Posts Tagged ‘Bavarian State Orchestra’

Fall Discs

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Recommended CDs and DVDs

Published: November 26, 2017

MUNICH — Post is under revision.

Photos © Arthaus, BelAir Classiques, Querstand, Supraphon, Warner Classics

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Concert Price Check

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Gangplanks to the Konzertsaal inside the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum in Lucerne

Published: September 3, 2016

MUNICH — Visiting orchestras cost more for concertgoers. But why exactly? Several factors govern ticket prices on tours, often mitigating each other, and all have a bearing this month as three orchestras from this city hit the road:

Bavarian State Orchestra (BStO) with Kirill Petrenko, general music director
Munich Philharmonic (MPhil) with Valery Gergiev, chief conductor
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO) with Daniel Harding, guest conductor

Here at home these orchestras cost as follows, sampling the top prices for a regular concert without subscriber discount: BStO in the National Theater, U.S. $78; MPhil in the Gasteig, $68; BRSO in the Herkulessaal, $73. Tickets in all price categories include bus and train fares to and from the venue within a 25-mile radius.

Government subsidy, at the federal, state, and in the MPhil’s case city levels, holds down prices to ensure that all Munich audiences can afford to attend. It does not necessarily vanish on tour, at least not within Europe.

For instance, at Berlin’s Musikfest this month, a six-hour drive from here, you would pay a reasonable and consistent top price of $100 for the visiting BStO, MPhil or BRSO, with subsidy applying both to the festival and, federally, to the three German orchestras.

Lack of subsidy may seem to explain exorbitant prices at Lucerne’s Sommer-Festival in Switzerland. Or is a profit motive kicking in? Actually a third factor causes them: currency exchange and the robust Swiss franc. Lucerne, just four hours by road from Munich, wants $245 and $296 for the BStO and MPhil, respectively.

That last detail raises the issue of perceived worth. Why would Lucerne charge a premium for one Munich orchestra over another when Berlin prices all three equally? For that matter, why does Berlin ask more for visiting orchestras than for its own Konzerthaus-Orchester (at a $69 top, staying with the “regular concert without subscriber discount” benchmark) or Berlin Philharmonic ($84) when subsidy applies?

The concert presenter directly, and the concertgoer ultimately, places a value on an orchestra in part as a function of geography. In the small Swiss city but not in the German capital, Gergiev’s orchestra (or Gergiev) is valued more highly than Petrenko’s (or Petrenko). In Berlin, people are willing to pay more to hear out-of-town musicians, a flip side to familiarity breeding contempt.

Price-comparing assumes events have been priced to sell out, and sell out at roughly the same pace. Which in turn assumes presenters know their job. They may. But objectively the worth of an orchestra cannot rise or fall by the tour stop.

If beauty is in the ear of the beholder, the Milanese are more attuned than most. So say Teatro alla Scala’s managers by setting a top of $162 for the BStO’s concert there — far below Lucerne prices yet still double the tag at home. Low government funding in Italy helps shape their thinking, rather than any attempt to gouge, though it will make La Scala’s big platea hard to fill.

Otherwise prices vary against a mental cushion: presenters’ realistic belief that ticket buyers will allow for some unknown but fair travel expense being passed along to them, unaware whether such expense has been covered by grants. Traveling more widely than the other orchestras this time, the BStO costs $94 in Paris, $107 in Vienna and $117 in Luxembourg.

Back in Germany on dates in between those stops, the limited revenue potential of relatively small halls may explain BStO top prices in the range of $118 to $144 for Bonn, Dortmund and Frankfurt. Either that, or someone is profiting, an alien notion when the very existence of orchestras requires subsidy.

Presenters of visiting orchestras are indeed on occasion out to make money, just as they do with non-classical artists. NBS in Tokyo has been a world-renowned price-gouger. In Munich the busy presenter MünchenMusik often prices aggressively. There are several more.

What of three Munich orchestras touring at the same time? Music contracts here commonly run “Sept. 1 to Aug. 31,” with the summer months tail-ending the term ostensibly to provide time off. In practice this structure brings chances to earn extra income at festivals instead. September becomes an odd month: the musicians need a break and audiences are sated from summer performances; the main season is supposed to start yet nobody wants to get down to it. So a window opens for touring.

Photo © KKL Luzern Management AG

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Mastersingers’ Depression

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Bavarian State Opera in May 2016

Published: May 17, 2016

MUNICH — Beckmesser blew his brains out at the end of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg last night here in the Nationaltheater. That was after first aiming his gun at the back of the head of Sachs, and after a graphically brutal beating by David and bat-wielding apprentices had left him in a wheelchair — a predicament from which he had miraculously recovered, back onto his feet, within the few hours separating Johannisnacht and Johannisfest. Sachs, for his part, never saw the gun; he was sitting moping because Stolzing had ignored his Verachtet mir die Meister nicht, had declined to honor German art or the masters safeguarding it, and had simply walked out with Pogner’s prized daughter.

Whether Beckmesser’s character is of the suicidal type is a fair, though in context minor, question. Stage director David Bösch’s new production for Bavarian State Opera offers an altogether transformed view of Wagner’s erstwhile comedy, funded by the same hardworking Bavarian people who brought you the first, on June 21, 1868, when Hans von Bülow occupied GMD Kirill Petrenko’s podium.

Swiss-trained Bösch explores the role art can play in society by winding the clock in the opposite direction from the composer. Instead of reaching back three centuries to show the art-guild tradition at its liveliest, when Nuremberg prospered, he forwards us to a faceless town that has seen better days, where the institution feted by Wagner is in yet more jeopardy than when the score was written and where the masters in their trades suffer the effects of debilitating, distant economic forces. Somewhat outside these problems is the presumably flush Stolzing, but even he cannot invigorate through his candidacy a guild whose masters find it easier to delude themselves than honestly confront demise. Sachs’s Wahnmonolog fits right in. Not much else does.

The idea of collective depression finds little use for such musical-dramatic particulars as the scent of the Flieder (lilac) or the shade of the Linde (basswood). Bösch has to invert the humor in, for instance, the Nachtwächter’s round and Sachs’s gift to Beckmesser. He defies Wagner’s time-of-day and lighting directives. Indeed, clashes with the composer create an uneasy mix of narrative, pomp, violence and slapstick (song-trial errors marked via shocks to the applicant in an electric chair; a town-clerk serenade from atop a scissor-lift, constantly raised and lowered by the cobbler).

But Bösch’s own visual-stylistic trademarks are firmly in place, reminding us of his spacy, zoned-out previous work for this company: L’elisir d’amore (2009), Mitridate, rè di Ponto (2011), and, his touching flower-power effort, La favola d’Orfeo (2014). Neatly arranged decay, locally lit props, black limbo backgrounds, a funky insouciance to the stage action: these are some.

The Bavarian State Opera Chorus sang magnificently for this premiere, achieving levels of expressive detail and shading it reserves for its obsessive GMD; Sören Eckhoff did the coaching. Sara Jakubiak from Bay City, MI, made a welcome debut as Eva, acting well and producing girlish tones in mostly clear German. Benjamin Bruns coped sweetly with the boisterous lyric challenges of David. Jonas Kaufmann added the quality of heroic delivery to the youthful ardor and Lied skills evident in his Scottish Stolzing of long ago. Wolfgang Koch, vocally opulent, looked sloppy as Sachs but conveyed enlightenment anyway. He projected his words impeccably and never forced for volume. Markus Eiche’s musically ideal Beckmesser deserved and received the loudest applause, after tough toiling in Bösch’s action. Christof Fischesser intoned nobly and richly through Pogner’s wide vocal range, while the Nachtwächter’s chant seemed all too short as securely phrased by Tareq Nazmi.

Petrenko drew playing of color and sparkle from his Bavarian State Orchestra, favoring momentum (78’ 58’ 70’ 42’) over reflection but pointing the rhythms with ceaseless energy and emphasis, much to the opera’s advantage. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg will be streamed as video over the Internet at 5 p.m., Munich time, on July 31, 2016, under sponsorship from Linde.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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500 Years of Pure Beer

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

Reinheitsgebot of 1516

Published: April 23, 2016

MUNICH — Before there was Food Babe, there was Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria (reign 1508–1550), a man who valued good music and liked his beer free of nettles, sawdust, roots, and other 16th-century “adjuncts,” as unwelcome food ingredients are now termed.

Wilhelm made musical history in 1523 by hiring Ludwig Senfl as musicus intonator after Holy Roman Emperor Karl V wound down the Senfl-led imperial Hofkapelle. The move enabled him to attract top musicians and clone in Munich that standard-setting body, planting the seeds of the Bavarian State Orchestra.

But his most fondly remembered creation was the Purity Order, or Reinheitsgebot, issued 500 years ago today, on April 23, 1516, and still, Gott sei Dank, indirectly in force.

Beer was to be brewed only from barley, hops and water. Malting was understood. (Science did not identify yeast until the 17th century.) Expanding on earlier local laws, the order applied across the state. It set prices too, specifying the sale of beer at no more than one Pfennig per liter in winter, no more than two in summer, and sending echoes down the centuries that beer should be affordable. Today in Germany, 500 ml of beer can cost less than 500 ml of water.

Enforcement of the Reinheitsgebot throughout the newly unified Germany was a condition in 1871 for Bavaria’s joining with Prussia. Only in 1987 did the order technically go off the books, a casualty of E.U. rules of fair trade. Some viewed it as protectionist. Wilhelm’s strictures returned a few years later, though, in the guise of an E.U.-tailored statute: non-compliant German beers could not be labeled “Bier,” but non-German beers could carry that descriptor if they revealed what they were made from.

Such remains the law today, and it is why Food Babe can frame this rhetorical question: “Don’t you find it interesting that AB InBev is required to [list the ingredients of] Corona in Germany but not [in the U.S.]?”

As the North Carolina activist pursues transparency on caramel coloring, chemically altered hop extract, carrageenan, corn, corn syrup, dextrose, E-numbered anything, genetically engineered anything, fish bladder, insect-based dyes, monosodium glutamate, propylene glycol alginate and rice — all present in one or other beer sold now — she can thank music-loving Wilhelm for showing they have nothing to do with pure beer.

Photo © Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

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Petrenko Hosts Petrenko

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Kirill Petrenko and Vasily Petrenko

Published: April 22, 2016

MUNICH — Vasily Petrenko’s debut at Bavarian State Opera this weekend prompts a glance at two Russian-born, modestly profiled conductors who have built distinct careers in Western Europe while sharing a last name. The guest from Liverpool will lead Boris Godunov, last revived two years ago by company Generalmusikdirektor Kirill Petrenko.

Inviting Vasily to work in Kirill’s house was sweet, ingenuous. After all, the two Petrenkos are what trademark attorneys call “confusingly similar” marks, a factor that doesn’t vanish just because real names are involved, or because it’s the arts. Are artists products? Their work is, notwithstanding the distance from commerce.

The Petrenkos are not of course the first conductor-brands to overlap, but unlike the Kleibers or Järvis, Abbados or Jurowskis, no disparity of talent or generation neatly separates them. Then, inescapably, there is the matter of dilution: a “Toscanini” needs no specifier.

As it happens, agents have promoted the Petrenkos as if with accidental care over geography. Although both men have enjoyed positive forays Stateside, awareness of them in Europe diverges. For a full decade, Vasily has been the “Petrenko” of reference in Britain. Kirill has been “Petrenko” in Germany.

Kirill has had such minimal renown in Britain, in fact, that retired Bavarian State Opera chief Peter Jonas last summer on Slipped Disc could report the following about the Bavarian State Orchestra’s upcoming European tour: “The [orchestra’s] committee and their management offered themselves to the [BBC] Proms for 2016 … and were sent away with the exclamation, ‘Oh no … . Kirill Petrenko? We do not really know about him over here.’ … The tour will happen all over Europe but without London.” Indeed it will.

In the meantime, Calisto Bieito’s staging of Boris Godunov gets a three-night revival April 23 to 29 with a strong cast: Sergei Skorokhodov’s pretender, Ain Anger’s chronicler and Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s riveting Boris. How will Vasily grapple with the (1869) score? Opera featured prominently in his career only at the start.

  Kirill Vasily
  Кирилл Гарриевич Петренко Василий Эдуардович Петренко
born Feb. 11, 1972, in Omsk — 44 July 7, 1976, in St Petersburg — 39
hair auburn, curly blond, straight
eyes brown gray
height 5 feet 3 inches 6 feet 5 inches
weight (est.) 145 lbs., trim 180 lbs., trim
training Vorarlberg State Conservatory in Feldkirch St Petersburg Conservatory
influences Bychkov, Chung, Eötvös, Lajovic Jansons, Martynov, Salonen, Temirkanov
early job Kapellmeister, Volksoper, Vienna, 1997–99 Resident Conductor, Mikhailovsky Theater, St Petersburg, 1994–97
now Generalmusikdirektor, Bavarian State Opera Sjefdirigent, Oslo Philharmonic; Chief Conductor, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
lives in refused to disclose Birkenhead Park, Merseyside
companionship rumored to have platonically dated soprano Anja Kampe married to Evgenia Chernysheva, choral conductor and music tutor; Sasha (11), Anna (2)
faith private Russian Orthodox
favorite team refused to disclose Zenit St Petersburg (soccer)
diplomacy on Ukraine: “I observe the conditions there with great concern. What is happening there is anything but normal. A political solution [is needed] that does not impinge on Ukraine’s sovereignty.” Speaking at the National Theater, March 6, 2014 on women conductors: “[Orchestras] react better when they have a man in front of them … . A cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things.” Quoted in The Guardian, Sept. 2, 2013
humor while working with Miroslav Srnka on his 2015 opera South Pole: “If the composer is dead, you’d like to ask him questions, but you can’t. If [he] is alive, you can ask him questions, but sometimes you’d prefer he would be already dead.” Reported by Slipped Disc, Jan. 18, 2016 while attempting damage control: “We were saying that because a woman conductor is still quite a rarity … , their appearance [on] the podium, because of the historical background, always has some emotions reflected in the orchestra.” Quoted in The Telegraph, May 8, 2014
distinctions   Honorary Scouser
Echo Klassik Award
achievement survived nine cycles conducting Der Ring des Nibelungen at Bayreuth completed a Shostakovich cycle for Naxos
strengths Mussorgsky, Strauss, Elgar, Scriabin, Berg Shostakovich
weakness Donizetti (and probably Verdi)  
what John von Rhein said “Solidity of technique, quality of leadership, depth of musical ideas and ability to strike a firm rapport with [Chicago Symphony Orchestra] members … [determine whether a conductor] stands or falls … . By all these standards [he] sent the needle off the symphonic Richter scale at his first concert.” March 2012 CSO debut “His beat is clear and he has a knack for focusing on the essentials, his long fingers fluttering in a highly expressive manner … . He inspired the [Chicago Symphony Orchestra] to go well beyond its normal megawatt virtuosity, and this made for a blistering account of the Shostakovich [Tenth].” Dec. 2012 CSO debut
  Suk’s Asrael Symphony and Pfitzner’s opera Palestrina for CPO and Oehms Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony and the Shostakovich Cello Concertos with Truls Mørk for Warner and Ondine
career trajectory modest inclination less modest inclination
compass setting north, tardily south, east, west

Placing the two Petrenkos side by side here, like baseball cards, meant compiling at least some personal facts along with the musical. So, three questions went to the conductors’ handlers. How tall is he? Where does he live (part of town)? What’s his favorite sports team?

This proved awkward, however, especially on one side, and hitherto-cordial staffers turned as cool as, well, trademark attorneys. Vasily’s people cooperated with partial answers. Kirill’s, deep inside Bavarian State Opera, stonewalled: “Mr. Petrenko generally does not wish to answer any personal questions.”

As it turned out, Vasily was on record with full answers over the years to all three questions for various media outlets. The man is an open book. This left Kirill’s side with unflattering holes. But the opera company’s hands were tied. Apparently under instructions from the artist, nobody could even confirm he lives in Munich (where he has drawn a paycheck for 30 months already). And he may not.

Bavarian State Opera: “What’s not to understand about ‘Mr. Petrenko does not wish to answer any personal questions’? Who puts out the rule that a conductor … does have to comprehend or be willing to be part of public relations? … So, in fact, we do not want to convey anything to anybody. This is the ‘line to be drawn’ from our side.”

Mention of Vasily went over badly. BStO: “What kind of idea is it anyways to compare two artists because they share the same last name?” Prepared descriptors accompanied the rhetoric: “ridiculous” and a “game.” How not to kill a story.

Shown the data for the above table, the opera company took to sarcasm: “Yes, sure, [inventing] height and weight [measurements] is of course totally acceptable.” But Kirill’s height had become public half a year ago* at ARD broadcaster Deutsche Welle. BStO did not either know this or wish to share the knowledge. Its hapless official scanning DW: “Oh, it’s on the Internet! It’s gotta be true!”

[*Earlier actually: Lucas Wiegelmann included it in an excellent 2014 discussion for Die Welt.]

Photos © Bayerische Staatsoper (Kirill Petrenko), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (Vasily Petrenko)

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Die Fledermaus Returns

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Bo Skovhus and Marlis Petersen as the Eisensteins in Bavarian State Opera’s Die Fledermaus, December 2015

Published: January 31, 2016

MUNICH — Three years ago Bavarian State Opera’s yearly Silvester performances of Die Fledermaus came to a sudden, poorly excused halt. Never mind that they were a global signature of the company; Carlos Kleiber famously led ten of them. As substitutes, the powers-that-be provided La traviata (Verdi was 200) and then, weirdly, L’elisir d’amore. But last month the bat returned, courtesy of GMD Kirill Petrenko, who, it turns out, is as much a fan as Kleiber and a tautly disciplined but supple musical advocate. Indeed he conducted gleefully Dec. 31 and Jan. 4 yet with his customary, at times martial, intensity, the carotid arteries alarmingly discernible — which did not preclude ballerina-like poses, hands high, fingers pointed together, for stylish delays in Johann Strauss’s three-four time. The orchestra sizzled. The chorus sang with astonishing precision and expressive warmth, not least for Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein. Oozing charm and impeccable in their comic timing as the Eisensteins were Marlis Petersen and Bo Skovhus. She sang, also danced, a seductive table-top Klänge der Heimat, ending on the eighth-note high D, as written, although less than forte. Anna Prohaska brought moxie and what may have been a fine Lower Austrian drawl, not much volume, as the “Unschuld vom Lande.” Edgaras Montvidas contributed an ardent, grainy-sounding Alfred, Michael Nagy a mellifluous Falke, mezzo Michaela Selinger a game but too-bright-sounding Orlofsky; her party guest, Thomas Hampson, in town to prepare for Miroslav Srnka’s costly new opera South Pole, interpolated a lavish Auch ich war einst ein feiner Csárdáskavalier … Komm, Zigan, spiel mir was vor. Missing, alas, was the magnetic Alfred Kuhn, long a definitive, droll Gefängnisdirektor Frank here (also Antonio the gardener and Benoît the landlord); in context, Christian Rieger looked and sounded awkwardly robust. Andreas Weirich’s rethinking of the old Leander Haußmann production worked best in Acts I and II. The cramped jail action sputtered, and Viennese actor Cornelius Obonya, a Salzburg Jedermann, went on too long as Frosch; he will be replaced this coming New Year’s Eve by a Bavarian.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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Ettinger Drives Aida

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Bavarian State Opera revives its Aida with Krassimira Stoyanova and Jonas Kaufmann

Published: September 30, 2015

MUNICH — Bavarian State Opera’s irredeemably banal 2009 Aida has been spiffed up and its awkward action scheme apparently restudied for a fall run here. Even so, the honors at Monday’s performance (Sept. 28) belonged firmly with the musicians, instrumental and vocal. Mannheim-based conductor Dan Ettinger exerted a Karajan-like grip, stirring Verdi’s music from the bottom up, parading its rhythmic strengths, brashly stressing percussive detail, and inevitably drawing attention to himself. Which is not to say he drowned everyone out: he accompanied attentively and savored well-rehearsed balances. The Bavarian State Orchestra cooperated gamely; the Bavarian State Opera Chorus sang with rare refinement in clear Italian. Krassimira Stoyanova acted so credibly and poignantly through her essentially lyric voice that nobody would have guessed she is new to this opera. Her sound was pure and unforced, her phrasing properly noble for the title role. Amneris suits Anna Smirnova better than did Eboli here four seasons ago, but her communicative singing in Acts III and IV followed a numb, robotic portrayal before the Pause. Jonas Kaufmann proved he can sing Radamès outside of studio conditions, and thrillingly, starting with an exquisitely shaped Act I Romanza and progressing to generous, imaginative ensemble work. Franco Vassallo’s warm and unstrained Amonasro, Ain Anger’s formidable Ramfis, and Marco Spotti’s eloquent Rè d’Egitto completed a straight-A cast of principals.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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Petrenko to Extend in Munich

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Kirill Petrenko in Munich’s National Theater

Published: July 24, 2015

MUNICH — Bavarian State Opera has confirmed by phone it will announce a contract extension for Kirill Petrenko before the start of next season, in September. With the month of August being a house holiday, the news could come as early as next week when the company’s annual Munich Opera Festival winds down.

Petrenko, 43, became Generalmusikdirektor less than two years ago but has quickly earned respect with his musical dedication, technical gifts and impassioned manner. His present contract expires in August 2018.

Although talks to retain the Russian-Austrian’s services longer into the future have been underway for some time, as company Intendant Nikolaus Bachler noted last month, the announcement will be coming at an awkward juncture given Petrenko’s June 21 acceptance of a surprise invitation to serve as Chefdirigent of the Berlin Philharmonic, albeit with no firm start date.

His move from Carlos Kleiber’s orchestra to Herbert von Karajan’s will likely mean a briefer extension than would otherwise have been the case and a phasing in of Berlin commitments that works around his long-range Munich opera plans. Hopes are dashed anyway of a full Petrenko “era” at Bavarian State Opera like that of Wolfgang Sawallisch, who led the company for twenty-one years.

The new contract will have three parties: the conductor, who is currently preparing cycles of Der Ring des Nibelungen in Bayreuth; Bachler; and Ludwig Spaenle, Bavaria’s Kultusminister.

A perfectionist if ever there was one, Petrenko operates with specific capacity. Strain takes its toll. In 2007 he suffered “exhaustion,” leading to cancellations. He pulled out of a 2011 Fidelio in London due to back problems. Last December he was “indisposed” for his fourth planned Berlin Philharmonic program, and in March he cited strenuousness of assignment as a reason for withdrawing from the Bayreuth Festival in 2016 and 2017. He has just begun to relax in the saddle with the Bavarian State Orchestra.

What separates him somewhat from his nominal peers is his not being good at everything. Instead he brings ideas and expressive depth to scores he identifies with. Mussorgsky and Strauss and Berg are strengths.

Petrenko debuted at Bavarian State Opera with Pikovaya dama in October 2003. He returned five seasons later for a new Jenůfa, receiving personal acclaim. In July 2010 it was leaked that Kent Nagano’s contract as GMD would not be renewed, and immediately, before Nagano “quit,” Petrenko’s and Fabio Luisi’s names were publicly mooted. Bachler’s choice, Petrenko won out on Oct. 5, 2010 (to start Sept. 1, 2013). Luisi withdrew piecemeal from several later staged-opera commitments with the company.

As GMD, Petrenko has led premieres of Die Frau ohne Schatten, La clemenza di Tito, Die Soldaten, Lucia di Lammermoor and Lulu as well as a revival of Wagner’s Ring in Andreas Kriegenburg’s hopeless realization (Siegfried’s encounter with Brünnhilde reduced to bedroom farce).

Next season his commitments here include South Pole (Miroslav Srnka), a new Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and, not least, Die Fledermaus. The Bavarian State Orchestra’s six yearly concert programs, or Akademiekonzerte, will feature Petrenko in music of Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Mahler, Elgar and Sibelius.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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Mélisande as Hotel Clerk

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Elena Tsallagova, Hanno Eilers and Markus Eiche in Pelléas et Mélisande

Published: June 29, 2015

MUNICH — Noisy and sustained boos fell upon stage director Christiane Pohle and her team after Pelléas et Mélisande last night here in the Prinz-Regenten-Theater. Though not uncommon in this epoch of Regietheater, the intensity of the scorn for Bavarian State Opera’s new production was alarming coming from the dressy summer festival premiere crowd, many of whom were to adjourn to parties after the performance and whose circles deplore boorish behavior.

The fifteen scenes of Debussy’s 1902 drame lyrique to a Symbolist libretto by Maeterlinck unfold in Pohle’s conception in a hotel lobby, with Mélisande as a receptionist. Scene I, where Golaud nominally loses his way while hunting in a forest, has him seated drinking at the hotel’s bar. Scene XV, in which Mélisande will admit no guilt, takes place as a loose, group-therapy session.

The stationary lobby set, with hard, photo-realistic surfaces that look good on camera, is of a type costly to build and awkward to move, restricting scenic transformation in a way ordinary theatrical flats do not. After Golaud’s forest, Maeterlinck and Debussy call for une appartement dans un château, a setting devant le château, une fontaine dans le parc, une grotte, une des tours du château (from which Mélisande’s hair cascades down to Pelléas), les souterrains du château, une terrasse, and so on, a visual feast potentially.

BR Klassik carried the audio last night, preserving a musically imaginative performance. The Bavarian State Orchestra conveyed ravishing nuances as well as the burliness in Debussy’s score as led by Constantinos Carydis. Markus Eiche sang a lucid Golaud in properly projected French. Elena Tsallagova’s lovely tones proved ideal for Mélisande. As a mostly effective Pelléas, Elliot Madore followed bizarre stage directions: on his first date with Mélisande, for instance, he sat with his knees together while she stood. Okka von der Damerau inertly impersonated Geneviève. Peter Lobert as the Doctor outsang Alastair Miles’ Arkel, while Hanno Eilers, 12, of the Tölzer Knabenchor intoned Yniold bravely and drew the loudest applause.

Pelléas et Mélisande becomes the latest of numerous flops for the company’s impenitent Intendant Nikolaus Bachler, who insists on freedom for his stage directors — many of them grounded in straight theater and lacking flair for the visual and inter-disciplinary aspects of opera — without apparently recognizing his own duty to monitor quality during production development. Guillaume Tell (Antú Romero Nunes) and Věc Makropulos (Árpád Schilling) have been mounted here with jaw-dropping ineptitude over the last twelve months. Earlier stagings of Medea in Corinto (Hans Neuenfels) and Saint François d’Assise (Hermann Nitsch) went speedily to the dumpsters and to costume sale, the probable fate of this Debussy.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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See-Through Lulu

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

Marlis Petersen and Dmitri Tcherniakov rip into a münchner Breze

Published: June 6, 2015

MUNICH — After the genetic mismatch of Kirill Petrenko and Gaetano Donizetti here, it was a relief to watch the conductor easily navigate and ignite the tone rows of Lulu last week (May 25 and 29) at the National Theater. Happily he did so using Cerha’s reconstitution of Act III and supported by an eloquent, virtuosic Bavarian State Orchestra, now truly his orchestra twenty months beyond the systemic jolt of the handover from Kent Nagano.

The GMD conveyed the differing compositional powers of each act almost entirely through soft, finely balanced ensemble, favoring transparency. Where the music rose dynamically, as in his ardent account of the palindromic Act II Zwischenspiel or the pithy societal interjections of the Paris scene, its contours and colors palpably stunned the capacity audience.

For these reasons alone these were luxurious traversals of Berg’s stimulating, exacting, 185-minute score. They revolved, though, not around Petrenko but upon the musicianship of the charming and beautiful Marlis Petersen, 47, who drew rapturous applause at evening’s end.

Meek early on, she sang out fully in the anti-heroine’s Act I duettino with the Painter (Rainer Trost on vivid form) and gauged her sound with Lied-art intelligence — but a diva’s command of the stage — from that point forward. The bright firm voice sailed into the house with greater body of tone than many a Lulu, shaded emotionally and locked into Berg’s text.

Having first essayed the role sixteen years ago in Kassel, Petersen has developed crisp, moving inflections for its unaccompanied dialog and Sprechstimme, and on these nights she fashioned from every last morsel the composer provides a gutsy, honest, amusing, vulnerable and above all integrated portrayal.

Daniela Sindram had a harder time making an impact as the pivotal Gräfin Geschwitz in this new production. In fact the mezzo barely stood out at all because director Dmitri Tcherniakov (pictured with the soprano) put her in pants, muting her sexuality and defeating the counterforce Berg intended to the men around Lulu. (Has Tcherniakov only this narrow grasp of what it means to be a lesbian?)

But she sang expressively, with a golden, even timbre, purity of line and good diction, and she capped her interrupted London monologue with a ravishing Lulu! Mein Engel! That last outpouring endured the distraction of Lulu’s death on stage, contrary to Berg’s plan, and so the drama ended out of kilter as the tempos slowed, and anticlimactic.

Lyric tenor Matthias Klink introduced a sweet-toned Alwa whose volume lessened in high-lying phrases. Bo Skovhus, as his father and Lulu’s lethal client, made a perfect foil for Petersen, magnetic of gesture and clever in pointing the text, even if his tenorial baritone lacked ideal resonance. In the supporting roles, besides Trost, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s mellifluous turn as the Marquis stood out.

Like most productions at Bavarian State Opera nowadays, this Lulu will look its best through camera lenses rather than from a seat in the theater. Tcherniakov sets all scenes in one static grove of glass panels, much as he locked us in a gray seminar room for his last work here, Simon Boccanegra. Glass of course is an upgrade: it affords depth, allows vivid use of light and overcomes staging challenges, such as when characters scenically snoop. But only the panning and zooming of cameras can make up for missing spectacle in this case.

During Berg’s several Zwischenspiele — intended for scene changes tracing Lulu’s progress and retrogression — the director populates the background panels with stiffly animated mimes, like mannequins in shop windows. Perversely, given today’s common use of projections, he offers no film for the Filmmusik, but a roving spotlight signals its crucial midpoint.

Placement of the panels forces most of the crowd in the Paris scene behind glass, and Tcherniakov drably lines everyone up in a row. Otherwise he strongly shapes and moves the individual characters and, with the one misstep of Geschwitz’s costuming, engages the viewer convincingly, avoiding cliché and graphic violence.

Today’s performance of Lulu, the fourth in a run of five, streams live at noon, New York time, at (Although named “Staatsoper.TV,” the service is not accessed at that domain.) Three performances are scheduled for September, when Petrenko hands over to Cornelius Meister.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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