Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Hampson’

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

Related posts:
Petrenko’s Rosenkavalier
Verdi’s Lady Netrebko
See-Through Lulu
Petrenko’s Sharper Boris
Manon, Let’s Go

RCO Anniversary Extravaganza

Friday, April 12th, 2013

By Rebecca Schmid

If tradition means not preserving the ashes but fanning the flames, in the words of Gustav Mahler, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is celebrating its 125th anniversary with one foot firmly planted in the past and the other striding fearlessly into the future. Between a tour of six continents this season, the orchestra gave an anniversary concert on April 10 at its home concert hall, the Concertgebouw, founded the same year as the orchestra, in 1888, with an official opening on April 11. For modern-day residents of the Netherlands, this month also marks an important time in politics. Queen Beatrix will soon cede the throne to Prince Willem-Alexander, making him the country’s first King since 1890. The event honored the royal family, in attendance with Princess Máxima—soon-to-be Queen and the orchestra’s official patron—with red carpeting and black-tie dress. But the RCO, a crowned exception on the Netherlands’ tenuous landscape of budget slashes to the arts, does not take its status for granted. The entire proceeds of the concert, which featured three soloists—Thomas Hampson, Janine Jansen and Lang Lang—in a program of late 19th and turn-of-the-century repertoire alongside a new work by Dutch composer Bob Zimmerman, will be invested in educational outreach.

The RCO, which enjoyed close relationships with Mahler and Strauss under the 50-year tenure of Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg, has not only kept this music flowing in its veins but performs in a hall which provides an ideal acoustic environment for the luxurious strings, golden brass and sumptuous dynamic architecture that emerges under Music Director Mariss Jansons (winner of this year’s Ernst von Siemens Prize, otherwise known as the classical world’s ‘Nobel’). The Concertgebouw was modelled after the Gewandhaus in Leipzig but, unlike its German counterpart, survived World War Two. Inaugurating a new era for the building, projection screens hung in gilded frames on each side of the stage, providing a canvas for historical images and artists’ commentary much in the style of the Beyond the Score series initiated by the Chicago Symphony or the multi-media presentations of the New World Symphony in Miami.

Hampson, before taking the stage for Mahler songs from the Knaben Wunderhorn cycle and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, praised the RCO musicians on video for a “desire to be true to the master” that is “hugely more evident than in other places,” referring to composer as “one of their own.” The ambient whirring that opened and closed the footage may have lent his comments a clichéd tone, but the unforced beauty of the orchestra in Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld or the perfectly shaped rubati of Rheinlegenden lived up to the baritone’s elation. Hampson, one of few singers today who is able to capture Mahler’s searing irony, was at his best in the final Lob des hohen Verstandes, supported by the orchestra’s playful woodwinds and the fresh energy of its low strings. The swelling of individual lines that Jansons was able to achieve in Rheinlegenden found an even more powerful outlet in the suite from Strauss’ Rosenkavalier, penned in 1944 with the relationship of the Marschallin and Octavian at its center. Waltzes floated through the hall with warm nostalgia, and slow, tender passages glowed with burning intensity under Jansons’ inviting gestures.

He may be the only conductor who could have brought together string players from the Concertgebouw, his Bavarian Radio Symphony, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Berlin Philharmonic—the latter being the only two orchestras where he guest conducts. The ensemble created an impressive homogeneity of tone in the Elégie from Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, with a silky pianissimo and crescendi that breathed further and further into celestial rapture. Saint-Saëns’ Introduction et Rondo capriccioso received an affecting performance with Dutch violinist Jansen as soloist, whose fierce communication powers lent fast passages vibrancy and spunk. Lang, having described the third movement of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto onscreen as a “kind of war,” demonstrated a virtuosity so clean as to border on mechanical but created a wild energy with the orchestra in the final stretch.

Zimmerman’s Komt vrieden in het ronden, a neo-Romantic set of variations on a well-known Dutch folk song, fit well with the rest of the program and gave equal spotlight to all three soloists—an occasion that is not likely to be repeated. The audience laughed in amusement upon Hampson’s first entrance, while Lang was the King of Piano Cool as he read through the score. Jansen invested her lines with more personal expression in the music’s circular exchanges built on conventional harmonic schemes. The program opened with the prelude from Wagner’s Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which was performed for the inauguration of the building 125 years ago. Jansons drew a sound that was rich but never bombastic. The conductor’s humility was more than apparent during standing ovations for the extravagant occasion. Despite a high dose of old world charm, the evening was mostly memorable for the RCO’s fresh, exciting musicianship that invested even the most familiar Romantic works with new meaning. Surely this is the essential ingredient for every orchestra—even if it doesn’t bear the title of the “world’s greatest,” as bestowed by Gramophone Magazine in 2008—as its preserves its legacy while forging a path into the complex demands of the 21st century.

Short Takes on a Busy Week

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

by Sedgwick Clark

Three Operas

Far be it for this occasional operagoer to butt heads with Peter G. Davis in a work I barely know. “What are you doing at an Italian opera performance?” he asked me in feigned horror on opening night of the Met’s revival of Verdi’s Macbeth (3/15). “I’m here for the conducting—why else?” I replied, and was pleased to read in his review LINK that we agreed on Gianandrea Noseda’s “maximum of lyrical intensity and dramatic energy—Verdi conducting doesn’t come much better than this.” (Why isn’t Noseda conducting regularly at the New York Philharmonic???) On the other hand, Peter also praised Adrian Noble’s “bold and fearless” 2007 updating of Shakespeare’s Scotland to “a fantasy world that suggests a period roughly around the end of World War II.” Such concepts alienate me; I believe that an intelligent audience will have no difficulty apprehending the composer’s intention in a traditional staging. Most of the time, therefore, my eyes were glommed onto the MetTitles. Thomas Hampson conveyed the weak-willed Macbeth well, if a bit reticently. Verdi said that vocal beauty was not important for Lady M, and Nadja Michael filled the bill; but she emanates sex and temperament aplenty, and I look forward to hearing her in a more refined role—say, Salome or Wozzeck’s Marie. On CD my preference remains Leinsdorf’s 1959 Met recording on RCA with Leonard Warren, Leonie Rysanek, and Carlo Bergonzi.

No problems with the next evening at the Met (3/16)—a superbly sung L’Elisir d’Amore with Juan Diego Flórez (whose shenanigans when he drank the elixir were hilarious) and Mariusz Kwiecien in hot pursuit of Diana Damrau. Peter and I were equally charmed by the 1991 production’s pastel candied sets, but this Saturday matinee is their last hurrah. Catch it if you can!

Leon Botstein may look like a mortician when he takes his bows, but he was at his salesman best in extolling the virtues of the late-Romantic Austrian composer Franz Schmidt in a pre-concert lecture. Franz Who? “He was a fabulous composer.” The occasion was LB’s American Symphony unearthing of the composer’s Notre Dame—which, presumably for marketing reasons, was called “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in the advertisements—at Carnegie Hall (3/18). “This is a terrific opera. . . . The music is spectacular. . . . It deserves a production.” To an audience member who asked why he was drawn to forgotten music, he said, wryly, “I like slow starters and also-rans. I hate prodigies and competition winners.” This was the personal Botstein we wish for on the podium, and darned if the opera didn’t deserve it. While I can’t agree that Notre Dame is “the equal of any opera on the stage today,” its Wagner-Bruckner-Strauss-Mahler harmonic impasto is a consistent pleasure to hear (“lovely” was the word most bandied around at intermission), and of course it has a compelling story. Let me add my vote to the reviews of Leslie Kandell in LINK and Vivien Schweitzer in the Times that it does deserve a production and Botstein is the man to do it. His conducting and the orchestra’s playing had passion, commitment, and precision, and the singers were uniformly capable, with the leads more so: bass Burak Bilgili as Quasimodo, soprano Lori Guilbeau as Esmeralda, and baritone Stephen Powell as the Archdeacon. The Collegiate Chorale Singers were fine, although it would be nice if they could stand up in unison at curtain time.

Paganini Caprices Humanized

The prospect of hearing all 24 of Paganini’s devilishly difficult Caprices in a single evening, rat-a-tat-tat, seemed rather a chore on the face of it. But Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine invested the music with warmth and ease, without stinting an iota on the composer’s fabled virtuosity. Moreover, at suitable intervals she interspersed engaging, often witty comments about the works and the composer that kept the evening moving agreeably. For an encore she performed her own Introduction and Variations on “God Defend New Zealand.” The nearly full house at Rockefeller University’s acoustically attractive Caspary Auditorium (3/21), on the far easterly reaches of Manhattan, caused one to wonder why this talented artist—praised by Harris Goldsmith as a notable up and comer in the 2004 Musical America Directory—isn’t heard regularly at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center? Listen to her new Çedille CD “Capricho Latino” and see if you agree.

Murray Perahia, an “Old Master” at His Best

Few are the artists who can lure me back from the country prematurely to hear a Sunday afternoon concert of standards. Murray Perahia is one. Where many attend concerts to hear cherished artists, I’ve always been a repertoire man. My favorites mostly reside in the 20th century. But someone has to carry on tradition, and for my money no one can touch Perahia, as exemplified on Sunday afternoon at Avery Fisher Hall (3/25) in works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Chopin. Moreover, I much prefer solo piano in Fisher over Carnegie’s wetter acoustic, and at this concert Perahia’s American Steinway glowed with the tonal beauty and digital dexterity of the old masters at their best.

A Master Clarinetist at 27

Remember the name: Moran Katz. She’s terrific—a young Israeli clarinetist hailed by Harris Goldsmith in the 2011 Musical America Directory. He wrote of her “magnificent color, agility, and breath control” being “magically persuasive in the early Romantics,” and also of her devotion to contemporary music—all of which she demonstrated vividly in John Adams’s clarinet concerto, Gnarly Buttons, at Zankel Hall soon after the Perahia recital. It’s one of Adams’s most attractive works, witty, virtuosic, but also verging on profundity in the final movement, which Katz rendered movingly. There’s star quality here, waiting for the right management.

The admirable Ensemble ACJW, directed on this occasion by David Robertson, also impressed in Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto for 13 Instruments.

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

3/28 Carnegie Hall. San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas; Emanuel Ax, piano. Ruggles: Sun-Treader. Feldman: Piano and Orchestra. Ives: A Concord Symphony (orch. Brant).

3/29 Zankel Hall. Members of the San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas; Kiera Duffy, soprano; Paul Jacobs, organ; Mason Bates, electronics; Newband; Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Partch: Daphne of the Dunes. Mason Bates: Mass Transmission. Harrison: Concerto for Organ and Percussion Orchestra. Del Tredici: Syzygy.

3/30 Zankel Hall. Members of the San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas, host; Jeffrey Milarsky, conductor; Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble; Joan La Barbara, vocalist; Jeremy Denk, piano. Monk: Realm Variations. Reich: Music for Pieces of Wood. Foss: Echoi. Subotnick: Jacob’s Room: Monodrama.

4/2 Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space. Cutting Edge Concerts/Victoria Bond, host. Danjam Orchestra, with Peter McNeely, piano; Rufus Müller, tenor; Jenny Lin, piano. Paul Barnes, piano. Daniel Jamieson: Phantasm; A Desperate Act. Jim McNeely: Tod und Feuer; Der Seiltänzer. Victoria Bond: Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming. N. Lincoln Hanks: Monstre Sacré.

4/3 Alice Tully Hall. Juilliard Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen. Sibelius: Pohjola’s Daughter. Beethoven: Symphony No. 7.