Posts Tagged ‘Okka von der Damerau’

Earful of Joy for Trump

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg

Published: June 23, 2017

MUNICH — Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, complete, is slated for President Trump’s second orchestra concert on the job, to take place, like the first, in Europe, specifically at Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie. Details of the July 7 event, part of the 12th G20 Summit, were announced Wednesday by a spokesman for Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel. A classical-music fan and the summit’s host, Merkel reportedly chose the program herself. Among summit attendees known to enjoy good music: French president Emmanuel Macron and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Christiane Karg, Okka von der Damerau, Klaus Florian Vogt, Franz-Josef Selig and the Hamburg State Opera Chorus will sing Schiller’s words; the Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg will be led by Kent Nagano. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” theme, without the words, is the official anthem of the European Union; in the “universal language of music,” the anthem expresses “European ideals of freedom, peace and solidarity.” An on-site dinner is scheduled before the performance.

Starting the day before, the Elbphilharmonie will become a Sicherheitszone, or security area — as will the full local width of the Elbe River, three adjacent quays, the airspace, and much of central Hamburg — to prepare for the concert venue’s role as an “official meeting place for the heads of state and government” taking part in the summit. Hamburg police expect “around 8,000 violent demonstrators.” G20 delegations are due to arrive that day; Trump and Putin will be meeting for the first time.

The G20, or Group of Twenty, comprises 19 countries plus the E.U. It accounts for 80% of global economic output in terms of GDP, adjusted for purchasing-power parity. In 2015, China’s GDP was around 19.7 billion “international dollars,” so adjusted, making it the largest economy in the world, followed by the United States, India and Japan. Germany was in fifth place, at 3.9 billion international dollars.

Photo © Maxim Schulz

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Spirit of Repušić

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Ivan Repušić

Published: April 24, 2017

MUNICH — It was a short courtship by recent standards. Dalmatian conductor Ivan Repušić (pr. REP-oosh-itch), 39, debuted with the Münchner Rundfunk-Orchester in a concert La rondine in Oct. 2015, returned for a gala two months later and signed his contract* last June. His background, happily, is stable: general music director of Staatsoper Hannover, in a relationship dating back to 2010, and chief conductor since 2005 of the Zadarski Komorni Orkestar (by the sapphire waters of Dalmatia’s coast: no fool he).

Before stepping as Chefdirigent into Ulf Schirmer’s big shoes this fall, he agreed to fashion an MRO Paradisi gloria program March 17 here at the Herz-Jesu-Kirche: Respighi’s Concerto gregoriano (1921) and the Duruflé Requiem (1947) — not the most obvious repertory from which to judge a conductor but a thoughtful and satisfying journey unified around chant and modal harmonies.

Repušić built tension in both works, attending to dynamics and stressing the flow of ideas where he could. In the “concerto,” this produced a structure greater than the sum of three perilously disparate movements and gave his unassuming violin soloist, Henry Raudales, a basis for tracing the rhapsodic lines assertively as well as ethereally, even if the church space somewhat diffused the instrument’s sound.

In the Duruflé, it meant a bold performance grounded in lyrical contrasts and vying choral and orchestral assertions. The BR Chor served the divine rhetoric with verbal clarity and sure intonation. The MRO strings played passionately (for the concerto too), the brass gloriously. Max Hanft managed the demanding organ part with aplomb despite his equipment’s relatively muted colors. Mezzo-soprano Okka von der Damerau applied her magnificent voice to the Pie Jesu but, alas, conveyed little of its meaning. Ljubomir Puškarić’s firm and focused baritone, on the other hand, found a wealth of plaintive expression in his brief solo duties.

[*One downside of the haste is that he is not fully available for his debut season, as announced at a Pressekonferenz April 26 to formally introduce him. Only five Repušić concerts are slated in Munich for 2017–18: another gala, a family program of symphonic dances, a concert performance of Luisa Miller, and two Paradisi gloria programs. The church plans, in a series created by Marcello Viotti, continue the Respighi-Duruflé eclecticism: Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and Variations on God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, together with Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms; and a pairing of Kodály’s Psalmus hungaricus with his Budavári Te Deum, sung by the Hungarian Radio Choir, no less. Separately at the conference, the MRO’s new website was launched and we learned some trivia: the orchestra is 32% women; the longest service among active members is 41 years; the mean age is 44; and the oldest played instrument was made 312 years ago. Schirmer, absent, received a warm round of applause from the 100 or so assembled journalists for his eleven years of MRO work.]

Photo © Künstleragentur Seifert

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Mélisande as Hotel Clerk

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Elena Tsallagova, Hanno Eilers and Markus Eiche in Pelléas et Mélisande

Published: June 29, 2015

MUNICH — Noisy and sustained boos fell upon stage director Christiane Pohle and her team after Pelléas et Mélisande last night here in the Prinz-Regenten-Theater. Though not uncommon in this epoch of Regietheater, the intensity of the scorn for Bavarian State Opera’s new production was alarming coming from the dressy summer festival premiere crowd, many of whom were to adjourn to parties after the performance and whose circles deplore boorish behavior.

The fifteen scenes of Debussy’s 1902 drame lyrique to a Symbolist libretto by Maeterlinck unfold in Pohle’s conception in a hotel lobby, with Mélisande as a receptionist. Scene I, where Golaud nominally loses his way while hunting in a forest, has him seated drinking at the hotel’s bar. Scene XV, in which Mélisande will admit no guilt, takes place as a loose, group-therapy session.

The stationary lobby set, with hard, photo-realistic surfaces that look good on camera, is of a type costly to build and awkward to move, restricting scenic transformation in a way ordinary theatrical flats do not. After Golaud’s forest, Maeterlinck and Debussy call for une appartement dans un château, a setting devant le château, une fontaine dans le parc, une grotte, une des tours du château (from which Mélisande’s hair cascades down to Pelléas), les souterrains du château, une terrasse, and so on, a visual feast potentially.

BR Klassik carried the audio last night, preserving a musically imaginative performance. The Bavarian State Orchestra conveyed ravishing nuances as well as the burliness in Debussy’s score as led by Constantinos Carydis. Markus Eiche sang a lucid Golaud in properly projected French. Elena Tsallagova’s lovely tones proved ideal for Mélisande. As a mostly effective Pelléas, Elliot Madore followed bizarre stage directions: on his first date with Mélisande, for instance, he sat with his knees together while she stood. Okka von der Damerau inertly impersonated Geneviève. Peter Lobert as the Doctor outsang Alastair Miles’ Arkel, while Hanno Eilers, 12, of the Tölzer Knabenchor intoned Yniold bravely and drew the loudest applause.

Pelléas et Mélisande becomes the latest of numerous flops for the company’s impenitent Intendant Nikolaus Bachler, who insists on freedom for his stage directors — many of them grounded in straight theater and lacking flair for the visual and inter-disciplinary aspects of opera — without apparently recognizing his own duty to monitor quality during production development. Guillaume Tell (Antú Romero Nunes) and Věc Makropulos (Árpád Schilling) have been mounted here with jaw-dropping ineptitude over the last twelve months. Earlier stagings of Medea in Corinto (Hans Neuenfels) and Saint François d’Assise (Hermann Nitsch) went speedily to the dumpsters and to costume sale, the probable fate of this Debussy.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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Manon, Let’s Go

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Kristine Opolais as Manon Lescaut at Bavarian State Opera in Munich

Published: December 11, 2014

MUNICH — Puccini lost even before the curtain went up Nov. 15 on Hans Neuenfels’ conceptual new staging of Manon Lescaut for Bavarian State Opera. Anna Netrebko, its titular star, abandoned the project in quiet disgust, understandably it turned out. Disaster did not follow, but the night and the subsequent run will long be remembered for what might have been, musically.

The company broke the sorry news Nov. 3 after securing a substitute in Kristine Opolais. It cited “unterschiedlichen Auffassungen,” divergent opinions, between star and director and lamely lamented the stresses of theater life. It had not, apparently, considered managing those stresses so that no cast change was needed. In any case, the neat explanation rang hollow: Netrebko has a history of flexibility with Regietheater. She had signed on with a régisseur known for strange concepts and was no doubt looking forward to the highly visible introduction to Germany of a successful new role.

Sure enough, a more accurate picture emerged within days, in Der Spiegel and from the horse’s mouth. While the Russian soprano remained atypically mute, Neuenfels, 73, echoed the conversation in rehearsals that caused the rift. Netrebko had conveyed views about the choice facing Abbé Prévost’s 1731 material girl — between a life of passion with penniless des Grieux and one of wealth with Geronte — that he, Neuenfels, found “lächerlich und degradierend,” laughable and degrading, to women. He had reasoned back: “Möglicherweise findet man es in Russland als Frau gar nicht schlimm, sich von einem alten, reichen Mann aushalten zu lassen,” or, Maybe in Russia it is not considered at all bad for a woman to let herself be kept by an old rich man — this, not incidentally, to an actress whose own family endured deprivation and hunger at the start of her career. Bottom line: your views are no good, and probably because you are Russian. Bravo, Herr Direktor!

The cast change would not have mattered so much had Netrebko not triumphed in February in her role debut as Puccini’s Manon, and before an Italian audience under Riccardo Muti’s strict tutelage. But she had. Tapes demonstrate she was red hot for this role this year, with clear Italian, a dramatic command of the evolving character gleaned from years as Massenet’s protagonist, and, especially, rich tones to wield in all sorts of expressive ways.

Opolais has sung here often since her radiant first appearance in 2010 in a lyrically conducted (Tomáš Hanus), perversely staged (Martin Kušej) Rusalka, not always equaling that achievement. She is an enchanting presence on stage, an excellent musician, a game and cooperative colleague. The voice never makes an ugly sound, but it wanes in volume as it descends (there is no “chest voice” of substance), and her Italian wants stronger consonant projection.

On opening night Opolais (pictured) teamed magnetically with her des Grieux, Jonas Kaufmann. Both gave their best in Act IV, she singing to the boards for heft in Sola, perduta, he sailing high as a generous embodiment of Gallic desperation. Throughout Act II, alas, the soprano’s relatively monochromatic voice and missing gravitas limited the music: a little morbidezza helps in the singing of In quelle trine morbide, and Tu, tu, amore! Tu? at the start of the duet requires intensity and volume. Markus Eiche, as the immoral Lescaut, sounded glorious but strove in vain for italianità. Ditto for Sören Eckhoff’s loosely regimented choristers. Vivid supporting contributions came from Okka von der Damerau, a vocally lush Musico; Dean Power, a spright Edmondo; and the veterans Ulrich Reß, cast inexplicably as a hypertrichotic Maestro di ballo (hand is pictured, lower left), and Roland Bracht, a credible and clear Geronte.

The Bavarian State Orchestra showed astonishing sensitivity to Puccini’s freshest score, finely tracing its melodic ideas, scampering through the momentary ironies, deftly tinting the myriad and occasionally peculiar textures. It was an evening of great acumen and discernment for the brass, notably the trombone group, where an oversized cimbasso provided discreet assistance. Everything came across new and instant as propelled by Alain Altinoglu, Munich’s first master Puccinian in many seasons.

Neuenfels’ staging, which returns next July and will be streamed, advances the action to “Irgendwann,” whenever. It is black, framed in white neon. Its black-clad protagonists emote under seldom-varied white light. Stripped of time and place, the French cautionary tale is spun with the aid of projected texts auf Deutsch, plugging holes the director perceives in the Italian libretto and injecting wisdom and whimsy, little of it profound or funny. Early example: “‘When a coach comes, the opera begins,’ said Giacomo Puccini.” Neuenfels uses the choristers — Act I’s students, Act II’s guests, the gawkers at Le Havre — to toy around more invasively, mockingly, endowing them with flame-red hair to ensure we watch.

The action is closely calibrated to shifts in the score, but the rootless and sterile settings, combined with Neuenfels’ propensity to play with paraphernalia and gags of his own invention, send the opera down a path that is at odds with the brutal application of law and the personal destruction driving the music. Result: a diminished dramma mitigated somewhat by a powerfully bare Act IV.

It is intriguing to contemplate how much of this production would still have worked had its director been fired last month after offending Netrebko. Chances are, all of it. One imagines a late but efficient Bavarian State Opera team scramble to prepare for opening night without Neuenfels, mounting Manon Lescaut with the planned and more gifted soprano. In business, it would have been that way, and one wonders why a public theater is any different. Instead the company’s management allowed hurtful on-the-job remarks to deprive Munich, and the world, of what would certainly have been a momentous series of performances. Prima il regista, poi la musica.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

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Bieito Hijacks Boris

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Anatoli Kotcherga and Alexander Tsymbalyuk

Published: February 21, 2013

MUNICH — As dramaturgy, Calixto Bieito’s new staging here of Mussorgsky’s seven‑scene 1869 Boris Godunov (heard and seen yesterday, Feb. 20) runs into trouble almost immediately.

Set in present‑day Russia — identifiable by the up‑to‑date, thug‑police gear and the wall map in Boris’s Terem (Scene V) — it seems to want to cast Vladimir Putin as the boyar turned czar (actual reign: 1598–1605). Indeed, Putin’s face is first, front, and center among placards displayed in Scene I, as the crowd is bullied into endorsement of a leadership change.

But that would entail the Russian president dropping dead on the stage of Munich’s nice theater, an outcome for which not even Bieito — born in Old Castile, Spain — would have the cojones, to say nothing of Bavarian State Opera management’s likely concerns.

So the thing gets diluted. Putin’s face is promptly surrounded by placards for sundry other politicians, to wit: Cameron, Hollande, Monti, and Rajoy, supplemented by the peacefully removed from office Bush, Blair, Berlusconi, and Sarkozy; the current German chancellor and U.S. president apparently do not merit inclusion, though someone resembling Leon Panetta does. And Boris emerges as a fill‑in‑the‑blank oligarch, schemer and poison victim. His death (Scene VII) occurs at an oligarch get‑together attended — in a feeble try at framing the concept — by present‑day, multinational finance ministers. Boyar, you see, equals oligarch, equals business leader; finance ministers are there to cater.

Still, Bieito shoots his interpretive load along the way with slices of supposed present‑day Russian life. People are shoved, choked and skull‑crushed by the police. Boris’s young daughter Xenia is a drunk. The Innkeeper (Scene IV) ruthlessly whips her own toddler while puffing a cigarette. The robbed Holy Fool is repeatedly stabbed by a little girl, and then shot in the head by her at close range under police cover.

Pimen the chronicler undoes history by ripping pages from a file. His student Grigory (a.k.a. False Dmitry I, czar in 1605–06) stabs a policeman, breaks the necks of the Nanny and Xenia, and suffocates Boris’s son Fyodor (historically czar in 1605). Boris’s own slow death, in context, doesn’t exactly ache in its poignancy.

For visual sustenance during the unbroken 135‑minute proceedings, we survey a cumbersome dark metallic unit shifting around the stage against an equally dark, smoky background. Technical staff here are proud of their mostly quiet hydraulics.

Last night’s performance (transmitted live on Mezzo TV) riveted attention through extraordinary singing. Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s stentorian bass voice in the title role brought eager expression to all lines of the anguished ruler. Secure from bottom to top, Tsymbalyuk sang with refined legato here, pointed declamation there. Now 36, this Ukrainian artist last year concluded a nine‑year affiliation with Staatsoper Hamburg; remember the not‑so‑easy name.

Veteran of the title role, and fellow Ukrainian, Anatoli Kotcherga (65) invested Bieito’s un‑chronicler with power, eloquence and welcome stature. Another sometime Boris, Vladimir Matorin (64) from Moscow, boomed with full‑voiced, undaunted lyricism as Varlaam, effective well beyond So It Was In the City of Kazan.

St Petersburg tenor Sergei Skorokhodov introduced a clarion, unstrained Grigory. Gerhard Siegel floated attractive tones in the oily duties of Basil Shuisky (future czar Basil IV, 1606–10), presenting the character as a credible advisor more than as a scorned stereotype. Company member Okka von der Damerau lent her vivid and plush mezzo to the hard‑put‑upon, abusive Innkeeper, and 23‑year company member Kevin Conners of East Rochester, NY, bellyached musically as the Holy Fool.

Advance hopes that Kent Nagano might bring some sweep, flair or insight to Mussorgsky’s graphic score — his last premiere as Bavarian State Opera Generalmusikdirektor — soon receded. His approach was plain, without feel for the Russian phrase. If he grasped the problems of balance caused by Mussorgsky’s intermittent misjudgment of orchestral weight, in this third performance of the run, he made no audible compensation for them. As usual he paced the music fittingly and coordinated well. Wind ensemble fell below par for the Bavarian State Orchestra; the chorus sang in unclear Russian, with greater musical discipline than usual. Disenchanted by Bieito’s whopping liberties with the colorful, pageant‑endowed story, but enthralled by the singing, the crowd applauded lightly.

Still image from video © Bayerische Staatsoper

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