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Posts Tagged ‘Roman Trekel’

Some performances are so unequal that they should be entitled to more than one review. This evening’s Così fan Tutte at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, for example. Musically speaking, Act I felt like a rehearsal (and I am not speaking of a Generalprobe) and the proceedings seemed only to warm after the intermission. But let’s begin with Act I. To start with, conductor Julien Salemkour seemed determined to make things frisky, but this determination seemed restricted to accent. Nothing wrong with tempi or balance or clarity, but the overall impression was roughness without animation, as if you told someone gloomy to be lively and, shown a simper, you thought “now he’s lively”. French horns cracked all the way, lightness and elegance were  kept away and chords heavily followed each other in an almost hysterical manner. 

If you need to judge a whole performance of Così fan Tutte by one number, you just need to listen to the sister’s first duet, Ah, guarda, sorella. In 95% of performances, it will sound basically disjointed, contrived and the sopranos will correspond to Don Alfonso’s description as cornacchie spennachiate. In any case, even if this duet is usually poorly sung and played, this evening you had the dictionary version of how wrong it can go. If Karine Babajanyan were a last-minute replacement for Miah Persson, many a fault could be forgiven. But that was not the case – this Umbesetzung had been anounced far in advance. Ms. Babajanyan is something of a trouper – she tried everything, but rarely fully achieved anything during act I. Come scoglio was rather a matter of determination. Her Dorabella, Maria Gortsevskaja also showed a thick-toned mezzo with more than a splash of ungainliness. Under these circumstances, rarely had the arrival of Despina had such a soothing effect on one’s ears: Adriane Queiroz was in particularly healthy voice, singing creamy, flexible and rich sounds and giving a lesson of how to portray earthiness without ever sounding coarse. The men were vocally more regular during the whole performance – Jeremy Ovenden is a stylish Mozartian afflicted by a strong nasality that robs his tenor of pleasantness, Arttu Kataja’s resonant bass-baritone could do with a little more spontaneity in his Italian and Roman Trekel, in spite of his congeniality, has become too rough-toned for Mozart. 

After the intermission, Maestro Salemkour’s drily a tempo approach finally acquired some purpose and many ensembles did sound lovely without any coyness in their transparence, forward-movement and expressive power. If the chorus had showed a bit more discipline, the wedding scene would have been almost ideal. Ms. Babajanyan seemed a whole new singer. In her act-II form, she displayed a charming and old-fashioned reedy soprano reminiscent of Teresa Berganza in its middle range and tasteful phrasing. She is the kind of singer who gets away with a difficult run or two, but who cannot really deal with really florid parts. As a result, while she really sounded affecting in Per pietà, the stretta had more to do with effort than resolve. Her duet with Ferrando would be the highlight of her performance, when both singers sang with genuine graciousness. Ms. Gortsevskaja would finally also show more focus and even reveal a pleasant warm quality, but she is not a Mozartian singer and even subtly decorated lines would drag her behind the beat, more seriously in the “toast” canon. 

As for the theatrical aspects, the performance was fare more successful. Although Doris Dörrie’s performance is already 8 years old, it has not lost its appeal. Better than this, roughly all the cast consist of ensemble members and regular guests, what means that these people are used to work with each other and, considering how much fun they seemed to be having, they probably like to work with each other. I would even say that that the acting this evening owes nothing to the cast preserved on video, especially Jeremy Ovenden’s, who seemed more comfortable with cheekiness than Werner Güra and, probably because of his more spontaneous Italian, made far more of the text.

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The Staatsoper unter den Linden’s prima does not have the glamour associated to La Scala’s season opening performance, but the event does involve the presence of the Bundespräsident and simultaneous broadcast to thousands of people at the adjoining Bebelplatz. For the 2009/2010 season, an old production has been chosen, Harry Kupfer’s Tristan und Isolde, first seen in 2000.

Although the local press calls it legendary, it is actually quite unexceptional. The only set for the three acts shows a giant sculpture of an angel (inspired by a photo by Isolde Ohlbaum of a statue found in Rome) that doubles as a rocky landscape, which turns around to create different perspectives. On the background, some piece of furniture and people in XIXth century clothes (supposed to represent “society”) or a stylized sea landscape. Although the word “angel” does not appear at all in the libretto, if we are to believe that the composer’s feelings for  Mathilde Wesendonck were the early sparkles of inspiration for the opera, then we should remember that the first of her poems set to music by Wagner is… Der Engel. In any case, I really do not see any added insight to the understanding of the story or its interpretation. What one could clearly see was that walking on it was rather difficult and all singers had to watch their steps while trying to sing difficult music. I have not previously seen this staging, but I have the impression that the director’s original ideas might have faded since 2000. In many scenes, singers seemed a bit at a loss with their blocked gestures and tried to milk meaning from generalized stage attitudes. Even the charismatic Waltraud Meier had her clueless moments. If I had to single out someone, this would be Ian Storey, who knows how to scenically pull out act III better than almost anyone I have seen – live or on videos – in this role.

When it comes to the musical direction, Daniel Barenboim has no weak links in his monumental yet supple approach to the score. On his DVD from La Scala, a beautifully crafted act 1 would open the proceedings in the grand manner only to settle in less intense remaining acts. Not this evening. After a deep Furtwänglerian prelude when absolute structural clarity was paradoxically achieved in the context of sophisticated agogics, the first act took a while to take off – probably because the conductor had to accommodate his cast’s needs. From act II on, the performance gained in strength. The Staatskapelle Berlin was at its resplendent best, offering thick Wagnerian sound and breathtaking flexibility throughout. That meant that singers would now and then find themselves drowned in orchestral sound, but the trade-off paid itself – sometimes during the Liebesnacht one would feel that time stood still in sheer beauty of sound and clarity and dramatic purpose. But act III surpassed even these paramount levels. Never in my experience had it sounded as flowing as it did this evening – as it had been produced in one perfectly integrated arch from the first bars of the introduction to the Liebestod’s last chord.

Waltraud Meier has had an up-and-down experience with the role of Isolde. So far I’ve had bad luck live, but I cannot make my mind whether this evening was a lost opportunity. I would not say she was in bad voice, only that her voice was not willing to sing Isolde. It sounded lean and lyrical and resented the least dramatic turn of phrasing. A less experienced singer would have horribly failed. Not Waltraud, who husbanded her present resources with such shrewdness and imagination that she finally convinced me that she was experimenting with a Margaret Price-like approach to the role. On one hand, the lightness helped to create a more youthful and legato-ish sound that certainly brought about a more immediately romantic tonal palette to the role; on the other hand, she had many moments of inaudibility, pecked at high notes in an almost operetta-ish way and simply did not sing her act II high c’s. Later on, she would warm a bit and gather her strength to produce some loud Spitzentöne, some of them below true pitch. Some of these problems afflicted her Liebestod, but there she and Barenboim achieved such unity of phrasing that no-one could help but surrendering. In any case, that final scene was vastly superior to their studio recording in every sense.

As for Ian Storey, first of all, I must apologize for my opinion on his Tristan as heard at the Deutsche Oper a couple of months ago. Except from an extremely unfocused frenzy on hearing the news of Isolde’s arrival on act III, he sounded this time relatively comfortable with what he had to sing. His dark-toned tenor has a certain disconnected quality around the passaggio that brings about a marked flutter and loss of tonal quality, and his procedure to make his top notes incisive lets itself being noticed. But I don’t want to seem picky – his voice is big, warm and ductile and he has imagination, good taste and his general attitude fits the part. His Tristan finds the right balance between heroic and vulnerable, which is quite rare with Heldentenöre.

In spite of the soprano and the tenor’s achievements, the outstanding vocal performance this evening is beyond any doubt René Pape’s. This great bass sang with such richness, authority, sensitivity and sheer vocal glamour that one for once could feel that the act II monologue could be a bit longer!  In the performance booklet, Harry Kupfer suggests that King Marke and Tristan’s relationship goes beyond nephew/uncle and reaches an almost incestuous level. In this production, the similarity of age, the violence of feelings and the heartbreak in Pape’s voice almost make this bold assumption work.

Although Michelle DeYoung is not the subtlest Brangäne around, she was in very healthy voice and managed to pierce through the occasional thick and/or lound orchestral moment without forcing. I cannot say the same of Roman Trekel – the role of Kurwenal is on the heavy side for him and he sounded invariably rough and hard-pressed. He is an intelligent artist, however, and found space to add a discrete sense of humor to his lines.

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Back to the Lindenoper’s recreation of the historic (and historical) Schinkel production, I can now report a little bit more enchantment because this time I had a parterre ticket. When you have a frontal view of the stage, the cardboard sets do work to the right effect and the fun is not spoilt by the view of poles, sticks and ropes behind the scene by those seated in upper levels or on the side. Still, the production is already old and desperately cries for a new process of stage rehearsals. Some scenes look messy, some change of sets verge on catastrophical. Worse: since gestures and movements were blocked looong time ago (with other singers), many scenes look either mechanical or, when they are not, it is because singers are indulging in a series of ad libs (that finally bring some freshness to the proceedings, it must be said).

The messy impression is not only a result of what one saw on stage, but also of what one heard from the pit. After an overture from hell, when everything was poorly synchronized, blurred and noisy, conductor Dan Ettinger tried during the whole evening to set pace, without really ever succeeding. Some serious mismatches in key moments abounded and attempts to generate some energy finally resulted in loud orchestra covering soloists. The side effect was some stretches of unsubtle singing by some members of the cast.

Adriane Queiroz was an unusually rich-toned Pamina whose approach has its heavy-footed moments, but who finally beguiled the audience with an expressive account of Ach, ich fühl’s in which she proved her ability to spin seamless legato. Her Pamina has also more attitude than we are used to see – and that worked to good effect in her “attempted suicide” scene. Sen Guo has no problem with high staccato and in alt notes, but she was ill at ease with everything else. Her first aria displayed rather arthritic coloratura and unfocused low register, problems less evident in Der Hölle Rache. She has clear German, but must work on her body expression, which is rather mute. I wonder if Martin Homrich should sing Mozart – one can see he knows what Mozartian singing should be, but it comes so unnaturally to him that his singing sounded constantly graceless, laborious and not truly on pitch. When it comes to Roman Trekel’s Papageno, it is true that his phrasing was almost unvariably rough, but the roughness was part of his overall concept of a boorish yet likeable Papageno. In the end, even if Mozartian grace should take some part in it, he was probably one of the less nonsensical Papagenos I have ever seen. I have saved the best for last – I have seen René Pape’s Sarastro in different occasions at the Metropolitan Opera House, but somehow found him too chic for the circumstances. Not this evening – he sang with such depth of expression, naturalness and intelligence that the role of Sarastro acquired a rarely seen three-dimensionality. His In diesen heil’gen Hallen was full of unforced emotion and one could have the sensation that time stood still while he sang it.

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