lietofinelondon

Posts Tagged ‘Anja Kampe’

O hehrstes Wunder!

In BBC Proms, Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 24, 2013 at 10:46 am

Review – Die Walküre (BBC Prom – Tuesday 23 July 2013)

Wotan – Bryn Terfel
Brünnhilde – Nina Stemme
Siegmund – Simon O’Neill
Sieglinde – Anja Kampe
Hunding – Eric Halfvarson
Fricka – Ekaterina Gubanova
Gerhilde – Sonja Mühleck soprano
Ortlinde – Carola Höhn
Waltraute – Ivonne Fuchs
Schwertleite – Anaïk Morel
Helmwige – Susan Foster
Siegrune – Leann Sandel-Pantaleo
Grimgerde – Anna Lapkovskaja
Rossweisse – Simone Schröder

Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim (Conductor)

Sieglinde’s O hehrstes Wunder said it all.

On the strength of the first two performances and if the BBC is smart it will find a way to issue this Prom Ring cycle on CD or download.

Clearly Das Rheingold was simply the warm-up because on the second night of the BBC Proms’ first ever complete Ring cycle, Daniel Barenboim, a second-to-none cast and the Staatskapelle Berlin delivered a Die Walküre of such intensity that I haven’t personally experienced either on stage or in concert performance.

The quality of the performances, the playing and the acting on that limited stage all came together in a perfect moment.

It brought back memories of that night in 2005 and a single, isolated performance of Die Walküre. However the emotional intensity of the Berliners performance exceeded even the emotional temperature of that evening.

And Bryn Terfel sung in both. I will admit, I have never truly been convinced by his Wotan – until last night.

Having also seen him at Covent Garden and the Metropolitan I have always felt that there was that final ‘something’ missing. Not so of his Wotan on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall. Perhaps it was because he was stripped bare of the distractions of a stage setting that his performance was incredible. Vocally he chartered the descent of Wotan from arrogant God to loving and distraught father. Every phrase was thought through and convincingly delivered – the words always clear, his voice marvelously shaded, the phrasing beautifully shaped, his singing always incredibly expressive. His was a Wotan worth reckoning with – from his incredible scene with Fricka to his final showdown and heartrending breakdown. His Leb wohl was both majestic and human.

As his wife, Ekaterina Gubanova continued her tour de force as Fricka. And my God from her first appearance, as she slinked down the stairs, she sounded and looked the part. I have yet to finish my review of Gergiev’s recording of this opera simply because I struggle to get beyond listening to the second act with Ms Gubanova. And here she displayed the same high level of musicianship, that beautifully rich and almost muscular mezzo that perfectly conveys the haughty grandeur required of Fricka. Throughout the scene this was a Fricka in control – not completely the woman still hopefully in love of Stephanie Blythe – but a Goddess. Yet, right at the end, once she had extracted the necessary promise from Wotan, there was a sudden and unexpected sign that this was a Fricka who still loved her husband as he sat broken.

At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum was Anja Kampe’s incredible performance Sieglinde. From the vulnerability of her opening scene with Simon O’Neill’s Siegmund and their burgeoning love, her distress in the Second Act to her final exultant and ringing O hehrstes Wunder, Kampe displayed a vocal authority that has definitely grown since I first saw her in this role. Her voice was strong and even throughout its range and again the colours she injected into her singing was tingling.

Opposite Sieglinde, Simon O’Neill was a credible and vocally secure Siegmund. I wonted for more drama in his characterization and perhaps at times greater depth to his singing but there was no denying his commitment in the role.

Hunding as bully was brilliantly portrayed by the deep and brutal singing of Eric Halfvarson. But his was no cipher in performance. Above the brutish and threatening vocal stance he adopted – and led by Barenboim – Halfvarson also uncovered the oft missed – and in many ways – more threatening ability to find those moments in Hunding’s music to sneer and patronise.

And Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde? Personally there aren’t sufficient superlatives.

Unlike in San Francisco, where she was head and shoulders above her colleagues, here Ms Stemme was equally matched by the rest of the cast and it strengthened and enriched her performance. Vocally secure throughout her Brünnhilde was simply stunning and spot on. Her eloquence in the role was simply mesmerising. She made you hear and feel everything – from Brünnhilde’s initial bravado as Wotan’s favourite to the wonder and awe as she witnessed true love to the anguish and fear of defying of father.

There simply isn’t a Brünnhilde like her today.

Even the Walküre – sometimes a hit and miss affair of competitive singing – were marshalled and made a thrilling ensemble. Vocally secure, each had a sufficiently identifiable vocal timbre that made them individuals as well.

So to Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin.

Simply genius.

Barenboim – conducting the first act without glancing at the score – seemed more involved than his measured conducting of Das Rheingold. Clearly this is an opera he loves dearly and it showed in his gestures to the orchestra. Never was this more noticeable than when he was driving the orchestra towards the final bars of each of the three acts. Or when he was exhorting the excellent brass section to greater – if it was possible – grandeur in their playing. Or threat and menace generated at the very beginning, when his physical gestures that had the strings digging deep from the beginning. Or when he motioned to the singers at critical moments in the drama.

And the Staatskapelle responded with deeply committed and passionate playing. Focused, attentive and engrossed in the music, each and every player was part of the drama that Barenboim unfolded on the stage.

I did not see the ‘altercation’ at the end of the Second Act but if performance is sometimes about artistic difference then it worked because I do believe that the playing in the final act even managed to surpass that of the preceding acts.

After a brilliant Das Rheingold, it was impossible to think that the ensemble could raise the bar with Die Walküre. But they did.

It makes the expectation of the Siegfried to come almost unbearable.

Gergiev’s ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on June 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Review – Die Walküre (Act 1)

Siegmund – Jonas Kaufmann
Sieglinde – Anja Kampe
Hunding – Mikhail Petrenko

Mariinsky Orchestra

Valery Gergiev (Conductor)

Valery Gergiev. In all honesty I can say that he never disappoints in surprising me. When I listen to his recordings or attend a performance of his I am never quite sure what I am getting.

Take his Elektra for example with Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet in the title role alongside Angela Denoke, Dame Felicity Palmer, Matthias Goerne and the LSO. Say what you will about Charbonnet’s performance but personally I was completely taken by her total immersion in the character. And Gergiev marshalled his forces with absolute authority, extracting committed performances from each member of the cast and drawing playing from the orchestra that veered – exactly as Strauss wanted – from sheer brutality to wondrous luminosity under his baton.

On the other hand, his Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Edinburgh International Festival was, for me, a fiasco not only in terms of both the production and the quality and level of the musicianship across the board. Not only were the singers, drawn from the Mariinsky Opera, all ill suited to their roles, but Gergiev’s own sense of commitment was lacklustre and distracted.

So when I read that Gergiev was embarking on his first recording of the Ring cycle with Die Walküre, I was initially filled with trepidation.

But let’s face it, if there was an equivalent of a Fantasy Football League for opera – and especially Wagner – lovers, then this cast would the dream team. All credit to Gergiev or the people who work behind the scenes that the assembled cast includeS Jonas Kaufmann, Nina Stemme, Anja Kampe, Mikhail Petrenko and Ekaterina Gubanova.

I have been lucky enough to see both Kaufmann and Stemme perform their roles live either on stage or via live broadcast. Kaufmann in his debut as Siegmund at the Met, and Stemme live in San Francisco Opera’s Ring cycle and via broadcast in Krigenberg’s Götterdämmerung.

So to say that my expectations were high is an understatement and on this occasion Gergiev has not only surprised but also surpassed my expectations.

This review has been a long time coming because I have listened to the recording all the way through as well as act-by-act countless times. And – unusually for me – it is act by act that I plan to approach this review.

This is not a recording to be skimmed over and overall, repeated listening has convinced me that it not only stands comparison with some of the most memorable recordings but also in reality, surpasses some of them.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that Gergiev has delivered a traditional performance in the best sense. No gimmicks. No fanciful notions or radical re-interpretations. He conducts what’s on the page.

And it is music making of almost the highest standard.

It opens with some beautifully paced and articulate playing in the strings, with just the right hint of menace in brass and winds. And Gergiev handles the dynamics building into the first timpani roll and the subsequent decrescendo masterfully without once dropping the momentum.

And the detail and attention in the phrases leading to Kaufmann’s first entry – you can almost feel his exhaustion in the way Gergiev directs the orchestra – is telling of the whole recording. Each phrase is not only articulate but due care has been given to how they play in the overall fabric of the music.

I don’t intend to go through the recording phrase by phrase or indeed bar by bar but there are some telling moments when it is clear not only that a great deal of love and attention has been lavished on this performance but that Gergiev gives Wagner’s music time to breath.

For example, take the very first exchanges between Siegmund and Sieglinde – not only in the careful and very deliberate molding of Kaufmann and Kampe’s vocal lines but also the carefully judged and beautifully played cello solo.

Or when Siegmund relates his tale of woe to Hunding, Gergiev maintains the taut momentum and doesn’t allow the brass to become too intrusive but generates a real sense of menace through their clear and rhythmically articulated playing.

Siegfried’s subsequent monologue is beautifully delivered. More so that on Kaufmann’s recent recital disc in that Gergiev takes the vocal line beyond the cries of Wälse. They aren’t the more normal ‘final destination’ in the monologue but the momentum generated carries the music through to the next section where singer and conductor balance the lyricism of the vocal line without sacrificing the rhythmic muscularity in the orchestra.

Indeed Gergiev draws some finely attuned playing from the Mariinsky Orchestra, particularly from the reappearance of Sieglinde and into their subsequent ‘love’ scene.

Here there is a sensuality that can often be missing from both from recordings and performances. Sieglinde’s rapture is almost tangible and the singers work together seamlessly in terms of both dramatic impetus and emotional tension.

Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond is most tenderly sung without any loss of focus and as it literally melted into Du bist der Lenz it struck me at how slowly Gergiev seemed to be taking the entire section – giving the music and the words time to breath and fold out.

Kampe, Kaufmann and Gergiev continue to spin the music out, ratcheting up the tension in the both singers and the orchestra almost note by note as first Siegfried’s name is revealed and then Northung itself and then its an almost sexual rush to the closing bars.

Needless to say the three singers – Kampe, Kaufmann and the Hunding of Mikhail Petrenko are magnificent. Vocally there are all on top form and I would be incredibly surprised if this recording was literally a case of them turning up without some time having been spent on rehearsal and coaching. There is an attention to detail, not only in the delivery of the words but, as I have mentioned, also in nuancing of phrasing that makes this recording stand out.

There is a depth and maturity to Kaufmann’s performance as Siegmund that I did not hear at the Met. Of course a lot of this will be to do with this being a studio recording but it is also in no small part to the attention to detail and surely working with Gergiev himself. And there is no hint of strain that seemed to occasionally surface in his recent recital disc. Similarly Petrenko is no mere cipher. His dark, brooding base is full of menace without ever snatching at the notes being sung. And Kampe, who can admittedly sometimes be a little hit and miss, evolves from the downtrodden wife to exultant lover with such vocal and dramatic authority and her soprano is sonorous and even throughout its range.

Indeed so outstanding is this first act in fact, that it’s almost a shame to move on to the Act Two.

An Apple-Pie Ring – High on ‘doh!’, low on ambition. Saved by Stemme.

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on June 22, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Wotan – Mark Delavan
Brunnhilde – Nina Stemme
Siegmund – Brandon Jovanovich
Sieglinde – Anja Kampe
Siegfried – Jay Hunter Morris/Ian Storey
Erda – Ronnita Miller
Loge – Stefan Margita

Director – Francesca Zambello
Conductor – Donald Runnicles

It’s not uncommon for directors to reinterpret opera productions through the prism of either contemporary or historical events. This can mean everything from the anonymous war-torn landscape and bombed-out buildings to specific references and, or, setting their productions in specific historical periods – actual to the original composer’s wishes, or not.

There are plenty of examples and naturally some work more effectively than others.

Peter Sellars’ use of contemporary settings for the three Da Ponte operas, updating them specifically to then-modern-day New York for example worked well overall. As did his use, with devastating effect, of Death Row imagery in his famous production of Handel’s Theodora.

More recently at the Met, I witnessed a finessed Capriccio set in 1920s France, as well as an Il Trovatore where the only real saving grace were McVicar’s Goya-inspired sets. And closer to home there has been everything from the ‘corporate re-engineering’ of ENO’s recent Simon Boccanegra – which worked with varying degrees of success scene by scene – counter-balanced by their simplistic Germanic view of Faust and their dreadful reinterpretation of Ulisse. It has to be said that when ENO get something wrong, they do so magnificently.

And naturally, Wagner’s operas lend themselves to more than their own fair share of interpretation through the lens of history. And more often than not, it’s own.

Again plenty of examples can be found. For Tristan und Isolde there is everything from the authentic Cornish setting that inspired the Met’ production and countless others, to the starker and as brutally effective settings of Loy at Covent Garden and Marthaler at Bayreuth. And again at Bayreuth, look at the recent Meistersinger which so offended the audience.

And of the The Ring cycle itself, interpretations abound aplenty. For me, LePage’s current cycle at the Met is an uncomfortable combination of the traditional overridden by his personal obsession with technology – a modern day deus ex machina gone mad. Phyllida Lloyd’s often maligned, but to me wonderful, cycle at ENO drew on contemporary events, and sometimes with telling effect. It might have offended some people, but Brunnhilde’s immolation as a suicide bomber seemed ‘so right’ at the time. As did the Rhinemaidens as pole dancers – a reference to the sleaze and greed of the Gods that they served. And if ENO ever does revive the cycle, I’ve no doubt that these images, as well as others throughout the cycle, will remain as fresh and contemporary.

The Ring, with it’s themes including greed and the abuse of power – and Parsifal for that matter with it’s theme of redemption – often give directors the opportunity to develop a narrative centred on particularly difficult, or controversial events in history. Of course the first that come to mind are productions that focus on Germany’s own early Twentieth Century legacy – from the birth of their imperialism through to Nazism. But let’s not forget Chereau’s brilliant cycle – a damning view of capitalism.

Francesca Zambello set her sights high. Arrogantly high. She aimed to create an ‘American Ring’, based on that nation’s history, that would ‘teach’ a lesson and send a ‘warning’ to the audience of the eco-disaster that their continent potentially faced.

She aimed. And missed. Four times.

Das Rheingold was set during the Gold Rush. If greed and avarice were the prime motivations for her narrative, why not the carpet-bagging era after the Civil War and the end of slavery? Or more pertinently a scene of modern day Wall Street, the birthplace of the current recession that has driven so many opera houses in the US into closure. Clearly the racial overtones of the first, and the potential insult the second might cause to people in the audience, made her choice for her.

Die Walküre leapt from the wilderness of Middle America via the boom years of the 1920s and 1930s to the Valkyrie dressed – supposedly – as Second World War fighter pilots. But in reality they more closely resembled a bevy of Amelia Earharts, alas without neither her grace nor her bravado. Weirdly, the confrontation between Siegmund and Hunding seemed to then take place beneath an abandoned section of San Francisco’s own highway. The final act, set on the most traditional of Rocks offered what should have been a subtle touch – images of dead soldiers from wars dating from the Civil War to the current conflict in Iraq – but it simply seemed contrived. Again why not in Die Walküre confront a real issue in America’s history – the current war in Iraq and the events preceding it? Or if that was too real, the Vietnam War?

And so to the trailer park for the opening of Siegfried and the hero portrayed as juvenile ‘white trash’. It didn’t work, as Jay Hunter Morris is simply a wooden actor. The second act transported us to outside what seemed to be a warehouse. Alberich as homeless man in the same vein as Wotan’s Wanderer. Again this hinted at a possible parallel with the current homelessness situation in San Francisco itself but it came to nothing apart from a few laughs from the stalls.

And Fafner’s dragon? A miniature industrial ‘machine’ of sorts – short on menace, and long on the kind of awkwardness felt by at school plays when the dragon is made out of egg boxes. ‘Could do better’. Clearly there were budgetary considerations as the final act – and the opening act of Götterdämmerung – returned us to the Rock. Only this time it had obviously not stood the ravages of time, and looked dilapidated.

The Norns opened Götterdämmerung Matrix-style. In bright green outfits and overlaid with an animated circuit-board, their rope was replaced by cable which they fixed to either side of the stage only to have it explode. Control-Alt-Delete. If only.

And then back to the Rock. Following their adolescent running around at the end of Siegfried, we return to find the hero and Brunnhilde still running around the joyless Rock. Surely they first thing they would have done would be to at least build a shack?

Zambello’s sets trundled painfully on and took us to a faceless silver and black interior. Factory spewing plumes of smoke in the background. Hagen’s own bedroom featured for his dream sequence. A nice touch was the inference that he was, in fact, having an affair with Gutrune but again Zambello took this nowhere. The hunting scene saw the return of the Rhinemaidens and a river filled with refuse that they were clearing up. At last a clear environmental message. Sadly too late.

The Immolation scheme – thankfully – was so blandly directed that it allowed us to focus on Nina Stemme. Using bags of rubbish to create the pyre again seemed contrived but was nothing compared to the ridiculous decision to leave Gutrune on stage with Brunnhilde or having Hagen murdered by the Rhinemaidens.

And connecting all the scenes throughout the cycle, Zambello used a sequence of predictable films. Shots of running through a forest, water, clouds and, of course, factories spewing out pollution. It would have been bearable apart from the fact that Zambello chose to simply rewind them when we returned to previous locations.

It was almost a relief when the curtain came down. And yes there was booing for Zambello on the final night.

So instead of taking an opportunity to do as other directors have done – revisit uncomfortable moments in a nation’s history to make the narrative of The Ring relevant to the audience – Zambello offered her audience a saccharine, shallow, unchallenging Ring that failed to achieve add up to anything.

Why? It took me a while and perhaps I am wrong. But could it be that Zambello either thought her audience would be too stupid to follow a narrative that might ask them to confront a darker side of their history? Perhaps it was a fear that the rich San Franciscan donors would reject any attempt to make them face this reality and therefore she opted form a dumbed-down, Homer-Simpson narrative for her ‘American Ring’. Or maybe this is exactly the kind of Ring that Americans want. Glossy. Shallow. And not requiring any thought at all.

It was also interesting to note that the surtitles skipped along and over the original text, and in my view, dumbed it down. And secondly the audience laughed at those very moments in Wagner’s drama when he challenges us to confront some uncomfortable truths about ourselves.

However, often a bad production can be negated if the quality of the performances on stage are remarkable or at least consistently strong.

Unfortunately this wasn’t the case for the most part.

Undoubtedly this cycle belongs to, and was saved by, Nina Stemme. In this, her first full Ring cycle, she dominated as Brunnhilde. Her singing, musicianship and sheer stage presence outshone everyone else on stage, as well as Runnicles in the pit. From her opening Hojotoho to her final immolation, Stemme held the audience transfixed as we watched her transform from feisty warrior to woman betrayed to woman redeemer. Striding onto stage for her first appearance, she inhabited the role completely and confidently delivered a performance of the highest standard. Her voice was rich, even and clear throughout her register and she clearly annunciated each and every word of Wagner’s text. The standing ovation at the end of Götterdämmerung was so clearly deserved. I can only think that by the end of the third cycle, she will completely own this role and be heading towards the Brunnhilde firmament. On Stemme alone can be laid the success of this Ring and hopefully the audience realise the privileged of hearing her first full Ring cycle.

However there were other singers in the cast that also stood out. Anja Kampe made her San Francisco debut as an impressive Sieglinde. Having heard her in the past when her voice had a slightly brittle tone, it was good to hear that it had ripened and filled out. Hers was a convincing Sieglinde, with intelligent and nuanced singing and acting skill that brought out the character’s vulnerability.

But the most pleasant surprise was contralto Ronnita Miller as Erda & First Norn. Her deep, resonant voice was ideally suited to Erda, and her diction was incredibly clear. And similarly she stood out significantly among the three Norns. I believe that she has an incredibly bright future ahead of her and hopefully she will be heard in Europe – and hopefully the UK? – before long.

Brandon Jovanovich also made a strong impression as Siegfried. His clarion-like tenor may have tired in places – I think that has more to do with learning pace himself than anything else – but his was a truly credible warrior. He effortlessly, for the most part, rose above the orchestra and he had the character’s arrogance and impetuosity down to a tee.

Stefan Margita’s Loge was also well cast. A strong actor, his bright and light tenor shone out over the orchestra in sharp relief to the majority of his half siblings’ shortcomings.

Mark Delavan was a singularly disappointing Wotan. He had neither the heft nor the flexibility of voice required for the role. This was particularly evident in Die Walküre when he struggled to be heard above the unsympathetic conducting of Runnicles, particularly in the final Act.

Casting Siegfried is often a challenge but the casting in San Francisco was doubly disappointing with Jay Hunter Morris in Siegfried and subsequently Ian Storey in Götterdämmerung. Morris’ attempt to play Siegfried as a surly teenager failed to light the stage and he was hampered by an inability to spin the vocal lines of the role, once again above Runnicles’ band. More of a shame was Storey’s indisposition in Götterdämmerung. Clearly he marked the role in the First Act only to try and compensate in the Second and subsequently damaged his voice. A plea by the opera administration as we entered the Third Act did not bode well, but surprisingly his performance seemed stronger. Perhaps the medical assistance he received in the interval was some kind of vocal steroid. But it wasn’t enough to compensate and overall his was a weak performance. A shame as given the right circumstances, Storey could be an impressive Siegfried.

Additionally Andrea Silvestrelli may have made a strong impression as Fasolt but, despite his rich and mellifluous bass, his Hagen was woolly and unfocused. A shame.

And while the role of Gutrune is often miscast, nothing prepared me for the sharp and brittle voice of Melissa Citro. Clearly she was cast for her looks – although the cheap, two-dimensional Anna Nicole was misplaced – that her voice clearly could not match.

And finally to Runnicles and the orchestra. First and foremost, the brass were frustratingly disappointing on all four nights, but particularly in Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung, where they have a key role. But generally Runnicles – whom I have always rated and whose conducting I have always admired – delivered a mediocre, lacklustre set of performances. There was little attention paid to either orchestral detail or colour, some wayward speeds but most frustratingly, a lack of sensitivity to the singers on stage which all added up to a consistently bland level of orchestral playing. It took a singer of the talents of Stemme to consistently, and successfully, cut through the noise coming from the pit. Hopefully the orchestra and Runnicles will clean up their act for the remaining cycles.

So, all in all, a disappointing Ring bar Stemme. It promised so much and delivered almost nothing. Zambello aspired to deliver a contemporary narrative but instead produced something that was either ill-thought out and conceived, or simply baulked at confronting some of America’s real demons. Runnicles was pallid and unresponsive in the pit. And Stemme was less than ably supported by the vast majority of her colleagues on stage.

At a time when opera companies throughout the US are scrabbling to survive it’s frustrating to see a major house waste such an unique opportunity. But sadly I think that this Ring will run and run in the city of San Francisco.

Because it made the audience laugh.

Subitolove

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

Kurt Nemes' Classical Music Almanac

(A love affair with music)

Gareth's Culture and Travel Blog

Sharing my cultural and travel experiences

The Oxford Culture Review

"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it" - John Cage

The Passacaglia Test

The provision and purview of classical music

Peter Hoesing

...a musicologist examining diverse artistic media in critical perspective

OBERTO

Oxford Brookes: Exploring Research Trends in Opera

Opera Teen

It is so important for people at a young age to be invited to embrace classical music and opera. -Luciano Pavarotti