Posts Tagged ‘Heidi Stober’

It is no surprise that a repertory opera company is supposed to have a great share of unmemorable performances (sometimes the same is said of some opera houses running stagioni) – and as I do not want to make this long, I’ll go straight to the question – considering budget, the shortage of soloists for many roles etc etc, even if one has to pull off a performance for almost every day of the year, why make some evenings a self-defeating experience from the start? I may be accused of being too particular (especially considering that the Deutsche Oper had a full house this evening and has probably made for the money spent on staging a new Jenufa or a new Liebe der Danae), but I wonder why one would wish to exhume Götz Friedrich’s helplessly kitsch production before the eyes of an audience? I don’t know how it looked in 1993 (?), but this evening it seemed ugly, decayed, drab and the set changes took ages to be completed. Maybe there was some interesting Personenregie back then, but now it has been completely lost.

Now, if one had a dream-team of Verdian singers willing to sing Un Ballo in Maschera, then, I agree, it would be a pity to miss the opportunity because there isn’t enough money to build an entirely new staging – but that was hardly the case this evening. The originally announced cast had Yonghoon Lee as Gustavo and Thomas Hampson as Renato, what was already some degrees below golden age. This evening’s was a quite decent cast, but the lackluster staging needed something exceptional in terms of singing. I have to make some considerations on the prima donna’s case. Although Tatjana Serjan’s soprano lacks Italianate sheen and may sound shrewish mid-range, it really is a voice of more than enough heft for the lirico spinto repertoire. Moreover, she has very solid low notes and her mezza voce is truly angelic. She is the kind of singer that pulls off an outstanding phrase, sometimes better than in your recording with Leontyne Price or Renata Tebaldi, just to spoil the effect by something clumsy in the next minute.  When everything works at optimal level, it can be very thrilling – especially in her full, round and easy high notes. Heidi Stober’s soprano is a bit too blond for Oscar, but she offered the evening’s all-round best performance. To start with, she was the one person on stage who seemed to be having fun, singing with unfailing sense of style, firm, bright top notes and accuracy, even while jumping and running in a convincingly boyish manner. Maybe the Deutsche Oper should think of casting her as Zdenka when they revive their Arabella. Ewa Wolak treads carefully in the higher end of Ulrica’s tessitura, but flashes gigantic low notes in the auditorium.

As far as I understand, this was Korean tenor Jung Il Kim’s debut in the Deutsche Oper and probably the first time he has sung in a big traditional opera house (please correct me if I am wrong; when one googles his name, one gets North Korea’s “dear leader”). He could have been nervous and it is difficult to say something definitive about him.  He was trained in Rome and sings in Italian style (albeit with a Bergonzian cleanliness of line), but his tenor does not sound Italianate at all. It is a very peculiar voice, and it took me some time to get used to it – it is a warm and velvety voice, sizeable enough but, with very little squillo, it tends to disappear in ensembles or when singing with the soprano. The passaggio is smooth, but his high notes take one second to develop its harmonics and, when this happens, they turn out fluttery and occasionally curdled.  The lack of focus makes his low notes very dim too. This evening, he would tire very easily, sometimes singing with dangerously very slack breath support. I have to confess that, once I’ve got used to his gentle, almost old-fashioned singing, I couldn’t help seeing the potential there. But I am not sure if Gustavo/Riccardo is the right role and the Deutsche Oper the right place to study it. Dalibor Jenis was a forceful, committed Renato with more than enough temper (and stamina) for Eri tu. He had some trouble with his low notes and could sound tremulous now and then – in any case, he had the audience on his side. Among the small roles, Tobias Kehrer’s (Count Horn) well focused bass deserves mention.

Maestro Jacques Lacombe had a difficult time in his traffic cop duties this evening – the orchestra had to be reined-in in permanence, the chorus was a bit disobedient in what regards following his beat. Clearly the aim was nothing but survival. It is a pity, the house orchestra could relish one or other orchestral effect, but the performance was turn on really occasionally (the closing concertato, for example – with beautiful singing from both sopranos and the night’s only unleashed orchestral playing).

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Maybe because she comes from Argentina, director Lillia Groag was able to portray the rotten charm of corruption without falling either in the trap of moralising or draining away the nastiness to make it funny. But that does not explain entirely the success of the New York City Opera production of Agrippina – Ms. Groag is a brilliant director for actors, making the cast not only act with unfailing comedy timing but also in an uniform coherent stylistic approach. It is only a pity that she could not get better set and costume designers. The gowns seemed to belong from styles ranging from the 1920’s to the 1940’s, while the sceneries had a certain 1970’s approach to classical stylisation. I can hardly see how this could work – and the immediate impression is that the whole thing looks dull and kitsch. When it comes to Agrippina’s costumes, they were often plainly speaking ugly – and this was particularly harmful since Nelly Miricioiu is some decades older than the caracter as portrayed by Grimiani. The audience could feel puzzled by the fact that this frumpy old lady was getting so much attention. That said, an alluring voice could have done the trick, but I am afraid those days are over for Miricioiu.

The Romanian soprano’s middle voice has become rather colourless and not entirely connected to a juiceless low register – and her top notes are invariably hooty. A random approach to pitch allied to clouded diction resulted lifeless recitatives – and one knows how recitatives are important in this of all operas. Considering this singer’s past achievements, it is sad to realize only her intense acting and ease with passagework survived her bel canto days. Next to her, the beautiful Heidi Stober sounded even more pleasing than she naturally is. Her lyric soprano is creamy and flexible and she has feeling for Handelian phrasing. Only her top register still neeeds more freedom and smoothness. If she succeeds in rounding up this problem, she will certainly go places.

In the role of Nero, the aptly androgynous and really young-looking Jennifer Rivera caused a flashing impression with her warm mezzo and impressive coloratura. She definitely belongs in this repertoire. David Walker’s gentle countertenor worked to perfection in Ottone’s laments and arie d’affeto, some of the best moments in the afternoon. João Fernandes’s knowledge of baroque style and resonant low notes helped him to create the necessary gravitas for his Claudio, but his ascents to high notes were often woolly. Marco Nisticò was a forceful Pallante and David Korn’s countertenor has particularly velvety top notes.

Ransom Wilson offered a reliable if quite monochromatic view of Handel’s multi-faceted score (edited for the theatrical purposes in this production). His orchestra had a shaky start but raised to the occasion during the performance.

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