Monday, 28 March 2011

Rattle and some more in Berlin

Parts of Classicalify spent the weekend in Berlin and between drinks at the Adlon we managed to squeeze in some operas. To be specific Salome helmed by Rattle at the Philharmonie, Ariadne auf Naxos and Otello at the Deutsche Oper.

Best things first. Sir Simon's Salome delivered the goods in a thrilling and dramatically involed performance. As expected, the Berlin Phil shone in this music playing with wonderfully transparant textures even at full throttle. Both brass and wood winds had a good night and the strings, especially celli and basses were silky and refulgent. Simon Rattle can be a willful conductor, but here his will made all the pieces stick together in a high octane reading which kept you hanging on attentively till the end.

Emily Magee sung Salome and did so with honours. Classicalify heard in as an outstanding Gutrune and Freia in the Pappano Ring at Covent Garden. What struck us then as a beautiful, round and smoothly produced voice of medium to large size still holds. The voice has gained some size but not lost it's rounded timbre. Only at the end of a long sing did some slight unsteadiness creep into the voice on the forte high notes. Magee's Salome has a will of iron and isn't afraid of expressing it with raw power. It's not the most subtle reading and some more word play and sexiness wouldn't be a bad thing, but on the whole it's a thrilling and well sung take on this demanding role.

Hanna Schwarz, a favourite in Germany, delivers an appropriately loud and aggressive Herodias while Stig Fogh Andersen shines in the way he handles the text with perfect articulation. Pavol Breslik sings Naaraboth in an earnest way, with a well produced and beautiful tenor voice, which makes Classicalify want to hear more of Mr Breslik.

Overall this was a very satisfying performance, that wet the appetite for the coming performances at the Easter Festspiele in Salzburg directed by the exciting Stefan Herheim.

For Otello we move to the Deutsche Oper where Johan Botha sung one of his nowadays well known moors. It is a stunningly well sung portrayal, delivered on the breath with spotless legato and with volume to spare when needed. Judging by this outing Botha has the goods for Tristan and maybe even the Siegfrieds within his vocal means. What he lacks is real dramatic bite to his performance. You just don't sense the rage and the despair that whirls within Otello, at least not to the degree that this role needs. And Mr Botha's bulk doesn't help his acting, which is on an amateurish level and largely restricted to standing still or lumbering across the stage and in moments of high drama staring eyes.

Adrienne Pieczonka's Desdemona is surely sung with all notes securely in place. Her voice is soft grained and somewhere between medium and large in size. Her portrayel is unfortunately also lacking in dramatic intensity and pathos, you don't feel as much for this Desdemona as you do for the best. Also she has a tendency of starting tones at a certain sound level and then almost immediately decreasing the volume, which to our ears sometimes disrupts the line. This is a well sung Desdemona, but We get the nagging feeling that Pieczonka is better in the German rep.

The Jago was sung by Mark Delavan and his portrayal was the least successful of all. Mr Delavan does not have a voice that can sound menacing and doesn't seem to know how to put forward the pure evil that lurks in Iago. His voice is of the noble variety, not the kind that produces a Gobbi snarl. Also the voice is to small for an outstanding Iago, especially as devilish colourings are lacking and in some ways need to be compensated by sheer force.

Of Runnicles conducting we can say that it went largely unnoticed which is both good and bad.

For Ariadne auf Naxos two of the mains parts were sung by replacements. Jane Archibald came down with a cold and Susanne Elmark replaced her as Zerbinetta. A pretty voice and a pretty woman is a good combination for this role and she came out on top of it. What's needed is more vocal punch on top, like Damrau. Elmark is too soubrettish to be a top player in this role. Our Bacchus was also in bed, and his shoes stepped Lance Ryan. A typical Siegfried voice to our hears, big and German sounding with a timbre somewhat lacking in warmth and overtones. Compared to Mr Botha, Mr Ryan sounds rather coarse actually. But it was sung with a dramatic feeling in a big boned way.

Ariadne herself was sung by house soprano Michaela Kaune. We didn't have high hopas for her, given that a lot of press about her has been quite negative. But she surprised us with instincts for shaping phrases and putting meaning into words. Her voice managed to produce some volume when needed and has a silvery quality to it, which comes to play in her upper register. The passagio is a bit curdled and the top most notes sometimes lacked the last ounce of support, but on the whole Mrs Kaune was quite successful as Ariadne. Our composer was Ruxandra Donose, and quite a fine one it was. The voice is somewhat veiled, but diction is clear and the timbre is interesting in a good way. Also top notes shine, with the timbre coming forward sunnily.

But the real winner of this Ariadne is that wizard of musical theatre, Robert Carsen. His Ariadne is thought out to the last detail, illuminating the score and text while providing entertainment when called for. And everything is done in an extremely aesthetically pleasing way, with the stage set in black and lightning playing a big part. This is opera done in a modern way in the best sense of the word.

Strauss: Salome. Philharmonie Berlin.

Berliner Philharmoniker Sir Simon Rattle conductor Stig Andersen Herodes Hanna Schwarz Herodias Emily Magee Salome Ian Paterson Jochanaan Pavo Breslik Narraboth Rinat Shaham Page der Herodias Burkhard Ulrich Erste Jude Timothy Robinson Zweiter Jude Marcel Beekman Vierter Jude Richard Wiegold Fünfter Jude, Cappadocier Reinhard Hagen Erster Nazarener André Schuen Zweiter Nazarener Oliver Zwarg Erster soldat Wilhelm Schwinghammer Zweiter Soldat

Richard Strauss short opera Salome will be performed in april at the Salzburg easter festival featuring the same cast and orchestra that classicalify heard this week in Philharmonie in Berlin.
Emily Magee will make her Salzburg debut this year and this concert in Berlin was also her first with the Berlin Philharmonic. The audience in Salzburg will not be disappointed.

Magee has a wonderful voice with great intensity and she is perfect as the evil and love longing princess Salome. You get shivers down your spine when she finaly reveals her wish for her father Herodes after the famous dance of veils. Her parents are sung by Stig Andersen and Hanna Schwarz who make a wonderful couple. You need singers who has intensity and power for this opera and they've got it no doubt. Ian Paterson was magnificent as Jochanaan and I hope to hear more of him in the near future.

The Berlin Philharmonic is one of the best orchestras in Germany and the world. When you think of the former music directors who has stood before them you get very impressed.

Sir Simon Rattle is a conductor who knows what he wants with the music he performs and shows it. The clarity and colour and shape of every accent is a delight for your ears. From the first bar you get spellbound by the music and hearing music live is a great kick.

The current season in Berlin has a lot to offer. It's worth every penny.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Birgit Nilsson Prize 2011

This morning at a press conference in Stockholm, it was announced that Riccardo Muti gets the Birgit Nilsson Prize 2011. Classicalify join in the celebrations! Bravo maestro!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Boris the Pape way

Well, well, well... Classicalify can't resist this version of Boris.
Hunk René Pape in the title role of Mussorgskij's opera at the Met.

Christian Gerhaher winner of Olivier Awards.

Our warmest congratulations to the German baryton singer Christian Gerhaher for winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding achievement in opera for his role in Wagners Tannhäuser.
Christian Gerhaher is one the best baryton singers around. Classicalify can highly recommend his recordings of Schumanns "Scenes from Faust" on RCO Live and Mahler Lieder on RCA red seal. Read more about the winners on

Friday, 4 March 2011

Netrebko-Schrott family having a ball

Blogger Intermezzo always brings updated news and gossip... some gorgeous pictures from Vienna Opern Ball recently gave us this little family... Papa Schrott, the hunk, is the one in the middle!
The above picture shows daughter Schrott carrying step-mother Netrebko's shoes... and who knows the lady to the left?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Laurence Olivier Awards 2011

One of Classicalifys favourite singers Jonas Kaufmann and Christian Gerhaher are nominated for an Olivier award in the category Outstanding achievement in opera.
Kaufmann for his performance in Adriana Lecouvrer and Gerhaher for his debut performance as Eschinbach in Tannhäuser. Adriana Lecouvrer is also nominated in the category Best New opera production. The award ceremony will take place at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane on march 13. We wish them both the best of luck. Read more about the awards on

Renée Fleming’s Extreme Roles

Classicalify is a huge fan of Renée Fleming. In March she sings at the Met, two different roles. Writer William Berger ("Wagner without Fear" - a book Classicalify much enjoyed) ask some questions on

The star soprano is on the Met stage this month in Capriccio and Armida. She tells William Berger how these two operas couldn’t be more different. Armida runs through March 5 and Capriccio opens March 28.
You’re so well known for your Strauss heroines—the Marschallin, Arabella, Countess Madeleine. What do you love about Capriccio in particular?
I love Strauss, period! The final scene of Capriccio is one of his many sumptuous gifts to the soprano voice. It’s incredibly beautiful vocal writing, and it fits me very well. But there are other wonderful, passionate moments as well. Capriccio really makes me wish I had known Strauss, because I suspect he had a rich inner life. There’s a lot of subtlety in this piece.
How would you describe Madeleine, the character you play in Capriccio?
She’s a confident woman who is very much in control of her surroundings and her life. On the spectrum of Strauss’s soprano roles, I think Madeleine is between Arabella and the Marschallin. At the heart of the story is that she loves being in love—and that people are in love with her. She’s enjoying all of this, I think, more than she wants to actually choose a partner. She enjoys the artistic process and being connected to creators—cultivating an environment where people can be inspired by each other. That’s the kind of thing she really likes best. And if you have a love story to go along with it—well, what’s better?
The premise of Capriccio is very unusual— it’s an opera about making art in which you find yourself torn between two men, a musician and a poet.
It’s a piece in which people are passionately discussing the merits of performances and theater and everything to do with putting on an artistic work. It isn’t until the final scene that we get to hear Madeleine’s expression of what she’s actually thinking and feeling. It’s hard to do when you’re a beginner singer. I play her much more easily now that I’m more experienced.
Last month you returned to the title role of Armida, which is about as different from Capriccio as it gets…
These two roles represent the extremes of what I can do on the operatic stage. Capriccio is about expressing text and details; Armida is vocal display. It’s completely virtuosic, it’s athletic. Bel canto is about showing the entire range of colors. The text is secondary. It will be interesting to see how it feels to sing these two roles back to back!