jueves, noviembre 19, 2009

Opera in Berlin: the end of a tradition

Some weeks ago I wrote an article giving a general introduction about how I found the condition of opera in Berlin twenty years after my first visit. Now I will analyze two of the four operas I chose. Naturally, I gave pride of place to the three great names of German opera, Mozart, Wagner and Strauss. In all cases I got vivid pleasure out of many musical aspects and almost total revulsion about the sacrifice of the staging tradition, which I feel is done with complete conviction by this new generation of producers and, I¨m afraid, is amply backed by audiences and critics. Myself I refuse to give producers the status of co-creators, for me they are interpreters, just as conductors are, and they should simply keep to the spirit of text and music. The Staatsoper unter den Linden is led artistically by Daniel Barenboim. I thought the beautiful old house in reasonable shape, but I am told that it will shortly enter into a long period of restoration and reform in which the Government will spend about three times in Euros what is being spent at the Colón. I know no details, but the operational side seemed acceptable enough in the two operas I saw in successive evenings: Mozart´s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” (“Die Entführung aus dem Serail”) and Richard Strauss´ “Der Rosenkavalier” (I´m always surprised that no English translation of the title is attempted in this case). “The Abduction…” has been done recently in Buenos Aires, so I won´t expatiate on it. Suffice it to say that it is a rescue opera of Turkish locale, as its Janissary music proves conclusively. I like to see an ersatz Topkapi on stage, but failing this, I do want some Turkish ambience; it´s what Mozart wanted and what he creates. Not here. Producer Michael Thalheimer and stage designer Olaf Altmann gave us a starkly black-and-white stage divided in two widely separated levels. Furthermore Thalheimer decided to give the three-act opera in one continuous act, 2 h 15 min. long, which was certainly heavygoing for all concerned, performers and audience. The noble couple, Konstanze and Belmonte, were reasonably well dressed (by Katrin Lea Tag) but Blonde and Pedrillo were shockingly ridiculed (they are the buffo characters in this Singspiel). Osmin and Pasha Selim had at least an inkling of Turkishness about them though the Janissaries were much too Prussian. Some of the stage business came off, but the Hitlerish characterization of Selim was all wrong; this is a generous ruler that pardons his enemy, not a rasping brute. The musical side, however, compensated. Philippe Jordan is a brilliant young conductor; I caviled at some fast tempi but the playing of the excellent orchestra was pointed and stylish. Daniel Behle as Belmonte was a real find; a Wunderlich-like voice, then which I can find no higher praise, plus a charming delivery of words and music. Maria Bengtsson as Konstanze coped with both the high florid phrases and the dramatic intensity required in several scenes; the voice is beautiful and so is her appearance. Although supposed to be ill, I found Anna Prohaska´s Blonde admirable in every sense. Florian Hoffmann as Pedrillo sang rather drily and wasn´t helped by the producer. Reinhard Dorn was a workmanlike Osmin, with accurate though rather impersonal singing all over the very wide range of the part; he can´t be blamed for the excessive stillness of his acting. I have a soft spot for “Der Rosenkavalier”, to my mind one of the loveliest of all operas. Producer Nicolas Brieger respected a good deal of it and in general terms I rather enjoyed it, though some matters were jarring: the absurd substitution of the little Moorish boy, Mohammed, by a white dwarf, moreover omnipresent when he is not required (even in the Trio), or making the Italian Singer a cripple in the “levee” scene. The stage picture (Raimund Bauer), based on a half-circle with numerous doors, mainly worked well. I disliked the lack of a bed and the lovers sprawled in the floor and distant from one another. But Bauer adapts well his main scheme to the three different places (the Marschallin´s room, the parvenu rich reception hall, the seedy tavern). Costumes (Joachim Herzog) were not always tasteful. The producer moved well his singers and they responded with high professionalism; they were a solid team. True, Anne Schwanewilms (the Marschallin) didn´t have the strong profile of Jurinac or Crespin, but she has a fine voice and uses it well. I was much impressed by the freshness and impetus of Katherine Kammerloher as Octavian; an admirably schooled strong voice always at the service of the right dramatic instincts and a good actress in those passages of double travesty (a mezzo plays an adolescent boy that plays a country girl). Sylvia Schwartz as Sophie sang very agreeably though without the radiance of the best exponents of this part (Rothenberger, Popp). The veteran Alfred Muff is still a redoubtable Ochs, encompassing the wide range of the writing and acting with debonair ease (again, without the strong personality of Boehme or Moll). Others did good jobs: Martin Gantner (Faninal), Irmgard Vilsmeier (Marianne), Andrea Bönig (Annina), Peter Menzel (Valzacchi), Stephen Rügamer (Italian singer). The brilliant Staatskapelle Berlin responded with aplomb to the intense conducting of Philippe Jordan, traversing with ease one of the most difficult scores.

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