Monday, 28 November 2011

More on Graz

There are a couple more things I’ll be making the trip to Graz for this season, one of them already mentioned (the revival of Herheim’s 2006 Carmen in June). The other is Elektra, which premieres this coming January. Iris Vermillion as Klytämnestra will be worth seeing: hers, even more so than Claudia Barainsky's, was the standout performance at a Konzerthaus event held for Aribert Reimann’s 75th birthday last season; she also made an uncommonly memorable impression with that tiny alto part in the Glagolitic (Cornelius Meister and the RSO Wien, also last season). Regie for the Graz Elektra looks promising too: Johannes Erath directed their Doppelgänger Don Giovanni, a production Die Presse’s inimitable critic described as having ‘the most embarrassing gangbangs’ (‘Rudelbumsen’ in German, great word). But elsewhere that staging and Erath’s Lulu (also Graz) got some good reviews. Of all the things to do before crossing over into Regietheater, Erath studied the violin with the Wiener Philharmoniker’s chief concertmaster. In 2008 he won the Götz Friedrich Prize (a.k.a. the Eurotrash stars of tomorrow award).

And if you’re in Graz before February, make sure to visit the Ai Weiwei exhibition on at the Kunsthaus (the modern building on the river that looks like an upturned udder). It’s a damning study into the destruction of communities and cultural heritage in modern day China, presented with an array of striking images and videos.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Death holds the cards in Peter Konwitschny's Queen of Spades

Avgust Amonov & Nazanin Ezazi
Oper Graz, 27/11/2011

Avgust Amonov | Hermann
Asmik Grigorian
 | Lisa
Fran Lubahn | The Countess
David McShane | Count Tomsky
Andrè Schuen | Prince Yeletsky
Manuel von Senden | Chekalinsky
Wilfried Zelinka | Surin
Juraj Hurny | Chaplitsky
Konstantin Sfiris | Narumov
Taylan Reinhard | Master of Ceremonies
Dshamilja Kaiser | Polina
Carolina Julia Astanei | Governess
Nazanin Ezazi | Masha

Tecwyn Evans | Conductor
Peter Konwitschny | Director

Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester. Chor, Extrachor und Singschul' der Oper Graz.

When phoning to book tickets for this opera about six weeks ago, I was asked if I wouldn’t prefer to sit way over to the left in row 7 of the parterre. Now I understand the strange question. It might have been better phrased as ‘do you consider yourself a willing tool of oppressive capitalist forces? Because Peter Konwitschny needs some people to shame with a blinding spotlight.’ But Brechtian antics are only a tiny part of what goes on in this production, and by carving the opera up into carefully stylized and dizzyingly fast-moving sequences it’s as if Konwitschny is defying us to follow what’s going on, and indeed suggesting that there are broader points to be grasped if we can see past the mayhem. The mayhem is nevertheless highly entertaining and Konwitschny admits as much in his programme note, which I don’t translate as loosely as you might think: ‘these characters act crazily and the perception is that they are highly idiosyncratic individuals [wordplay with verrückt and ver-rückt]. In order to present this as a contrast, we need surreal shit to happen.’ As for broader points, well, that emphasis on contrast is mine and, despite Konwitschny’s mild wording, amplified in the production into statements on deviance and changeability which can be taken as épater le bourgeois or confronting some truths about the strange network of relationships in this opera. With this director we’re realistically talking both with an emphasis on the latter, but as penetrating as the observations sometimes are, they fall prey a few times too often to the same dysfunction which they target, and not in any perceivable metatheatrical way.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Butterfly’s day in the park with Stefan Herheim

Manon, Mimi, Tosca and Cio-Cio San. Why does Puccini send these women to such heartless deaths? It’s a question which musicologist Mosco Carner answered in the 1950s with a speculative Freudian reduction (the composer apparently had a debilitating mother complex). In this Volksoper production, director Stefan Herheim’s response is to point the finger at the audience: Butterfly quickly develops second thoughts about suicide and it is we who brutally stab her to death as she pleads for her life.
Click here to read more of my Bachtrack review. More thoughts after the jump.

Friday, 25 November 2011

RIP Sena Jurinac

While driving home from St. Pölten last night I caught most of this on Ö1. It’s a touching tribute with some good selections, but the recommendations on this Parterre thread are also worth checking out. Those Four Last Songs, just incredible (Ö1 only played Im Abendrot). Always wonderful to hear Jurinac’s Komponist as well, though I’m sure they could have made space for her Marie.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Andris Nelsons brings the Concertgebouw to Vienna

Musikverein, 20/11/2011

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Andris Nelsons, Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Chaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet fantasy overture
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto no. 5 in F major, op. 103
Stravinsky: Petrushka (1947 version)

Judging by exposure alone, it seems that the Musikverein’s golden wagon is now well and truly hitched to the rising star of Andris Nelsons. I missed his Symphoniker concerts the other week because of Wien Modern but will make it to the CBSO & Kaufmann in March and the BRSO & Grimaud in April. Sternstunden indeed (this is me admitting I like Grimaud, well some of the time anyway). But wait, there’s more! On Sunday Nelsons conducted his mentor’s other orchestra, and the playing was every bit as refined as you’d expect.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Vienna's Thielemann Ring: Siegfried

Stephen Gould & Linda Watson

Wiener Staatsoper, 09/11/2011

Stephen Gould | Siegfried
Linda Watson | Brünnhilde
Albert Dohmen | The Wanderer
Tomasz Koniczny | Alberich
Anna Larsson | Erda
Wolfgang Schmidt | Mime
Ain Anger | Fafner
Chen Reiss | Waldvogel

Christian Thielemann | Conductor
Sven-Eric Bechtolf | Director

The rapturous reception received by Christian Thielemann notwithstanding, this performance didn’t pan out too differently from April, and for that I can direct you to my good friend Zerbinetta’s on-the-money report.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Lera Auerbach's Gogol premieres at the Theater an der Wien

On Tuesday I went to the world premiere of Gogol, a new opera by Russian-born composer, writer, poet, visual artist and pianist Lera Auerbach, who in her spare time enjoys... (I kid). Here’s some of what I wrote for Bachtrack:
Before writing a note of Gogol, composer Lera Auerbach immersed herself in the writer’s complete works and over twenty books written about him. It would take similar efforts to begin to understand this opera: taking us inside the fevered mind of its title character, Gogol is less a biographical narrative set to music than a phantasmagorical psychological investigation. Given a virtuosic staging by director Christine Mielitz, it is also an overwhelming theatrical experience.
Click here to read the full review. There are just a few things to add.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Mariss Jansons conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker

Musikverein, 13/11/2011

Wiener Philharmoniker, Mariss Jansons, Rudolf Buchbinder

Brahms: Piano Concerto no. 1 in D minor, op. 15
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances, op. 45

Mariss Jansons is one of those conductors the Wiener Philharmoniker say they get on with. I sensed some readiness to collaborate in this concert, but like my Radio Stephansdom signal when driving, it sort of came and went.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Volksoper lifts the veil on its new Salome

Volksoper, 08/11/2011
Morenike Fadayomi | Salome
Sebastian Holecek | Jochanaan
Andreas Conrad | Herod
Irmgard Vilsmaier | Herodias
Vincent Schirrmacher | Narraboth
Lysianne Tremblay | Page to Herodias
Roland Böer | Conductor
Marguerite Borie | Director

It’s a hundred years since Richard Strauss made his Volksoper conducting debut with Salome, an anniversary which is being commemorated with the first new staging in Vienna for almost forty years. Well not quite so new, as Marguerite Borie’s production has already been seen in Liège and Monte Carlos, where it garnered mixed reviews. But for a Konzept based on just the one idea I think it actually works rather well.

Vienna's Thielemann Ring: Die Walküre

Wiener Staatsoper, 06/11/2011

Christopher Ventris | Siegmund
Eric Halfvarson | Hunding
Albert Dohmen | Wotan
Waltraud Meier | Sieglinde
Katarina Dalayman | Brünnhilde
Janina Baechle | Fricka
Donna Ellen | Helmwige
Ildikó Raimondi | Gerhilde
Alexandra Reinprecht | Ortlinde
Aura Twarowska | Waltraute
Ulrike Helzel | Siegrune
Monika Bohinec | Grimgerde
Zoryana Kushpler | Schwertleite
Juliette Mars | Roßweiße

Christian Thielemann | Conductor
Sven-Eric Bechtolf | Director

Of all the understatements to make about conditions at the Vienna State Opera, ‘it’s not at all easy to bring this Ring to life’ is hard to best. That was Christian Thielemann in Sunday’s Kurier, who by ‘zum Klingen bringen’ certainly didn’t mean muddling through without too many mishaps – the most flattering thing that could be said about Das Rheingold.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Franz Welser-Möst und seine Clevelander

Musikverein, 04/11/2011

Weber: Overture to Euryanthe, op. 81
John Adams: Doctor Atomic Symphony
Chaikovsky: Symphony no. 4 in F minor, op. 36

What with the Thielemann Ring and Wien Modern, I only made it to one of the four Cleveland concerts on at the Musikverein this week. It was a good one, but despite a promising start I soon recognised what critic Don Rosenberg got ousted from his beat for saying – outstanding playing, directionless conducting.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Vienna's Thielemann Ring: Das Rheingold

Wiener Staatsoper, 01/11/2011

Albert Dohmen | Wotan
Adrian Eröd | Loge
Tomasz Konieczny | Alberich
Wolfgang Schmidt | Mime
Janina Baechle | Fricka
Anna Larsson | Erda
Markus Eiche | Donner
Herbert Lippert | Froh
Alexandra Reinprecht | Freia
Wolfgang Schmidt | Mime
Lars Woldt | Fasolt
Ain Anger | Fafner
Ileana Tonca | Woglinde
Ulrike Helzel | Wellgunde
Zoryana Kushpler | Flosshilde

Christian Thielemann | Conductor
Sven-Eric Bechtolf | Director

Christian Thielemann’s first Vienna Ring has been hyped to the heavens. It’s unclear why the Staatsoper's press office – hardly a hive of activity – went to such promotional lengths, considering that the cycle sold out on the first day of sale and the Viennese critics aren’t much more neutral than the hordes of Thielemann loyalists in the audience (referred to by non-groupies here, curiously, as the ‘T-Freaks’). But despite the thunderous ovation which greeted Thielemann's curtain call, I don’t think this performance will go down as one of his better Rheingolds (and from the microphones in the pit it appears there may well be audio and possibly video evidence in the offing).