Thursday, 5 January 2012

January blues and greens

The inexorable but shambolic beast that is Viennese musical life judders to a halt after the New Year’s concerts, with the Musikverein and Konzerthaus taking a post-festive breather while the Wiener Staatsoper churns out the last of its seasonal Fledermäuse and Sleeping Beauties. Institutions begin to resume their normal hectic pace around the middle of the month, so click through the jump for my round up of January’s highlights.

Did I say the middle of the month? It is of course the incorrigible Staatsoper which takes the lead a week earlier, this year with a Verdi mini-cycle (hence the lame pun – hey, at least Greens is grammatically correct). Un Ballo in Maschera looks the least promising, with Neil Shicoff, veteran Leo Nucci replacing an indisposed Simon Keenlyside (no idea why, but it’s fairly recent [edit: it's illness]), and a production about which one journalist remarked ‘you think it’s got to be at least a hundred years old’ (try 26). But Eva-Maria Westbroek’s in it, so there’s something to latch on to. I’ve only ever seen superannuated productions of La forza del destino and Otello, so stagings from David Pountney and Christine Mielitz are bound to compare favourably. Casting looks more promising for Otello, with Peter Seiffert and Krassimira Stoyanova as the doomed lovers, but La forza has Violeta Urmana as Leonora and I kind of like her as a soprano (oh, bite me).

At the end of the month there’s a premiere, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, which will be harder to bear than usual if the production is crap as this is a Lieblingsoper of mine. I can only hope that Jérôme Deschamps makes more of an effort than his daughter did with Die sieben Todsünden at the Theater an der Wien a while back. The musical highlight will quite clearly be Angelika Kirchschlager, who has been doing some fresh and interesting things with Weill as of late.

Lastly on the Staatsoper front, there’s one performance left of their Martinoty Figaro this week. I’ve avoided this production so far and don’t intend to be there on Thursday. But in June it returns with Finlay, Kursak and Pisaroni, so perhaps.

On to the Theater an der Wien. There’s a new production this month and it’s a double bill of Iolanta and Francesca da Rimini. I’ve seen a fair few Stephen Lawless productions, none of which stayed with me particularly, but we’ll see. And I sung once in the chorus for Francesca, which is like 60 pages of tonal clichés sung to ‘uhmm’, though of all the choruses to make that sound interesting you could do worse than the Arnold Schoenberg Chor. Casting is impressively Russian and Kirill Petrenko Vassily Sinaisky conducts [Petrenko is out due to back troubles].  

The most interesting Oper Konzertant event on at the TadW this month is Les Boulingrin by Greek composer Georges Aperghis. He calls it an ‘opéra bouffe’ but expect it to be Pinteresque. A shame I can’t make this as it looks intriguing and I’m fascinated by how Aperghis writes for voices. Contemporary music advocate Emilio Pomárico leads the Klangforum Wien.

I go to a fair amount of German-language theatre here, mostly the Burgtheater and Akademietheater for their often scintillating productions, sometimes also the Theater in der Josefstadt. This isn’t the place to write about that and I’m not really qualified anyway, but I might well post something on the Volkstheater’s new production of Die Dreigroschenoper. Intendant Michael Schottenberg’s staging is said to be good and music critics have commented favourably about the singing and playing. Performances throughout January are sold out, but if you’re quick there are tickets for February still available.

2012 sees the 20th year of ‘Resonanzen’, an annual week-long celebration of HIP hosted by the Konzerthaus. I’ve never seen Jordi Savall or Le Concert des Nations live and will possibly be going to their whistle-stop tour of all things European from 1670 to 1800. The other highlight is a genuine pasticcio (beat that, Met) of L'Atenaïde, written in 1714 for the Viennese imperial court. I’m a little confused by this as of the three composers mentioned as having contributed an act each, only Caldara is mentioned in the programme. But intermezzi and ballet music also written for the piece (by different composers) will be included and the Konzerthaus assures us that this makes it an ‘absolute rarity’, so there you go. Incidentally most of these Resonanzen events have a pre- and after-concert, the after part being mostly films from the 1960s and 70s for some reason. So you can go straight from this pasticcio to a screening of The Night Porter (oh to have been a fly on the wall when that combo was concocted). For an after-event more in keeping with the HIP theme, try Margit Legler’s fun-looking ‘baroque dance course’ on the 21st.

The Musikverein’s offerings are unsurprisingly staid by comparison. There seems to be some role reversal going on between the Philharmoniker and Symphoniker at the moment, as these month’s Gergiev-led Phil subscription concerts will be the third (the third!) I’ve been to this season with music from a living composer. By contrast the Symphoniker is really pushing the envelope with Brahms, Bruckner, Brahms, Schumann, and more Brahms... But it has been a while since I heard a live Bruckner 3 (big Bruckner devotee here) and the Symphoniker’s is with solid Brucknerian Marc Albrecht, so should be good. Not many visiting ensembles at the Musikverein this month, but there are two concerts from Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (infrequent guests in Wien), and I’ll be making it to at least one.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to blog a lot more about one of my favourite Viennese cultural institutions, the (literally) underground Alte Schmiede. They run a busy and eclectic music programme, much of it contemporary, and though quality can vary all their events are free and attract a refreshingly diverse crowd. A few highlights: on the 20th flutist Matteo Cesari plays Furrer, Trevisi, Ferneyhough and Maderna among other things; the Ensemble Polysono offer Nono, Xenakis and more Furrer on the 28th; and for those interested in suppressed music the Christine Lavant Quartett are playing works by Viktor Ullmann, Egon Wellesz and Franz Ippisch on the 31st. There’s a ton more stuff, including jazz and electronica, listed here.

To finish, just a couple of notes on more events in smaller venues: on the 12th, the Webern Ensemble Wien and Kaoko Amano perform Schoenberg’s beguiling short song ‘Herzgewächse’ and Kurtág’s journey of emotional extremes, Messages of the Late R. V. Troussova. I regret not having the time to blog about a wonderful Klangforum Wien performance of the Kurtág in December, with some extraordinary singing from soprano Natalia Zagorinskaya. The Webern Ensemble Wien are students and probably won’t be up to quite the same standard, but let’s not patronize them – a couple of trusted little birds tell me these lot are the MusikUni’s Wunderkinder. The event is hosted by the Arnold Schönberg Center and costs nichts. Over at the modernist architectural gem of Haus Wittgenstein there is an interesting event taking place at 15:00 on the 29th, with Franz Bartolomey (the Wiener Philharmoniker’s principal cellist) and his son Matthias (also an accomplished cellist – I’ve heard him twice now). The Family Bartolomey and the Philharmoniker go back a looong way, and Bartolomey der Vater will be talking about that to journalist and music critic Wilhelm Sinkovicz. Both Bartolomeys will then perform Offenbach and Popper duets together. There is an (updated) link for that hereFor all the stuff I haven’t linked to, here are some homepages:

EDITED: to address a glaring omission. The Staatsoper's Liederabende cycle – new this season – got off to an unlucky start as Thomas Quasthoff had to cancel his September concert due to ill health. It's second and third time lucky this month, with Die schöne Müllerin from Michael Schade and Rudolf Buchbinder on the 10th, and a recital of Schubert, Strauss, Fauré, and Duparc songs (among others) from Diane Damrau on the 19th. La Damrau will be accompanied by a harpist (hmm). The Wiener are obviously sceptical about this venture because despite tickets being less than half the price of ballet performances (and also a bit cheaper than Musikverein Großer Saal Liederabende) there are still hundreds of seats available for each concert.


  1. The revival of the Pountney Forza that I saw was a bit of a mess and the cuts are pretty awful. But it's still a fab opera. Here's what I wrote about it if you're interested.

    BTW I still get Staatsoper Umbesetzung emails and it said Westbroek was out for the first Ballo. I would wait to see if she is going to recover but her sub is Barbara Havemann, who is not at all bad, maybe even underrated. The email also held the terrifying news that Herwig Pecoraro sang Alfred tonight.

    I would also be scared of Seiffert as Otello particularly in the Staatsoper's production which is dubious (I always want to be charitable towards Mielitz but usually have to admit that her Staatsoper stuff just doesn't really work) but would brave it for Stoyanova's Desdemona, which should be gorgeous. We have Antonenko in NYC for Tosca this month so you can't steal him.

  2. Didn’t realize you wrote about the Staat’s La Forza. I was outside of Wien for a lot of Autumn 2010, though the only things I regret missing tbh were Tannhäuser (since caught up with), Cardillac and Medea.

    I was being hopelessly upbeat about the Verdithon mostly for personal reasons – having been so down about the Staatsoper since their dire Joel Daphne last month it’s going to take that mood just to get me through their doors again. But it’s probably just as well you’ve burst that bubble really. Her Gogol was insanely brilliant but I couldn’t agree more about Mielitz an der Staatsoper being a different kettle of fish – what a vacuous and irritating Dutchman that was.

    Am actually looking forward to Seiffert’s Otello for reasons which I’ll try to explain in the review (if it’s what I expect).