Saturday, April 24, 2010

Live Offerings - Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pick of the litter today seems to be the Metropolitan Opera Tosca with Patricia Racette and Konas Kaufmann, followed by Gluck's Armida with Ewa Podles on Czech Radio and Cavalli's La Calisto with Bejun Mehta. Here's the whole lineup of live offerings for this afternoon:

  • Metropolitan Opera International Broadcast (on numerous stations) - Puccini's Tosca, with Patricia Racette, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel, David Pittsinger, John del Carlo, Eduardo Valdes, Jeffrey Wells, Richard Bernstein and Jonathan Makepeace, conducted by Fabio Luisi.
  • Radio Oesterreich International (OE1) - From the Vienna State Opera, an April 19th and 22nd performance of Bellini's I Puritani, with Désirée Rancatore, Christof Fischesser, José Bros and Mariusz Kwiecien, conducted by Jan Latham-König.
  • Cesky Rozhlas 3-Vltava - Gluck's Armida, with Mireille Delunsch, Laurent Naouri, Charles Workman, Vincent Le Texier, Yann Beuron, Francoise Masset, Nicole Heaston, Valérie Gabail, Ewa Maria Podles, Brett Polegato, Magdalena Kožená, Sandrine Rondot and Myriam Sosson, conducted by Marc Minkowski.
  • Espace 2 - From the Grand Theatre in Geneva, Cavalli's La Calisto, with Sami Luttinen, Bruno Taddia, Anna Kasyan, Bejun Mehta, Christine Rice, Kristen Leich, Kristen Leich, Christine Rice, Fabio Trümpy, Mark Milhofer, Catrin Wyn-Davies, Ludwig Grabmeier, Mariana Florá‘μs, Mariana Florá‘μs, Dina Husseini, and Matthew Schaw, conducted by Andreas Stoehr.
  • Klara - From the Opera of Lausanne, Rossini's Otello, with John Osborn, Olga Peretyatko, Maxim Mironov, Riccardo Zanellato, Shi Yijie and Isabelle Henriquez, conducted by Corrado Rovaris.
  • Latvia Radio Klasika - From Opera Bastille in Paris, Symanowski's Krol Roger, with MariuÅ¡s Kwiecen, Erik Cutler, Olga PasiÅ¡cuka and Vojteks Smileks, conducted by KazuÅ¡i Ono.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From the Grand Theatre in Geneva, a November 9 performance of Chabrier's L'Etoile, with Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, René Schirrer, Jean Doyen, Fabrice Farina, Marie-Claude Chappuis, Sophie Graf, Blandine Staskiewicz and Jérôme Savary, conducted by Jean-Yves Ossonce.
  • KBIA2 & WDAV - NPR World of Opera: From Washington National Opera, Verdi's Rigoletto, with Carlos Alvarez, Lyubov Petrova, Joseph Calleja, Maigoratza Walewska, Andrea Silvestrelli, Magdalena Wor and Robert Cantrell, conducted by Giovanni Reggioli.
  • Concert FM (New Zealand) & ABC Classic FM (Australia) - From the Metropolitan Opera, Verdi's Aida, with Stefan Kocán, Dolora Zajick, Hui He, Salvatore Licitra, Carlo Colombara, Carlo Guelfi, Elizabeth DeShong and Diego Torre, conducted by Marco Armiliato.

Happy listening . . . .

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Saturday, April 17, 2010


Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg
Cologne 5 April 2010

If you’re an opera lover (and if you’re not, why are you reading this?), you probably know that Europe is the place to be at Eastertide. Nearly every major city, and even a lot of minor municipalities mount non-stop lyric theater events. The choices you have to make can be bewildering. If you found yourself in the westernmost part of Germany this past Easter Monday, did you attend a Traviata in Bonn, a Gypsy Baron in Pforzheim, or a Parsifal in --let’s see now-- Stuttgart, Frankfurt or Düsseldorf?

I opted for Meistersinger in Cologne because it had three things going for it: of all the alternatives, it’s my favorite opera, the opera house is a 10 minute trolley ride from where I’m staying at the moment, and the cast featured an only-appearance-this-season appearance by Klaus Florian Vogt as Walther von Stoltzing. I can’t get enough of this voice, and Vogt, wisely, doesn’t sing that frequently.

I was sort of dreading my final choice, because Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s controversial staging has several complicated moments for Walther. But the cash-strapped Cologne Opera found the stash to fund sufficient rehearsals for the performance, which went much more smoothly than when I attended the production’s first performances last autumn. Not necessarily a good thing, for its infelicities, especially in the final scene became all the more apparent.

In place of the meadows outside Nuremberg, Laufenberg puts the Song Trial in a recreation of the plaza outside the Cologne Opera House. The set is dominated by a jumbotron that shows, among other scenes, video of the Mastersingers and honored guests entering the theater before taking their places on the stage. That makes sense enough. Mixed in with these proceedings, though, are a newsreel of vignettes showing Cologne before, during and after World War II plus scenes from a previous production of Meistersinger. Huh? When Walther finally takes the stage for his Prize Song, the projections switch to close-ups of Vogt looking dreamy before a background of amber-hued landscapes. To put it charitably, it’s distracting, not to mention awful.

Nonetheless, Vogt sang with even greater persuasiveness than in Berlin several weeks ago in the same role. His is a phenomenal voice: bright, light, penetrating and, for me, soulful. Admittedly, it is so unusual, that it’s not to everyone’s taste. A vocal professor I met during the breaks complained of a “disembodied” quality that left him cold. That quality is evident in the broadcasts of Meistersinger at Bayreuth, where Vogt is currently cast as Walther in Katharina Wagner’s production under Christian Thielemann. The microphone does not love him.

Vogt was partnered in this performance by Barbara Haveman, stepping in for ailing Astrid Weber. She was no disappointment, projecting a well-focussed sound that retained its sucrose in the heftier portions of “O Sachs, mein Freund...” and the Quintet.

The other principals in the cast have grown into their parts since the production’s premiere (see my report). Especially rewarding was Robert Holl as Sachs. Could but all singers mature with such grandiose gracefulness! Despite a moment of breath-catching in Sach’s Oration, Holl’s shoemaker was indeed a masterful singer.

General Music Director Markus Stenz led the Gürzenich Orchestra and the augmented chorus with sensible tempi and majestic sweep, but he still needs to parse out the dynamics. The outset of the prelude to Act One is marked “mezzo-forte.” And with good reason: the forte at the conclusion of the prelude must sound significantly louder Throughout the performance, the difference between loud and loudest was minimal.

All told, though, a richly satisfying performance.

©Sam H. Shirakawa
Photos: Forster

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010



Oper Leipzig
2 April, 2010

What a deliciously perverse idea!
Hitler’s supposedly favorite opera Rienzi presented on Good Friday in Wagner’s hometown! 

That was the inspiration of Oper Leipzig under the artistic direction of Peter Konwitschny, son of fabled, politically controversial, conductor Franz Konwitschny.  If the sparse attendance at this performance was a reliable barometer, maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea after all.  Leipzig’s operagoers seemed more in the mood for an operetta gala playing at the city’s Musical Komödie.  It was sold out to the rafters.  I caught the first half of this delightful potpourri before racing to the main opera house in time for the start of Rienzi

Too bad the attendance for Rienzi was so slim, because this production was musically, at least, excellent.  Admittedly, I’ve never heard a complete, unabridged Rienzi live -- it takes about six hours to perform, not counting intermissions.  At best, the live performances I’ve heard in New York, Berlin, Bremen, and now Leipzig amount to summaries or highlights.  Each version has featured numbers that were excluded from the others. The current Leipzig production took four hours, including two intermissions, just long enough to savor a smorgasbord of ideas that Wagner was cooking up for his future operas. 

Like most well-organized musical buffets, Rienzi offers generous portions of tantalizing tidbits to abate aural hunger, providing you have an appetite for German operatic cuisine.  And that caveat may irk some operagoers:  a lot of Rienzi is just loud.   Beautiful, yes, but loud.  Its principal dramatic theme is the dynamic of political power, and even the loss of influence does not necessarily mean less volume.  Beefy singers in the leading roles must always be able to run the estimable distance from forte to fortissimo without tiring, and make themselves sound interesting.  

The title role in particular. 

In this production, Stefan Vinke delivered the goods in surprisingly interesting fashion.  All the more surprising, because he has bettered himself in every professional respect since I last heard him in Leipzig as Lohengrin.  Back then (2006), he seemed sufficiently competent to essay the Grail Knight, but his stage demeanor was at best tentative.  That, however, was then, and his voice has now emerged fully armed from Euterpe’s larynx: dark, virile and evenly distributed.  It can sustain itself through distended declamation without degenerating into droning.  In rare moments of quietude, his consummate musicality and affinity to this music evince a deeply felt sensitivity that eludes so many heroic tenors.   Undeniably, the voice has accrued some metal, but it has also retained ample honey.  His account of “Almᨨcht'ger Vater, blick herab” received sustained, richly deserved applause.   The jury is still out on his stage demeanor, but the role doesn’t demand much more than ambling about looking important, which Vinke manifestly succeeded in doing.  

Marika Schönberg as Rienzi’s daughter Irene seemed a bit uncertain at the outset, but proved sufficiently reliable once she hit her stride.  Her stage personality is still in the process of defining itself, but she shows optimistic signs of becoming an A-Class opera singer. 

Charika Mavropoulou stepped in as Adriano for the indisposed Elena Zhidkova.  She also shows signs of heading for major-league opera houses, but she is encumbered with excess weight in a trouser-role that demands quite a bit of running around.  That said, she is in full possession of a ballsy mezzo-soprano that induces thrilling frissons at full-throttle. 

Miklos Sebastien as Colonna, Jürgen Kürth as Orsini and Roman Astakhov rounded out the principal roles without fault. 

Thanks to Matthias Foremny’s richly detailed reading and supernal playing from the Gewandhaus Orchestra, I heard details that I never noticed before in this music.  Take, for example, the elegiac postlude to Rienzi’s prayer.  It's long, seemingly rambling and fitfully anticipates the conclusion to Elisabeth’s prayer in Tannhᨨuser.  But Foremny and the Gewandhaus made it sound unique unto itself.   

I’ve left mentioning Nicolas Joel’s production to last, because it is the least impressive element of this otherwise superior mounting.  Why Rienzi is dressed in an Ancient Roman tunic, while almost everybody else is dressed in Gangsta Moderne, never becomes apparent.  If it was an effort to distinguish the ill-fated Tribune from everyone else in the plot, the ploy succeeded only in exposing Stefan Vinke’s estimable gams.

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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We're Still Here . . . .

Due to a family emergency, we have not posted here for several weeks, but we are now back (more or less) to our routine. You can expect some new reviews from Sam Shirakawa and some posts from us in coming days.

It's good to be back!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Live Offerings - Saturday, April 10, 2010

All sorts of personal issues have prevented us from posting here for several weeks, but we are now back.

The Met is offering Mozart's Magic Flute with Matthew Polenzani; Sveriges has Meistesinger from Goteborg with an all-Swedish cast;Radio Oesterreich International is re-airing the Met's March 6th broadcast of Verdi's Attila; Radio 4 Netherlands offers Saariaho's Emilie with Karita Mattila; Norwegian Radio is carrying Handel's Agrippina from La Fenice , while Radio Tre is carrying Handel's Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, also from La Fenice. ANd ther;s more - here's the complete list for this afternoon:

  • Sveriges Radio P2 - From Göteborg Opera, a live performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, with Anders Lorentzson, Richard Decker, Sara Andersson, á­ke Zetterström, Ingrid Tobiasson, Mathias Zachariassen, Johan Schinkler, Ingemar Anderson, Mattias Nilsson, Mats Persson, Iwar Bergkwist, Sten Pernmyr, Mattias Ermedahl, Andreas Lundmark, Michael Schmidberger, Peter Loguin and Sami Yousri, conducted by Olaf Henzold.
  • LRT Klasika - From Palais Garnier in Paris, Gounod's Mireille, with Inva Mula and Charles Castronovo, conducted by Marc Minkowski.
  • DR P2 - From Teatro Real in Madrid, a March 20th performance of Martín y Soler's L'arbore di Diana with Ekaterina Lekhina, Ketevan Kemklidze, Ainoa Garmedia and Marisa Martins, conducted by Ottavio Dantone.
  • Dwojka Radio Polskie - From Moscow, a March 6th performance of Berg's Wozzeck, with Georg Nigl, Mardi Byers, Maxim Paster, Pyotr Migunov, Roman Muravitsky, Fredrik Akselberg, Xenia Vyaznikova, Valery Gilmanov and Nikolai Kazansky, conducted by Teodore Currentzis.
  • Metropolitan Opera Internation Radio Broadcast (on numerous stations) - Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, with Nathan Gunn, Matthew Polenzani, Julia Kleiter, Albina Shagimuratova, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jamie Barton, Tamara Mumford, Jakob Taylor, Neem Ram Nagarajan, Jonathan A. Makepeace, Monica Yunus, Hans-Peter König,David Pittsinger, Greg Fedderly, David Crawford, Bernard Fitch, Philip Webb and Richard Bernstein, conducted by Adam Fischer.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands - From l'Opéra National de Lyon, Saariaho's Emilie, with Karita Mattila, conducted by Kazushi Ono.
  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From Teatro la Fenice in Venice, Handel's Agrippina, with Lorenzo Regazza, Ann Hallenberg, Florin Cezar Ouatu, Veronica Cangemi, Zavier Sabata, Ugo Guagliardo, Milena Stori and Roberto Abbondanza, conducted by Fabio Biondi.
  • Radio Oesterreich International (OE1) - From the Metropolitan opera in New York, the March 6th broadcast of Verdi's Attila, with Ildar Abdrazakov, Violeta Urmana, Giovanni Meoni, Ramón Vargas, Russell Thomas and Samuel Ramey, conducted by Riccardo Muti.
  • Klara - From Vlaamse Opera, Tchaikovsky's Eugen Onegin, with Tommi Hakala, Anna Leese, Katarina Bradic, Thorsten Büttner, Ilya Bannik, Mireille Capelle, Livia Budai and Guy De Mey, conducted by Dmitri Jurowski.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From Teatro La Fenice in Venice, a March 14th performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, with Ann Hallenberg, Marlin Miller, Maria Grazia Schiavo, Oriana Kurteshi, Sabrina Vianello, Elena Traversi, Julianne Young and Krystian Adam, conducted by Attilio Cremonesi.
  • KBIA2 & WDAV- NPR World of Opera: from the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Rossini's Zelmira, with Kate Aldrich, Juan Diego Flórez, Marianna Pizzolato, Alex Esposito, Mirco Palazzi, Gregory Kunde, Francisco Brito and Sávio Sperandio, conducted by Roberto Abbado.
Happy listening . . . .

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Tenor Monsters

I thought I'd indulge myself by taking a break, via putting some flesh on the bones of some stray remarks I've recently made on the tiny handful of tenor roles that require everything, or practically everything.

For as much as I've looked into some of these monster scores, as well as from haphazardly assembling a set of varied reflections from certain singers and historical specialists, nine roles in particular seem to surface again and again that are thoroughly dramatic and also require a degree of suppleness above the ordinary.  In chronological order, they are

1818 Rossini: RICCIARDO E ZORAIDE (Agorante)

(requiring the ultimate in coloratura flexibility, and with a startlingly baritonal tessitura in much of the ensemble writing, alternating with moments of stratospheric passagework)

1819 Rossini: ERMIONE (Pirro)

(its length requires more stamina, but it has the same degree of incredible agility and stratospheric passagework, while its tessitura is more comfortable for most tenors)

1822 Rossini: ZELMIRA (Antenore)

(requiring even more stamina, but otherwise the same as Pirro)

1829 Rossini: GUILLAUME TELL (Arnold)

(the heaviest role written up to then, with variations in tessitura alternating from passaggio-heavy to baritonal, and some degree of flexibility if not equivalent to the first three, requiring unusual stamina for its sheer length)

1836 Meyerbeer: LES HUGUENOTS (Raoul)

(not quite as consistently heavy throughout and without the same variations in tessitura, but with a similar level of flexibility and sheer length)

1838 Donizetti: POLIUTO (Poliuto)

(alternates lyric and dramatic writing to an uncommon degree, with its heaviest scene even heavier than anything in Arnold or Raoul, its alternations in tessitura splitting the difference between Arnold and Raoul, somewhat less demanding flexibility than the previous two)

1840 Donizetti: LES MARTYRS (Polyeucte)

(in this POLIUTO revision, all the requirements of the original, plus variations in tessitura fully comparable to those in Arnold)

1849 Meyerbeer: LE PROPHETE (Jean)

(more than one scene here fully as dramatic throughout as Poliuto's/Polyeucte's heaviest sequence, requiring more flexibility also, but with practically no variations in tessitura at all)

1855 Verdi: VEPRES SICILIENNES (Henri)

(more flexibility needed than in Poliuto/Polyeucte but somewhat less than in PROPHETE, slightly heavier than Raoul, although still not as heavy as Jean, while just as heavy as Poliuto/Polyeucte in Henri's last two acts)

Looking over these, one can say that any one role here may be tougher than another, depending on which factor(s) one is spotlighting.  There seems to be little question, for instance, that Arnold marks a huge break with those roles preceding it in the sheer density of the scoring and the new-fangled heroic utterances in the vocal writing as a result.  At the same time, its somewhat less intricate agility means that it does defer somewhat to Antenore, for instance, in this regard (while the unusual length of both roles entails a similar level of stamina for both).

A similar trade-off is apparent in comparing, for instance, Arnold with Jean, arguably the two roles that come up the most often as the very hardest roles of all.  Jean is even heavier than Arnold for most of its writing, but Arnold's emotional intensity combined with its more varied tessitura can make its most challenging sequences of all seem slightly more daunting to some singers than anything in Jean, however more consistently heavy Jean may be as a whole.  I found it intriguing that one tenor, Rick Christman, one of the few on this planet who's sung both Arnold and Jean, told me that Arnold is actually (slightly) more challenging for him, while, on the other hand, bel canto historian Randy Mikelson feels that the level of the scoring is simply so heavy in PROPHETE as to put Jean in a class entirely by himself.  It would be interesting to know which one Gedda finds tougher.

It's not really possible to say -- 1, 2, 3 -- which is the most difficult role, which the second most difficult, and so on.  But perhaps, broad groupings are possible.  Tied at first place is probably

1829 Rossini: GUILLAUME TELL (Arnold)
1849 Meyerbeer: LE PROPHETE (Jean)

Then might be

1818 Rossini: RICCIARDO E ZORAIDE (Agorante)
1819 Rossini: ERMIONE (Pirro)
1822 Rossini: ZELMIRA (Antenore)
1840 Donizetti: LES MARTYRS (Polyeucte)

followed by

1838 Donizetti: POLIUTO (Poliuto)
1855 Verdi: VEPRES SICILIENNES (Henri)


1836 Meyerbeer: LES HUGUENOTS (Raoul)

at the end -- and Raoul is hardly easy!

There is a purpose of sorts behind these reflections: I'm wondering if anyone here has ever experienced, either as a singer or as a colleague or as a spectator or as a listener, any performances of any of these roles in which the tenor writing actually came off as (relatively) easy, perhaps seemingly easier than some other role not on this list in which the same singer seemed to have an apparent struggle instead.  I can already think of one such case myself, but since it involves a role that most seem agreed on as no heavier than lirico spinto, I'm hoping it doesn't upset too many applecarts: Marcello Giordani actually seemed to have smoother sailing when doing Arnold at Carnegie Hall with Eve Queler than he had doing Gualtiero in PIRATA at the Met.  But since Gualtiero has a slightly higher tessitura anyway, pure matters of vocal category may have as much to do with this as anything involved in overall difficulty as such.  (Also, bear in mind that it was very clear that Giordani's Arnold was sung with atypical containment for him; he wasn't necessarily cautious or understated, but he was unusually careful that night in minding his technical "p"s and "q"s, so to speak, in order to keep the line going smoothly and evenly to the end of the evening without tiring; the tone was well forward and there were very few lunges and percussive attacks were rare; the result was that he was even able to encore the cabaletta and still show no sign of fatigue in the last scene [where he admittedly has little to do]!  On the other hand, he seemed much more relaxed as Gualtiero but also a shade careless here and there, and there was marked fatigue by the end, whether or not as the direct result of less careful singing may be hard to say.)

Also, are there any supreme examples of total mastery of the music in any of these nine cited roles that still abides with anyone here as marking a peak in their experience unlikely to be challenged any time soon?  Thanks.

Geoffrey Riggs

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Live Offerings - Saturday, February 20, 2009

Many European stations are carrying the Met broadcast of Ariadne auf Naxos this week, so there a re fewer offerings than usual this week....

  • France Musique - From Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, a January 30th performance of Rossini's La Cenerentola, with Antonino Siragusa, Stéphane Degout, Pietro Spagnoli,
  • Carla Di Censo, Nidia Palacios, Vivica Genaux and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo.
  • Metropolitan Opera Broadcast (on numerous stations) - Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, with Nina Stemme, Kathleen Kim, Sarah Connolly, Lance Ryan, Jochen Schmeckenbecher, Anne-Carolyn Bird, (Tamara Mumford, Erin Morley, Tony Stevenson, Sean Panikkar, Mark Schowalter and Markus Werba, conducted by Kirill Petrenko.
  • KBIA2 & WDAV - NPR World of Opera: From Houston Grand Opera, Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, with Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Olga Guryakova, Marco Berti, Patrick Carfizzi, Raymond Aceto, Ryan McKinny, Maria Markina and Beau Gibson, conducted by Patrick Summers.
  • Espace 2 - From the Vienna State Opera, a December 14, 2009 performance of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, with Robert Dean Smith, Violetta Urmana, Yvonne Naef, Bo Skovhus, Franz Josef Selig, Clemens Unterreiner, Peter Jelosits, Wolfgang Bankl and Gergely Nemethy, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
  • Klara - From the Barbican Hall in London, a concert performance of Martinu's Julietta, with Magdalena Kozena, William Burden, Michel Andreas Jᨨggi, Rosalind Plowright, Zdenek Plech, Anna Stéphany, Jean Rigby, Frederic Goncalves and Roderick Williams, conducted by Jiri Belohlavek.
  • And later on this evening:
  • WFMT - Live from Chicago Lyric Opera, Opening Night of Berlioz' Damnation of Faust, with Paul Groves, Susan Graham, John Relyea and Christian Van Horn, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
  • ABC Classic FM (Australia) & Concert FM (New Zealand) - From the Metropolitan Opera, Verdi's Stiffelio, with José Cura, Julianna Di Giacomo, Andrzej Dobber, Michael Fabiano, Phillip Ens, Jennifer Check and Diego Torre, conducted by Plácido Domingo.

Happy listening

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Friday, February 19, 2010

A Wagner Valentine

Deutsche Oper, Berlin
February 14, 2010

Berlin’s Deutsche Oper gave its supporters a valentine of sorts on Valentine’s Day: a performance of Die Meistersinger. Nothing special about that, were it not for the presence of Klaus Florian Vogt as Walther von Stolzing. Despite a uniformly upper drawer cast that included Michaela Kaune as Eva, James Johnson as Sachs, and Markus Brück, Kristinn Siegmundson and Paul Kaufmann as Beckmesser, Pogner and David respectively, it seemed as though the stage darkened to a pin spotlight on Vogt, whenever he was on the boards, which, as those familiar with the work know, is most of the time.

In the seven years since I first heard Vogt as Lohengrin in Bremen, he has become, justifiably, I think, internationally known as one of the finest Wagner tenors of this age. Considering how few really great Wagner singers there have been in any age, his emergence into pre-eminence may be more a matter of luck than talent simply outing itself. What is extraordinary is that he is also emerging as one of the great voices of this or any other age. That is a real accomplishment in the light of how many singers of widely varying quality are vying for attention via their press agents, recording companies and media machines.

Some listeners have described his unusual sound as “boyish” while others have called it sort of “androgynous.” Actually, it is neither. Vogt played the horn at Hamburg’s Staatsoper, before a vocal teacher suggested that he might have a brighter future singing above the pit, rather than playing out of it.
Sometimes things work out.

Vogt’s sound in its current disposition is indeed reminiscent of a French horn played by Philip Miller or Dennis Brain: sweet in soft passages, penetrating and dominant under pressure. It is immediately recognizable, it commands attention even in the thick of competition from other voices and other instruments. It never tires the ear. I’ve never heard anything quite like it. It is, in the grandest sense of the word, unique.

Wagner created a real character in Walther von Stolzing, and the role gives Vogt an opportunity to act. His Walther is youthful, quick to anger and ardently passionate, but the passion is imbued with intelligence and humility. You get the impression that he’s really listening to Sachs, matter-of-factly sung by James Johnson, when the Master of the Mastersingers gives him a lesson in songwriting in the third act. And the Prize Song in the next scene becomes, in Vogt’s voice, a cumulative rather than repetitive precipitate of the Master’s tuition.

With such masterful singing in a work about the Art of Singing (among a few other things), it’s hard to comment on the able efforts put forth by Vogt’s colleagues: the aforementioned aural pin-spot on Vogt tended to occlude them. Nontheless, Michaela Kaune was an effectively flirtatious Eva, Markus Brück portrayed a delightfully irritating Beckmesser, Kristinn Sigmundsson’s height enabled him to present a grandly imposing Pogner, Ulrike Helzel sounded pleasantly youthful as Magdalena, and Paul Kaufmann as David showed hopeful signs of becoming an Almaviva with whom to be reckoned.

The Deutsche Oper’s new Music Director Donald Runnicles stepped in for the originally designated conductor, so his somewhat lackluster reading may have been the result of brief rehearsal time and the effort to avoid disasters in such a wildly complex work.

Götz Friedrich’s production from the mid-90s hold up well, primarily because it never strays far from the composer’s stage directions. In fact, it is a delight to see the festival in the final scene look and feel festive.

The current run of Meistersinger is part of the Deutsche Oper’s Wagner Weeks, in which most of the composer’s works -- including a new production of Rienzi -- are being presented over the course of several months. Rienzi has attracted a lot of press coverage, largely because its producer has turned it into a quasi-allegory in which the eponymous hero bears the appearance of a certain Austrian-born dictator. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t report much more, except to say, I’m looking forward to hearing the Leipzig Oper’s production this spring with none less than Elena Zhidkova as Orsini.

If you’re in Berlin this weekend, do what you must to get a ticket to Meistersinger on Sunday, providing that Vogt is singing. There’s only one bad seat in the house: the one you don’t get. But caveat emptor: it’s pretty much sold out.

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Bon-Bons from Bonne Bonn

Theater Bonn
7 February 2010

I’ve made three trips to Bonn from Cologne in the past month (less than 30 minutes by train), twice to hear the last performances this season of Tannhᨨuser. As I suspected, the best thing about Klaus Weise’s new production is how new it looks.

Following the current trend, the musical format mixes the Dresden (1845) and Paris (1860) versions. For those members of the Great Unwashed who don’t know the key differences between the two versions: the Paris Edition has a ballet; the Dresden version has more singing, primarily in the second act. The mixed version going around these days purveys the ballet and more singing. For purists, this might not make sense: The later version is significantly more sophisticated. As the fat lady tauntingly told her husband though: All in all, there’s just more to love.

What’s truly to love in Bonn’s new production is Scott MacAllister. I never thought I would ever hear a Heinrich (that’s T’s first name) so well sung. All the more surprising, because I heard him sing a number of roles (mostly Mozart) 20 years ago in Mannheim, and I could not have imagined that I would ever hear him attempt, let alone achieve excellence in a Wagner opera. The voice in its current estate has no perceptible register breaks. It’s bright and open at the top, solid in the middle and below. The sound is clean, large and remains sweet under pressure: Think Bjørling meets early Max Lorenz. MacAllister needs at least one strophe of his Hymn to Venus to warm up, but once he hits his stride, he’s full-throttle right up to the final curtain. Of the 15-odd tenors I’ve heard as Tannhᨨuser over more than 30 performances, including Hans Hopf, James McCracken and Peter Seifert (and oh, yes, Pekka Nuotio, too), none come close to challenging him. Unfortunately though, the size of his midriff has increased in direct proportion to the outsize amplitude of his voice.

Elisabeth on 7 February was Ingeborg Greiner, who was satisfactory, following a nervous start. Far superior was Anna-Katharina Behnke, who sang the role in Bonn last month. She has grown musically by leaps since I first heard her as Aida in Halle about 12 years ago, but she remains an underestimated quantity.

Anna Magdalena Hofmann was an attractive Venus and Lee Poulis a dignified Wolfram. Both received a big round of applause at the curtain calls. The other principals carried out their duties efficiently: Ramaz Chikviladze (Hermann), Mirko Roschkovski (Walther), Mark Morouse (Biterolf), Mark Rosenthal (Heinrich der Schreiber), Marton Tzonev (Reinmar). No standouts though.

Stefan Blunier drew some excellent playing from the house orchestra.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

An Insomniac's Ring Cycle . . . '

For those who can't sleep tonight, there's always Wagner's Ring Cycle. Swiss Radio Crazy's Opera channel will be airing the complete Haitink Ring Cycle starting sometime after 9:00PM EST. This recording features Eva Marton (Brunnhilde), Siegfried Jerusalem (Siegmund), James Morris (Wotan), Cheryl Studer (Sieglinde), Reiner Goldberg (Sigfried), and Waltraud Meier (Fricka).


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