Posts Tagged ‘Yuka Hashizume’

As far as I could understand, the Kanagawa Art Foundation has established a partnership with the Nikikai Opera Company that has resulted co-productions with Biwako Hall (in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture) of operatic performances since 6 years ago. For Richard Wagner’s 200 anniversary a new (at least, this is what I’ve understood) production of Wagner’s Die Walküre with international guest soloists has been featured.

The name of Belgian director Joël Louwers does not ring a bell with me. If I have in mind what I saw today, I would have remembered. Although Tina Turner sings “We don’t need another hero”, Wotan begs to differ by singing “Not tut ein Held…”. Why then the Mad Max aesthetics (in a high school musical production standard) have been chosen? Considering the prevailing cluelessness (there is an interview translated to Japanese in the program that might provide something that should stand in as an explanation, but I am unfortunately unable to read it), I would rather not hear the answer to that question. First, there is some serious misunderstanding going on here. For instance, the Todverkündung scene. Sieglinde is supposed to be asleep then – and this is no small detail. Not only do Siegmund and Brünnhilde mention the fact countless times, but also – if she is awake (as this evening) – there should be no surprise in act III on hearing the news that she is pregnant. On discovering that she is going to be a mother, she decides to go on living. So, if she had known it in act II, her whole attitude in act III would seem pointless. This is no isolated example of poor decision. For instance, the magic fire music is here background to Siegmund crashing a family dinner party (Wotan, Fricka and the valkyries…) in the Walhalla. Also, the staging itself is exotically conceived – in less than 5 minutes, curtains go up and down many times to show some tautological flashbacks (Wotan by the ash tree, the young Sieglinde surrounded by Hunding and his gang…) or some truly “illuminating” titles (“The Punishment”, “The Flight” etc). The director seems to hate the possibility of having characters on stage when not singing; as a result, whenever Wagner has an orchestral passage, short as it may be, there would come the curtains and flashbacks and/or titles. And Fricka – in this staging, we get to see Fricka all the time.  She is so ubiquitous here that she has to be ironic when she says “Wo in den Bergen du dich birgst, der Gattin Blick zu entgehn”. Although there is some (misguided) insight here, the fact is that the Personenregie is also very superficial – everybody weeps when they are sad (Wotan included), Siegmund behaves as if he had some mental disorder, whirling Sieglinde ballroom-dance-style in every possible occasion. All that involved complex set changes – and this operation must be expensive. It is sad to see so much money spent that way, when something simpler, truer and deeper could have been achieved with lower costs (and more expertise).

Conductor Ryusuke Numajiri has built his career in his native Japan and in Germany (it seems he conducted Don Giovanni at the Komische Oper in Berlin, but I have missed that). For this performance, he had the joint efforts of the Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra and the Japan Century Symphony Orchestra in the pit. The prospects had not seemed encouraging, but Numajiri proved to be the right man for the task. The word “kapellmeisterlich” comes to my mind in the positive sense of someone who has built an orchestral sound (rather than profiting from an orchestral culture of a world-class team) within the limits and possibilities of his musicians. Also his approach to this music does not seem to stem from any established tradition, but rather from studying the score in its face value. The results were fortunately quite refreshing, if not thrilling, overwhelming or truly moving. First, the conductor made a virtue of his orchestra’s bright but recessed sound, achieving a comfortable balance for his singers in the context of an orchestral sound that was not truly substantial or full but that retained enough timbre nonetheless. Second, he gave his musicians time to produce the necessary effects within the minimal levels of quality. In other words, tempi were unrushed but not ponderous, phrasing was comfortable, musically clear even if not terribly expressive. Third, he let the music speak for itself and you might be surprised of how eloquent it can be – even with less than optimal forces – when there is not a conductor trying to force his personality into it. Of course, when a conductor has a striking personality and great talent, it can be even more eloquent. But how often does that really happens?!

Since I saw Yuka Hashizume’s Kundry last year, I’ve been eager to see her again – especially in Wagner. She is an extremely talented singer who deserved an international career. If her Sieglinde was not striking as I had imagined, it was still far superior to many singers I’ve seen in this role. Her fruity soprano has a unique blend of warmth and cutting edge, her lower register not only is extremely comfortable but also seamlessly connected into her perfectly homogeneous soprano. She is never less than stylish and utterly musicianly, scales down to beautiful mezza voce whenever this is necessary and has reserves of power for the key dramatic moments. This evening her interpretation was rather generalized and she missed the tingling effect in act III – but I would rather blame the circumstances. I was not truly excited about the opportunity of hearing Eva Johansson as Brünnhilde at this stage of her career, but I have to say that she was in exceptionally good voice this afternoon. She still has her sharp/emphatic/fluttery moments, but she proved to be far more disciplined that I could have imagined and sang with the kind of firmness and fullness I thought she had left behind long ago. There was little finesse and variety in her singing, and yet she could find a softer quality for her long scene with Wotan in act III. In comparison, Etsuko Kanoh’s Fricka was far more interesting in her subtle but sure word pointing and dramatic instincts, even if the role is heavy for her voice and her low register now lacks space and color.

This evening’s Siegmund was Tetsuya Mochizuki, a singer I have previously heard as Tamino (a performance that left me no good memories) in the New National Theatre. He is far more comfortable in Wagner – he knows the style, the Italianate touch is not unwelcome, the voice has an appealing old-style fast-vibratoish quality when not tested in dramatic passages (when it acquires a Spiteltenorisch edge) and he can phrase with elegance when he finds it necessary. Yet he is overardorous and hams as his life depended on it. He lost some steam in act II too. I’ve seen Greer Grimsley sing Wotan both in Berlin and in New York. In a good day, he can be a very powerful Wotan. And today was one of these days – he was the aural image of vocal health, singing with unfailingly firm and dark tone throughout. In the closing scene, I remember more subtlety and shading in Berlin, but I guess he just couldn’t resist to pour voluminous and rich sounds in the hall as he could do today. Last but not least, Koji Yamashita was very well cast as Hunding. The team of valkyries too deserve praises – especially the fearless Miyuki Hibino as Helmwige.

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While the Fujiwara Opera Company is a rather conservative institution, Tokyo Nikikai Opera has showed the Japanese audience a rather adventurous repertoire on borrowing productions from some innovative opera houses in Europe while manning them with Japanese musicians. In its 60th anniversary season, it has programmed Claus Guth’s staging of Parsifal, as seen in Zurich and Barcelona.

Nobody can accuse Guth of inconsistency: the revolving stage, the rewriting the plot, the psychologization/trivialization of archetypal/mythological/symbolic figures and situations – they are all there. As told here, the story takes place right before WWII in a mansion turned into what seems to be a hospital for war-traumatized soldiers. Gurnemanz is the resident chaplain, a very much visible Titurel is the lord of the manor, whose two sons (?!) Amfortas and Klingsor cannot come to an understanding since their father began to display an obvious preference for the former. This preference means that: a) Amfortas is supposed to be the field hospital’s “king”; b) and that his privileges are basically being bullied by the medical staff and having the blood of his wound extracted by nurses and drank (in the grail) by his vampiric father, who shares the diluted version with the patients in a very choreographic ceremony in the “hospital”. Why Klingsor is envious of all that will remain a mystery. Brothers will eventually become chums again in the end, when Parsifal becomes some sort of military dictator and Kundry decides that she should hit the road and get a life after all.

Although the concept has many loose ends and is essentially contradictory (the “the redeemer has been redempt”-moral is here only an irony…), I do find interesting the idea that an institution bereft of its spiritual content (therefore, of its purpose) will still exist as self-parody, as the mechanical repetition of its sheer phisiology. Monsalvat’s purpose was to protect the holy grail and spear that together produce Christ’s blood in a miraculous and purifying rite. However, the king proved to be impure and failed to fulfill the institution’s purpose – he has lost the holy spear – but at this point the institution serves no longer its purpose but rather its own existence. A ceremony must be performed; if the miraculous blood cannot be produced, someone’s blood will have to do. The fact that it is the king’s  blood being an interesting image of how a legitimate political project eventually becomes a power machine. It is a pity that this interesting aspect went lost in incoherence (the whole Parsifal-as-military-dictator (guess who we’re talking about…) episode, silliness (Parsifal trying to “cure” the symptoms of the mentally disturbed patient in a Mel Brooks-approach) and sheer misfiring (Kundry’s seduction scene followed by some 15 clueless extras.

Conductor Taijirou Iimori is an experienced Wagnerian with an impressively organized musical mind. The first five minutes of the performance perfectly balanced and more transparent than any other performance of this opera in my experience. Eventually, the maestro would have to deal with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra’s limitations in tonal glamour and homogeneity and his soloists’ lack of experience and vocal amplitude. Iimori must be praised by his commitment to the actual performance rather than his own concept: as a result, the performance took place without major incidents, but unfortunately without major revelations. I have the impression that he is the kind of conductor who works rather from detail than from the big picture; I often missed an act-long guiding line that would link the intention of isolated moments that would fade into grey zones before tension had to be build up from scratch. I would like to hear him in more “authentic” Wagnerian circumstances.

At first, I did not know what to think of Yuka Hashizume’s Kundry. She is not a dramatic soprano, but she has the stamina and the piercing quality for the exposed acuti; she is not a mezzo soprano, but her low register is warm, rich and voluminous enough; she is not really a bête de scène with a flashing personality, but she has an interesting subtle presence and also interpretative imagination and the technique to make it happen in tonal and dynamic variety. Hashizume is a singer with a wide range of possibilities, and I have the impression that all this could be focused into something truly amazing in less experimental milieux. She has sung Senta and Sieglinde in Japan in similar enterprises – it would be interesting to hear her how she would react to the influence of someone like Daniel Barenboim in the Lindenoper.

Kei Fukui was the Nikikai Opera’s Walther in their Meistersinger, but he is more usually seen in recitals in which he has plenty of opportunity to sing arias like Nessun Dorma and E lucevan le stelle, hardly the kind of tenor one would find in a Wagnerian cast in Europe. One could tell from his Italianized German, explosive phrasing and the habit of treating declaratory lines in a rather free way. Although his voice is big enough for this role, having to emulate a heldentenor (especially in the rather emotional way he understands this task to be) made he force too often and after a while he sounded basically tired. He still had his high notes, though, and had a “reiner Tor” thing about him, even if in a very generic manner.

Hiroshi Kuroda’s baritone has a really curdled sound and the results were often rough. He is a committed actor and could produce the necessary intensity. Kazuhiro Kotetsu has the voice for Gurnemanz, knows the text and Wagnerian style. His singing has many unfocused patches, though, and the interpretation is still wooden. This is, of course, a very challenging role usually cast with acknowledged singers and Kuroda is rather the ensemble’s leading bass (actually, I find it quite remarkable that the Nikikai Opera could cast from ensemble, in a way that only opera houses in Germany would do). Ryouhei Izumi proved to understand everything about Klingsor but the proper technique to sing the role. One could see what he wanted to do – and that this could be interesting – but rawness was one could ultimately hear. Tetsuya Odagawa’s Titurel was too woolly for comfort, but the flower maidens were very well cast.

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