Posts Tagged ‘Krassimira Stoyanova’

Der Rosenkavalier is an opera intimately related to the Salzburger Festspiele – not only has it seen some of the key names perform on its stage (from Lotte Lehmann to Kurt Moll, by way of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Tatiana Troyanos and Lucia Popp…), but some absolute standards have been established here (especially Karajan 1960 and Böhm 1969). In this Straussian 150th anniversary, it is only fitting that this work has been chosen to be performed in the Großes Festspielhaus. In the old days, however, you would see the crème de la crème of the operatic world in a Strauss performance in Salzburg – I don’t know if I could say that the audience had something like that this evening.

Franz Welser-Möst does have indisputable Straussian credentials – his performances in Vienna and Zurich have met with critical acclaim and, with the help of the Vienna Philharmonic, one can expect nothing but perfection. The high expectations might have something to do with the disappointment, but a serious attempt to be objective makes me say that this was a lukewarm performance, graced by an orchestra capable of producing exquisite sounds but often poorly balanced, unsubtle brass throughout. Although one could hear vertical clarity, there was not really the sense of a presiding intelligence that makes every element in the score live up to a coherent and meaningful “arch” in every act, let alone through the whole opera. The fact that the cast was vocally underpowered posed a serious challenge to the conductor, who deserves praises for trying to accommodate his soloists, by keeping the orchestral sound light and transparent. Nevertheless, the final effect seemed ill-at-ease, meager and sometimes awkward. In any case, purely orchestral moments too had variable results – the introduction to act I sounded a bit rough-edged and humorless, for instance. On the other hand, act III opened in the grand manner, an example of structural transparency.

Krassimira Stoyanova’s lyric soprano has seen better days – a consistent diet of heavy roles has robbed her voice of focus in its upper register. The most immediate result is that it is often difficult to hear her, unless when Strauss requires chamber-size sounds from his orchestra. Until her act I monologue, this was a very frustrating experience, but once she reached that key moment, she soon redeemed herself by offering a stylish, musicianly and elegant account of the part of the Marschallin. She masters the art of expressive mezza voce and uses portamento tastefully. More than that: her approach is truly personal, freshly conceived and inspired by none of her famous predecessors. As performed by Ms. Stoyanova, the Marschallin is a savvy woman who sees her glass half-full. Although she knows that this won’t last forever, she will enjoy it until then. Sophie Koch is one of the best Octavians in the market these days. She too could be hard to hear in her middle and low registers this evening, but consistently produced rich and full top notes. Mojca Erdmann struggled with the part of Sophie during the whole evening – her voice sounds microscopic in this music, comes in one only saccharine color and she cannot float high mezza voce to save her life. Also, she seems clueless about what to do with the role. Fortunately, Günther Groissböck is a vivacious, fully idiomatic Ochs, a young man in the role for a change. He sang his long act I scene uncut and produced his showpiece low notes securely. There could be a little bit more volume and tonal variety and he lost steam at some point in act III, but still it was a refreshingly convincing take on this role so prone to exaggeration and musical imprecision. As much as his Maschallin, he would have been better appreciated in a less large auditorium. Adrian Eröd’s Faninal too seemed to resent the acoustics and sounded on the grey-toned side during the whole evening. Curiously, given the Festival’s tradition, all minor roles have been unspectacularly cast, Annina and Valzacchi barely noticeable and the Italian tenor labored and hard on the ear. Exceptions should be made to a forceful Leitmetzerin of Silvana Dussmann and a powerful and rich-toned Polizeikomissar of Tobias Kehrer.

Harry Kupfer’s insight-free production is inoffensive to a fault and staged Hofmannsthal’s libretto in an almost exclusively design approach – the sets were dominated by projection of photographs from Vienna, props reduced to a minimum and costumes in a strict chromatic palette. It could have been a concert version, but I guess that these singers would rather have the orchestra in the pit.


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The late Götz Friedrich is a director of almost legendary status in Berlin, and I wonder when the Deutsche Oper is going to show him respect by avoiding substandard revivals of his productions. A director of his reputation would never allow an old production to be shown to an audience only to be laughed at, as it often happens – and it certainly did today. If I had taken someone who had never been to an opera house before this evening, I would have apologize at the end. The sets are depressingly provincial; costumes are banal and nonsensical; the Spielleitung is so bad that you feel sorry for these people on stage trying to deal with props that they don’t know how to work or not to knock each other out in their poorly blocked interaction scenes; and I still wonder why someone would use some funny commedia dell’arte stage-hands who jump and flaunter on stage in the middle of Verdi’s Luisa Miller – a story in which an innocent girl and a decent old man are abused before she is finally killed by someone who was supposed to love her. Acting is, but for two singers, not this cast’s strong suit, but the Spielleiter just let them embarrass themselves without caring to know if this was working or not. Lamentable.

I understand that Verdi’s score is not of great help when one needs inspiration here, but the singers playing the roles in the Miller family have proved that true artistry transcends even the most hopeless circumstances. I don’t believe that the title role is meant for purely lyric sopranos, but Krassimira Stoyanova’s emotional sincerity, excellent technique, sense of style and commitment triumphed over her limitations in volume and cutting edge (especially in her high register). In the last act, she really transported me away from the prevailing shabbiness into the predicaments of poor Luisa Miller. She interacted beautifully with Gabriele Viviani, who replaced Leo Nucci, as Miller. He has a rather steely, slightly rough voice à la Paolo Coni, but his singing is so authentically Italian, his diction clear, his involvement so palpable that their last duet couldn’t help being hundreds of levels above the rest of this performance. Clémentine Margaine’s rich contralto is always a pleasure to the ears, but she had no direction to speak of and couldn’t find her way into the role of Federica. It is an ingrate part, often too low-lying, but I would say nonetheless that a mezzo with a solid low register is probably better suited to it. As it is, although one could still hear this French singer’s high notes, they did not have much color. Belonging to an ensemble is always a safe choice, but Margaine has true potential for a free-standing career in bel canto and baroque music, in which many a more famous contralto lack volume and heroic quality.

Zurab Zurabishvili was almost a late-minute replacement for Marcelo Álvarez. The Georgian tenor is not a beginner, but the voice is still fresh, spontaneous and resonant. Unfortunately, his sounds turn around different degrees of nasality and his high notes, if big, are tense and pushed, what made him more and more tired during the evening. More disturbing is his cupo phrasing, without much flowing quality and variety. Arutjun Kochinian voice might be large, but it is distressingly throaty. Orlin Anastassov’s bass is warm and dark enough, if distinctively Slavic. My neighbour this evening asked me why he does not have a bigger name – I guess there some lack of imagination, but mainly the voice lacks bulk for the great bass roles in operas like Don Carlo or Simon Boccanegra.

If I had not seen yesterday’s Macbeth, I would probably say that Paolo Arrivabeni’s conducting was all right, but I did hear the same orchestra under Ivan Repusic and, good as it was tonight, it was only a shadow of it was the night before. It is true that Macbeth had bigger-voiced singers (and a far superior score, one cannot forget), but one wants a nobler tonal quality here. Justice be made, the maestro did not linger and strove for excitement, but things often sounded just brisk. Not in the beautiful closing act, when the orchestra seemed gradually to plug in and, by the last scene, the effect was quite colourful and vibrant.

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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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