Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Distant Sounds’s operatic must-sees in the 2017/18 season

As a supplement to my listing of operatic repertoire for the 2017/18 season and with only a very few houses still to announce, here’s my personal list of highlights - very much a 'long list’ of all the productions I’d be prepared to travel and see (though obviously more than I’ll manage!).

And don't forget the full list of season premieres here.

Firstly, the rarities:

Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane in Gent/Antwerp (September) & Berlin DO (March)
Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten in St Gallen (September) & Berlin DO (January), plus revival in Munich (May)
Schoeck's Penthesilea in Bonn (October) 
Hindemith Mathis der Maler in Gelsenkirchen (October)
Schreker’s Der ferne Klang in Lübeck (October)
Prokofiev’s The Gambler in Vienna (October), Basel (May) & Gent/Antwerp (June)
Hubay’s Anna Karenina in Bern (November)
Zemlinsky’s Eine florentinische Tragödie in Amsterdam (November)
Weill’s Love Life in Freiburg (December)
Korngold’s Die tote Stadt in Dresden (December)
Zemlinsky’s Der Kreiderkreis in Lyon (January)
Von Einem’s Dantons Tod in Magdeburg (January)
Reznicek's Benzin in Bielefeld (January)
Martin’s Der Sturm in Saarbrücken (January)
Marschner’s Hans Heiling in Essen (February)
Meyerbeer’s Vasco da Gama in Frankfurt (February)
Dukas’s Ariane et Barbe-Bleue in Graz (March)
Rachmaninov’s Aleko & Francesca da Rimini in Kiel (March)
Shostakovich’s Cheryomushki in Braunschweig (May) & Gelsenkirchen (March)
Von Einem’s Der Besuch der alten Dame and Dantons Tod, both in Vienna (March)
Weinberger’s Schwanda the Bagpiper in Giessen (March)
Puccini’s Edgar in Regensburg (April)
Enescu’s Oedipe in Gera (April)
Hindemith triple bill in Budapest (May)
Hindemith's Neues vom Tage in Schwerin (May)
Weill’s Der Silbersee in Pforzheim (May)
Langgaard’s Antikrist in Mainz (June)
Tate’s The Lodger in Bremerhaven (June)
Waltershausen’s Oberst Chabert (1912) in Bonn (June)
Busoni's Doktor Faust in Osnabrück (June) 
Mascagni’s Isabeau in London OHP (summer)

Contemporary and premieres:

Henze’s Der junge Lord in Hannover (September)
Ligeti’s Le grand macabre in Luzern/Meiningen (September) & Flensburg (May)
Reimann’s L’invisable in Berlin DO (WP, October)
Saariaho’s Only the Sound Remains in Paris (January)
Eötvös’s Angels in America in Münster (February) & in Freiburg (March)
Henze’s Das Fluss der Medusa in Amsterdam (March)
Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten in Nürnberg (March), Köln (April) & Madrid (May)
Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence in London (WP, May) & Amsterdam (June)
Holliger’s Lunea in Zürich (WP, May)
Andriessen’s Waiting for Vermeer in Heidelberg (May)
Adams’s Nixon in China in Würzburg (May)
Ruzicka’s Benjamin in Hamburg (WP, June)

Notable new productions of more familiar repertoire:

Pelléas et Mélisande in Berlin (Komische Oper), dir. Barrie Kosky (September)
Die Frau ohne Schatten in Linz (September)
From the House of the Dead in Cardiff (October), Paris (November), London ROH (March), Frankfurt (April) & Munich (May)
Wozzeck in Düsseldorf, dir. Stefan Herheim (October)
Capriccio in Frankfurt, dir. Brigitte Fassbaender (January)
Jenufa in Kassel (February)
Boris Godunov in Paris, dir. Ivo van Hove (June)

The Wagnerian highlights:

Rienzi in Innsbruck (May)
Tannhäuser in Köln (September), Wiesbaden (November), Görlitz (March) & Leipzig (March)
Lohengrin in Brussels (April) & London ROH (June)
Ring cycles in Leipzig (January), Dresden (January), Munich (January), Karlsruhe (March) & Vienna (April)
New Rings beginning in Chemnitz (February/March) & Bielefeld (March) and continuing in Oldenburg (September) Kiel (March) & Düsseldorf (April)
Tristan und Isolde in Amsterdam (January) & Kassel (May)
Parsifal in Hamburg (September), Baden-Baden (March), Paris (April) & Munich (June), plus revivals in Mannheim, Stuttgart & Antwerp/Gent

And a few revivals of non-standard rep missed first time round:

Barber’s Vanessa in Frankfurt (September)
Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan in Dresden (November)
Strauss’s Die schweigsame Frau in Munich (November)
Strauss’s Daphne in Vienna SO (December)
Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar in Frankfurt (January)

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Das Lied der Nacht – Theater Osnabrück – 5 May 2017

Lianora - Lina Liu
The Princess-Abbess - Gritt Gnauck
Hämone - Susann Vent-Wunderlich
Tancred - Rhys Jenkins
Ciullo/The Nameless Singer - Ferdinand von Bothmer
The Chancellor - José Gallisa

Opera Chorus & Extra Chorus of Theater Osnabrück
Osnabruck Symphony Orchestra

Conductor - Andreas Hotz
Director - Mascha Porzgen
Designer - Frank Fellmann

Immediately after the 33-year-old Hans Gál made his breakthrough with his opera Die heilige Ente in Düsseldorf in 1923, he began work on a successor, creating a ‘dramatic ballad in three scenes’ to a text by the poet Karl Michael von Levetzow. Das Lied der Nacht was premiered in Breslau (now Polish Wrocław) in 1926 and was soon taken up by several further theatres, before the Nazis’ rise to power sent Gál into exile and his music into obscurity. The opera had lain unperformed for the best part of 90 years until is was dredged up from the archives to be revived this spring by the enterprising Theater Osnabrück in time to mark the 30th anniversary of the composer’s death. It is also being revived in a semi-staging at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, so one might claim that its time has come. It is certainly an interesting work, both musically and dramatically, and while it might not have emerged as a long-lost masterpiece to set alongside the works of Schreker and Zemlinsky from the same decade, there’s enough of substance to make one hope it doesn’t get forgotten again after this initial burst of exposure.

Musically, Das Lied impresses with its fluidity more than for striking originality – Gál obviously knew his Strauss and Mahler and steered their languages to his own uses without coming up with ideas that linger long in the mind. At its best, in the dark, gloomy harmonies of the scene with the Abbess for instance, it is powerful and full of resonance, but one longed for something more striking for the ‘Lied’ itself, the mysterious song sung by the ‘Nameless Singer’ that so enraptures the Crown Princess, Lianora – its most potent feature is its harp accompaniment. But there’s a rather impressive Act II prelude to compensate – a piece of textural ingenuity and harmonic rapture that would make an attractive concert item in itself – and throughout Gál is particularly adroit at letting his vocal lines cut through the often busy orchestral writing.

On the face of it, the story is simple: the orphaned Princess Lianora is refusing to name her husband so that Sicily may gain a king – she is more attracted to the Nameless Singer than to her bullish suitor, Tancred, and would much rather enter her aunt’s convent in any case. But this being the work of a post-Freudian Viennese, the opera is very much an exploration of the psychology of growing up, something drawn out in Mascha Pörzgen’s perceptive staging. With the death of her father, Lianora is catapulted into adulthood before she is ready, with the need to choose a husband to maintain the island’s political stability. She is also a woman in a world where men call the shots – as princess she has obligations that fall under the power of the aged Chancellor and Tancred’s macho strutting. What follows drifts into the world of dreams – is the seductiveness of the Nameless Singer a figment of her unconscious desire for escape? A way of subconsciously avoiding reality by projecting her fantasies on to her favourite gondolier, Ciullo, who turns out to be singer? We are left to ponder what’s real and what imagined – entrances and exits are often ambiguously made from within the scenery and in Act I the ‘Stony’ Abbess emerges as a giant figure from what one presumed to be the Princess’s wardrobe. Watery images abound, too, in keeping with the theme of the Singer’s lament, and add to the sense of subconscious being explored.

Gál’s score had sweep and pace in the hands of Osnabrück’s charismatic GMD Andreas Hotz, and while the orchestral playing had sheen and power, it would be good to hear what a really top-notch ensemble could make of this music. Lana Liu was highly effective as Lianora, with focused projection and a communicative way with the words; Susann Vent-Wunderlich as her maid/confidante Hämone was also impressive. Gritt Gnauck, a mezzo familiar from the Detmold ensemble, made an imposing Abbess, bringing a touch of the Klytemnestras to her vocal portrayal, and Ferdinand von Bothmer sung valiantly as the Nameless Singer and Ciullo, with just a hint of insecurity in his tenor at moments of heightened tension. Rhys Jenkins was a solid Tancred, José Gallisa a robust Chancellor and the chorus sang with particular focus and dramatic edge.

Link to promotional video: https://vimeo.com/215983662

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Mathis der Maler – Staatstheater Mainz – 2 April 2017

Ursula (Vida Mikneviciute), Regina (Dorin Rahardja) and
Mathis (Derrick Ballard). Photos: Andreas Etter




















Mathis – Derrick Ballard
Cardinal Albrecht – Alexander Spemann
Ursula – Vida Mikneviciute
Hans Schwalb – Lars-Oliver Rühl
Wolfgang Capito – Steven Ebel
Regina – Dorin Rahardja
Riedinger – Stephan Bootz
Lorenz von Pommersfelden – Hans-Otto Weiß
Sylvester von Schaumberg – Johannes Mayer
Countess of Helfenstein – Geneviève King

Chorus, Extra Chorus & Statisterie of Staatstheater Mainz
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Mainz

Conductor – Hermann Bäumer
Director – Elisabeth Stöppler
Sets – Annika Haller
Costumes – Su Sigmund
Lighting – Stefan Bauer

The vision of angels: Schwalb (Lars-Oliver Rühl) and
Mathis (Derrick Ballard), centre
Hindemith conceived his opera Mathis der Maler in response to the situation in which he found himself during the early years of the Nazi regime in 1930s Germany. The dilemma facing artist Matthias Grunewald at the time of the Peasants’ War in Germany in the 1520s whether to fight or paint is one that struck a cord with the composer and is a theme that seems to have lost little of its relevance in today’s fractious world. The war in the story was partly a religious one, as newly inspired Protestants fought with Catholics, and Staatstheater Mainz has mounted the opera to mark the Luther anniversary that falls this year. But Mainz also has the advantage that the work is actually set in the city and features historic figures of the time.

There’s no pandering to medieval Mainz in Elisabeth Stöppler’s spare staging, however. Annika Haller’s ‘set’ is merely a raked stage, upon which Mathis chalks texts (unreadable from my seat) as his artwork, surrounded by black curtains on sides and rear. It focuses attention on the characters, and Stöppler makes excellent use of the space in marshalling them. Costumes are contemporary, with even Cardinal Albrecht wearing a business suit beneath his red cape – emphasising, perhaps, the way he is torn between the attractions of the new religion and the financial trappings of his position. The angelic vision of Scene 6 at least allows some brightness to lighten up what is otherwise a very muted palette of colours. Stöppler doesn’t hold back in her portrayal of violence in a society rent asunder by class and religious conflict: the rich are strung up and the fate of the peasants’ leader Hans Schwalb is a bit of a gore-fest.

Capito (Steven Ebel) and Cardinal Albrecht (Alexander Spemann)
Mathis is an ambitious work for a company of the scale of Mainz’s to mount, but it would be hard to imagine it done more compellingly by a major international house. Admittedly, one or two of the individual singers fall a little short – Lars-Oliver Rühl’s Schwalb struggled with a couple of the high notes in his part and as Ursula, Vida Mikneviciute’s shrill soprano and rapid beat proved to be an acquired taste. But Derrick Ballard’s Mathis was commanding, an assumption to rank alongside his accomplished Sachs, seen both in Mainz and in Detmold. There were moments when a little roughness emerged, but it went with his burly, highly physical portrayal of the troubled artist. Tenor Alexander Spemann was convincing as the cardinal archbishop and Steven Ebel’s contortions made his adviser Capito a particularly oleaginous creep of a character – a sinisterly comic portrayal somewhat at odds with the seriousness everywhere else. If Mikneviciute’s Ursula was a little strident, more subtlety was to be found in the singing of Dorin Rahardja as Schwalb’s daughter Regina.


Much of the success of the dramatic performance fell on the expanded chorus, which truly thrilled with the power and focus of its singing. Its members can act convincingly, too – it wasn’t so many years ago that ‘provincial’ German opera choruses could almost be relied upon for their wooden theatrical appearance. The orchestra, too, makes a most impressive sound under Mainz’s GMD Hermann Bäumer, who has no problem maintaining both the momentum and tension in Hindemith’s highly dramatic writing.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Passenger – Musiktheater im Revier, Gelsenkirchen – 2 March 2017



Lisa – Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir
Walter – Kor-Jan Dusseljee
Marta – Ilia Papandreou
Tadeusz – Piotr Prochera

Opera Chorus & Extra Opera Chorus of MiR
Neue Philharmonie Westfalen

Conductor – Valterri Rauhalammi
Director – Gabriele Rech
Set designer – Dirk Becker
Costumes – Renée Listerdal

Having missed Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger at ENO in 2011 and only seeing David Pountney’s much-travelled premiere production on film (via YouTube) this week, this was my first proper encounter with the opera. Its story is now reasonably well known, but a quick resumé: Weinberg’s composed his opera based on Zofia Posmysz’s semi-autobriographical novel of experiences at Auschwitz in the mid-60s. But its subject matter was too strong even for the Soviets, and it didn’t see the light of day on stage until Pountney mounted it at Bregenz in 2010, since when it has been seen in the UK, the US and further afield. It had its German premiere at Karlsruhe in 2013 and, thanks to Gelsenkirchen’s new production it is swiftly on the way to becoming a repertoire work.

The opera’s plot – about Lisa, a former SS officer at Auschwitz’s supposed re-encounter with one of her charges in her new post-war life – is suffused with the ideas of memory and remembrance and these are brought to the fore in Gabriele Rech’s perceptive production at the Musiktheater im Revier. Rather than the split-level set called for in the libretto – 1960s ocean liner above 1940s prison camp – she and Dirk Becker have set the whole work on board the luxury ship on its way from Europe to Brazil. Thus the implication is that Lisa’s sighting on the voyage of the former inmate Marta – whom she presumed to be dead – ignites all her memories of her time at the death camp, and we see everything through her eyes. We never quite know if it is Marta, anyway, or just a lookalike who sets off Lisa’s reminiscences as she first admits her shady past to her diplomat husband, Walter, and then goes on to seek to come to terms with it by reliving her experiences. Arguably this approach sanitises the Auschwitz scenes, since it doesn’t give a sense of the environs, bit it puts the onus on the characterisation to convey something of the conditions.

This the Gelsenkirchen cast did impressively. From the looks on the faces of the singers at the subdued final curtain calls this was obviously a draining experience for them all. Ilia Papandreou was an intense, keening Marta, a character wanting to be equal with everyone but through no choice of her own picked out by Lisa for special treatment along the lines of divide and rule. And Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir’s Lisa got to grips with a woman trying to reconcile her past in her attempts to argue that she was only doing what everyone did at the time, and that she was one of the ‘good ones’ in her treatment of the prisoners. As her husband, Kor-Jan Dusseljee sang with clarity and finesse, and Piotr Prochera’s Tadeusz – Marta’s lover – impressed not only for his eloquent singing but also for playing on the violin – creditably – the opening of the Bach D minor Chaconne that sets his fate. The distinction of the smaller roles did credit to the theatre’s ensemble – more so, as it happened, than in the subsidiary roles of the following night’s Tristan premiere (review forthcoming in The Wagner Journal). The chorus sang with force and the brass-and-percussion-dominated orchestra played incisively under Valterri Rauhalammi.

But we are left with the issue of the music itself. However much one can believe the sincerity of Weinberg’s utterances, there’s no getting away from the fact that he lacked a truly personal voice – so much of the score, as elsewhere in his output, comes across as sub-Shostakovichian. The score of The Passenger certainly hangs together, and its ideas are often striking, but there are just too many echoes, unabsorbed, from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and its final gulag march scene in particular.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Die Herzogin von Chicago – Theater Koblenz – 12 December 2016

As reviewed for a forthcoming edition of Opera Magazine.

Mark Adler (Sandor) & Emily Newton (Mary Lloyd)

Mary Lloyd – Emily Newton
Sandor Boris, Crown Prince – Mark Adler
Princess Rosemarie – Haruna Yamazaki
James Bondy – Peter Koppelmann
Count Bojazowitsch – Marcel Hoffmann
Marquis Perolin – Christof Maria Kaiser
King Pankraz XXVII/Benjamin Lloyd, Mary’s father – Wolfram Boelzle
Count Negresco – Sebastian Haake
Baron Palssy – Tobias Rathgeber

Opera Chorus & Extra Chorus, Children’s Chorus, Ballet, Statisterie
Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie
 
Conductor – Rasmus Baumann
Director & Scenery – Michiel Dijkema
Costumes – Alexandra Pitz
Choreography – Steffen Fuchs

Emily Newton (Mary Lloyd, centre)
Emmerich Kálmán’s Die Herzogin von Chicago managed an initial run of 242 performances at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien in 1928 and, although it subsequently fell out of fashion (it failed in off-Broadway try-outs), in recent years it has become one of his more revived later works, especially since its recording by Richard Bonynge as part of Decca’s Entartete Musik series in the late 1990s. This winter it has taken to the stage of Theater Koblenz in an imaginative and well-paced new production directed and designed by Michiel Dijkema (costumes by Alexandra Pitz).

The operetta is very much of its time, blending American jazz with the native Hungarian style around a plot that stages the ‘battle’ between the Old and New Worlds – not a hundred miles away from the theme of Krenek’s opera Jonny spielt auf, which had swept Europe the previous season and which can’t have gone unnoticed by Kálmán. Moreover, the operetta’s character of a black saxophonist, Bobby, went on to become the ‘poster boy’ of the Nazis’ cultural propaganda in the late 1930s, while its Hungarian-Jewish composer fled to the USA itself.

An American millionaire’s daughter, Mary Lloyd, rises to the challenge set by her peer group (the likes of Edith Rockefeller, Maud Carnegie, Daisy Vanderbilt, even a timely late addition for the Koblenz production, Emilia Trump) to outdo each other in buying up old Europe. She lands herself the estate of an impoverished royal family in the Balkans and inevitably falls for the hereditary prince, but there’s a problem: he won’t dance the Charleston with her, only the csárdás. It’s slender stuff, and the denouement, in which the impasse is saved by the arrival of a Hollywood director demanding an American-style happy ending, seems too glib. But the show is saved by its music, a succession of numbers that cleverly sets off the two competing styles of dance, and which the Koblenz performers had down to a T.

Texan soprano Emily Newton, guesting from the ensemble in Dortmund, is becoming an experienced hand in this kind of repertoire, and has the starry sense of presence to hold the stage, a convincing way of rounding out stock romantic leads and a subtle and lyrical vocal command. She also obviously had fun with the text’s cod-American-German, as did Peter Koppelmann as her private secretary James Bondy, an original character name that seems set up for latter-day allusions to 007. Mark Adler proved a fine lyric tenor as Prince Sandor and Haruna Yamazaki’s sonorous mezzo as the rival love interest, Princess Rosemarie, bodes well for her upcoming Octavian with the company. The chorus was its usual powerful self (an impression garnered from last season’s Peter Grimes), the children’s chorus excelled, the ballet corps added its own pizazz and the orchestra, though light on strings given the need to fit a sizeable wind section into this bijou theatre’s diminutive pit, had bite and suavity under the energetic direction of Rasmus Baumann.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Distant Sounds’s top tips for 2017


A somewhat Austro-German selection of highlights from the rest of the current operatic season, many of which I hope to see and review here, or for Bachtrack.com, Opera or The Wagner Journal.
Lulu (Oper Hamburg, February) – a new production by Christoph Marthaler of Berg’s opera with Barbara Hannigan in the title role.

Tristan und Isolde (Musiktheater am Revier, Gelsenkirchen, March) – Catherine Foster, Bayreuth’s current Brünnhilde, sings Isolde opposite Torsten Kerl’s Tristan (alternative cast takes over from April).

Mathis der Maler (Staatstheater Mainz, March) – a new production of Hindemith’s opera launches a bumper year for the composer, with stagings to follow of Die Harmonie der Welt (Linz, April) and Cardillac (Pforzheim, May).

Doktor Faust (Staatsoper Dresden, March, & Theater für Niedersachsen, Hildesheim, April) – Busoni’s masterpiece receives two new productions.

Elegy for Young Lovers (Gütersloh/Detmold, April/May) – Landestheater Detmold’s staging of Henze’s opera launches in the composer’s birthplace, Gütersloh, before moving to Detmold itself.

Das Lied der Nacht (Osnabrück, April) – a belated revival of an opera by Hans Gál from the 1930s.

Die schweigsame Frau (Aachen, May) – a new production of Strauss’s Ben Jonson comedy.This has now morphed into Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos

Das Rheingold (Deutsche Oper am Rhein, June) – Düsseldorf launches its new Ring cycle directed by Dietrich Hilsdorf.

Der Ring des Polykrates (Heidelberg, May) – a rare outing for Korngold’s early one-act opera, coupled with Weinberg’s Wir Gratulieren.

Die Gezeichneten (Bayrische Staatsoper, Munich, & Oper Köln, July) – two productions, one new (dir. Warlikowski, for the Munich Opera Festival), one revived, of Franz Schreker’s magnum opus running concurrently.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Distant Sounds's ten most memorable operatic experiences of 2016

It’s easy to come up with my top 3, less easy to put the rest in any meaningful order, so I’ll leave it at that. Titles hotlink to my original reviews where they appear online, on this blog or at Bachtrack.com (two, the Rheingold and Lohengrin, won’t appear until the March 2017 Wagner Journal).

1 Der Ring des Nibelungen – Bayreuth Festival
(dir. Castorf)

   My first return to Bayreuth after a quarter-century's absence was made by the fourth year of Frank Castorf’s ‘post-dramatic’ Ring – a gripping monument to contemporary theatre, superbly cast – especially the Brünnhilde of Catherine Foster and Wotan/Wanderer of John Lundgren – and conducted with fire by the veteran Marek Janowski, belatedly making his Bayreuth debut.

2 Der Traumgörge (Zemlinsky) – Staatstheater Hannover

A rare revival of Zemlinsky’s long-forgotten second opera was given a memorable staging by Hannover Opera, with Robert Künzli (left) magnificent in the title role and some glorious playing from the pit.

3 Faust – Oper Stuttgart
(dir. Castorf).

Yes, more Frank Castorf, and very much from the same cut as his Ring. Another miracle of stagecraft and rethinking, completely changing one’s view of Gounod’s French Romantic warhorse. 



And in no particular order:

Oedipe (Enescu) – Royal Opera House, London.
A first staged encounter with what must be one of the major operatic achievements of the 20th century

Simplicius Simplicissimus (Hartmann) – Independent Opera @ Sadler’s Wells, London. Triumphant first UK staging of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s hard-hitting 1930s opera.

The Importance of Being Earnest (Barry) – Royal Opera @ Barbican Theatre, London. Hilarious revival of the ROH production.

Das Rheingold – Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe (dir. Hermann). Karlsruhe’s four-director Ring launched with this opener that manages to tell the whole story of the cycle.

Elektra – Landestheater Detmold
My first introduction to this company – a high-powered performance in a tiny theatre.

Lohengrin – Aalto Theater Essen (dir. Gürbaca)
The first production by Tatjana Gürbaca that has worked for me, with first-rate musical contribution.

Otello – Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Düsseldorf (dir. Thalheimer).
Minimalist staging that gets to the heart of the tragedy.

And finally, two turkeys:

Holofernes (Reznicek) – Theater Bonn – an overblown production of a very poor piece.

Der König Kandaules (Zemlinsky) – Flanders Opera – an even more overblown production that spoilt a very fine piece.