Posts Tagged ‘Mark Delavan’

My three or four reader (I guess by now I can say five or six) may remember how much I disliked Andreas Kriegenburg’s production of Verdi’s Otello for the Deutsche Oper, but I guess they would understand why I saw it again when they learn that Soile Isokoski was taking the role of Desdemona. Other than that, I would say this evening’s rather Wagnerian cast (it features a Siegmund, a Mime and a Wotan), if not sensational, is an improvement on the original one. My previous experience with Clifton Forbis was limited to the roles of Siegmund and Tristan, where a stentorian and very powerful high register finally compensated a rather curdled middle-register and the absence of seamless legato. Although Otello is a role for a dramatic tenor, it is one that occasionally requires sustained ascents to notes as a high b natural. In that sense, Forbis was no disappointment, he generally dispatched big high a’s and b flat’s with very little effort, but the the lack of flowing and tonal beauty is a problem difficult to overlook in this repertoire. He also has to work hard to scale down below mezzo forte and is not really specific about the Italian text. He seemed a bit at a loss in Kriegenburger’s staging in which the title role has less profile than some of the extras who have their own parallel plots.

I have often written that Mark Delavan’s strength in his Wagnerian roles lies in the noble quality of his bass-baritone. It is true that this is not necessarily advantage for Iago, but I have to confess that this was probably the best performance I have heard from him in a while. He was in very good voice and proved to be more comfortable with some awkwardly written high notes than some famous exponent of the roles, not to mention that he found no problem in the mezza voce and the clear articulation without which the role is helplessly generic. His stage performance turned around playing the bad-guy-and-loving-it, but the contrast with his velvety, “honest sounding” singing gave some depth to his Iago.

Soile Isokoski’s light-toned, fast-vibrato-ish, almost Mozartian Desdemona had an endearing old-style appeal about it. She sang with great affection, rock-solid technique, immaculate musicianship and is capable to produce her own version of Italianate chest voice for the most outspoken scenes. Her soprano is a couple of sizes smaller than the role, but this valuable Finnish singer masters the almost forgotten art of projecting without forcing or weighing the tone. Curiously, she seemed rather economic with her pianissimi and saved it for a haunting conclusion of her Ave Maria.  I owe Liane Keegan an apology: when I saw the première of this production, I could not help to notice that her Emilia was impressively sung and acted, but forgot to write about it. This time, I found her even more eloquent and expressive.

Donald Runnicles’s conducting is the opposite of Patrick Summers last year – the Deutsche Oper’s musical director offered an almost Straussian performance, with clear, transparent textures and unfailing sense of establishing tempi that allowed perfect balance between forward-movement and polish, but all that did not prevent the performance from lacking punch: the result was often well-behaved and ultimately undramatic. In any case, the audience did not seem to be really into catharsis this evening – the symphony of coughs that presided over softer dynamics must have been testing for the poor musicians trying to produce lustrous pianissimo effects, not to mention that Desdemona’s “post-mortem” lines provoked a collective episode of hilarity. Since 1604, poor Desdemona has been saying “O, falsely, falsely murder’d!” after having been smothered by her jealous husband, but it seems literature is not a subject in German schools anymore.


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Die Lieber der Danae is probably the most notable rarity among the R. Strauss’s later operas. Although Hofmannsthal original ideas were already quite convoluted, Joseph Gregor’s nonsensical libretto has a great deal of share in the work’s unpopularity. The composer himself often complained that he couldn’t find inspiration in Gregor’s verses. And Strauss did not make it easier by composing a difficult score for a large orchestra with impossible leading roles (tenor and soprano are required to sing heroic high c#’s). As a result, it has been almost never performed – and the only existing recordings have been made live, often with unglamourous casts. But the music is far more interesting than one could expect – after an unfocused act I, act II features a beautiful long scene for tenor and soprano and the last act closes in the grand manner. I would have no problem on choosing it over Die Ägyptische Helena or Friedenstag.

The fact that the libretto is flawed to say the least requires from the stage director a great deal of imagination – and R. Strauss himself acknowledges Rudolf Hartmann’s contribution in this department as a key element in the Salzburg première. The Deutsche Oper Intendentin, Kirsten Harms, however, preferred to press the “easy solution”-key in permanence in this new (?) production. I wonder which is the purpose of doing something so outdated in its 1980’s gloss and superficiality when one has nothing to say. I would gladly have a highly aestheticized stylization instead anytime. As it is, as in Harms’s Frau ohne Schatten, Elektra etc etc, the action is set in some sort of elevator or staircase hall that crumbles down to act III. An upside-down piano hanging from the ceiling is supposed to be the unifying symbolism of it all. To make things worse, it does not look well. Considering the prima donna’s personal beauty and the fact that she should wear, according to the libretto, some stunning costumes, one has to use one’s imagination to see that.

As a compensation, conductor Andrew Litton is entirely at home in this repertoire. He did not spare effect, grandiosity, impact and forward movement. The immediate result is that the opera did not sound long or boring, even when R. Strauss’s creative power left something to be desired. The negative aspect of the 100%-approach is that his cast had to work hard for their money. None of these singers have the large, dramatic voices necessary to preside over the dense orchestral sound: in spite of their best efforts, they often sounded distant and effortful. And the house orchestra played heartily (even with this orchestra’s Straussian credentials, this evening’s performance sounded particularly successful) – the chorus understandably still needs some time to adjust to the rhythmically complex writing.

In the title role, Manuela Uhl (whose recording for CPO is probably the only uncut version available for sale) brings her silvery, full-toned soprano, clear diction and stylishness to the difficult part. Her voice, unfortunately, has seen better days and she took almost two acts to warm. The ascents above the stave were unfocused and/or brittle and limited in volume – and the score requires a lot from the soprano’s high register. In her long scene with Xanthe, the extremely well-cast Hulkar Sabirova often sounded richer and more hearable in comparison. In any case, Uhl would eventually gather her resources for a sensitively sung act III with some thrilling high mezza voce. If I may make her a suggestion, I guess she should follow Julia Varady’s advice and give the jugendlich dramatisch repertoire a pause, sing two or three Nozze di Figaro Countesses, settle a couple of things and only then return to the Straussian roles that used to show her so advantageously. Matthias Klink’s tenor is a couple of sizes smaller than the role of Midas, but – except for one glitch by the end of act II – held his own bravely. His tightly focused tenor pierces through without difficulties, but having to sing constantly at full-powers robs him of operating area for nuance. Mark Delavan is a puzzling Heldenbariton – the voice certainly has the color for this Wotan-like role, but he too sounded small-scaled and lacking volume. And he still lacks presence for those god-in-chief roles. Thomas Blondelle offered an all-round satisfying performance as Merkur, singing with imagination with his bright and firm tenor and proving to be entirely at ease with the acting requirements of this comic role. The four queens were also cast from strength from the Deutsche Oper ensemble with Hila Fahima, Martina Welschenbach, Julia Benziner and Katarina Bradic.

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