Here are some impressions from the three operas I attended in Munich on
7/29-31 - La favorite, Les contes d’Hoffmann and Andrea Chenier.
Conductor : Karel Mark Chichon
Director: Amelie Niermeyer
Leonor de Guzman: Elina Garanca
Fernand: Mathew Polenzani
Alphonse XI: Mariusz Kwiecien
It’s been ages since I’ve seen the live performance of Donizetti's La
Favorite (in San Francisco with Sonia Ganassi and Marcello Giordani in his
prime) and I welcomed the opportunity to revisit this grand opera with the
three principals from the Met's Roberto Devereux reunited in this modern
Polenzani was the one most consistently excellent – with well sustained
legatos, beautiful tone and phrasing. His acting also in the recent years
have improved much to be convincing enough. His act I “Un ange, une femme”
was quite lovely.
Kwiecien, when unleashed is a force of nature and the Act III his voice
showed off the richness the best. In earlier acts he sounded less refined
and at times blustery. His king Alphonse in his tight blue suit and a
man-bun had a feline elegance and also he was a terrific actor. During Act
II Airs de danses scene where a King watches his war conquests in what looks
like a movie theater or home theater with Leonor (facing the audience) he
gets quite excited and the staging gets quite explicit in depicting his
“high”ness – given the fact that he’s facing the conductor who happens to be
married to Garanca, Kwiecien must have some guts to act out this scene. Some
audience members got offended and left at intermission.
Garanca’s performance was riveting to watch, she portrays a surprisingly
strong Leonor, most of the time wearing red dressing gown with a blue
trouser suit underneath (wink wink I am a king’s mistress outside but
underneath I am dating a priest). She certainly has the comfortable range
(more comfortable at the top than the low bottom) but this role doesn’t come
across as good a fit as some other roles in French she sang in the past such
as Carmen or Charlotte. Her Dalia should be interesting.
There was a strong contribution from a sonorous Finnish bass Mika Kares as
I found the conducting to be sometime textbook like dry manner. The staging
was the usual modern, chairs, suits with an exception of the use of tableaux
vivants in the background of religious scene whenever Fernand is indecisive
or Leonor is suffering (and one moment the Christ character hanging on the
cross the whole time turned his head towards Leonor with sympathy)
Les contes d'Hoffmann
Conductor: Constantine Trinks
Director: Richard Jones
Hoffmann: Michael Spyres
Stella/Antonia/Giulietta: Diana Damrau
Lidorf/Coppelius/Dr. Miracle/Dapertutto: Nicolas Testé
Niklausse: Angela Brower
When I heard the leading tenor’s name I went “who?” but this excellent tenor
from Ozarks who sings lots of Rossini (Otello, Belfiore, Rodrigo,Arnold) and
even Troyens Enee was a perfect Hoffmann (As a bonus he looks like Hoffmann
Originally when the cast was announced last year the four heroines were
going to be sung by Aleksandra Kurzak and the villians by Ildar Abdrazakov.
By last month the cast has been changed to Diana Damrau (except Olympia) and
her husband Nicolas Teste as four villains.
Although I miss the opportunity to hear Ildar in this role I was happy to
get Teste whom I missed in LA Hoffmann a few months ago (he was ill and only
acted the role on stage with a sub singing from the pit). Not surprisingly
Teste was terrific – vocally and dramatically he was as good as Ramey!
I never thought I would say such a thing but I think I preferred Domingo’s
conducting of this work in LA better! Maestro Trinks’ tempo felt a bit slow
and nothing has gone wrong but there seems to be some energy and vibrance
Niklausse was sung by popular American mezzo Angela Brower who made San
Francisco Opera debut in the same role 5 years ago.
Olympia was sung by a spunky Russian soprano Olga Pudova who was
superimposed somehow on the bottom half of wooden legs and sang a pitch
perfect Olympia, delighting all of us.
I found Damrau’s interpretation of Antonia and Giulietta to be very
impressive. Her Antonia was quite different from the LA version where she
was feverishly frantic, here it was more fragile and helpless
interpretation. She looked like a small rag doll I almost didn’t recognize
her – but her singing was powerful and moving.
In Venice scene, her Giulietta was a fiery brunette who harvests what looks
like pancake images of her suitors from the mirror.
Back to Michael Spyres, except the very ending of the Kleinzack in the last
act (where it was slightly shaky in the last high note) he maintained the
steadiness and even control of the pleasant voice, very engaging singer with
Conductor: Omer Meir Wellber
Director: Philipp Stoelzl
Andrea Chénier: Jonas Kaufmann
Maddalena di Coigny: Anja Harteros
Carlo Gerard: Ambrogio Maestri
I was so much looking forward to Chenier because I thought this role would
be just perfect for Kaufmann’s voice and temper. On the day heard (Monday
7/31) he sounded a bit strained though, maybe from all that Otello from
London but this was not Kaufmann at his top form and I’ve heard many more
beautiful and exciting singing from him.
Luca Salsi was supposed to sing Gerard but was replaced by Ambrogio Maestri
who sang the role without much elegance.
The evening’s supremely moving interpretation came from Anja Harteros’
Maddalena. She’s an amazing interpreter – like bigger voiced Angela
Gheorghiu minus the attitude – her mamma morta was stunning (despite the
distasteful decision of displaying the real “mamma morta” with dagger in her
chest next door) and her volume and secure high note in the duet at the end
provided the Kaufmann’s tired Chenier a safe harbor to blend in.
J’Nai Bridges who sang Bersi in San Francisco’s Chenier earlier this season
reprised the role. Excellent Italian mezzo Elena Zilio who was so
heart-wreching in the ROH Chenier as Madelon sang the same role. The staging
of this scene was less moving than the London/SF version maybe because the
grandson she’s giving up was so big.
Israeli conductor Omer Meir Welber led an impressive orchestra and sensitive
interpretation of the score. The staging was like a sectional doll’s house
where audience can see the various floors/sections of the building. This
worked for a while especially in the beginning where you can see the
aristocrats partying upstairs and the servants toiling away in the basement
but in later scenes this method of presentation got to be a bit tiring and
distracting. It was a traditional production with the Guillotine actually
chopping off Chenier’s head and the executioner holding off his severed head
at the end (Jonas, we made YOUR head so you can’t cancel). Harteros’ “Idia
Legray” sang the line “son io” not spoken as I was used to.
Don’t get me wrong – Kaufmann sang well – it’s just that I set the bar very
high for him – still my favorite Jonas’ roles are Werther and Parsifal.
During the return flight home I found an in-flight program called "Ganz
Grosse Oper" (Totally Grand Opera?) a documentary made for TV.
This is focused on Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper and a film is trying be
something like a German version of the terrific documentary Paris Opera
(L’Opéra) I reported on a couple of month ago. As a film, it doesn’t live up
to Paris Opera but it shows some entertaining backstage scenes of several
productions from last year (Die Meistersinger, Les Indes Galantes, ballet la
Bayadere, Ballo in maschera).
In the beginning there’s an interview with Jonas Kaufmann saying the new
opera audience may have some animosities against opera-going, feeling like
they should know all the details (where it premiered, all the plots etc)
before attending. He discourages this attitude and invites the audience to
come, sit back and just enjoy the art form. There’s also a funny comment on
how one director tried to make his hair flat (I think it was in Zurich,
using flat iron, then gluing his hair to the head, then lots of hairpins)
shocking the orchestra when he appeared. Since then no other director tried
to mess with his hair.
When he started singing Wagner, people were saying to him “Wagner shouldn’t
be beautiful”, “You should spit more”. Kaufmann argues “why shouldn’t Wagner
be sung beautifully? Did Wagner say “I am just a lyrist who happened to
write a few notes on the side”?
He also described the difficulty of remembering all the words in the
Preislied – makes it more difficult that most of the audience members knows
the tune and he sometimes mixes up the words.
He also mentioned how he was not invited to sing in Munich for many years –
it’s only when Nicklaus Bachler (then at the Burgtheater in Vienna) heard
him in Zurich and asked him why doesn’t sing in Munich. He said “I was never
asked to sing there”. Well the rest is history.
Sir Peter Jonas talked about discovering Anja Harteros in Cardiff in 1999
when he was a member of jury and threatening to quit if she doesn’t win (she
won). He described Harteros “this wonderful Greek-German soprano, stunning
woman, modern-day Callas”.
There are some clips of Die Meistersinger where Jonas played a guitar
carrying vagabond with headphone, Beczala and Harteros rehearsing in ballo,
Zubin Mehta describing the best meal after conducting Tannhauser (it’s
indian) and how Karajan warned him that “you can’t conduct Brucker’s 9th
until you are at least 75 years old”. Also shown were rehearsal clips from
les Indes galantes – apparently the new San Francisco general director is a
huge fan of Rameau so who knows maybe this work will come our way as well.
There was some heated exchanges among Beczala/Harteros/director(?)
discussing whether the king Gustavo should be singing in or out of his
pajamas but our overly efficient lady pilot landed us in San Francisco more
than half an hour earlier than the scheduled time so I didn’t get to finish
watching the program. Here’s a very short trailer in case it turns up
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