Posts Tagged ‘Nationaltheater’

Petrenko Preps Strauss Epic

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Krzysztof Warlikowski with Kirill Petrenko

Published: November 12, 2013

MUNICH — Some like to tiptoe into a new job. Kirill Petrenko, 41, prefers to plunge. The fresh Generalmusikdirektor at Bavarian State Opera is now deep in rehearsals for his first production here: Strauss’s ambitious, arduous Die Frau ohne Schatten, uncut apparently.

Krzysztof Warlikowski directs. Known in Munich for a loosely cowboy, loosely gay 2007 Evgeny Onegin, the Warsaw-based régisseur brings a strong background in legitimate theater.

Whatever the director’s take on Frau, though, Petrenko will stand in his own light. He calmly weathered lengthy booing at his Bayreuth Festival debut this summer, for Frank Castorf’s provocative staging of Der Ring des Nibelungen, only to receive praise later for his conducting.

Die Frau ohne Schatten opens on Nov. 21. That will be fifty years to the day since the same opera reopened the company’s war-gutted home, the National Theater, in a legendary performance conducted by Joseph Keilberth.

Adrianne Pieczonka and Johan Botha sing the imperial couple, Elena Pankratova and Wolfgang Koch their mundane counterparts. Deborah Polaski essays the unpleasant Amme. On Dec. 1 the performance will be streamed online without charge at

As it happens, Petrenko’s second opera as GMD will be a revival of that Warlikowski Evgeny Onegin, opening on Jan. 4, 2014.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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Benjamin and Aimard

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

George Benjamin

Published: November 2, 2013

MUNICH — George Benjamin programmed strongly around his own Duet in a welcome conducting engagement Oct. 21 with the Bavarian State Orchestra. Alas, doing so overshadowed the subtle 2008 composition in its local premiere, even with dedicatee Pierre-Laurent Aimard as persuasive soloist.

One of only three works published by Benjamin since 2007, Duet in the composer’s words is “an encounter between two equal partners,” piano and orchestra. Call it not a concerto. Now gently, now forcefully, the 14-minute piece pits harmonic qualities of the solo instrument against “legato capacities” of the strings and winds. In a kind of dare, the composer has fashioned music for “compatible areas,” dividing “the piano into … registers with timbral equivalents in the orchestra.” The harp is prominent. There are no violins. Written with scrupulous attention to dynamics, Duet emerges as an eloquent, mostly restrained, balancing act in myriad sonorities gleaned from austere material. It received a careful performance.

The National Theater Akademiekonzert opened with Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole, written exactly a hundred years earlier. This, it turned out, supplied a related palette of tints and surface effects, and the conductor’s bare, crystalline, somewhat dawdling traversal — almost a dissection — made it seem like his property. Fascinating! Next came a clangorous, iridescent reading of Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques (1956), again with Aimard, supported by tight, bright woodwinds and driven by gleeful interaction between Benjamin and the fluent, unflappable pianist from Lyon.

Duet followed after the break, and then came Janáček’s festive Sinfonietta (1926). Here the orchestra’s brass section took the chance to sing its own praises, and Benjamin dutifully pointed the various Moravian dance rhythms. The conductor’s meticulous manner seemed to rub off in excellent playing on this night. Aimard himself was on confident, animated form.

Photo © Matthew Lloyd

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Horn Trios in Church
A Complete Frau, at Last
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In Your Face, Astrid

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Astrid Varnay by Maurizio Anzeri

Published: October 17, 2013

MUNICH — Spirograph needlemaniac defaces legendary (and conveniently deceased) Brünnhilde. And so on.

Bavarian State Opera’s anticipated additions to its portrait gallery went public yesterday, their twenty-one victims — er, honored subjects — being depicted in various media by twenty-one visual artists. Scattered docent notes:

• Anja Harteros – toner light
• Astrid Varnay – best in person
• Brigitte Fassbaender – high treason
• Christian Gerhaher – sun shines out of his … mouth
• Diana Damrau – per pietà
• Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau – cluster analysis
• Edita Gruberová – background material
• Fritz Wunderlich – for Hasselblad‎
• Hermann Prey – about to …
• Hildegard Behrens – Dietrich? Garbo? both?
• Jonas Kaufmann – David? Cellini? finished?
• Júlia Várady – ready for her close-up
• Klaus Florian Vogt – Brabant H.S.
• Kurt Moll – a wash
• Lucia Popp – monochrome Sophie
• Margaret Price – unmasked!
• Peter Seiffert – got THaT rigHt!
• René Kollo – eye, nose, mouth, eye
• Waltraud Meier – Broadway-bound
• Wolfgang Brendel – every inch the Bavarian
• Wolfgang Koch – unhappy camper

The needleman in question is Maurizio Anzeri, a London-based Italian whose stock-in-trade is embroidered photography, much of it stunning though not usually intended to depict a specific person.

Anzeri likes to cover a face, spurred on perhaps by its energy. It is unclear why, but the Freunde des Nationaltheaters München e.V. chose him to portray soprano Astrid Varnay, and he has overcome the obvious hurdle by recourse to a diptych (shown). Whether he listened to her work for inspiration or direction, or has sensed what she achieved, is anyone’s guess.

Raised in New Jersey, Varnay debuted at the Metropolitan Opera at the age of 23 singing Wagner’s Sieglinde and, days later, Brünnhilde. After successes in the 1950s at Bavaria’s Bayreuth Festival as well as at Bavarian State Opera, she settled in Munich and is buried here.

Photo © Bayerische Staatsoper

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Portraits For a Theater

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

National Theater in Munich

Published: October 13, 2013

MUNICH — Next Wednesday (Oct. 16) new portraits go on display in Bavarian State Opera’s lobby. Twenty-one new portraits.

Astrid Varnay, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Kurt Moll, Brigitte Fassbaender, Lucia Popp, Edita Gruberová, René Kollo, Hildegard Behrens and Waltraud Meier are among the worthy singing subjects, company troopers all.

But theatergoers expecting traditional oils on canvas in pretty frames may be in for a shock.

The new dauerhaft pieces embrace painting, drawing, tapestry, photography, hot wax, and at least one video requiring its own flat-panel display, to be hung in a hall that once serenely separated our electronic world from the madness on stage.

To create space in the company’s 114-year-old portrait collection, fifteen tired canvasses recently disappeared into das Lager des Theatermuseums, a.k.a. deep storage, leaving bare walls.

Safe, at least for now, are well-varnished depictions of such epoch-defining Munich musicians as Heinrich Vogl and Therese Thoma, Wagner’s first Loge (1869) and first Sieglinde (1870).

But 21 new faces? The growth spurt — involving the same number of visual artists and two years’ gestation — is intended to correct a lull. Apparently only conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch and impresario Peter Jonas have been added to the collection since the 1960s.

And it serves another purpose. Fifty years have passed since Bavarian State Opera resumed operations at Munich’s National Theater, on Nov. 21, 1963, long after the house was cratered by Allied bombs. Rebuilding cost: 60 million Deutschmarks, or thereabouts.

Friends of the company (Freunde des Nationaltheaters München e.V.) wanted to seize the occasion to acknowledge the work of singers in each subsequent decade.

The result is portrait commissions that are a little front-loaded. Hermann Prey, for instance, who sang leading roles starting in the 1960s, is honored alongside salad-green contributors such as Klaus Florian Vogt, who began in the 2000s and may or may not prove to be a singer of lasting artistry.

At any rate, the collection is made current, and presumably hipper, by this large initiative.

Other subjects of the commissions include Munich favorites Margaret Price, Júlia Várady, Wolfgang Brendel and the still-active, though wobbly, Peter Seiffert.

An odd choice is Fritz Wunderlich, the honey-toned Mozart tenor who died young. He went through the company’s apprentice program before the house reopened, but then bolted for a career contract in rival Vienna.

Today’s singers in the lineup, besides Vogt, are Anja Harteros, Diana Damrau, Jonas Kaufmann, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch.

Administrative enthusiasm and the sheer scale of the effort have led to at least one creaky assignment, its outcome already made public, that for Damrau. The soprano gets photography-based treatment that manages to degrade and marginalize her without giving the viewer a sense of who she is.

With luck, this will be the qualitative exception.

Bronze busts of the company’s music directors, meanwhile, comprise another facet of the theater’s art. At present this series is complete through Zubin Mehta, who left in 2006.

As it happens, a new Generalmusikdirektor, Kirill Petrenko, took over last month on a five-year contract, and so the just-departed Kent Nagano will likely soon be commemorated in three-dimensional metal.

Print and online material related to the company’s 2013–14 season, not incidentally, showcases black-and-white photographs of the bombed-out house as well as 1963 crowds after the reopening.

Soberly its slogan taps Nietzsche: Wie man wird, was man ist.

How One Becomes What One Is — a smooth segue to a bleaker side of the retrospective. Official research has at last begun into correspondence between the Nazi Party and two former Bavarian State Opera GMDs, Richard Strauss (tenure 1894–1896) and Clemens Krauss (1937–1944).

Petrenko, looking forward, gives his first concert next month, a freebie with Nina Stemme, Kaufmann, and the virtuosic Bavarian State Orchestra.

A few days later, on the anniversary itself, he leads a new staging of Die Frau ohne Schatten, the opera that reopened the National Theater under GMD Joseph Keilberth one day before Kennedy was shot.

Some of Petrenko’s initial work will be streamed at Die Frau ohne Schatten (directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski) on Dec. 1; La clemenza di Tito (Jan Bosse) on Feb. 15, 2014; and Die Soldaten (Andreas Kriegenburg) on May 31.

Here’s hoping the new portraits, in the aggregate, adequately reflect the virtues of this remarkable institution!

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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Horn Trios in Church

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Court Church of All Saints, Munich

Published: June 2, 2013

MUNICH — A short walk separates two of this city’s four opera houses: the Cuvilliés Theater, where Mozart conducted Idomeneo, and the National Theater, where Hans von Bülow led the first Tristan und Isolde. Ensconced half way stands the Court Church of All Saints, an 1837 neo-Romanesque, quasi-Byzantine former glory — bombed and burned in 1944, later re-domed, secularized, sandblasted, and finally re-opened in 2003 as a performance space. Here, in happily clear, generally non-reverberant acoustics, members of the Bavarian State Orchestra regularly make chamber music. This morning (June 2) — three weeks before the summer solstice, yet a cold day of heavy rain and wind, with half the city center roped off to greet UEFA Champions League champions Bayern München — intrepid listeners savored horn trio music of distinction.

Markus Wolf (violin), Johannes Dengler (valve horn) and Julian Riem (piano) found good balance in Lennox Berkeley’s reticent but neatly crafted Horn Trio (1952), an ample work capped by variations, ultimately jaunty, on a dry theme. This segued with guileless aplomb into the disparate sound world of Charles Koechlin: the Quatre petites pièces (1906), plangent in their miniature tunefulness, Impressionist or saccharine by turns, and agreeably concise. Again the players worked together with obvious affinity.

After the Pause, Brahms’s familiar E-flat Trio (1865, natural horn) threw the attention at Dengler, whose nimbleness and clean intonation served the composer faithfully (turning a blind eye to the valves on his magnificent instrument). As in the Berkeley and Koechlin, Wolf’s flexibility and aptitude for finding the weight of a phrase compensated for occasional wiry tone. Riem never dominated: a virtue, except when the score wanted a smidgen more personality, for instance in the Adagio mesto.

It turns out that these same musicians recorded the Koechlin and Brahms back in 2008, the latter on a reconstructed 1803 Halari natural horn, a 1722 Stradivarius, and a restored 1862 Bechstein. (Only the Strad showed up today.) For reasons unclear, this effort did not surface until 2012, when the resulting CD drew praise. Robert Markow, writing in Fanfare: “This may well be the best recording ever made of the Brahms Horn Trio.” And in Germany the team took an Echo Klassik Award.

Photo © Bayerische Schlösserverwaltung

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A Complete Frau, at Last
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Season of Concessions

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Josef Köpplinger, Marco Comin, Brigitte Fassbaender

Published: October 11, 2012

MUNICH — Arts groups here present a restrained 2012–13 season facing pros and cons not always aligned with those in America. Funding, for instance, holds steady: city and state (Bavaria) play their part, as do local corporations Siemens, BMW, Audi, Allianz and Linde. Excellent pools of musicians, instrumental and vocal, fill the rosters of the choir, chamber orchestra, two opera companies, and five symphony orchestras discussed below. Audiences are large and regular; not incidentally, tickets for most events are affordably priced and come with free access to the train and bus network, covering residents in a 25-mile radius. The cons are few, but they matter. Creative torpor impedes the main orchestras, a reflection in part of more than one sadly filled music directorship. The Regietheater problem rages in Germany, defiling the worthiest efforts in opera. Atrocious acoustics plague Munich’s main concert hall, and one vintage venue is shut for now for a retrofit. All that said, the groups enter the new season with active agendas.

The 201-year-old Bavarian State Orchestra ventures six programs at its home, the National Theater. Mostly led by outgoing Generalmusikdirektor Kent Nagano, these Akademie concerts extend a tradition begun when the ensemble was new; their past features names like Strauss, Walter, Knappertsbusch, Krauss, Fricsay, Sawallisch and Kleiber. Under-rehearsal can hamper results, however, a consequence of the musicians’ hectic theater schedule; that the GMD does not always supply the last ounce of insight or much rhythmic thrust only accentuates the negative. Despite and still, one upcoming program has allure (April 8 and 9): the eloquent young Czech conductor Tomáš Hanus tackles Mahler’s kaleidoscopic Seventh Symphony.

Clarinetist Jörg Widmann’s seven-scene opera Babylon is a fall commission of Bavarian State Opera, Germany’s largest and busiest opera company. Nagano conducts as part of his last season, and Carlus Padrissa, who last year introduced a circus-tent Turandot, has been entrusted with the stage action (premiere Oct. 27). Several of the season’s productions will be streamed at no charge, starting with the Widmann on Nov. 3. Hanus follows his persuasive (and filmed) Rusalka of two years ago with a revival of Jenůfa (from March 6) as well as a Richard Jones production of Hänsel und Gretel (March 24). Constantinos Carydis, among the company’s other worthy conductors — and indeed winner of its first Carlos Kleiber Prize — is absent from the 2012–13 slate, effecting a sabbatical.

The smaller but versatile Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz company enters a second season as refugee while its genial home undergoes construction work. Not all the substitute venues are ideal, but at the Cuvilliés Theater a Don Pasquale (premiere Oct. 25) should bring smiles: Franz Hawlata sings the title role, retired mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender (pictured with Intendant Josef Köpplinger and conductor Marco Comin) serves as régisseuse. This company labors under a mixed mandate, complementing Bavarian State Opera with Baroque and rare operas but also catering to a broad audience with operettas and musicals, at times amplified. Its orchestra copes gamely with the assortment, its singers less well.

Alexander Liebreich’s ongoing leadership of the MKO, a.k.a. Münchener Kammerorchester, has been yielding tidy ensemble and a crisp image for the group. Subscription concerts at MKO’s base, the Bayreuth-Festspielhaus-like Prinz-Regenten-Theater, habitually pair old and brand new, as on Oct. 18: Salvatore Sciarrino’s L’ideale lucente e le pagine rubate (2012) and Beethoven’s music for Egmont. Or Dec. 13: Ligeti’s Violin Concerto (old) and a Helena Winkelman piece jointly commissioned with Musica femina München.

Guest conductors, in contrast, are what enliven the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Ranked highly for its expertise, and drilled weekly for clean-as-a-whistle broadcasts, the BRSO perseveres under monochrome directorship. Antonini, Rattle, Haitink, Muti, Harding, Gilbert, Robertson, Salonen, Chailly and Metzmacher are names implying color in upcoming programs. The season splits as usual between the modest shoebox Herkulessaal, part of Munich’s Residenz arts complex, and the city-operated, fan-cum-vineyard Gasteig hall, where only the intra-ensemble sound travels properly.

The adventurous Münchner Rundfunk-Orchester, a second BR (Bavarian Broadcasting) ensemble, devotes much of 2012–13 to oddball concert opera — Franz Lachner’s Catharina Cornaro? — when its exploratory funds would go further in orchestral music and better balance the BRSO. Welcome projects include a German-language take (May 3) on Hindemith’s FDR oratorio When Lilacs Last In the Dooryard Bloom’d, which may find its way to disc alongside this orchestra’s award-winning 2005 recording of Des Simplicius Simplicissimus Jugend by Hartmann (who wove the Whitman elegy into his own First Symphony). Playing standards have been high under Künstlerischer Leiter Ulf Schirmer. He stepped into the shoes of the late Marcello Viotti in 2006 and has more recently also assumed musical and managerial duties at Oper Leipzig.

Still under broadcasting auspices, the BR Chor supports both of the above orchestras. Alert, flexible singing places this group among Germany’s best large choirs, with perhaps only Leipzig’s MDR Chor ahead in precision. Certainly it draws the better Munich choristers, those disinclined to strip down to their underwear and strike mindless poses, as repeatedly required of their colleagues in local opera companies. Dutchman Peter Dijkstra is the affable artistic leader. BR Chor concerts this season, in the group’s own series, include Mozart’s C-Minor Mass (Nov. 24) and a well-cast Matthäus-Passion (Feb. 16), at the Prinz-Regenten-Theater and Herkulessaal respectively.

The Munich Philharmonic seemed to want to dive off a cliff three years ago when its management publicly bickered with its greatly-in-demand Generalmusikdirektor Christian Thielemann, effectively losing him, and just eight months later chose Lorin Maazel as his successor. (One tabloid reported Thielemann’s salary to be €800,000.) Those twin decisions are now home to roost, as the 82-year-old American unfurls his inaugural season. Maazel’s work ethic can only be admired, but he appeared artistically drained in interregnum Gasteig programs ten months ago — in music in which he long ago excelled, such as Debussy’s La Mer. This orchestra will gain the most if Munich ever does build a proper concert hall, as recently championed by Bavarian Minister for Science, Research and Art, Wolfgang Heubisch. As a city-run ensemble, it is today confined almost entirely to the problematic Gasteig.

Less glamorous, though certainly busy, the Münchner Symphoniker offers concert series at the acoustically preferable Prinz-Regenten-Theater and Herkulessaal. Georg Schmöhe is Chefdirigent and pianist Philippe Entremont serves as Ehrendirigent. In 2011 this orchestra undertook a long U.S. tour devoted to movie music. This season at home it offers an all-Beethoven program (Jan. 27 and 28) and a mostly Haydn evening (March 20) as part of a generally conservative lineup.

Photo © Christian Zach

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