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Posts Tagged ‘Maria Bengtsson’

This year’s Festtage’s theme could be called “das Ende, das Ende” – first there was the complete Ring with Götterdämmerung and not only one but TWO Requiem masses, Verdi’s (which I’ve unfortunately missed) and Mozart’s. While Verdi had a deluxe guest in the Teatro alla Scala forces, Mozart had been reserved to the Staatsoper’s orchestra and chorus. For the first part of the program, even the Staatskapelle Berlin’s musical director doubled as Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 27’s soloist.

As much as I appreciate Daniel Barenboim’s sensitive playing this evening, it was rather informed by the Romantic point-of-view that this is angelic music that requires some sort of very expressive yet delicately univocal elegance. The orchestra embraced the approach wholeheartedly and painted broad lines rather than small and contrasted paintbrushes. Even if the encore (Mozart’s piano sonata’s no.10’s andante cantabile) had more than a splash of Schubert, it featured more chiaroscuro and more sharply defined phrasing. Again, a matter of taste.

When it comes to the Requiem (here performed in the good old Süßmayr version), Barenboim showed himself as an entirely different conductor who offered a highly theatrical account of Mozart’s last religious work. The maestro employed a large chorus and made heavy demand of his orchestra. The introitus showed a very good sense of balance in a big-scale perspective, but one could see in the Kyrie fugue that the Staatsopernchor is not really in the top of its game in this kind of music – the sound was blowsy, the divisions a bit labored and soft dynamics lacked naturalness throughout. Stimulated by the maestro’s energetic beat, their results could be short of messy (in Dies irae, all musicians were having a hard day’s work coping with the incisive beat and fast tempo). In any case, the dramatic approach did paid off in spite of the shortcomings until the lacrimosa. After that, Süßmayr’s ideas seemed to inspire less commitment from all involved and the impression was rather of hyperventilation than of vigor. The team of soloists was crowned by a thoroughly stylish Maria Bengtsson whose creamy soprano soared effortlessly and elegantly above everything else. Bernarda Fink partnered her well with her warm and velvety mezzo. Rolando Villazón’s phrasing involved an emphatic beginning of every phrase and some reluctance to hold back, but his usual fervor and commitment are always welcome. René Pape seemed a bit unconcerned and miscalculated the important opening of tuba mirum. All in all, a thought-provoking concert that required either more rehearsal or more aptly Mozartian forces.

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Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni for the Salzburg Festival can be seen on DVD – and I have written about it in operadiscographies.com. As much as I find Christian Schmidt’s hyper-realistic sets exquisite and truly atmospheric and Guth’s Personenregie most efficient, I dislike on principle productions in which what characters say makes no sense with what they are doing – like talking to people who do not exist or referring to going outside when they are already outside or going up where there is no upstairs. I find it even cheaper when the nonsense is explained as a regular basis with the fact that the characters are intoxicated; ad absurdum, if your premise is that characters are really delirious, you don’t even have to stage it at all.  Call me fastidious, but I also dislike the idea that Donna Anna – and I have already written about that – is a double-faced scheming bitch.

In any case, this evening’s Don Giovanni was a different experience from the Salzburg Don Giovanni. First, it uses a different edition. While in the Festival, we basically had the Vienna edition without the closing scene, here we have the “standard” edition without the closing scene. Second, the audiences in Salzburg had Bertrand de Billy’s well-behaved conducting, while Berliners had a more appropriately ebullient Daniel Barenboim. Third, the cast changes gave the show a somehow different atmosphere – this evening’s Donna Anna, for instance, seemed more depressed than predatory, and her Don Ottavio more unconcerned than bitter.

But let’s talk about Barenboim first. Since his last Nozze di Figaro in the Schiller Theater, I have developed a new interest in what this conductor has to offer in this repertoire. Although Figaro was an all-round more satisfying experience, this Don Giovanni was no less interesting. This evening, the maestro tried to reconcile two traditions of Mozart performance: on one side, absolute transparency achieved through optimal balance between singers and the orchestral lines, especially woodwind (violins could have been a tad more clearly articulated); on the other, the intent to infuse phrasing with drama through accent, tone-coloring and dynamics. These two objectives some time collided in the occasional lack of polish, but I would say that, on the frame of very carefully picked tempi, they generally cohabited with interesting results. La ci darem la mano, for instance, sounded truly fresh in its rhythmic alertness; Dalla sua pace had lovely hushed strings (in spite of a tenor who could not blend in), both Donna Anna and Donna Elvira had intense, psychologically-aware accompagnati before their arias; and the supper scene (here the last one) was truly powerful without ever loosing forward-movement. The fact that Barenboim could provide the necessary punch (seriously lacking in Salzburg) made Guth’s staging sharper – to say the truth, there were many moments in which the drama was really happening in the orchestral pit rather than on stage.

I reckon that gathering an all-star Mozartian cast for Don Giovanni must be quite challenging these days: singers who sang Mozart in the days of Gundula Janowitz and Fritz Wunderlich now are basically Wagner/Verdi singers and the Donna Annas of our days would have had a career as Blondchen or Barbarina back then. In this context, this evening’s was an effective cast. In any case, those disappointed by Anna Netrebko’s cancelling had a most positive surprise in Maria Bengtsson. If her voice is not truly distinctive in tone (I had seen her as Pamina and was not particularly impressed), it is particularly rich and creamy for a high soprano. The fact that it seemed to blossom and feel really comfortable in the upper reaches made for a particularly smoothly sung Donna Anna (maybe a bit too smooth in Or sai chi l’onore), and the large supplies of legato and mezza voce (plus reliable if not breathtaking fioriture) made her an example of Mozartian poise today. From now on, I am curious to see what she is doing next.

Compared to her performance on video, Dorothea Röschmann sounded far healthier this evening. Her voice flashed in the hall, the low register particularly rich, and she sings every moment as if it were the last one, what is almost a requirement for a Donna Elvira. That said, her high register does sound labored these days: everything above a high g (high g included) is sung with an important amount of pressure. When urgency is involved, it works somehow; when poise is required, one is consistently left wanting. Anna Prohaska is better cast as Zerlina than as Susanna – her soprano comes in one very bright color and she is not particularly seductive in sound and in attitude, but she is admirably intelligent in what regards making use of the text.

I had seen Giuseppe Filianoti only once a long while ago in a Lucia at the Met. Then I had found him an elegant singer, but it seems that the years have not been kind on his voice. It is still substantial for a Mozart tenor and he has very long breath (as one could particularly see in his runs in Il mio tesoro), but he now sounds impressively tout and hard above the passaggio. Tonal variety is gone, pitch goes awry now and then and the results are simply not truly ingratiating. In this cast, he was also the less interesting actor – one had the impression that he was truly annoyed by being there. Since Don Giovanni is in death agony in this staging, it is difficult to say if Christopher Maltman is actually portraying his character’s declining vigor or if he does get actually tired with everything he has to do (it is a very “physical” approach to the role), but I’ll take the first option and add that his well-focused baritone has both the necessary Mozartian sheen and the hint of rawness to make his Burlador de Sevilla three-dimensional. Erwin Schrott’s Leporello was not really subtly sung, but he did sing it forcefully and his acquaintance with the Italian text and his imagination to play with it always work miracles. Stefan Kocan’s Slavic-toned bass sounded somehow too important for Masetto, and Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s Commendatore is more than resonant enough. One could wish for a bit more menace in his singing, but solidly sung it was.

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