Posts Tagged ‘Kirill Petrenko’

MPhil Bosses Want Continuity

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

Valery Gergiev and Munich Philharmonic Intendant Paul Müller in 2017

Published: January 31, 2018

MUNICH — Contrary to a London blog report yesterday, nothing has been “locked down” with regard to a contract extension for Valery Gergiev at the Munich Philharmonic, though things are indeed moving in that direction, for practical more than artistic reasons.

What has happened is that Hans-Georg Küppers, Kulturreferent of the City of Munich, which operates the orchestra, has gone public with his resolve to recommend a full five-year renewal for the Russian maestro to the city council at its scheduled Feb. 21 meeting. Any contract-signing would naturally take place later.

Küppers, MPhil Intendant Paul Müller (pictured last year with Gergiev), and Munich Bürgermeister Dieter Reiter are all inclined on continuity because 2020, when the present contract expires, heralds the lengthy and probably tortuous closure of the MPhil’s Gasteig home for gutting — at which time the musicians must decamp for a temporary wooden hall next to a power plant up the Isar River.

Gergiev has been no more of a musical success here than anyone predicted, but the high tensions around his friendship with Vladimir Putin — at fever pitch in 2013 when he was hired — have abated, and artistic decision-making since he began his tenure 29 months ago has gone smoothly.

Regarding other jobs around town, rumors persist that Vladimir Jurowski has joined Andris Nelsons im Gespräch for Kirill Petrenko’s position as Generalmusikdirektor at Bavarian State Opera. Petrenko steps down in fall 2020 after an unprecedented single season as head both of Germany’s largest opera company and of the Berlin Philharmonic. No rumors are yet floating about a successor to, or a renewal for, Mariss Jansons, whose contract at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is up one year after Gergiev’s.

Photo © Florian Emanuel Schwarz

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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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Scrotum al factotum

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

The Venusberg of Machines

Published: May 16, 2017

MUNICH — Nikolaus Bachler’s Bavarian State Opera has been having its idea of fun with the taxpayer money it receives. In connection with a new Tannhäuser, due May 21, it commissioned for its quarterly Max Joseph magazine a discussion of Wagner’s bacchanale of distant bathing naiads and sedate sirens and downstage (dressed) nymphs. The resulting eleven-section essay by Georg Seeßlen, titled “The Venusberg of Machines,” imagines robots in place of the various classes of ladies, and to ram home this idea BStO further commissioned pictures by Piotr Wyrzykowski, the “media artist” from Gdańsk. Seeßlen’s thinking might have been anticipated by Intendant Bachler. His book credits include: The Pornographic Film (1990), Natural-Born Nazis (1996), Orgasm and Everyday Life (2000), Quentin Tarantino Against the Nazis (2010), Sex Fantasies in the High-Tech World, I to III: Do Androids Dream of Electronic Orgasms?; The Virtual Garden of Pleasures; and Future Sex in Queertopia (collectively 2012), and, his latest, Trump! Populism as Policy. Wagner’s opera will be conducted by Kirill Petrenko and staged by Romeo Castellucci, with of course a separate budget and concept. Tickets run as high as €293 using a new BStO pricing scale. Bachler is the magazine’s publisher; “overall coordination” is by Christoph Koch, the press officer.

Picture © Piotr Wyrzykowski

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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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Harteros Warms to Tosca

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Anja Harteros and Bryn Terfel

Published: July 17, 2016

MUNICH — When Anja Harteros was singing her first Toscas three seasons ago, it was clear she had the vocal resources for the role, and the Mediterranean temperament. Even so, the portrayal didn’t quite compute.

Enter Bryn Terfel, a Scarpia to rattle the aloofest, longest-legged of prima donnas. And Jonas Kaufmann, trusted stage buddy, sweet Cavaradossi. Now the diva’s doubt, fear, passion and rage turn on the instant, her slashing knife grip extending a ferrous will.

Harteros fairly lived the part July 1 here at the National Theater, teamed as she must have wanted and apparently undeterred by Luc Bondy’s clunky 2009 stage conception. Warm chest tones and creamy highs, floated or hurled, came into thrilling dramatic focus this time around. Illica and Giacosa’s words made inexorable sense, the Attavanti canvas and Terfel’s guts sure targets.

The tenor, too, had a great night: astutely colored phrases, gleaming top notes, a clarion but unexaggerated Vittoria! For once, E lucevan le stelle emerged as spontaneous thought, always in Kaufmann’s wonderfully lucid Italian.

If the mighty Welshman sounded a smidgen less opulent of voice than in previous Munich Scarpias, his characterization was as potent as ever, and his savoring of Puccini’s lines most enjoyable.

The snag, alas, was Kirill Petrenko’s conducting. Forceful and weighty, it never felt rooted in the language it was supposedly driving. Still, a terrific night for the Munich Opera Festival, and nowhere more refined than during Io de’ sospiri as sung by the Tölzer Knabenchor’s uncredited soloist.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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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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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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More Random Thoughts on Bayreuth

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

By: Frank Cadenhead

The Austrian newspaper, Der Kurier, let drop a great deal of information about what to expect in the future for the Bayreuth Festival. The new Ring in 2020, to the surprise of many, will not be conducted by the new Music Director of the festival, Christian Thielemann, but rather the Boston Symphony’s Andris Nelsons with American soprano Christine Goerke chalked in to sing Brunnhilde. She will be singing the complete Ring when the Robert Lepage production returns to the state at the Metropolitan Opera, it has been announced. Hints are that Dimitri Tcherniakov will be creating the new Bayreuth production.

The 2016 Parsifal will also feature Andris Nelsons and will be staged by Uwe Eric Laufenberg with Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role. The 2017 performances will star Andreas Schager. That same year, Die Meistersinger will return with a new production by Barrie Kosky with Vogt as Stolzing and Michael Volle as Sachs. The 2018 Lohengrin will be conducted by Thielemann and staged by Alvis Hermanis with Roberto Alagna in the title role and Anna Netrebko as Else. There will be a new Tannhäuser staged by Tobias Kratzer in 2019. In addition to Goerke for the Ring in 2020, Andreas Schager will be the Siegfried. With time, however, things happen and with the last minute changes in this year’s casting it is way too early to carve these names in stone.

I find the lack of surtitles in Bayreuth to be a symbol of arrogant old thinking that should change. The lack of such an amenity, now literally everywhere in the opera world, is hard to explain in rational terms. If they think all of the audience has memorized the entire dialogue of the always prolix Richard Wagner they simply have never considered the question. With new technology, seat-back additions, like at the Met, would not be expensive and the one percent who have actually memorized every word can turn them off. Frank Castorf’s very detailed Ring dramatics must have left the majority of the audience in various stage of incomprehension a good part of the time.

My impression is that formal wear is now worn by the minority toward the end of the festival run. I can’t speak about opening night but you could see jeans and sport shirts at the last Ring cycle in August. The fact that there is no air conditioning at the Festspielhaus for the August festival is an added encouragement to forget the bow tie and layers.

At the end of the Castorf ring, the larger implications for Wagner’s shrine are being examined whether the regulars like it or not. My first time there, in 1963, Bayreuth and the festival reminded me of a temple of worship and the stiff, well-aged and very formal audiences were acolytes at a ceremony. Significantly, the Wieland Wagner staging of Tannhäuser (with Grace Bumbry as the Black Venus) stirred rage among the traditionalists by abstracting the stage direction. The overt sexuality of the ballet for the Venusberg music was, for me, assuringly apt but provoked the regulars. Aside from the rather more mixed audiences – more varied ages and social levels – a half-century later the Castorf staging still had the traditionalists in a lather. But, at the end of the run, I noted little of this heat. Clearly the staging was intended to puncture some balloons. This lèse-majesté began to be understood better, as with the Chereau Ring, after some time.

The festival Ring program was quite specific about what a dangerous revolutionary Wagner was. While many are aware of his anti-Semitism and assumed he grew socially conservative, Wagner advocated radical social movements all his life. Siegfried’s “Mount Rushmore” with Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao was no accident and his depiction of the lust for wealth and control, here “black gold,” provided a logical background for the drama.

Something that was little discussed among this year’s festival news was a fundamental change in the structure and soul of the festival that will certainly have major long term consequences. My guess is that the change, announced a few days before the start of the festival, will have a ultimate negative impact. The appointment of Christian Thielemann as “music director” of the festival first became public when the new sign for his parking place, with his new title, was widely tweeted. Some days later a press conference gave the official declaration.

Since the beginning, the festival never has had a music director. The structure formally was to hire the conductor and director for a particular opera and wait for the results. Casting was the prerogative of the conductor. Now this is not certain and Kirill Petrenko, the new designated successor to Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonic, had his tenor changed just weeks before opening night and it was likely that Thielemann had something to do with that. It resulted in an uncharacteristic public statement critical of the meddling from the notoriously media-shy conductor. I would imagine this will not be the last scandal involving Thielemann who has a long history of arch-conservative remarks and trouble with management and musicians. Clearly there would be conductors and stage directors who would not consider Bayreuth while he is “music director.” My view is that this appointment, approved by the festival’s board of directors, will likely be regretted in the future.

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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