Posts Tagged ‘Georg Friedrich Händel’

Bartoli’s Scot-Themed Whitsun

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

Cecilia Bartoli as Ariodante

Published: June 3, 2017

SALZBURG — When artistic control of the Whitsun Festival here moved to Cecilia Bartoli nearly six years ago, its programming changed from a steady focus on one period and place (18th-century Napoli) to shifting annual themes. First there was “Cleopatra.” Next came the idea of “sacrifice.” Then the concentrations began to blur, and this year the festival shapes up as a loosely Scottish dog’s dinner — or, bluntly, as the product of whatever the various assembled musicians wished to perform. So, Händel’s Ariodante bookends the plan; La donna del lago in concert allows Bartoli to add a Rossini role without the bother of a staged run; Antonio Pappano’s Rome orchestra essays Mendelssohn’s Third, minutes after Tatiana Serjan has sung Verdi and Bryn Terfel grim Wagner; and Anne-Sophie Mutter marks forty years of stardom playing the Trout Quintet followed by Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni. Then again, no one ever wanted four days locked onto Cleopatra. Despite this manifest pliancy, the cheerful impresaria can still be imagined as a someday chief of the main summer festival. She is adored here by the powers-that-be for her business flair, her energy, and especially her tact, and she straddles the Alps north-to-south and south-to-west uniquely.

Christof Loy’s staging of Ariodante (1734), new yesterday at the Haus für Mozart, will be noted most for one idea that falls flat. Still, it is conceived so thoughtfully and executed with such command of structure and Baroque methods that the opera’s 190 minutes plus two intermissions sail by. The German director balances the functionality of hard surfaces and painted flats and makes impeccable use of color. He advances the action with every stanza and presents the tenuous plot faithfully — it hinges on one unchecked ruse, a push by the Duke of Albany to thwart fearless knight Ariodante’s marriage to Ginevra, princess of Scotland — even as he indulges his fondness for tidy abstraction; we watch his characters, never quite inside their heads. He inserts hammy antics during coloratura passages, without mocking the music. He brings gravitas where due. He integrates the dances poignantly, applying period style in the sequence at the end of Act I (a gavotte, two musettes and a fast section) but contemporary moves for Ginevra’s nightmare in the darker Act II. And he ties everything together.

That one idea? A transgender thread for Ariodante (Bartoli): the woman will emerge in the man. Loy sets this up with a reading at the start from Virginia Woolf’s (1928) Orlando and develops it during E vivo ancora? E senza il ferro? oh Dei! … Scherza, infida, in grembo al drudo — the Act II scena with bassoon obbligato, sung in quaking sadness by the bearded mezzo-soprano — when the knight, seeing himself ridiculed, steps into the love-cocoon of Ginevra’s dress. By the Act III duel, he has shaved. Since neither score nor text offers Loy support, Ginevra must cope with her groom’s alarming transition as if she has long understood. A comic Act III cigar-puffing turn for Ariodante, balancing a 40-proof-drunk scene in Act I, mitigates the director’s blunder.

Musically last night’s proceedings fell to the barely known but hardly novice Gianluca Capuano, organist at Milan’s Basilica di San Simpliciano and first dedicated conductor of the year-old, Bartoli-initiated Monegasque Baroque ensemble Les Musiciens du Prince, on duty in the pit. Six impressive principals acted and sang stylishly and with, inter alia, real trills. Nathan Berg’s smooth and agile bass-baritone sounded almost too refined for Loy’s doltish view of the Rè di Scozia. Tenor Norman Reinhardt introduced a keenly musical Lurcanio, Ariodante’s brother; he hands over to Rolando Villazón for the August run. Countertenor Christophe Dumaux impersonated Polinesso, the obnoxious duke, with laudable evenness of tone. Bartoli proved fuller of voice than for Alcina a few months ago, with glowing middle and low tones and only a hint of effort in the liveliest salvos. The two sopranos quashed their Italian consonants but provided compensations, Kathryn Lewek an affecting Ginevra and Sandrine Piau a musically flexible Dalinda, the lady-in-waiting secretly in love with Polinesso, here masochistic. The Salzburger Bachchor made tight, feisty contributions. Andreas Heise’s choreography occupied eight versatile male dancers and at times the singers. Capuano drew the subtlest of textures from Monaco’s musiciens at brisk but never rushed tempos. He balanced the score’s grace with its tensions, not shrinking from bold percussive and string effects. (A larger string body would not have hurt.) His woodwinds provided object lessons in focused restraint; the continuo group sounded tireless. All told, a triumph.

If only some of the same could be said of Pappano’s work this afternoon in the Großes Festspielhaus. But fame is no guide. Chronically poor rhythm and misplaced accents ruined the Scottish Symphony (1842) as played by the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Despite keeping his nose on the page, the Royal Opera House celebrity showed concern mainly for the music’s surface and imposed sudden ugly accelerations where elements of the dance belonged. Weak ensemble didn’t help him, although standards surpassed those in the concert’s disorderly opening, Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides (To the Lonely Island). Terfel blew away the hall’s remotest cobwebs with Die Frist ist um … Wie oft in Meeres tiefsten Schlund, cleanly accompanied. But then Pappano turned to Verdi, specifically Macbeth excerpts, with little feel for the composer’s micro-phrases, unable to muster a cantabile, and finding mere bombast where majestic swagger was due. Serjan provided a big-voiced Lady Macbeth, singing for twelve minutes in opaque Italian. Terfel, with the Wagner, sang two minutes longer. They did not duet.

Photo © Monika Rittershaus

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Horses for Mozartwoche

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Vocal soloists, the Salzburger Bachchor, Les Musiciens du Louvre and the Académie Équestre Nationale du Domaine de Versailles perform Mozart’s Requiem in the Felsenreitschule

Published: February 24, 2017

SALZBURG — The gimmicky proposition of Mozart’s Requiem enhanced with equine ballet dominated this year’s Mozartwoche schedule, and no doubt budget. It capped, in a way, five iterations of the festival lavishly managed by Marc Minkowski and his front-office counterpart Matthias Schulz, and it brought in for the second time the French conductor’s compatriot Clément Marty, called “Bartabas,” to choreograph the horses and riders of his Académie Équestre Nationale du Domaine de Versailles. Conventional fare for 2017 included the Vienna Philharmonic in three programs, concerts by five other orchestras, and much chamber music.

Minkowski kept the Mass tempos brisk Jan. 29, and textures fairly clear given the stashing of all voices and instruments in the Felsenreitschule’s arrayed stone arches. The vocal quartet (Genia Kühmeier, Elisabeth Kulman, Peter Sonn, Charles Dekeyser) and the Salzburger Bachchor sang with poised radiance; Les Musiciens du Louvre, unable to hear each other normally, appeared keenly attentive to Minkowski’s distant signals, but their instruments did not fully project.

Eight blue-eyed, cream-coated Lusitanos, new to Austria, trotted, walked or stepped in calm, tidy formations through most of the score. Brief sudden flurries punctuated this tame pageant when the composer seemed to prompt, for instance for the Confutatis, and Bartabas’ own “Soutine,” a black stallion, effected a silent spotlit solo roly-poly before the Sanctus, a kind of seventh-inning scratch likely meant for contemplation. But aside from occasional grunts, snorts and ear-flappings (often a tempo), the Académie’s efforts added little in drama or spirituality.

Minkowski instructively framed the main work, without ballet. Mozart’s pensive A-Minor Miserere for three voices (1770) established the choral sound unopposed, its alternating verses sung to plainchant. Then came the Symphony from Händel’s Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline “The Ways of Zion Do Mourn” (1737), whose first chorus lends the theme for the Requiem’s Introito. Afterwards, the familiar Ave verum corpus refocused ears and eyes on Salzburg’s polished choristers.

In the Eroica Symphony the previous evening (Jan. 28), Thomas Hengelbrock’s understating of rhythmic accents created irresolute impressions. But the NDR conductor traced the second movement’s deathly promenade in gripping dynamic detail, courtesy of the Vienna Philharmonic strings, and to the Finale he brought weight, drama, and the broadest lyricism, riding confidently on Beethoven’s counterpoint.

The Großes Festspielhaus concert began with the overture to Don Giovanni, played vigorously and with considerable power. These qualities carried over to Mozart’s D-Minor Piano Concerto, K466 (1785), suiting Leif Ove Andsnes’ conception of the solo part: lucid, to a degree elegant, not especially charming. Beethoven’s cadenza in the first movement sounded splendid yet out of place; Andsnes opted for Hummel’s in the third movement, concise and less Romantic. There were occasional problems in the horns and trumpets.

Cappella Andrea Barca, regular guest of Mozartwoche, upheld its sterling reputation in a generous Mozarteum matinée Jan. 29, captained from memory by András Schiff. The Prague Symphony (1786) emerged in deep, neatly distinguished colors, product of a light string body resonating low on the hall’s cozy platform, with violins divided and a bass on either side. Beguiling flute, oboe and bassoon work did the composer proud; rhythms were pointed smartly. Haydn’s Clock Symphony (1794), after the break, traded elegance and humor as required. Cellos anchored the Cappella’s consistently handsome sound.

Schiff opened and closed the program playing concertos on a modern Bösendorfer: a witty account of Haydn’s D-Major Piano Concerto (1780), its contours inflated and flattered by the warm acoustics; and a gracefully phrased Piano Concerto in A Major, K488 (1786), indeterminate in mood, but with its illusive logic held together convincingly across all three movements. Bravissimo.

Photo © Matthias Baus ISM

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Antonini Works Alcina’s Magic

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Alcina at Opernhaus Zürich in January 2017

Published: January 11, 2017

ZURICH — Christof Loy’s staging of Alcina here, new in 2014 and just revived, imagines a blurred line between a theater troupe’s onstage roles and its members’ backstage passions and asks what it means to break free of illusion — this last substituting for Ariosto’s island magic, happily without demeaning the source. States of mind hinge on costume changes. Multiple stage spaces allow contexts to shift. Neither stylized nor abstract, the scheme advances judiciously on its own logic with nobody the center of attention, until Loy draws together his loose ends to reveal one trouper entrapped: Alcina herself.

At Friday’s performance (Jan. 6), Julie Fuchs sang a girlish and game Morgana with gleaming top notes but no real trill. As her sister the sorceress “queen,” Cecilia Bartoli commanded slenderer tones; extended arias Ah! mio cor! schernito sei! and Mi restano le lagrime, lacking resonance, aurally diluted rather than crowned an earnest, witty portrayal. Varduhi Abrahamyan offered the counterforce of a vocally plush, heroic Bradamante able to trace coloratura flights while sliding half-dressed between genders.

In his Opernhaus Zürich debut, Philippe Jaroussky ornamented Ruggiero’s music more sparingly than he had at Aix-en-Provence eighteen months earlier, for the good. He placed his notes in the service of complete phrases and longer ideas, largely through impeccable dynamic control. His sound: consistently sweet. His Verdi prati seemed frozen in time, floated as it was while he descended steps from the stage in an escape from Loy’s illusion. The contreténor from Maisons-Laffitte later kick-turn danced with the ensemble, sealing a triumph.

But the highest tributes to Händel’s score came from the pit, and not with showiness. Right from the overture, conductor Giovanni Antonini set his priorities: breathing musical lines, gentle accents, unexaggerated dynamics, sharp attacks. Orchestra La Scintilla, devoted to period-performance practice at this ornate 1,100-seat lakeside theater, responded flexibly, with fine internal balances. The strings sounded lush and mellow. There were wonderful wind solos, including from Antonini, who had no trouble leading with his recorder; this partnership began years ago.

Photos © Monika Rittershaus (performance), Philippe Jaroussky (backstage), Opernhaus Zürich (curtain call)

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Winter Discs

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Hippolyte et Aricie at the Palais Garnier in Paris in 2012

Published: March 31, 2015

MUNICH — Arts projects in Europe with any visual aspect to them nowadays migrate to DVD whether or not there is a need, partly to justify public subsidy through distribution. Many are operas filmed too often, like Nationaltheater Mannheim’s just-released Der Ring des Nibelungen, which joins DVD tetralogies from Barcelona, Copenhagen, Erl, Frankfurt, Milan, Stuttgart, Valencia and Weimar issued since 2002. (The same staging nearly bankrupted Los Angeles Opera yet could not be filmed in the movie capital for lack of funds.) Others are more worthy or at least cover rarer material, and generally record labels can license their adventurous content with only modest investment. Here are seven such DVD releases along with some live or live-related European CDs, mostly from recent seasons.

Ivan Alexandre’s staging of Hippolyte et Aricie premiered in 2009 in the intimate Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse. Its fluid interweaving of Rameau’s vocal and dance elements and credible Personenregie adapted to the composer’s pace earned it a transfer to Paris in 2012, now viewable on a 2-DVD Erato set. Alexandre approaches scenography using methods consistent with period practice and potential. Helped by handsome flat designs and tight control of color, the effects were intriguing and refreshing to watch in both cities’ theaters, and happily they advance the story equally well through the camera lens. Indeed the project is of a quality to set beside Jean-Marie Villégier’s legendary Montpellier production of Lully’s Atys and faithful to Rameau’s tragédie lyrique in a way the modish competing Glyndebourne DVD of 2013 could be only in its audio. Dynamic musicianship underpins the effort, with an admirable cast, notably Stéphane Degout as a mellifluous Thésée (pictured, right, aux enfers). Emmanuelle Haïm’s conducting, all elbows and fists, apparently suits her orchestra, Le Concert d’Astrée.

Warner Classics, the new EMI, has issued a Berlin Philharmonic CD pairing live 2012 and 2010 performances of Rachmaninoff’s Kolokola (Bells) and Symphonic Dances. Simon Rattle’s urbane and at times sultry reading of the cantata — the composer called it a choral symphony — disappoints, with his veteran soprano thin-voiced and only Mikhail Petrenko, his bass in the concluding Mournful Iron Bells, injecting much Russian flavor. But in the dances the conductor’s refinement creates an enthralling balance of power and grace, and he presents a progression from the bucolic first movement, through a hardened Andante con moto, to the contrasts and drama of the suite’s lengthy third part. The string sound has bloom and the woodwinds find a huge range of expression and character.

The Pergolesi tricentennial of 2010 did the Jesi-born Neapolitan composer proud, prompting Claudio Abbado’s priceless 3-CD survey of his choral music as well as a 12-DVD “tutto” collection of the operas, filmed in Jesi. Perhaps the richest single work is the comedy Lo frate ’nnamorato, written at the same time as Hippolyte et Aricie but a world away from it (and pointing forwards to Mozart rather than back at Lully). It is ably led by Fabio Biondi in the big set, but Teatro alla Scala in 1989 had a cast for this opera of charming da capo arias that won’t soon be equaled in technique or liveliness, and their RAI-televised work is currently an Opus Arte DVD. Several Italian singers at the start of good careers — Nuccia Focile, Luciana d’Intino, Bernadette Manca di Nissa, Alessandro Corbelli — energize the story of Ascanio (Focile), “the brother enamored” unknowingly of his two sisters and, luckily, a third woman too. It is unavoidably a larger-scale staging than the piece wants, but Roberto de Simone directs the action neatly on a revolving unit set. The orchestral playing has poise and discipline even if Riccardo Muti propels the score at a tad slower pace than would be ideal.

Twelve years after Cecilia Bartoli’s exploratory Decca disc of rare Gluck arias, the label has issued a companion CD introducing German lyric tenor Daniel Behle. Recorded under sponsorship in Athens in 2013, it leaps out of the loudspeakers. The Bavarian composer’s pre-reform music, now more familiar, can still startle in its inventive turns and loose palettes, and Behle, who sang a riveting Tito in the Mozart opera last fall here at the Staatsoper, opts for several pieces that lie high. In two contrasted arias from La Semiramide riconosciuta he copes manfully with technical demands while keeping power in reserve, as he did on stage. Se povero il ruscello from Ezio brings relaxed lyricism and a mellow timbre that caresses the line. The stunning scena that opens La contesa de’ Numi is duly dramatic. But who oversaw this project? Everything is closely miked. Period orchestra Armonia Atenea accompanies vigorously as led by George Petrou, right in your ear. Misplaced vowel sounds from Behle, in the context of generally accurate delivery, were not fixed. And we jump to French arias at the end, familiar ones, including a bizarrely jovial J’ai perdu mon Eurydice. Producers matter.

Stage director Pierre Audi in 2009 combined Iphigénie en Aulide and Iphigénie en Tauride for the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, and Christophe Rousset conducted imaginatively over an extended evening as Euripides’ heroine appeared first as teenager in a Greek port and then as adult exile somewhere in Crimea. Two years later Audi’s literally clunky conception — on metal steps and without backdrop — resurfaced in Amsterdam with a mostly changed cast and, alas, Marc Minkowski defining the music through irksome rhythmic stresses, missing much beauty. There it was filmed. Unenhanceable by camera blocking and with Aulide cut by thirty fine minutes, the production is now an Opus Arte 2-DVD set. Gluck’s first opera has the more lyrically inspired and stately score, with a terrific overture; in Tauride his musical frame is tauter and more overtly theatrical. Véronique Gens and Nicolas Testé excel as the young Iphigénie and her father, while Anne Sofie von Otter returns affectingly to Clytemnestre, a role she recorded 24 years earlier; Frédéric Antoun contributes a credible, unstraining Achille. Tauride revolves around the smart Mireille Delunsch, abetted by Yann Beuron (Pylade), Jean-François Lapointe (Oreste) and Laurent Alvaro (Thoas); all sing with imposing dedication.

The less rare Werther received an uncommonly strong cast at the Bastille home of the Opéra National de Paris in 2010, resulting in a 2-DVD Decca set that is reportedly selling well. Sophie Koch and Jonas Kaufmann impersonate Goethe’s awkward soulmates, both fresh of voice. Originally created for London, Benoît Jacquot’s innocuous yet intriguing, glum and sparse production presents the characters faithfully, the action plainly. Unusually Jacquot serves as video director too, lending style by shooting from behind the scenes and above the proscenium as well as from out front. These angles provide glimpses of the conductor, Michel Plasson, who unfortunately blunts the contrasts in Massenet’s score and weighs it down.

When the French, or at least the Franks, helped the Roman Church standardize chant cycles and structures for worship in order to make the liturgy operable and enforceable across regions, their effort left out Milan. Charlemagne’s 8th-century directives invoking St Gregory encouraged steps to document if not yet notate chants, but in the city where St Ambrose had promoted the Church’s adoption of Latin — his small corpse still lies there wondrously on display — a divergent liturgy prevailed. Canto ambrosiano has accordingly stood apart, its manuscripts complete in one place, unlike the scattered repositories of Gregorian chant. In 2010 the Arcidiocesi di Milano, manager of this legacy, commissioned a book and recordings to survey and better disseminate the chants.

The resulting Antifonale Ambrosiano is invaluable. It reproduces scores in early and modern notation. It details Milan’s chant practices in italiano and truly spans the subject: chants for the Ordinary of the Mass and for the Hours (Vigilie, Lodi, Prima, Terza, Sesta, Nona, Vespri, Compieta), chants proper to seasons and saints, chants with psalm and canticle texts — each in one musical line, most to be sung antiphonally. Although not free of audible splices, the recordings are vivid yet with a resonant aura. Italian women and men sing in glorious Latin (and the vernacular), a joy in itself. The three CDs hold about as much music as Parsifal and are issued, with the book, by Libreria Musicale Italiana, an academic body whose website offers a handy carrello and U.S. shipping.

Then there is Bejun Mehta’s Orlando. The countertenor first personified the mad soldier at Glimmerglass in 2003 and must relish the vocal fireworks and range Händel gives him. A performance in Brussels leaked onto video, but in 2013 the same team reconvened in Bruges for a studio recording that Forum Opéra justly hails as an “Orlando d’une époustouflante intensité.” Mehta rises to every ornamental challenge, adjusts his tone to paint words, sings with evenness from bottom to top, and sounds so believably on the fringes of sanity that a Zoroastrian mend is only logical. Senesino lives. But it is not a one-man show. The other principals likewise inhabit their roles even if they crush countless Italian consonants. Sophie Karthäuser: super trills, too closely miked. Sunhae Im: charm in the voice, sweet-sounding. Kristina Hammarström: a focused alto with smooth, masculine tones. Konstantin Wolff: assured and agile. The conducting lacks subtlety but René Jacobs does support his singers, and Ah! Stigie larve! … Vaghe pupille, the accompagnato climax to Act II, properly showcases Mehta. Engineers of the 2-CD Archiv set alas place the B’Rock Orchestra Ghent far forward, so that even the expertly played harpsichord can grate. Fine, fleet woodwinds announce themselves in the overture.

Equally brilliant on a 2012 disc of seldom-heard Mozart concert arias is Rolando Villazón, the tenor whose voice and career were supposedly kaputt. After streamed (and moving) portrayals of Offenbach’s Hoffmann here at the Staatsoper in late 2011, he went to Abbey Road to make this Deutsche Grammophon CD with the London Symphony Orchestra. There the sound engineers proved that the art of balancing musicians hasn’t been totally lost, and conductor Antonio Pappano proved a resilient foil in the bold, precocious, clever, sad, amusing scores, even gracing one aria with a dryly comic bass voice. The results are essential listening, largely because Villazón gets straight to the heart of every piece and finds all the color, truth and humanity anyone could wish for. Even the juvenile work sounds masterly.

Alexander Pereira’s long years as Intendant at Opernhaus Zürich (1991–2012) brought a wave of sponsors for the company and, significantly, its “cantonization,” making it the charge not just of the city but of a wealthy catchment area reaching to the German border. Pereira had a confident ear for talent, built an ensemble, and gave lead roles to unknown singers like the tenors Piotr Beczala (from 1997), Kaufmann (1999) and Javier Camarena (2007). Working with a quintet of conductors — Nikolaus Harnoncourt, William Christie, Nello Santi, Ádám Fischer and Franz Welser-Möst — he widened the audience for the small house through DVDs, ahead of a trend. Two such projects late in the tenure were Rossini operas led by veteran Muhai Tang, with Bartoli, Liliana Nikiteanu, and Camarena in stagings by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser. These are now out on Decca after a delay, poles apart in nature but both vividly impressive.

Stendhal described Rossini’s Otello, ossia Il moro di Venezia, as “volcanic”; certainly it is an unsettling score and a contrast in sensibility to the other heroic operas. Zurich’s staging straddles the line between tragedy and melodrama, with credible interactions and an inner focus that does not let up. Sparse but graphically textured sets lend a tension of their own. Otello needs three tenors who can cope with a high tessitura and sing accurately through wild embellishments, and these it received when filmed in 2012. John Osborn is a duly martial moro, while the romantic role of Rodrigo is ardently taken by Camarena. The two are phenomenal in Ah vieni, nel tuo sangue, their bilious Act II clash. Edgardo Rocha is skilled as Iago (strictly “Jago”), a smaller role. Bass-baritone Peter Kálmán makes an imposing Elmiro (and Graham Chapman lookalike), but the capable women come across less ideally: Bartoli’s Desdemona machine-gun in delivery and Nikiteanu’s Emilia a deer in the headlights. Tang has the mood of the piece and conducts it with unfailing propulsion.

Great fun is Le comte Ory, a farce that brought down the Swiss house when premiered in Jan. 2011. Anyone who knows it through Bartlett Sher’s misfiring production for the Metropolitan Opera owes it to themselves to see Decca’s DVD: it is full of joie de vivre, keenly observed in its humor by the directing partners despite a seven-century advance in the action to 1950s France. Carlos Chausson sang hilariously at the premiere as the Gouverneur, who has a smug early scene, but he is alas replaced in the video (filmed later) by a discomfited Ugo Guagliardo. That said — and the Gouverneur does fade from the plot — there are outstanding musical turns from the other principals and all play the comedy straight. Bartoli moves from Isolier, the suitor role she sang in Milan long ago, to Adèle, Comtesse de Formoutiers, and is a stitch, literally, as directed, exuding dignity except where circumstance overtakes her. Rebeca Olvera essays a chain-smoking warrior of an Isolier. Nikiteanu is deadpan as Ragonde, making sparing use of emotive poses. Camarena smirks sweetly as the “ermite” but upholds due gravity as “Soeur Colette”; he and Oliver Widmer, the excellent Raimbaud, parade the virtues of ensemble acting as well as singing, not to mention comic timing. Tang and the orchestra breezily convey the score’s spirit.

Against the odds, Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten (1964) has become a repertory opera in German-speaking lands. The visionary magnum opus with its depraved storyline sanctions a grab bag of what are now Regietheater clichés, magnified by pluralism, simultaneous scenes and surround sound. Its 110 minutes embrace various musical forms and want a massive orchestra, plus jazz combo, such that, all told, the composer’s concept remains barely feasible. Recent stagings in Salzburg (2012), Zurich (2013*) and Munich (2014*) inevitably went their separate ways; the first, by Alvis Hermanis, is now a EuroArts DVD. Filmed in the Felsenreitschule and presenting a row of arched vignettes mimicking the venue’s rock-carved backdrop, it is preset for simultaneous drama. But once adjusted to the tritone stills of vintage porn backed by live-action images of walking horses, masturbating soldiers and Peeping Toms, the viewer tires of the left-and-right back-and-forth. A striking cast is headed by Laura Aikin as Marie; Ingo Metzmacher works magically with a somewhat backwardly balanced Vienna Philharmonic, not heard with the impact experienced at the venue.

[*Presumably in the DVD pipeline, worth or not worth the wait. Zurich’s has Marc Albrecht conducting a Calixto Bieito concept (less refinement, more degradation, spatially restricted and with lesser musical forces); Munich’s offers Kirill Petrenko on the podium and Andreas Kriegenburg directing traffic (less sex, more clichés). John Rhodes on the Swiss show: “Most sexual perversions and some torture were presented quite graphically … . Marie was in a constant state of undress. At the end she poured blood on herself and stood … as though crucified at the front of the stage.” In Munich the opening scene was overplayed, weakening what followed. Kriegenburg’s box-based staging offered unedifying and in the end unenlightening views, but Petrenko presided over an inflamed Bavarian State Orchestra and a superb cast centered on Barbara Hannigan’s Marie.]

Still image from video © Warner Classics

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