MUNICH - Of the five operas I've seen in three German cities in one week,
not one was "EuroTrash" in the sense of the gratuitous exhibit of bodily
functions. And yet, there was a clear trend or characteristic: all these
modern-dress productions (of Wagner, Mozart, Offenbach, and Verdi) were
trying ever so hard to be "different," and thus ended up very much the
What I saw was not "EuroTrash," but "EuroStrident": exaggerated,
larger-than-life productions, regardless of the subject, music, composer's
intention. They all turned soloists and, especially, choruses into
something mechanical, impersonal, avoiding the apparent plague of the
lyrical or, heaven save us, sentimental.
I already reported in detail of Hamburg's "Ring"-opening "Das Rheingold"
on March 24 (http://www.sfcv.org/2008/03/25/music-news-51/). The same
director, Claus Guth, presented the Bavarian State Opera's "Luisa
Miller"(seen on March 30) as an endless sequence of mirror images -
puzzling, distracting, and finally just irritating. Also in Munich,
Gunter Kramer managed to mess with "La traviata" (March 29) by having
the chorus perform in a conga line, then kick up their heels in a kind
of csardas in ensemble numbers.
Pet Halmen's "Don Giovanni" production in Hamburg (March 25) is
dominated by huge portraits upstage, seemingly unrelated to the work,
endless prancing required from the singers. Strangely, Berlin's Komische
Oper, the granddaddy of Europe's New-Opera, provided the most "traditional"
experience in the sense of a very human "Tales of Hoffmann" (March 28);
modern-dress in a cocktail-lounge environment and all, Thilo Reinhardt
nevertheless allowed the cast to behave more like people than machines.
The result: feelings expressed and experienced, rather than cast and
audience preoccupied with tricks and pizzazz.
Musically too "Hoffmann" worked the best, with a fine ensemble cast doing
well under Kimbo Ishii-Eto's baton. Kor-Jan Dusseljee in the title role
looked a bit old to be the romantic hero, but sounded well enough; Stella
Doufexis' Muse provided a committed, edgy musical/dramatic performance.
Carsten Sabrowski slightly over-acted as the Nemeses Four, the heroines
were just right: Leonie Abbassi as Stella, Victoria Joyce as Olympia,
Elaine Ortiz-Arandes as Antonia, and Karolina Gumos as Giulietta.
The Hamburg "Don Giovanni" was a bit of a shock: the night after Simone
Young's outstandingly consistent "Das Rheingold," she and the orchestra
sounded tentative and "off" in the Mozart, the overture raising eyebrows
and, in my case, the hackles. (This was Young's fourth performance,
plus one extensive rehearsal, in four days; she may think she is invincible,
but...) The orchestra picked up later, but William Shimell's worn voice
in the title role didn't, a very young Tim Mirfin's Leporello was
amateurish; Tarnar Iveri's Donna Anna, Miriam Gordon-Stewart's Donna
Elvira, and Kari Postma's Zerlina were merely passable.
Massimo Zanetti conducted the Munich "Luisa Miller" with gusto and
frequent slurring of pivotal phrases. It may be something highly
subjective, but I never heard a performance by Paolo Gavanelli I didn't
like ("heart," actually), and even in the middle of all the mirror-miming
monkey business, his Miller was tremendous. Krassimira Stoyanova in the
title role sang well, the rest of the cast not so much. The Rodolfo,
Mikhail Agafonov, has the voice, but not the experience (which can be
obtained) or musicality (more of a problem).
Zanetti was also in charge of "Traviata," but you couldn't tell that
by watching him grinning through it all and from the expressions of the
musicians who tried look at the conductor as little as possible. (Note
to Self: don't ever sit in the first row again!) I thought the world of
the young Norah Amsellem when she was in the Merola Program, but as The
Woman Who Strayed, she just leaned WAY back to get out the high notes,
and mostly she managed, but it all looked and - especially - sounded
like Effort with a capital E. Franco Vassallo's Germont was sonorous,
Massimo Giordano's Alfredo even more laborious than Amsellem's Violetta.
By far the best musical experience of the week: Christian Gerhaher's
all-Brahms recital in the Berlin Philharmonic's Kammermusiksaal, on March
27. Supported by a true and grand accompanist, Gerold Huber, Gerhaher
sang quietly (what acoustics that hall has!), consistently, clearly,
beautifully, with impeccable diction, from the heart, without artifice
or posing, investing all of himself in the music. Why can't opera
productions be like that?
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