Sunday 26 April 2015

Domingo, Giordani, Pavarotti: Ernani by Verdi

I have always believed Ernani to be Verdi's dullest work. Apparently that is what you get you only have seen Ernani from La Scala conducted by Muti with Domingo as Ernani, Mirella Freni as Elvira, Nicolai Ghiaurov as Silva and Renato Bruson as Carlo. Strange when all those names even in themselves often serves as garantie for excellence.

But it all starts with that genius conductor Riccardo Muti and his quest for purity which in this case backfires. Evidently Giuseppe Verdi himself saw that this work needed something more and he gave it more of his finest work after the premiere. As a purist Muti wants it come scritto, like as it was on the very first night. Then we have his, as it has been described before, puritanical conducting. Ernani suffers especially badly by this approach. Ernani need lots of passion from everybody.

Placido Domingo is the most adorable Ernani. His facial expressions alone makes a woman go LOVE YOU FOREVER, PLACIDISSIMO. Acting and singing is amazing. Sadly he has the wonderful, amazing soprano Mirella Freni at his side. Mirella Freni singing Elisabetta in Verdi's Don Carlo is as far as she can reach, Elvira is out of he league. A terrified Elvira is not enough, one need supremely confident soprano as Elvira. Freni does not have the big, dark voice for Elvira. Ghiaurov and Bruson are adequate enough. But where is the passion. Ernani is really an opera about big feelings all the time. Passion is not there, sadly.

But I have Met on Demand so how would Metropolitan Opera make of this opera. First I chose the newest video with Marco Armiliato conducting Marcello Giordani as Ernani, Angela Meade as Elvira, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Silva and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Carlo. Marco Armiliato lets the opera breath passion and the production is just as wonderful. Marcello Giordani is good enough. Angela Meade is just fabulous. What a difference a soprano makes? We got passion. Ferruccio Furlanetto is a brilliant Silva. Dmitiri Hvorostovsky offers an interesting Carlo. Go for Carlo, Elvira!!

The winner the video from December 17, 1983. Same production, except that Elvira does not kill herself as she does almost 30 years later. Conducted by James Levine it just simply a joy listening to it. Luciano Pavarotti is the most wonderful Ernani and I am not only talking vocally. Pavarotti acts with every fibre of his being Ernani. Leonie Mitchell is a great Elvira even as Angela Meade wins with her agility. Ruggero Raimondi is Silva, wonderful singing and acting. Sherrill Milnes is the best Carlo ever. Just perfect!!

Sunday 12 April 2015

From Munich to Oslo, from Easter to Lohengrin 2015-04-11

April 1. 2015: traveling from Munich and home, a whole day traveling. At least I was home well before midnight. That was Wednesday and April Fool's Day and in the middle of so-called Holy Weeek of Easter. So Friday I was looking at Parsifal from the Met with Jonas Kaufmann and Katarina Dalayman with Rene Pape as Gurnemanz and Peter Mattei as Amfortas. Wonderful!!!

April 11, 2015: traveling to Oslo to see Lohengrin.

2015-04-11 Lohengrin (Wagner), Den Norske Opera & Ballett (Oslo)

Heinrich der Vogler = Magne Fremmerlid
Lohengrin = Paul Groves
Elsa von Brabant = Nina Gravrok
Friedrich von Telramund Ole Jørgen Kristiansen
Ortrud = Elena Zhidkova
Heerrufer = Yngve Søberg

John Helmer Fiore, conductor

Regie- Johannes Erath
Scenography - Kaspar Glarner
Costumes - Christian Lacroix

A wonderful Lohengrin in Oslo, or was it?

The production was in black and white mostly except that Ortrud was dressed in green. Even as the prelude started we were shown that Ortrud was most probably the villain and also at other times we were shown flashbacks to the past were Telramund tried to kiss Elsa and Ortrud took the brother of Elsa. Directors of to today do not think the audience are too bright so they have to show it all. 

The problem for me was Elsa. All that running around, being crazy, and fainting and then suddenly she was able to show some dignity as a noble woman. Only men think women faint that easily. It was true at one time when women's dresses and so on was so tight that taking a deep breath was impossible. With more loose dresses women do no longer faint at all kind of moments. Nina Gravrok was Elsa von Brabant. First act aria "Einsam in trueben Tagen" was sung very staccato and with no legato line that it never seemed to become the first class aria it is. Even as it is years since I listened to Jessye Norman on CD and almost a decade since I saw it in Vienna with Soile Isokoski I remember the celestial feeling this arias gives you when sung by these too first class opera singers. Luckily as the opera progressed and Elsa did not have to act so absurdly Nina Gravrok singing improved. Unfortunately I expected more of a professional singer: to be able to sing legato and give every line their right form even if the directors demands you to run around onstage as a madwoman.

Elena Zhidkova was Ortrud. What more to say about this great singer? She acted and sang just as you would dream a Ortrud being able to do. She was helped by the director allowing her to play the role straight up without inventing stupid moves. If one wanted more and/or different from Ortrud one would have to falk to Richard Wagner, the composer who also wrote the text to his operas.

Ole Kristian Jørgensen was Friedrich von Telramund. Again a great singer / actor who was allowed to bring the best of himself without the director inserting himself. In short Ortrud and Friedrich von Telramund was utterly believable as a couple and in themselves. 

Magne Fremmerlid was King Heinrich der Vogler. He did it well but I missed hearing the full sound of his large voice. Was it deliberate or was something not right? Most importantly it was nothing that diminished him, he was perfectly put in the right spot and did not waiver.

Paul Groves was Lohengrin. What should I say about Paul Groves as Lohengrin? That he was great enough? Or... Was he perfect or was he lacking as Lohengrin. In many ways that is the whole question of Lohengrin himself. The perfect knight of the Grail or the imperfect human being.

Lohengrin could be the story of a purity society. I never noticed Telramund admitted to force himself on Elsa just after realizing the boy, the duke of Brabant disappearing. Telramund has a claim of Brabant especially when the boy, the heir, is gone missing. And if Elsa accepts him as husband then voila Telramund becomes Brabant. Elsa rejects Telramund and that "tells" him that she must have killed her brother. Thus disgusted with Elsa, the young woman and heiress of Brabant, he married a woman much more to his liking. No he is still pure-thinking when the other woman is Otrud, the last offspring of those who ruled Brabant before it was Christened. 

Telramund tells this directly to the king with everybody hearing and Telramund is still considered brave etc man. His purity is intact but Elsa's purity is in doubt. Should I even have to call the witness who is said saw the deed. Of course not. To doubt a man on his word. What an horror! Of course it was Ortrud behind him all the times. Elsa is not allowed to be anything except crazed after her unknown knight. Wagner makes her such, and the director drinks it up and does not allow much dignity to poor Elsa. Lohengrin appears an otherworldly creature for the people of the times of Lohengrin. As a modern woman he appears as an arrogant idiot. The adieu to the swan, the looking into Elsa's eyes to see she is innocence. Wow. Well the singing was great enough and the director did not destroy the moments so one can enjoy it. To care for Elsa or Lohengrin that is not so easy.

Lohengrin has won the fight. Of course the men had to fight and they had to call the fighting God's courtroom. What could possibly go wrong? Telramund as so many men of  opera is incapable of understanding the fault was their own, so he accuses his wife. As a Christian he believes that God must have fought hard on Lohengrin side since he seemed to be such a wimp. When Ortrud who hated this new God and religion, tells him that Lohengrin used sorcery to win Telramund jumps up, yeah! He was not wrong, he was wronged. Then she has her man back and can get him to do what she wants.

After being weak and foolish Elsa, who is getting married, now has her dignity in place and can act like the nobility she is. Ortrud worms her in with her woe is me, you getting married, but my poor, poor husband. Elsa being noble allows Ortrud to come in become part of the bride parade. Being meek is not something Ortrud does well so she shows her real colors when Elsa is going to church or from church and accuses Elsa of all kinds of things while giving the girl doubt about her man, why not know his name and family and whether he is a noble at all. Telramund works on the men, this Lohengrin is he really..

Wedded bliss, no bed. They are alone for the first time EVER. And now married. Both now nothing except that GOD is important. The love duet is filled with God and purity. They love each-other, but always remember, it is pure love. Love is not sex, beds are not needed, what two people need is to have a talk, not THE TALK, but to talk about we love God and trust God. Then Elsa topples down and goes completely Eve to her Adam. I love you so much as I would rather die than tell anyone your name and station, but please tell me who are you. The forbidden fruit, the forbidden question. Alas, now all our happiness is gone!!! (Did I miss something, when did all that happiness happen? Oh, I must have blinked)

The king had come to Brabant to make it whole by deciding who will be the duke there just sow that Brabant would also be part of the German war against Hungary. Now that Lohengrin is married to Elsa and Telramund is banished, they can all happily go to war. Lohengrin killed Telramund after he jumped to kill Lohengrin when Elsa popped the wrong question. Now he asks was he right to kill the banished man that tried to kill him. Yes. But the Defender of Brabant as asked the brabantian to call him, ask also did they all hear Elsa swear to never ask. Since she has now asked he must go away but he ask them to deem if he was noble enough. Of course, he is. Knight of the Grail, and his father Parsifal who is crowned there. Is Elsa totally defeated as Lohengrin, who we all now know as Lohengrin, goes away with his swan. Lohengrin also tells now if only she had waited a year her brother would have come home. Defender, because the brother is still the Duke. Tell your brother all about me, Lohengrin says. Ortrud tells all that the brother was the swan. Lohengrin frees him.  Elsa dies.

No happy ending for you!!!

April 12, 2015: from Oslo to visit my dad and then back to Oslo Gardermoen to take the plane home. Great. Except that one of the navigation radio did not work. The tech people tried to tech it. 10, 20, 30 minutes and waiting. That does not work but they can find the item in Gardermoen. 30 mintes wait. No, it is not there. A plane from Gothenburg will carry the item. 2 hrs after schedule and we are off. But before not before 11 at night, 23 hrs did we land. For me I was not too bad off as we landed at the airport close to home so I was home at 2345. The people who was the land at the second airport had to take the bus all the way, my bus tour was over after 15-20 minutes, they had 2 hrs or more.

Thursday 2 April 2015

From Milano to Munich, Bizet-Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann 2015-03-31

From hot weather in Milano to cold weather in Munich via Frankfurt. A Sunday flight to Frankfurt from Linate airport and it is Summer time in Europe. I thought it would be time enough to go to the opera and it wasn't really because I was really tired so I just ate and slept in Frankfurt. Monday morning eating breakfast at McDonald's. Then by train to Munich. Monday was my shopping day. 

It was not just because of Rolando Villazon.

2015-03-31 Les Contes d'Hoffmann (Jacques Offenbach), Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich)

Olympia = Jane Archibald
Giulietta = Brenda Rae
Antonia = Serena Farnocchia
Cochenille, Pitichinaccio, Frantz = Kevin Conners Lindorf, Coppélius, Dapertutto, Miracle = Christian Van Horn
Nicklausse/Muse = Angela Brower 
Stimme aus dem Grab = Qiu Lin Zhang 
Hoffmann = Rolando Villazón 
Spalanzani = Ulrich Reß 
Nathanaël = Dean Power 
Hermann = Andrea Borghini 
Schlémil = Christian Rieger 
Wilhelm = Petr Nekoranec 
Crespel = Peter Lobert 
Luther = Peter Lobert

Constantin Trinks, conductor
Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper Orchester Bayerisches Staatsorchester 

Inszenierung - Richard Jones
Bühne - Giles Cadle 
Kostüme- Buki Shiff 
Choreographie - Lucy Burge 
Licht - Mimi Jordan Sherin 
Dramaturgie - Rainer Karlitschek 
Chor - Sören Eckhoff

Having seen this opera before with Placido Domingo and Agnes Baltsa as Hoffmann and Giulietta, the video recording from Royal Opera House Covent Garden, I was not overly optimistic. The only part I could really enjoy was the Giulietta act and even Domingo could not make me enjoy the whole opera. The parts with Placido was always the best and with Agnes Baltsa too, it became magic.

Rolando Villazon was the best actor for this role and a good tenor, too. His voice is not as it used to be, they say. In this performance I saw a promise to come back to greatness with some care. Villazon was a great Hoffmann and by his side the true wonder of the evening Angela Brower as Nicklausse. The 3 sopranos was great. Jane Archibald was the most amazing Olympia. Serena Farnocchia was the most wonderful Olympia. Brenda Rae was Giulietta. This time I did not love the Giulietta act more the rest. It was just the most perfect production.