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Coloratura By Numbers

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on February 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Review – Gioia! Aleksandra Kurzak, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana & Omer Meir Wellber.

The debut album of any artist these days more often than not displays the not-so-invisible hand of the marketing department. Driven – and I admit understandably – by the “bottom line” it’s either the image, the album title or the programme itself that they influence.

In the case of ‘Gioia!’ – complete with a redundant ‘exclamation’ – it seems that the marketing people got their grubby mitts in “upstream” as they would say.

Firstly the image with Ms Kurzak sporting a beehive more sadly reminiscent of Amy Winehouse but the ‘come hither’ pose is unfortunate as well.

But it is the programming that is most disappointing. I have seen Polish-born Ms Kurzak on stage twice at Covent Garden and both were rather memorable. First as Aspasia in Mitridate, re di Ponto and then in the title role of Matilde di Shabran.

I remember hers as a rather beautiful voice, slightly tight at the top of her range but displaying ease with coloratura. I remember my friend who accompanied me at the time saying that in a few years she could possibly be fantastic.

She definitely had stage presence and it’s a shame that this doesn’t come through on her debut disc. Clearly the label – with references to Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills – seem to think that she has reached that destination already.

Indeed, frustratingly I don’t think her carriage has quite arrived at the platform.

I say frustratingly because I really want to love this album. Love it rather than think I could listen to it again but not as a massive priority. And not for Ms Kurzak.

This recital disc is predictable in the first instance and in the second the performances themselves while technically almost flawless, are almost to an aria interpretively bland. And every so often there is the odd little mannerism that smacks of affectation.

I am supposing that the title refers to the general state of ‘happiness’ of the characters on the disc and all the old favourites are there – Rossini, Mozart, Donizetti, Strauss (Johann), Verdi, Puccini and Bellini.

Ms Kurzak rattles through them, and rattles with a ‘rolled r’ in many cases. I can’t work out if that is her attempt at conveying emotion or just an affectation. I am opting for the latter.

As I said Ms Kurzak has a beautiful voice – well controlled and pointed coloratura with an almost even tone throughout her register. But what is lacking is a sense of depth and colour so much so that her Rosina sounds like her Susanna who sounds like her Elvira who sounds like her Adele who sounds like her … well you get the picture.

And while her voice is more suited to the bel canto roles on the disc there is a lack of depth or warmth that is a clear disadvantage in her reprisal of Puccini’s heroines.

However there are two tracks on the disc that do raise the temperature. The first is her performance of E strano! Ah, fors’é lui – Sempre libera from La Traviata. All of a sudden she is multi-dimensional and creates a credible interpretation, flinging off the coloratura in Sempre libera with real abandon. It might warrant a trip to see her perform Violetta on stage in Frankfurt as part of their 2012/2013 Season. And the final track of the disc, Do grobu trwać w bezżennym stanie from Moniuszko’s Straszny Dwór is the other remarkable track. Clearly there is the Polish connection and she pours out a truly remarkable performance of the recitative and aria.

However what does lift this recital disc a number of levels is the quality of the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana under Omer Meir Wellber. In the verve and attention to detail and phrasing it is clear that Wellber is a protégé of Barenboim. From the concertante playing in the Moniuszko to the elegance of the musicianship and the momentum he maintains throughout, conductor and orchestra provide excellent and sensitive support to Ms Kurzak throughout.

And it is this which makes this disc more than just another recital by rote.

It’s enjoyable but I was left with the ultimate wish that that the repertoire chosen had been a tad more distinctive and not just about marketing and the bottom line.

Viva medici.tv – Ariadne auf Naxos (Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden)

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on February 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Review – Saturday 25 February 2012

Ariadne/Prima Donna – Renée Fleming
The Composer – Sophie Koch
Zerbinetta – Jane Archibald
Bacchus – Robert Dean Smith
The Music Teacher – Eike Wilm Schulte
Majordomo – René Kollo
Harlequine – Nikolay Borchev
Scaramuccio – Kenneth Roberson
Truffaldino – Steven Humes
Brighella – Kevin Conners
The Dancing Master – Christian Baumgärtel
Lackey – Roman Grübner
Naiad – Christina Landshamer
Dryad – Rachel Frenkel
Echo – Lenneke Ruiten

Director & Set Designer – Philippe Arlaud 

Costumes – Andrea Uhmann
Conductor – Christian Thielemann
Staatskapelle Dresden

Having seen The Met’s production of Götterdämmerung, as a HD live transmission a few weeks ago it seemed but a small step to watch a live stream of an opera via my laptop from the comfort of my own home.

It is something I have always considered doing but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon medici.tv that I decided it was time. And it had everything to do with lure of Ariadne auf Naxos from the Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden. Plus the fact that my MacBook Pro has a rather generous screen.

First things first. medici.tv is an exemplary service and technically the live stream was faultless. Good value at about 7€ a per month a quick scan of its catalogue persuaded me to take out a subscription – even if some of the performances and recitals are currently geoblocked in the UK.

However the main driver for watching the performance was Renée Fleming’s role debut as Ariadne/The Prima Donna. And having seen her live as the Marschallin and Madeleine, the Countess in Capriccio she did not disappoint. I have said it before, Renée Fleming is a brilliant Strauss interpreter – his vocal lines suit her perfectly, and over the years her voice has developed an even warmer and burnished tone throughout its range without losing any of its flexibility. Es gibt ein Reich was simply beautiful – and Fleming demonstrated not only the smoothest of legato phrasing but complete control of the dynamic range of the scene with light and dark shading of her voice. However while this was for me the highlight of the evening – when she sang ‘totenreich’ it sent a shiver down my spine – hers was a faultless performance throughout. In particular her final duet with her Bacchus – Robert Dean Smith – was wonderful, again with not even a hint of strain.

I had previously seen Sophie Koch at Covent Garden – first as Octavian and then in her role debut as Brangäne in Loy’s much-maligned – but personally loved – production of Tristan und Isolde. I do hope ROH revive it. As The Composer – looking somewhat like Charlie Chaplin to me – she had a pretty convincing grasp of the taxing vocal line that Strauss had written for the character. However there were times when there was clearly strain at the top of the voice and occasionally a more fluid legato line was wanting. However a strong performance nonetheless.

The surprise of the evening was Jane Archibald’s Zerbinetta. Not only must the soprano who takes on this role be a formidable singer, she must also be a good actor. Ms Archibald had both in spades. Not only did she inhabit the character completely – flirtatious, vivacious and, to me at least, more than a little wise – but she had great stage presence. Even over broadband. And vocally she was impressive. Her performance of Grossmächtige Prinzessin! was not only vocally impressive but intelligently performed. Quite rightly she was applauded at the end of the scena and at the end of the performance.

Similarly it was great to see The Majordomo reprised by René Kollo. Often taken – and usually with great aplomb – by actors Kollo brought his vast experience, including the insight of singing Bacchus himself, to the role. Masterful.

Strauss has never been kind to his tenors. I think of The Emperor in Die Frau ohne Schatten for example, and similarly in Ariadne auf Naxos he doesn’t seem to warm to them much. The vocal line often sits uncomfortably high for many singers but in Baden-Baden Robert Dean Smith acquitted himself brilliantly. Vocally clear and bright his final duet with Ms Fleming was, as I have said already, wonderful. You could almost believe they were wandering off into the sunset.

It’s often easy to forget that – possibly more than his other operas – Ariadne auf Naxos is an ensemble piece from the very beginning. And the ensemble at the Festspielhaus was excellent. However special mention must go to Roman Grübner for his clear voice and slick acting as The Lackey, he three nymphs – Christina Landshamer, Rachel Frenkel and Lenneke Ruiten – and the comedia dell’arte inspired troupe – Nikolay Borchev, Kenneth Roberson, Steven Humes, Kevin Conners as well as Christian Baumgärtel’s Dancing Master.

And what of the production? This is the fourth production I have seen. I’ve watch the Metropolitan Opera production on DVD and many moons ago saw the production at English National Opera in the early 1990s (quite possibly my first exposure to the work as well as to Richard Strauss). More recently I saw the production at Covent Garden complete with its rising floor.

I have to admit I enjoyed the Baden-Baden production. It was unfussy and simple and clearly Phillipe Arlaud was more than inspired, it seemed, by Hollywood. I have already mentioned Koch’s Chaplin-esque Composer but even Renée Fleming had the hint of a 1950s starlet about her. Although her outfit in the Opera reminded me tangentially of two unrelated things. Firstly her look brought to mind Elizabeth Connell who sadly died recently. But also of the costume allegedly worn by Mary, Queen of Scots for her execution – a black gown hiding a Catholic-martyr red dress beneath. And Zerbinetta has something of the Sally Bowles about her.

And clichéd though it might be, the sight of Ariadne and Bacchus walking off into the night was simple and effective.

It all worked and I don’t think Arlaud deserved the boos when he came on stage.

The conductor, Christian Thielemann, is more than an accomplished interpreter of Strauss and he led the Staatskapelle Dresden throughout with great distinction and clear love for the score. And while it might be almost impossible to judge this from a live stream to a laptop, there was clearly a strong connection between the pit and the ensemble on stage.

So a night of firsts. Ms Fleming’s first ever Ariadne, and I hope that one day I will see her perform the role live on stage. For me, my first ever live-to-laptop streaming. And it’s definitely something I will be doing again. I can’t say it will ever replace the thrill, excitement and atmosphere of a live performance but time and money preclude me from attending every thing I might want to see.

And I heartily recommend that everyone sign up for medici.tv.

A great find.

Viva medici.tv – Ariadne auf Naxos (Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden)

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on February 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Review – Saturday 25 February 2012

Ariadne/Prima Donna – Renée Fleming
The Composer – Sophie Koch
Zerbinetta – Jane Archibald
Bacchus – Robert Dean Smith
The Music Teacher – Eike Wilm Schulte
Majordomo – René Kollo
Harlequine – Nikolay Borchev
Scaramuccio – Kenneth Roberson
Truffaldino – Steven Humes
Brighella – Kevin Conners
The Dancing Master – Christian Baumgärtel
Lackey – Roman Grübner
Naiad – Christina Landshamer
Dryad – Rachel Frenkel
Echo – Lenneke Ruiten

Director & Set Designer – Philippe Arlaud 

Costumes – Andrea Uhmann
Conductor – Christian Thielemann
Staatskapelle Dresden

Having seen The Met’s production of Götterdämmerung, as a HD live transmission a few weeks ago it seemed but a small step to watch a live stream of an opera via my laptop from the comfort of my own home.

It is something I have always considered doing but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon medici.tv that I decided it was time. And it had everything to do with lure of Ariadne auf Naxos from the Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden. Plus the fact that my MacBook Pro has a rather generous screen.

First things first. medici.tv is an exemplary service and technically the live stream was faultless. Good value at about 7€ a per month a quick scan of its catalogue persuaded me to take out a subscription – even if some of the performances and recitals are currently geoblocked in the UK.

However the main driver for watching the performance was Renée Fleming’s role debut as Ariadne/The Prima Donna. And having seen her live as the Marschallin and Madeleine, the Countess in Capriccio she did not disappoint. I have said it before, Renée Fleming is a brilliant Strauss interpreter – his vocal lines suit her perfectly, and over the years her voice has developed an even warmer and burnished tone throughout its range without losing any of its flexibility. Es gibt ein Reich was simply beautiful – and Fleming demonstrated not only the smoothest of legato phrasing but complete control of the dynamic range of the scene with light and dark shading of her voice. However while this was for me the highlight of the evening – when she sang ‘totenreich’ it sent a shiver down my spine – hers was a faultless performance throughout. In particular her final duet with her Bacchus – Robert Dean Smith – was wonderful, again with not even a hint of strain.

I had previously seen Sophie Koch at Covent Garden – first as Octavian and then in her role debut as Brangäne in Loy’s much-maligned – but personally loved – production of Tristan und Isolde. I do hope ROH revive it. As The Composer – looking somewhat like Charlie Chaplin to me – she had a pretty convincing grasp of the taxing vocal line that Strauss had written for the character. However there were times when there was clearly strain at the top of the voice and occasionally a more fluid legato line was wanting. However a strong performance nonetheless.

The surprise of the evening was Jane Archibald’s Zerbinetta. Not only must the soprano who takes on this role be a formidable singer, she must also be a good actor. Ms Archibald had both in spades. Not only did she inhabit the character completely – flirtatious, vivacious and, to me at least, more than a little wise – but she had great stage presence. Even over broadband. And vocally she was impressive. Her performance of Grossmächtige Prinzessin! was not only vocally impressive but intelligently performed. Quite rightly she was applauded at the end of the scena and at the end of the performance.

Similarly it was great to see The Majordomo reprised by René Kollo. Often taken – and usually with great aplomb – by actors Kollo brought his vast experience, including the insight of singing Bacchus himself, to the role. Masterful.

Strauss has never been kind to his tenors. I think of The Emperor in Die Frau ohne Schatten for example, and similarly in Ariadne auf Naxos he doesn’t seem to warm to them much. The vocal line often sits uncomfortably high for many singers but in Baden-Baden Robert Dean Smith acquitted himself brilliantly. Vocally clear and bright his final duet with Ms Fleming was, as I have said already, wonderful. You could almost believe they were wandering off into the sunset.

It’s often easy to forget that – possibly more than his other operas – Ariadne auf Naxos is an ensemble piece from the very beginning. And the ensemble at the Festspielhaus was excellent. However special mention must go to Roman Grübner for his clear voice and slick acting as The Lackey, he three nymphs – Christina Landshamer, Rachel Frenkel and Lenneke Ruiten – and the comedia dell’arte inspired troupe – Nikolay Borchev, Kenneth Roberson, Steven Humes, Kevin Conners as well as Christian Baumgärtel’s Dancing Master.

And what of the production? This is the fourth production I have seen. I’ve watch the Metropolitan Opera production on DVD and many moons ago saw the production at English National Opera in the early 1990s (quite possibly my first exposure to the work as well as to Richard Strauss). More recently I saw the production at Covent Garden complete with its rising floor.

I have to admit I enjoyed the Baden-Baden production. It was unfussy and simple and clearly Phillipe Arlaud was more than inspired, it seemed, by Hollywood. I have already mentioned Koch’s Chaplin-esque Composer but even Renée Fleming had the hint of a 1950s starlet about her. Although her outfit in the Opera reminded me tangentially of two unrelated things. Firstly her look brought to mind Elizabeth Connell who sadly died recently. But also of the costume allegedly worn by Mary, Queen of Scots for her execution – a black gown hiding a Catholic-martyr red dress beneath. And Zerbinetta has something of the Sally Bowles about her.

And clichéd though it might be, the sight of Ariadne and Bacchus walking off into the night was simple and effective.

It all worked and I don’t think Arlaud deserved the boos when he came on stage.

The conductor, Christian Thielemann, is more than an accomplished interpreter of Strauss and he led the Staatskapelle Dresden throughout with great distinction and clear love for the score. And while it might be almost impossible to judge this from a live stream to a laptop, there was clearly a strong connection between the pit and the ensemble on stage.

So a night of firsts. Ms Fleming’s first ever Ariadne, and I hope that one day I will see her perform the role live on stage. For me, my first ever live-to-laptop streaming. And it’s definitely something I will be doing again. I can’t say it will ever replace the thrill, excitement and atmosphere of a live performance but time and money preclude me from attending every thing I might want to see.

And I heartily recommend that everyone sign up for medici.tv.

A great find.

More of the Ecstasy & None Of The Agony

In Classical Music, Review on February 18, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Review – “Reflections On Debussy”
Kathryn Stott, Yan Pascal Tortelier, BBC Philharmonic
Bridgewater Hall (17 February 2012)

Part of the BBC Philharmonic’s Debussy season the programme of the concert was based on, according to the programme, around the concept of ‘orchestral fantasias’.

As well as Debussy’s Prélude à L’après d’un Faune and his Fantaisie featuring Kathryn Stott, the programme included Vaughan-Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy.

But while the evening may have been based on orchestral fanastias, for me it was an evening full of wonderful sonorities and glorious playing by the BBC Philharmonic under their Conductor Emeritus, Yan Pascal Tortelier.

As I have mentioned before, I believe that the BBC Philharmonic are the finest BBC orchestra at the moment if not the finest orchestra in the UK. It is always a pleasure to travel to Manchester and on this occasion I was not completely disappointed.

The concert opened with Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Tortelier’s handling of the opening chord – like a breath of sound – was marvellous and immediately evoked – for me at least – the sense of mystery with which this piece is imbued. The smaller ensemble was placed in the circle above the orchestra enhanced the sonorities that Tortelier created during the piece and throughout the BBC Philharmonic and conductor demonstrated a masterful control of speed and dynamic range. So often I have heard this piece performed with cool indifference but for Yan Pascal and his players this was an English Renaissance psalm tune that inspired passion and fervour. It was simply beautiful.

The following two pieces were both by Debussy and – for different reasons – were not as compelling as either the opening piece of the Scriabin that followed them.

Kathyrn Stott is an amazing player. Intelligent, nimble and fleet with incredible technique it is a shame that – in my opinion – she was let down by the music itself. Debussy’s Fantaisie for piano and orchestra hints at so much and delivers very little. There are moments that hint at later Debussy and for me it seemed almost a testing ground for the orchestral palette of colours he was to master later in life. Indeed I did sit there – having read the programme – and wonder if Debussy had returned to it later in life how he may have changed it. But Ms Stott, the orchestra and Tortelier gave a convincing account and at times there were distinct echoes of Gershwin in the sharp handling of the orchestra textures.

Tortelier’s interpretation of Prélude à L’après d’un Faune was, for me, a disappointing performance. The playing was exemplary, finely pointed with great attention to both detail and dynamics, but it lacked a sense of languor and sensuality. At slightly too fast a tempo, the luxuriant phrasing and delicate nuances in Debussy’s music weren’t given the opportunity to breathe sufficiently to create the heady atmosphere and reverie I associate with the piece. However I couldn’t fault the playing.

However all was forgotten with the BBC Philharmonic and Tortelier’s masterful performance of Scriabin’s unrealised fourth symphony, The Poem of Ecstasy. Listening to some audience members in the interval it was clear that this was not the piece that they had come to hear. Scriabin conjures up an interesting reaction even in the most die-hard classical music enthusiasts. His hard-to-understand-even-digest philosophical ideas often put people off from the start and many are put off by the perceived enormity and scale of his music.

I hope the electric performance of last night’s The Poem of Ecstasy will convert more than a few people in the audience or at least make them consider giving Alexander Scriabin another try.

The players and conductor dug deep to deliver a performance that had everything – sumptuous playing, fine attention to the smallest detail in Scriabin’s development of motifs, and the widest range of dynamic control that reminded me of their opening Mahler concert. And Tortelier’s handling of the orchestra, managing the swerving tempos and radical changes in mood and texture were highlighted by his control of the three momentary silences that punctuate the piece. As opposed to other performances and recordings of this work that I have heard, Tortelier’s brisk insistent tempo gave the entire performance a real sense of physicality, almost of desperation. And hats off to the exemplary playing of the brass section and, in particular, the trumpet playing of Section Principal Jamie Prophet.

So all in all another marvellous concert by the BBC Philharmonic. Superb playing under a great conductor.

I see Juanjo Mena is down to conduct the final two concerts in the “Reflections” series and look forward to returning to Manchester for more playing of the highest standard.

Flawed in High Definition

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on February 14, 2012 at 8:30 am

Götterdämmerung, The Metropolitan Opera (11 February 2012)

Three Norns – Maria Radner, Elizabeth Bishop, Heidi Melton
Siegfried – Jay Hunter Morris
Brunnhilde – Deborah Voigt
Waltraute – Waltraud Meier
Hagen – Hans Peter König
Gunther – Ian Paterson
Gutrune – Wendy Bryn Harmer
Alberich – Eric Owens
Woglinde – Erin Morley;
Wellgunde – Jennifer Johnson Cano
Flosshilde – Tamara Mumford

Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Conductor – Fabio Luisi
Director – Robert LePage
Set Designer – Carl Fillion
Lighting Designer – Etienne Boucher
Costumer Designer – Francois St-Aubin
Video Image Artists – Lionel Arnoud

Having seen the Met’s production of Die Walküre live I decided, due to time restraints, to experience the final instalment of Robert LePage’s production through the medium of cinema. Live HD transmissions are proving a bit of a success for the Met and I was intrigued to see how opera would translate to the big screen.

Personally I don’t think anything beats a live performance but clearly watching a live broadcast has its advantages similar to those when watching opera on DVD – you have the best seat in the house and, if the director is worth his salt, the advantage of not missing a single moment of the unfolding drama.

LePage’s production remains dominated by his mechanical set and in his introduction before the curtain went up Peter Gelb, in a well-prepped speech clearly written by his PR team tried to convince that LePage’s production was a combination of Old World and New and was, in fact, something that Wagner would have approved. I have no doubt that Wagner – with his obsession with modern technology – would have been intrigued by LePage’s intention but, with his equal if not overriding passion with both the importance of singing and acting, perhaps he too would have been left more than a little nonplussed.

As I said when I wrote about Die Walküre, the entire production is subsumed by the mechanical set, overshadowed by its hundreds of tonnes of steel, which don’t so much dominate the entire proceeding as suffocate them. Reviews of Götterdämmerung maintained that LePage had finessed his manipulation of the planks and that they had taken a less obtrusive role compared to in the first three operas. To be honest – and perhaps this was because of watching the production in a cinema with its close-ups – I didn’t feel that at all. The set was almost like an extra character that for the most part simply distracted especially as the singers continued – for the most part – to interact with it gingerly. I still remember Deborah Voigt’s fall on her first stage entrance on the first night of Die Walküre but all hats off to the Rhinemaidens who made it all look so effortless although it took me a while before I could relax as they slid down the stage and not think they were going to hit their heads.

Lionel Arnoud’s projections, a critical element to keep LePage’s production alive and bind the narrative, were an odd mix of hallucinogenic wallpapers and non-descript animated scenes that wouldn’t have looked out of place on my laptop. However they didn’t distract too much and there were some nice touches – the ravens in the final act for example.

Singing above all of this was a pretty strong cast. Jay Hunter Morris – as was repeatedly made clear a late stand-in for Gary Lehman – was an impressive Siegfried. It’s difficult to know because I was in a cinema whether or not the sound was ‘assisted’ in the sense that carefully placed microphones are going to ensure the right balance between singer and orchestra, but he clearly had the heft for the cinema-attending audience. He managed to pace himself and there were only occasional signs of strain in his Third Act scene. But while his voice was equally clear and resonant and there were times when I did wish there was a little more colour and inflection in his vocal line. At times his delivery seemed to verge on the bland but I hope that as he develops this role that will change.

Deborah Voigt’s Brunnhilde – one of the most anticipated and analysed debuts in this role for a while I would imagine – had clearly developed in the role since Die Walküre. Interestingly when interviewed during the interval by Patricia Racette she discussed how Götterdämmerung was her preferred opera in the trio in which Brunnhilde appears as Siegfried lies uncomfortably high for her voice. I have to admit that she did give a compelling performance in Götterdämmerung and clearly she – I don’t think I can credit LePage with this considering the lacklustre direction and ‘stand-and-deliver’ style of Die Walküre – had thought deeply about the role and has always been, in my opinion, an intelligent and thoughtful singer-actress. The trouble with HD however is that it does zoom in which isn’t a luxury that is afforded you in the opera house even with the best theatre glasses. For me this meant that every nuance was exaggerated which at times was distracting. I still believe that Brunnhilde is not a role that sits easily within Voigt’s voice and while there didn’t seem to be the level of strain that she suffered in Die Walküre there were still moments when he voice took on a slightly metallic, single dimensional role. However overall this was a strong performance and it would be interesting to see how Voigt handles a complete cycle.

The surprise of the evening for me was the Gutrune of Wendy Bryn Harmer. More normally a cipher or a casting afterthought, Bryn Harmer has a rich vibrant soprano and made the character incredibly human, married with excellent technique. In her interval interview she professed an ambition to sing Sieglinde which would be something to hear. Iain Paterson as her brother was similarly well cast, delivering a believably flawed character and strong singing.

Similarly Hans Peter König and Eric Owens as Hagen and Alberich respectively were impressive. König exuded a calculated malevolence coupled with an intelligent musical performance. The ‘duet’ between father and son – Owens being equally vocally strong and a thoughtful actor – was one of the highlights of the evening even if the direction was slightly awry.

The Norns and the Rhinemaidens – were also impressive. The ensemble singing was closely knit without weak link in the casting. I have to profess to a small chuckle as the Norns rose, Jedi-like, from under the stage. Complete with their hooded gowns they would not have looked out of place in George Lucas’ Star Wars. But they gave a very credible performance and sang beautifully. Similarly, the three Rhinemaidens managed the perfect balance of flirtatiousness and what I always think is gentle malevolence and again, the ensemble singing was superb.

However the highlight of the evening was Waltraud Meier as Waltraute. She brought an intelligence and humanity to the role that made that single scene the most mesmerising of the whole performance in a way I have not seen in Götterdämmerung before. Ms Meier is of course a seasoned performer and an expert interpreter of some of Wagner’s greatest female roles – her Ortrud in Munich and her Isolde in Paris are particularly memorable – and her performance as Waltraute, bringing out the ‘humantiy’ of the role and demonstrating through her entire performance how far the Gods had fallen was truly remarkable. For a moment it lifted the entire opera.

Fabio Luisi has stepped in at the Met after Levine cancelled due to ongoing health problems. I couldn’t quite put my finger on his conducting style in the first act but I am indebted to fellow blogger @The Wagnerian for hitting the nail on the head – “late Verdi without la passione”. Precisely. I missed Levine’s drive and bite.

Overall however LePage’s interpretation of Götterdämmerung was as flawed for me as was his Die Walküre. The staging itself continued to dominate and while in the latter there as some method to his mechanical obsession in Götterdämmerung, where LePage had either run out of creative steam with his own creation or was trying – a little to late – to compensate the end result was even less compelling. In truth – as was the case with Keith Warner’s production at Covent Garden – perhaps seeing LePage’s Ring in its entirety once the novelty has faded, might enable me to see beyond ‘the machine’. But for now the staging remained too obtrusive and the directing of the characters seemed more secondary if not – thank goodness – the afterthought that it seemed in Die Walküre.

And seeing Götterdämmerung as a live HD transmission had both advantages and disadvantages. Clearly the quality of the broadcast and the sound is impressive but you do miss the atmosphere and excitement of being in the audience. Also if the director is worth his salt you do not miss a moment of the action. But what you do not see the entirety of the staging for, of course, the director only lets you see what he wants you to see. In this case, LePage wanted to make sure, it seemed, that the staging itself got ‘star billing’.

Additionally the intense focus on the singers as individuals detracts from the overall sense of an ensemble. No matter how fast the camera is, it cannot compensate for the speed in which – sitting in the theatre itself – the viewer can absorb an entire scene and the characters motivations in a nanosecond.

However I have to admit that I have been nibbled by the HD bug and will return again for Dessay in the Met production of La Traviata in April. But for now, LePage and his Ring remain less human and more machine.

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