Posts Tagged ‘Felsenreitschule’

Netrebko, Barcellona in Aida

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Aida at Salzburg Festival 2017

Published: August 30, 2017

SALZBURG — Qualitative upticks at the main festival here have heralded Markus Hinterhäuser’s installment as Intendant after a shaky two-summer void. The priority, it appears, is music itself over theater or opera, as might be expected from a boss who is also a professional pianist. Hinterhäuser is retaining the Ouverture spirituelle, a costly 2012 innovation of predecessor Alexander Pereira that ensures a big window for sacred music, and he is returning strength to the chamber-music slate. In a newly staged Aida and a fresh take on La clemenza di Tito this month, the pleasures were musical alone.

Riccardo Muti prepared and led the Verdi, heard at the Großes Festspielhaus fortuitously on Aug. 16 when Anna Netrebko and Daniela Barcellona faced off as the princesses — graduates of Donizetti and Rossini, respectively, and both rich of tone, secure, unstinting, and able to wield the Italian text to exact expressive purpose, generating sequences of actual drama.

One such occurred in the first scene. Barcellona’s Amneris hurled out the imperative Ritorna vincitor! with enough power and point to spin all of Act I around these two words. Muti’s forces — the Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Vienna Philharmonic — emblazoned the mandate with thunderous intensity, leaving Netrebko’s Aida to wanly echo it not as some affront, as many do, but as reason to fear. Her scena rose naturally from the thought, shaped with clear words, dark rumination, ravishing high notes, wondrous floats — this was a steadier performance than for the Aug. 12 video-stream — culminating in a Numi, pietà that would have melted the heart of the stoniest deity, before she promptly vanished, ovationless, as Verdi instructs.

Barcellona’s own brilliant highs and roundness of sound in the middle octave produced exciting duets and ensemble work. A tall actress, she regally commanded her scenes yet managed to convey vulnerability, and in Act IV she slid poignantly from bitterness to remorse — a woman, never the fire-eater — so that the dwindling string parts seemed to trace her fate as much as those of Aida and Radamès, closing the opera perfectly.

Probably the credit belonged with Muti for that last feat, and certainly the sensitive legato in Francesco Meli’s work as Radamès suggested keen preparation, an improvement on his Manrico here two summers ago (when Gianandrea Noseda conducted). Meli sounded best after Act I, his heady metallic timbre acquiring plushness as the action progressed, but he sang with elegance of line all through.

Luca Salsi exuded fatherly authority as Amonasro, sustaining long phrases on a single breath. Dmitry Belosselsky summoned requisite thrust for Ramfis, a stern but precise capo dei sacerdoti, aptly gruff of tone. Most impressive of all, measure for measure, was the true Italian basso of Roberto Tagliavini singing the Rè d’Egitto. Tall like his Amneris, he projected clarion words and mellifluous, weighty tones, apparently without the slightest effort.

After Netrebko’s plea and the brief scene investing Radamès for war — that is, after Act I — the maestro from Molfetta took a full intermission. He had paced this unit of the opera slowly on the whole, at 44 minutes, but had built into it latent strengths, enforcing piani and saying something new with each measure, even in the chanting and dancing, so that Nume, custode e vindice packed more punch than usual and the act could fully balance, not just precede, the one following. An intermission for combat felt only logical.

Out in the lobby, by Café Tomaselli’s (welcome) ice-cream cart, a none-too-sanguine-looking Mariss Jansons engaged in animated chat. The whole crowd in fact seemed stirred if not shaken by the rancor in Memphis. But Aida reverts to human dimensions the moment it has proclaimed its context, and Muti in the next scene elicited the lightest, most mercurial textures for the attendants’ and slaves’ music, choral and orchestral, as if tracing the thoughts of Amneris — leaving Barcellona to gamely play these out on Netrebko.

The conductor supported his singers’ breathing throughout, tending to encourage beauty of phrase and expression. He executed pristine shifts of tempo, tending to inject urgency and sharpen contrasts. He remembered to dance: to honor rhythmic impulses on the instant and ripely characterize them. Best of all, he erred on the side of dynamic restraint, permitting but never urging high decibels.

So this was an Aida on the composer’s terms, nowhere more virtuosic than in its second Thebes scene. Muti finely shaded the women’s and priests’ interludes in the opening Gloria all’Egitto e ad Iside. In the marcia trionfale, what looked like the meter-long, straight, single-rotary-valve C trumpets Karajan used — in place of Verdi’s trombe egiziane in A-flat and B-natural — rang out with immaculate intonation and thrilling antiphony across the gaping stage. The ballabile had infectious rhythm. Salsi’s smooth, obsequious Ma tu, Rè, tu signore possente offset neatly Tagliavini’s grand edicts. The tutti after the priests’ rejection of clemency made its ominous impact, and the Finale’s last section unfolded with tautness.

Each time he entered the pit Muti magnetized attention, and when he trod out it was with the bearing of a mortician, as people roared approval in vanity-stroking counterpoint. But he properly took the remaining three scenes without a formal break, returning in Act III to the stately speeds of the opera’s first two scenes. Netrebko rose to the stipulated dolce high C to conclude O patria mia after conveying that aria’s sense of reflection with exquisite tones, and she and Meli blended tidily for O terra, addio. Barcellona dominated Scene I of Act IV before injecting genuine grief at the close, as noted, to cap a proud Salzburg Festival stage* debut.

Italians in four of the lead roles in this hard-to-cast opera; expert choristers (aided by their confinement to the staging’s Brutalist box structures and by stage-direction prescribing little movement); and Vienna’s orchestra playing with more abandon than for opening night (Aug. 6, as broadcast by BR Klassik) or the video-stream — negating impressions of a musically stilted, dramatically aloof presentation, though these had borne out Muti’s 38-year hiatus from the score and the hiring of a stage director who is really a photographer — reinforced the belief that Salzburg is the one place where ingredients of such quality can come together.

Teodor Currentzis led a vigorous, aurally colorful, not especially elegant traversal of Mozart’s Roman opera Aug. 17 in the Felsenreitschule, with tight support from the Choir and Orchestra MusicAeterna of Perm Opera, or, more precisely, the Choir and Orchestra of Teodor Currentzis. His cast toiled diligently. Golden-toned Golda Schultz acted credibly but sounded overparted as Vitellia in this venue. Marianne Crebassa made a compelling but hyperactive Sesto, not especially sumptuous of voice. She was much cheered after Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio, for the obbligato to which Perm’s clarinetist slunk around her on stage. Reprising a title role he sang at the Met five years ago, Russell Thomas projected his voice with focus and musical authority. The smaller roles of Annio (Jeanine de Bique), Servilia (Christina Gansch) and Publio (Willard White) were adequately sung. At curtain, Currentzis drew wild, really quite bizarre applause, louder than for any cast member.

Neither of the two stagings will be much welcomed going forward. Shirin Neshat’s scheme for Aida, another essay in lens-obedient, firm, gray surfaces that bathe in any light and reflect any color but take us nowhere, features stiff, contrived action hampered and dwarfed by the box structures. Our engagement hinges on costumes, lighting, and initiatives by the singing actors. And Salzburg’s safety curtain more closely evokes Pharaonic Egypt than the commissioned sets. Peter Sellars’ realization of Tito, conversely, has too much fluidity and parades a number of old clichés, many of them Sellars’ own. The idea of intravenous infusions for a bedridden emperor proves especially irksome.

[*She and Netrebko sang I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the festival in 2004 under Ivor Bolton, but in concert. Her career is evolving. October, for instance, brings Schumann and Brahms songs at La Scala.]

Photos © Monika Rittershaus (set; Meli with Netrebko), Marco Borrelli (Barcellona; Barcellona with Netrebko), Franz Neumayr (Muti and Netrebko at curtain call)

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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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Mozartwoche: January’s Peace

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Winter view south-east from the Mönchsberg in Salzburg

Published: February 15, 2016

SALZBURG — There is a pleasure in arriving in Salzburg with snow on the ground. Or maybe the word is reassurance: the city will be real, not a theme park; the people mostly locals, despite the hollowing out of property ownership here; the profile quiet, even intimate, affording a chance to connect with the past. Of Salzburg’s festivals, the snowiest inevitably is Mozartwoche, planned and manned by the Mozarteum to straddle the composer’s birthday, often by more than a week. Last year’s edition achieved a coup by returning horses to the Felsenreitschule, for Davidde penitente as realized by “French equine artist and theatrical genius” Bartabas; next year, managers Marc Minkowski and Matthias Schulz let Bartabas loose on Mozart’s Requiem (Mel Brooks having declined) and promise some thirty concerts besides, including three by the Vienna Philharmonic, with Haydn as “focus composer.”

Mozartwoche 2016, placing Mendelssohn in focus, opened Jan. 22 with spoken words lauding the long contribution of Nikolaus Harnoncourt not only to Mozart’s music but specifically to this festival, where he was again due to conduct before declaring several weeks ago his instant retirement. The packed day teamed Katia et Marielle Labèque with the Mozarteum-Orchester in the morning, continued at 3 p.m. with an András Schiff recital, and ended soberly with Mozart masses at the Großes Festspielhaus led by John Eliot Gardiner. Rewards were many, irritations few.

The matinee sorely needed a conductor to temper dynamics and coordinate the shaping of lines. Where was Ivor Bolton? It began with a Mendelssohn Trumpet Overture (MWV P2, 1826) that knew no piano. Next came Mozart’s E-flat-Major Concerto for Two Pianos (1781) and chronically clunky phrasing by the French sisters; this was redeemed somewhat by a neatly sprung Rondo. Quality rose with a still loud, yet spry, Schauspieldirektor Overture (1786), the music’s inventiveness laid out vividly. The teenage exuberance of Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E Major for Two Pianos (MWV O5, 1823), in conclusion, proved a good match for the Labèques; alas they then imposed a duo encore (and an insipid one, the last of Glass’s Four Movements for Two Pianos, 2008) to ruin our exit.

The Mozarteum’s Conrad-Graf-Flügel and Walter-Hammerflügel (1839 and 1782) stood side by side on the platform for Schiff’s recital. Mendelssohn came first: the Variations sérieuses (1841) and the F-sharp-Minor Sonate écossaise (1833), played on the later instrument with its charming pearly highs and fuzzy, attenuated lows. Schiff made inspired sense of the lines in both works and bound Mendelssohn’s ideas together expertly without shying from a breakneck pace where needed. The Walter’s clarity and evenness through the range made a stark contrast, its modest sound easy to settle into in this artist’s hands. Ideal tempos and immaculate voicing sustained Mozart’s late major-key sonatas, in C (für Anfänger), B-flat and D; the poise of Schiff’s playing overcame passing glitches.

Gardiner’s highly musical, not especially spiritual, reading of the Große Messe K427 (1783) closely resembled the adjusted Aloys Schmitt reconstruction he recorded in London decades ago. His crisp rhythms and airy textures, and the way these flattered the score’s abundant lyricism, seemed designed to please, as if Mozart had composed the truncated service just for today’s Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. From this listener’s seat, vocal soloists Amanda Forsythe, Hannah Morrison (sopranos), Gareth Treseder (tenor) and Alex Ashworth (bass) could not be seen or properly heard, but the choir, also mostly out of view, sounded disciplined. Orchestrally it was a performance with resilience, wary balances, individual style; veteran sackbuttist ‎Stephen Saunders managed to nod off during Forsythe’s Et incarnatus est, nearly losing his instrument off the riser’s edge. A horseless Mozart Requiem followed the break; for practical reasons we could not stay.

Photo © Tourismus Salzburg

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Salzburg Coda

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Academy of St Martin In the Fields

Published: October 31, 2014

SALZBURG — Alexander Pereira is now gone from the main festival here, and two tenuous summers are in the offing before Markus Hinterhäuser replaces him as Intendant in 2017. His exit, under a cloud, ends a budget tempest but threatens reversals of worthy initiatives he took: lengthening the schedule to six weeks, deepening the commitment to sacred music, insisting on fresh stagings for opera. Pereira did not adapt to the old-boy (and old-girl) Salzburg bureaucracy but he restored an element of decisiveness that had been lacking since Karajan and later Mortier ran things. And despite fiscal overages and gripes about casting, his programs were a Karajanesque blend of tradition and vetted novelty, exemplified on three August days in the paired artistry of Vilde Frang and Michail Lifits; concerts by the Mozarteum-Orchester and the Academy of St Martin In the Fields; and new productions of Fierrabras and La Cenerentola.

Peter Stein, wise yet out of fashion, told Schubert’s 1823 Carolingian tale straight, using monochrome flats and simple lighting tricks to paint and speed between differentiated, handsome scenes (Aug. 22, Haus für Mozart). His target: the seated theater audience, not roving DVD cameras. He stressed Christian values of compassion and peace, contrasting the vehemence of the Moors; Fierrabras was Fierrabras, destined for conversion, not an impersonation of the composer. But coarse horn playing marred the presentation of a score much dependent on that instrument, and conductor Ingo Metzmacher tended to allow the Vienna Philharmonic winds to swamp the luscious strings, the orchestra to swamp the singers. Of the six principal roles, Julia Kleiter’s silvery-voiced Emma did the music fullest justice. The Vienna State Opera Chorus sang magnificently, also magically.

Taking for La Cenerentola the opposite but these days routine path, Damiano Michieletto deployed hard-surface, camera-friendly sets and updated Perrault’s story (Aug. 23 matinee, same venue). His homey cafeteria, “Buffet Don Magnifico,” buzzed with credible characters and tightly calibrated action; a startling scenic transformation added depth. Angelina, in her middle years, found love at first sight while busing tables, and goodness triumphed at the close through gifts to her wedding guests: rubber gloves, buckets and soap; as those guests were put to work, she blew bubbles. In a probable farewell to this signature role, Cecilia Bartoli (48) exerted feisty charm, her sound opulent, the vocal ornaments expressive and fresh as ever. Mirroring her comedic sincerity, Javier Camarena sang a stylish Ramiro and a modest one, too, until Sì, ritrovarla io giuro. This he peppered with loud highs and a long last C brightened in a timbral arc. The basso roles were contrasted: Enzo Capuano a bully of a Magnifico with lucid patter and smooth legato, Ugo Guagliardo a cupid-magician Alidoro of rich tones but somewhat graceless phrasing, and Nicola Alaimo a robust Dandini who overplayed his comic hand. Jean-Christophe Spinosi and the Brest-based Ensemble Matheus rose to the witty occasion.

Tour appearances by the 55-year-old London orchestra (same day, at the Felsenreitschule) haven’t always validated the high standards of its early records. This one did. Tomo Keller’s work as guest concertmaster blazed with virtuosity and seemed to ignite all desks. Although uncredited by the festival, he led Mendelssohn’s D-Minor Sinfonia (1822) by himself, finding elegance and mature ideas as well as precision in the four movements. Seven winds and conductor Murray Perahia then joined the 24 strings for an exceptionally refined reading of Haydn’s Symphony No. 77 (1782) filled with neat contrasts and fresh turns of phrase; the airy Andante sostenuto could have spun for an hour without losing appeal. After the break, Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto (1809) emerged in fluid streams of sound, the rhetoric measured, the attacks vivid. Perahia deftly balanced poetry and drama, piano and orchestra, signaling with his arms when not occupied at the keyboard.

Ivor Bolton, beloved Chefdirigent of the Mozarteum-Orchester, sandwiched ardent arias of Gluck and Mozart between G-Minor Sturm und Drang symphonies (Aug. 24 matinee, Mozarteum), packing quite a punch. Resilient rhythms, vigorous angular themes and tidy dynamic shifts enlivened Haydn’s Symphony No. 39 (1765), capped by an Allegro di molto that expertly whirred along. In Mozart’s Symphony No. 25, written eight years later and inspired by the Haydn, Bolton elicited equal cohesion and propulsion, favoring tautness over repose, but the volume of sound pushed the limits of the 800-seat hall. Rolando Villazón brought astounding degrees of verbal expression and ample vocal luster to his three Mozart arias — Per pietà, non ricercate (1783), Or che il dover (1766) and, as vehicle for clowning, Con ossequio, con rispetto (1775) — buoyed and gamely resisted by Bolton and the orchestra. In Gluck’s Unis dès la plus tendre enfance, from Iphigénie en Tauride (1779), the tenor delivered the French words with operatic flair.

After the recital by Frang and Lifits (same day, same venue), one woman asserted aloud that Frang couldn’t possibly play the violin to full potential for lack of flow in her body movements, while another attendee bemoaned pianist Lifits’s gum-chewing facial mannerisms. What was certain was that two unique personalities had made music. They combined best in the pieces that opened and closed their program, Brahms’s Scherzo for the Frei aber einsam Sonata (1853) and Strauss’s similarly confident and classically formed E-flat Sonata (1888). Results: clear lines, passionate phrasing, ideal balances, a definite sense of structure. Lifits could be heavy in the left hand and seemed not always aware of his partner, but she proved able to enlarge her tone when she chose, adding volatility. The stylistic jump from Brahms to Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E-flat, K481 (1785), had the effect of Frang receding: Tashkent-born Lifits played as if on solid ground and the Oslo violinist looked happy to let him dominate, especially in the crisply articulated Allegretto. Beethoven’s A-Major Sonata, Op. 30/1 (1802), after the Pause, suffered slow tempos and a lack of drama.

Where the Salzburg Festival goes now, post Pereira, will be partly evident next month when the 2015 summer plans are announced. In all likelihood there will be cost-cutting to counter past overages, such as for 2013 when a reported $5 million went out the door beyond the approved $76 million. Once Hinterhäuser fills the Intendant void, the danger is of a well-bookkept but artistically dithering institution — a return, in effect, to qualities of the ten summers preceding Pereira’s 2012 arrival; Hinterhäuser, a pianist, participated in management for some of those years and is not known as a forceful character. The compass at present is with Sven-Eric Bechtolf, grandly styled “Artistic Master Planner 2015 and 2016” (a promotion from heading just the theater programming), and the festival’s indomitable Cost-Cutter-in-Chief, a.k.a. Präsidentin, Helga Rabl-Stadler.

Photo © Silvia Lelli

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