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Posts Tagged ‘Jan Martiník’

I understand that Weber’s Der Freischütz with its hunter chorus, bridal wreath song and farmers shouting Hussa! may seem extremely kitsch if you happen to be born in Germany. It is considered by many the quintessential German opera, and it is rarely performed outside German-speaking countries (although it is a fundamental work to understand the aesthetics of German opera… and it doesn’t hurt the fact that it is also a masterpiece superior in quality to many works more usually seen in opera houses around the world). This makes the audience hostage to the discomfort of German opera directors who believe that their sacred mission is to save the opera from itself. Hunters singing tra la la la can only be shown if in the context of a joke, not to mention the “embarrass” of allowing a pious hermit warning the audience against the temptations of evil…!  I actually have seen a Freischütz staged by a non-German director, but it seems that he found it too harmless and tried to spice it up, to diastrous effects. In any case, nothing in my experience comes as so ineffective as Michael Thalheimer’s lazy, reluctant, sterile production.

Premiered only last year, Thalheimer’s staging takes place in some sort of black, barely lit conical cave where all scenes look like the Wolfschlucht scene. Actually, the Wolfschlucht scene is probably the one that looks less like the Wolfschlucht scene, for there is no forging going on there. The opening number is actually more scary with farmers shown as zombies carrying dead branches in the dark. When someone is supposed to act, this is understood of performing some sort of contorsions and uncomfortable postures that made the audience laugh. Most of the dialogue is replaced by either nothing or grunts by an omnipresent Samiel who looks like a hoolingan who passed out in the mud. I could go further, but differently from Mr. Thalbach, I would like to spare those who like this opera from this nonsense.

When you think that the single set does not serve any dramatic purpose other than looking invariably spooky, you discover that it has the dubious advantage of working as an acoustic shell, amplifying the chorus to deafening proportions and overshadowing a Staatskapelle in great shape. Conductor Alexander Soddy subscribes the Carlos Kleiber approach (curiously not in the act I Ländler scene), with zipping excitingly clear articulation from his strings and hearty playing from brass instruments. Were it not for the imbalance with the stage and the Schiller-Theater’s extremely dry acoustics, this could have been very close to an orchestral tour de force.

Promoted to the role of Agathe, Dorothea Röschmann offers her customary clear diction and the alertness to the text of a Lieder singer. Even if her voice is warm and sturdy, it is unfortunately unsuited for this part. Her big aria started uncomfortably, seemed to settle for a clean and firm stretta that ultimately tested her sorely in the final bars, a shriek standing for the high b written by the composer. Most surprisingly, the long lines in her act III prayer seemed beyond her possibilities and she seemed to need too many breath pauses to get to the end of any phrase. Only in the closing scene, she seemed in her element, producing rich, velvety sounds without difficulty. Her Ännchen, Evelin Novak offered a commendable performance, coping with the technical demands of her role with abandon and musicianship. A little bit more charm and a more individual tonal quality would have left nothing to be desired. At this point, it seems that Andreas Schager has sung too many Siegfrieds to be truly convincing as Max. Even if the Austrian tenor’s projection is truly extraordinarily clean and forceful, he seemed helpless when facing the needs of softening his tone, producing quieter dynamics or phrasing with poise and expression. His aria sounded unsubtle and occasionally imprecise in what regards intonation and note values. At moments, his tenor seemed edgy or taut, as if he were experiencing some sort of fatigue. The name of Tobias Schabel does not ring a bell, but his performance of the difficult role of Kaspar was very capable. It is not the big voice we are used to hear in the role and it also has some grainy patches, but he sang it with animation, long breath, clear divisions and the right amount of roughness. Jan Martiník was a noble-sounding Hermit, Roman Trekel a firm-toned Ottokar and it was endearing to find Victor von Halem, still admirably resonant, as Kuno. Finally, I must say that Peter Moltzen was, vocally speaking, the best Samiel I have ever heard, speaking his line with the right piercing edge.

 

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In my fourth post on the Berlin Staatsoper’s 1994 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, I should probably start by saying that there is nothing new to write about the staging, but the fact is that this is not true. Spielleiterinen Katharina Lang and Cornelia Sandow have done a good job in letting the Ensemble singers bring their own personalities to August Everding’s original plan and the show has never seemed fresher to my eyes as this evening. Wolfram-Maria Märtig too is a new name to me – and he too seemed determined to give the Magic Flute some refreshing: the Staatskapelle Berlin showed a light, precise sound, scarce in vibrato and soft on singers on stage. I can see the conductor’s keenness on elegance, giving the orchestra time to sculpt Mozartian phrasing I absolute clarity. I can also see the way he seemed to have the text in mind, trying to stress the variations of atmosphere in the libretto – I just don’t understand why it has been done at the expense of natural rhythmical flow and dynamic variety. The result was often crafty but rather unconvincing and short in expression, the equivalent of producing a perfect plastic rose and trying to persuade a seasoned florist to sell it instead of natural flowers. As it was, tempi were usually on the slow side, with many artificial breathing pauses and ralentando effects that tested unnecessarily his soloists. The only instance of fast pace was the true andante adopted for Pamina’s aria, extremely well judged and an example of how better the performance could have been if Mozart could speak for himself unaided more often today.

Anna Prohaska’s Pamina has the advantage of a Irmgard Seefried-like naturalness built rather by verbal acuity, clear diction, rhythmic alertness, good taste, directness of expression and sense of style than by tonal variety or extraordinary vocal quality. Some awkward passages – the ending of her duet with Papageno for instance – sounded unusually nimble and musicianly, but the role is still a bit heavy for her. Pamina’s “suicide attempt” scene took her to her limits, even if she did not produce any ugly sound even then. She is an animated actress, but still needs to learn how to move in a less angular and unnatural way, as she presently does. Anna Siminska was the main victim of the conductor’s ponderousness, which robbed the Queen of the Níght’s arias of any impact or élan. The soprano proved to be a trouper, taking profit of the circumstances to make something of the text, but she could not produce the necessary excitement by herself. I have often wondered why mastery of Mozartian style and the ability of singing with honest technique and naturalness are more often than not incompatible qualities for tenors in this repertoire. This evening, Stephan Rügamer showed that he knows how this music should be sung, but his manipulation of basic tonal quality (especially the always increasing nasality of his vocal production) makes the results rather an acquired taste. Gyula Orendt, on the other hand, is spontaneity itself as Papageno, a commendable performance. Jan Martiník’s Sarastro has more than a splash of the young Franz-Josef Selig: the tone is noble and clean in a very German way, the low register is easy and spacious and he tackles Mozartian lines with poise and feeling. Among the small roles, Raimund Nolte was a strong Sprecher, Anna Lapkovskaja a fruity-toned Third Lady and Michael Smallwood an unusually pleasant Monostatos.

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