (or maybe I’ve been spoiled by Piotr Beczala in New York and Rolando Villazón in Berlin). Mikhail Petrenko offered a sensitive account of his aria – a little bit more body in his high register would have been helpful. As for Boje Skovhus, although he sang better than in Berlin in 2009, his pleasant and well-focused baritone still lacks some depth in this role, but the truth is his overacting is always hard to overlook – even when relatively tamed by a strong-handed director


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There is an urban legend about the influence of the unique acoustic conditions of the Concertgebouw over its resident orchestra. According to it, the building’s warm resonant acoustics has taught those musicians to produce rich yet lightweight sounds; otherwise, the results could be rather tangled and unclear. So I was told in Amsterdam.

I had seen the Concertgebouw orchestra previously in Rio in a completely uneventful R. Strauss’s Metamorphosen + Mahler 5th bill, when the orchestra sounded plainly speaking opaque and grey-toned. But then the dry acoustics of Rio’s Theatro Municipal could be responsible for the debacle. A couple of years later, I had the pleasure to witness a Ravel/Stravinsky programme with the famous Dutch orchestra in their own hall – and I was simply overwhelmed by its absolute clarity and beauty of tone. That was eight years ago.

Since then, I have sampled the Concertgebouw only through recordings – until today, when the fabulous orchestra more than fulfilled my expectations – it went far beyond. Under the admirable conductor Mariss Jansons, the orchestra shines at its best.

I have chosen a programme quite unusual for my traditional “German” concert preferences. Although Debussy’s La Mer and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique are hardly “unusual” repertoire, these are pieces I have seldom heard in live performances. Therefore, I cannot expertly compare today’s concert with any particular one, but I don’t really feel I need it.

In Jansons’s hands, the orchestra poured liquid crystalline sounds in Debussy’s score, every tiny detail played to its perfect effect. The violins’ pianissimo playing could make even the Vienna Philharmonic envy. However, even that kaleidoscopic Debussy could not prepare the audience to the flashing performance of Berlioz’s masterpiece. There the orchestra proved to have amazing consistence of tonal beauty through the complete dynamic range. Although Berlioz saw himself as a classical composer, scholars would rather label him as “proto-Romantic”. That dichotomy, however, was not a problem for Jansons, who took advantage of both full-toned Romantic orchestral sonorities and hallmark classical transparence with perfectly blended woodwind. The waltz rhythms in the second movement revealed Viennese grace, the third movement featured organic coherence between the bucolic and tempestuous elements, the fourth movement was a showcase of dynamic control and the fifth benefited from an extremely wide-ranging tonal palette. An unforgettable performance.

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