Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer’

Taijiro Iimori is the conductor of choice for Wagner’s operas not only in the New National Theatre, but in many other Wagnerian ventures in Tokyo. His is a musical mind of admirable of structural awareness and capable of leading his musicians through the path of clarity and coherence. But this is no guarantee that this anatomically correct and physiologically functional body of a performance has indeed a soul. I reckon that, should Mr. Iimori could count with the playing of an orchestra such as the Vienna Philharmonic or the Staatskapelle Dresden, the orchestra would confide its spirit to his capable guidance and a performance of Klemperer-ian depth might come out. However, as long either the Tokyo Philharmonic or the Tokyo Symphonic are on duty, the result would be rather described as slow and dull. The brass section played valiantly, but the strings were life- and pointless throughout. If we had an island of animation in the appearance of the ghost crew, it is rather the result of the commendably clear singing of the house chorus – even if the unnecessary “sea wind” recorded noises  managed to cloud some of it. (How about listening to Wagner’s music? It’s already there!)

Previous incarnations of this production in the New National Theatre featured Anja Kampe and Evgeny Nikitin in the leading roles. I can imagine that singers like that would have added some color to this evening’s performance. As we heard it today, over the greyish orchestral background (maybe an attempt to help the cast?), it all sounded like variation of matte. Thomas Johannes Mayer has always been more about force than volume and, with the help of his intense stage persona, he might be a particularly vehement Holländer. In a good day. But not today: although the voice sounded particularly dark, it also sounded almost devoid of Strahlkraft, i.e., he had to sing at 100% to pierce through. At some point, he grew tired, but one would not notice the difference. It is sad that I’ve had a ticket for today – I was eager to see him in this role… Rafal Siwek’s Daland did not feature much color either, but his is a naturally big voice, if a bit young-sounding for the role. Daniel Kirch’s tenor’s too was almost devoid of brightness and the sound was muscled and not very ingratiating. And Erik is a role one tends to overlook if the singer does not draw the audience towards him. The fact that Tetsuya Mochizuki, who sang Siegmund in Yokohama not long ago, was struggling with the Steuermann and squeezing his notes as if his life depended on it, makes me believe that the flu must have plagued that cast. It certainly had its victims in the audience. Although Ricarda Merbeth’s Senta was basically edgy and strident, I have to confess that the fact that someone was producing _a_ bright sound on stage – even if quavery and often foggy – was something of a relief.

Matthias von Stegmann’s production is at once simple and hard to describe. It is basically a series of anachronistic and aestheticized scenes with the level of Personenregie that could be described as “Senta, whirl or raise your arms – pick one”, “Holländer, collapse to the ground or raise your arms – pick one”, “chorus – cute choreographies or raise your arms – pick one”. In the very final scene, there is an interesting twist, but then it is too late, isn’t it?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

At some point during the Ring performances conducted by Kirill Petrenko this week, I’ve started to wonder if my recollection of the orchestral sound in the Festspielhaus when I first saw the Ring with Christian Thielemann there in 2010 was some sort of “affective memory”, a collage of the actual experience of listening to the Ring in Bayreuth and the excitement of doing that in the Festival for the first time. Well, it was not not – Christian Thielemann himself showed me today that my memory did not betray me. It took him 10 seconds to do that: rich, full sonorities flooded from the pit and filled the whole auditorium. Some may say that the conductor’s approach was too Tristanesque and that everything sounded too loud, too powerful and too intense, but the fact is that he could sell his approach out, even to those who would prefer it the Weberian way: the musical effects were powerful, the orchestral sound was perfectly blended and yet absolutely transparent, even at full powers, strings tackled fast passagework cleanly. Even before anyone started to sing, you knew that this performance would be a complete success: you could hear the wind, the sea, the despair and the passion. This experience redeemed this year’s dubious musical standards in the Grüner Hügel.

One could have wished for a cast as compelling as the conductor, but this was fine enough. Ricarda Merbeth’s soprano lacks color (especially in its lower reaches), variety and subtlety, but she has stamina and dealt with the more testing heroic passages adeptly. If Tomislav Muzek (Erik) took some time to warm, once he did that, he sang with a bright, pleasant tone and a good sense of line. Benjamin Bruns (Steuermann) offered a spirited performance, sung in a spontaneous, dulcet tenor. Simon Youn’s baritone is on the light side for the Holländer and yet it is forceful enough and very well focused. His phrasing could have a bit more nuance and affection, though. Kwangchul Youn proved to be in excellent form and left nothing to be desired as Daland. To make things better, the Festival chorus sang famously, with admirable homogeneity and animation.

Jan Philipp Gloger’s production, as seen on DVD, turns around beautiful and elegant sets and the idea that Senta wants more than a glorious death: she wans to leave the world she lives in, but not THE world. As we see it, the Holländer is a man who has sold his freedom and happiness to a corporate world and wanders from airport to airport having lost faith in life, until he meets Senta, the daughter of the CEO of a company that produces ventilators, the “values” of which involve its employees having a tv advertisement “perfect” lifestyle. They burn dollar bills together and, when he doubts her intent of leaving all that behind, she symbolically kills herself, although the wound appears in his chest rather than hers: he is again a man of flesh and blood, they are free, but the establishment can still make money on them: Daland’s company now sells action figures of Holländer kissing Senta. It is not silly as it sound, although it could be a little bit less aestheticized and more meaningful in its conclusion. Beyond any shadow of doubt, it is very well directed – the choristers are made to act most efficiently.

Read Full Post »

Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer is a key work to understand German Romanticism, a richly orchestrated score of sophisticated musical invention and dramatic impact. Yet, it is not staged as often as one would guess. Why? The immediate answer is that the two main roles are impossibly difficult. It is also quite testing for the orchestra – but one could make similar observations of operas like Tristan und Isolde or Götterdämmerung, which are nonetheless more frequent in opera houses’ seasons.

I would add that Der Fliegende Holländer is also difficult to stage. Even if you have a low budget and go Regie, if you don’t provide any kind of “special effect”, then it’s going to be a colossal debacle anyway. In his 2012 production for the Opernhaus Zürich, Andreas Homoki never forgets that. He has throwed ships, spinning wheels, fjords etc away, but there are plenty of spooky tricks to keep up with Wagner’s diminished seventh chords. Homoki explains he decided to stage his Holländer onshore – and so he does. Daland has a trading company and his instructions to his crew are here translated into telephonic communication with his ships at sea. However, whenever Wagner’s orchestra suggests sea tempests, everybody on stage falls to the ground as in they were on a ship. So, again, could we make a decision here? Aboard or onshore? Later I understood that the chorus has to remain onstage longer than what Wagner intended because they are supposed to screen the Holländer’s “magical” appearances and disappearances. So it is rather a convenience than an aim in itself. And one can see that. Also, the pre-war English setting is atmospheric and goes well with the story, but the association with the burdens of colonial system is a bit far-fetched. We see maps of Africa, Daland has an African servant and, when the Flying Dutchman’s ghostly crews is supposed to appear, the African servant is turned in a warrior and mysterious arrows kill Daland’s employees. This could be an interesting approach – Daland is in Europe and sees only the profits of colonial enterprise, while the Dutchman could be someone plagued by the actual heart-of-darkness experience of colonial oppression who cannot redeem himself. He does not fit anymore in the blood-stained welfare of his civilized surroundings. But this is not the story we see here – the Dutchman is pretty much concerned about himself and the African qualms are just added upon his plot.

The Opernhaus Zürich made a point, in this production, of trying to revive “the original version” of the score. In the program book, they acknowledge that Wagner has done so much retouching in so many instances that it is actually impossible to speak of one “original” version, but roughly speaking we had no intermission, the acts linked to each other by interludes and no redemption music in the end. Orchestration issues has been dealt with case by case. Maestro Alain Altinoglu seemed concerned with the large orchestral sound prescribed by Wagner and made a point in keeping his musicians in leash.  As a result, strings were often on the thin side and crescendo passages had very little development. The sound picture was often band-like, robbing this music of momentum and nobility. In terms of tempo,  the conductor made it fast and animated (sometimes making it difficult for the chorus to articulate the text) – but without weight of sound, the final impression had more to do with bounciness than suspense.

Although Anja Kampe was severely tested by high-lying passages (especially in the end of the first part of her duet with the Dutchman), her Senta was richly, sensitively and touchingly sung. It is a hard piece of singing – and there is no perfect Senta, even in recordings – but that did not prevent this German soprano of making this music hers. In what regard tenors, Marco Jentzsch’s singing is the opposite of ingratiating and the Steersman was too light-toned for his role. It is almost a miracle that Matti Salminen still holds his own as Daland. Now many passages are more spoken than sung, but he does it with such naturalness and conviction that you almost believes that this is supposed to be done that way. Last but not least, Bryn Terfel may not be the most voluminous or dark-toned (his high notes often sounded strangely bright in an almost tenor-ish way) Holländer in one’s experience, but he sings it with such commitment, tonal variety, clarity of diction and imagination that you can’t help taking his side. Even in the end, when his voice started to grate a bit, such was his engagement that you felt ready to see in it the Holländer’s and not the singer’s exhaustion. Thanks to him and Anja Kampe, this performance would intermittently rise above routine into something truly exciting and special.

Read Full Post »