Saturday, 28 July 2012

FWM to the Staatsoper’s rescue

So when, down by the Attersee lakeside, two public figures with a reputation for blurting out things they shouldn’t discover they are neighbours for the summer, the wise thing might have been to restrict conversation to talk of the weather and strudel recipes. For our entertainment, Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter decided instead to tell Franz Welser-Möst that the Staatsoper will have to tighten its belt to the tune of €10m – cuts that her ministerial colleague Claudia Schmied has already rejected. What better way to make Schmied back that up, FWM thought, than shoot the idea – and brainless Mitzi – down in flames in a TV interview (to be aired tomorrow, taster here). Fekter’s gob once got her named as one of the thirteen people destroying the global economy but it rather seems she’s met her match.

Friday, 27 July 2012

RIP Susanne Lothar

I must have first seen Benny’s Video when I was actually Benny’s age and have devotedly followed the work of Michael Haneke ever since, so it has been saddening to learn today that Susanne Lothar has died aged only 51. She was directed by Haneke in Funny Games, The Castle, The Piano Teacher and The White Ribbon, the most memorable appearance among them probably Funny Games, in which she starred alongside her off-screen husband Ulrich Mühe, who also died young in 2007. I would have liked to have uploaded audio of Lothar and Bruno Ganz reciting the letters from Il canto sospeso on the Abbado/Berlin Phil recording, but embedding MP3s here is practically impossible. Instead, a clip from Funny Games.

Salzburg and its faces saved

Just as this year’s Salzburg Festival settles into its stride, an end to the 2013 Budget impasse has been announced. Alexander Pereira and the supervisory board have reached one of those creative Austrian compromises in which no demand is given up and, more crucially, nobody loses face. 2013 will see a €60m outlay rather than the €64m Pereira lobbied for, but his big project that faced the axe (bringing the Simón Bolívar Orchestra and El Sistema, details as yet unknown, to Salzburg) has had its financing outsourced and so will go ahead. Let us review the absurdity of the situation for one moment: the Kuratorium’s main objection to such rapid budget increases was the outsized influence of sponsors in the new financial arrangements, and yet in removing El Sistema from the Zentralbudget they have agreed that the entire €2.6m project will be directly funded by a sponsor (the Hilti Foundation, already an El Sistema donor). Wilfried Haslauer, chairman of the board, stresses that this makes it a ‘one-time’ special project and that ‘we do not want this as a general model for the future financing of the festival’. Pereira says that the main thing is that this and the new Salzburg Festival ball – outsourced to the Friends, according to the model he implemented in Zürich – are secured and everything else is ‘wurscht’. I wonder who has the upper hand.

Another consequence of the budget agreement is that the Festival won’t expand quite as Pereira planned. The number of events will be reduced from 248 to 200, and the tickets from 260,000 to 256,000 (compared to 220,000 last year, before the length of the Festival was extended). By the next meeting of the board Pereira must disclose all sponsors, according to Salzburg mayor Heinz Schaden, in order to avoid another Alberto Vilar situation (how flattered Pereira must feel at the faith in his corporate connections).

Still, Pereira speaks proudly of the praise his projects have garnered recently. Mentioning that Jim Oestreich’s favourable review of his Ouverture spirituelle week made the front page of the New York Times yesterday, he said ‘what other cultural institution can claim that?’

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Die Straßen Wiens sind mit Kultur gepflastert, or new links

The streets of other cities, so goes the famous Krausian aphorism, are paved with mere asphalt. As Kraus also remarked, an aphorism is either a half-truth or one-and-a-half truths – but I promise you there are no subtextual ironies to be inferred from the links gracing this blog’s sidebar as of this evening. This list of Viennese musical organizations, ranging in prominence from the Wiener Staatsoper to the Subterrarium, is there for your information, and will hopefully arouse some curiosity as well as draw attention to how Vienna, despite everything you hear (and however much of that is regrettably true), is not without its genuinely exciting artists and happenings. ‘Organizations’ is defined loosely as institutions and other venues, festivals, and ensembles, but not listed, since live performance is the focus here, are music publications and Vereine which don’t host public events. Leave a comment or email me if you find there are relevant links missing, though be aware that the required kickback for linking the Vienna Boys’ Choir is of BUWOG proportions. 

Categories may come later but for now organizations are listed – approximately – in descending order of prestige, which has made for a revealing bottom half, so to speak, of Vienna’s lively and often underestimated contemporary/experimental music scene. That there is also some correlation with the decreasing cost of attending events is not surprising. In few other cities, going by my experience, will you hear as much new music for free or very little and done to such a consistently high standard as here.

So then, in the passive-aggressive manner our tourist board prefers to put it:

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Hereinspaziert in die Menagerie, Ihr stolzen Intendanten

The Salzburg Festival’s supervisory board sits a week tomorrow and judging by Alexander Pereira’s recently backpedalled resignation threat they won’t be agreeing to his budget plans. Amid general talk of circuses a delightful equine analogy is enough to explain away his rashness in this sympathetic interview, and given how the racecourse is the apocryphal cradle of Denglish I can’t resist musing that the Kuratorium hopes Pereira will in future be more inclined to steal horses than make them blush.

There’s yet more horsing around, like the claim – nonsense this, but of some amusement – that Salzburg must (literally) have a ball in order to pay for operatic commissions from György Kurtág, Marc-André Dalbavie, Thomas Adès and Jörg Widmann. I don’t believe for a minute that Pereira has removed these projects from the Zentralbudget and gambled them on the financial success of a social event. Elsewhere he says his main concern is that the composers ‘finish on time’, and should that happen then a fifth commission might be in the offing. His predecessors commissioned new opera but there was ‘no continuity’ (by which he means simply that there wasn’t a new opera every year). In the traditional operatic repertoire, Salzburg needs to set its sights on ‘producing Mozart performances you can’t hear better anywhere else’ (er, with FWM?), while 2014 will celebrate Strauss at 150 and 2015 will be a ‘big Russian year’. The one conductor singled out as a must-hire is Pappano. Sven-Eric Bechtolf wants to internationalize the theatre division and if that means going the way of the Wiener Festwochen it could be interesting. On pricing Pereira says that 58% of tickets are under €90 (ähm, jubeln?) and that only the high-demand tickets are really expensive in order to price out the black market (ähm, wirklich?). Journalist Manuel Brug wins some kind of Schleimerei prize for mentioning that Pereira is descended from Fanny von Arnstein (already a well-known fact, but hey, any excuse to print ‘Urururgroßmutter’), and perhaps – though I doubt it very much – a Vienna-based interviewer would have questioned some of Pereira’s claims about his time at the Konzerthaus (Bernstein and Pollini had fewer than half the number of engagements there during Pereira’s eight-year tenure than in the eight years before him, and the Wiener Philharmoniker were no strangers to the house prior to the 1980s).

Time for other Intendanten, or as I should say, Intendantinnen news. The Bregenzer Festspiele announced earlier today that after the botched appointment of Roland Geyer their accursed search for a successor to David Pountney has reached an end. Elisabeth Sobotka, the highly regarded Intendantin of the Oper Graz, will take over the lakeside summer festival from 2015. Pountney was supposed to leave before then but had his contract extended after the Geyer deal fell through. Sobotka is a solid choice, possibly more interesting than Geyer, and I dare say Graz will remain a house worth visiting a few times a year after she leaves.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition: Rathaus Final review

On Sunday I went to the final of the Hans Gabor Belvedere competition and heard a less impressive set of finalists than the competition has fielded in recent years, with no one knock-out performance to take home the top prize.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Geyer's Hoffmann: Le metteur en scène n'est plus, renaîs directeur!

On Friday I went to see how Roland Geyer’s Hoffmann restaging worked out, and wrote a review for Bachtrack:
Having no budget for costumes, Geyer has raided the wardrobes of past Theater an der Wien productions to fashion a tableau vivant of operatic characters which comes to life as Hoffmann dons the magic glasses in the Olympia act. This motley troupe remains onstage for each subsequent tale but lapses into a purely ornamental role, most astonishingly in the Antonia act, which is done, Ariadne auf Naxos-style, as backstage melodrama. For a metatheatrical conceit to run out of steam just as commentary on the work is introduced is an absurd incongruity. Geyer had staged Olympia’s Doll Song as a catwalk number and a return to themes of image and narcissism comes with Giulietta, who flaunts a heroin-chic look and exhibitionist tendencies to no intelligible dramatic end. As with Antonia’s backstage woes, the dinner party setting of this act missed a few opportunities too many, and a Venetian reference in the guise of gondola-shaped sauce boats lowered onto the dining table with great solemnity was really quite bizarre.

This new production may be a mess, but Geyer – who, let us not forget, masterminded the Theater an der Wien’s wildly successful relaunch after Ioan Holender and practically the entire critical establishment predicted the Viennese would never learn to love stagione – is, well, ned deppat, and possibly even crazy like a fox. Fabric measured by the hectare is the surest way to a Viennese critic’s heart, and accordingly the reviews have been very kind indeed. But putting the history of opera on stage as mere decoration – honestly, I wanted to hug a Herheim DVD – is Staatsoper-grade emptiness of the kind Geyer himself took another shot at only a few days ago. And really in every respect this production belongs am Ring. Geyer talks about Frauenbilder, or the perception of women, and that is where his Personenregie is, to put it kindly, focused, to the exclusion of everything else. But I am at a loss to say what Olympia’s limited repertoire of catwalk moves, which involved legs, legs, legs, and more legs, and Giulietta’s pantie-exposing antics – yes, Geyer went there, repeatedly – might be telling us (Antonia wasn’t telling or even showing us anything, because she was a expressionless android). If this sounds vaguely like Bieito, well, it wasn’t. 

And then there were the plain silly things – the corny stage elevator reveal for Antonia’s mother, Nicklausse straddling Hoffmann at the end (the sexual awkwardness of this staging was really quite breathtaking), and the Consciousness-Raising Blinding Floodlights of Truth, which, unbelievably, scarred our retinas only to prevent us from seeing scenery changes. In the Brecht trade this egregious gaffe is known as the erm, ‘Epic fail’.

But enough of Geyer, who thankfully has promised to remain an able Intendant and not return to the Regisseursessel any time soon. I last saw Marlis Petersen when she was more or less full-time on the Lulu circuit, but didn’t find her as convincing here as I thought she might be. John Relyea was great and hopefully we may be seeing more of him at the TadW. Riccardo Frizza’s conducting I was far too kind about last time round. And when I write that Roxana Constantinescu’s Nicklausse was less memorable than before, that might have something to do with Geyer cutting all of her Kaye/Keck-inserted material from the Giulietta act.

Image credit: Werner Kmetitisch

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition live stream

Thanks to John over at operaramblings and a promoter’s timely email pointing out that I have written a fair bit about the Kammeroper recently, I am reminded of the glaring omission from yesterday’s monthly goings-on post of the Hans Gabor competition finals taking place at the Rathaus this coming Sunday, to be live streamed for the first time here. Those in town who wish to attend the event can order tickets here; for those watching at home the competition begins at 12:00 CET. On 12th July the winners will perform in a gala concert at the Stadttheater in Baden (tickets here).

Sunday, 1 July 2012

L’isola semi deserta: classical Vienna in July/August

In July and August the Wiener Philharmoniker and most of the Staatsoper decamp to Salzburg, the Wiener Symphoniker to Bregenz, and the Tonkünstler to Grafenegg. Because the collapse of the record industry has made them such paupers, the Wiener Philharmoniker have also taken to cruising around the Mediterranean in the time between Salzburg and close of season here (as the brochure earnestly assures us, ‘all cabins include an ever-ready Nespresso machine for those spontaneous coffee moments’, because after Dominique Meyer’s onboard lecture guests may well feel the need). Also out of town over the summer is Nikolaus Harnoncourt, whose annual Styriarte festival has already started in Graz, the corollary to which is that the residents of Vienna’s Piaristengasse may temporarily go about their daily lives in peace.

All this preamble is to say that with ensembles outside of the capital most of Vienna’s major musical institutions go dark over the summer, though pickings, however slim, remain. In town the biggest attraction is the Theater an der Wien, which resumes its usual summer schedule after last year’s renovations, and with, after all the money was on another FWM/Dominique Meyer Regie dust-up this season, Intendant Roland Geyer’s Hoffmann restaging (the problem with the original production being, as I wrote here, that Geyer had expected more depth from a Hollywood director). We shall see about this one! Geyer claims Hoffmann experience here but is untested as an opera director, and then there is the short notice factor. I have been shown the notorious ‘Geyer is a liar’ letter Friedkin circulated to some journalists at the time, which shows that Geyer had a few thoughts about the Konzept which Friedkin wasn’t open to and these minor differences escalated out of control in ways which a responsible Intendant shouldn’t have allowed. Friedkin’s tone is however quite petulant and very litigious, so I will stop there... Geyer’s ‘new production’ premieres on the 4th with Marlis Petersen in all four roles. Also premiering at the TadW over the summer, a new production of La donna del lago conducted by Leo Hussain and directed by Christoph Loy.

August and early September also give you the opportunity to hear members of one of the world’s finest contemporary music ensembles perform for free. The Klangforum Wien continue their summer residency at the charming Zacherlfabrik in Vienna’s 19th district with music by Klaus Lang, Georges Aperghis, Bernhard Gander, Johannes M. Staud, and a new work by Katharina Klement (on the 19th). On September 5th they repeat the Klement work, ‘einen Moment bitte’, which then, judging by the programme, will go on to have some afterlife as a sound installation with the not at all incongruous addition of a lecture by a Jesuit priest. Needless to say I love programmes like this. The Zacherlfabrik is on the Nußwaldgasse at the foot of Hohe Warte, so you can fit in the Beethoven/Heiligenstadt walking tour before the concert and take your pick of the local Heurige after. More information here

Staying with contemporary music, and Klaus Lang in particular, I have been going to as many events in this inaugural Sound Barrier festival over the last couple of days as time has permitted, which is, sadly to say, not too many. The venue isn’t in as leafy a suburb as the 19th, though it really is heartening to see a project like this going on in the 16th district and especially at the Brunnenpassage, as much a community space as an artistic one, and one which performs such a critical public outreach role during Wien Modern.

The TadW and Klangforum not enough? Schloss Grafenegg is located in wine country about an hour’s drive west of the capital and hosts events over the summer which fall into two tranches: the ‘Musik-Sommer’, already underway, and the ‘Musik-Festival’, which runs for around two weeks starting 23rd August. Programming for the Musik-Sommer mainly involves Lower Austria’s Tonkünstler orchestra and occupies popular classics territory, though even for the brilliant young Daniil Trifonov the open-air Wolkenturm remains too impoverished an acoustic proposition for me. Typically the more highbrow Musik-Festival takes place in the acceptable if rather bright-sounding Auditorium, but while writing this post it has been upsetting to learn that this space will barely be used this year. I could have sworn when I ordered Thielemann/Bruckner 7 tickets the venue was listed as the Auditorium. We can only hope for rain. Anyway, James Macmillan is composer-in-residence and seems to have made more of an impact on programming than Nali Gruber did last year; the steady stream of visiting orchestras includes Oslo, LPO, Rotterdam, Cleveland, Gewandhaus, LSO, and the abovementioned Sächsische Staatskapelle. If you are staying in Vienna, be aware that the only ways to get back to the city after the concert are by car or the €12 Musikverein-Grafenegg return bus. Places on the bus have been known to sell out so do book this at the same time as your concert ticket. [Update: a reader emails to claim that the number of coaches matches demand. Yes and no. Book in advance and Grafenegg will adjust to meet demand, but the cut-off is ten days before the concert. After that you are at the mercy of remaining availability and some people I know got caught out last year. Also, those booking cheap tickets for the Wolkenturm might want to check out the none-too-friendly T&Cs (in German and English) for bad weather conditions HERE and think twice about booking anything below Category 6. Cat 6 in the auditorium is scraping the ceiling but I’m informed that for the price it’s a good deal with decent sight lines and sound.]

Even closer to Vienna is the Aron Quartett’s annual chamber music festival at the moated Schloss Laudon, a place you may recognize from TV as the venue for those contrived Romeo and Juliet-style ballet sequences broadcast during the New Year’s Day concert. There is, as always, a strong vertriebene/vergessene Musik focus (programmes here), but I find the tickets pricey (€38 or €35 for students) in view of how much sponsorship and public subsidy the series attracts.

Classical Vienna may take a breather over the summer but this blog won’t: I will be writing about some of the events listed here, and Salzburg and Bayreuth too. Any readers or fellow bloggers who are around and want to meet up in these places, just drop me a line.