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.

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