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Posts Tagged ‘Annalena Persson’

Principally Flawed

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 7, 2013 at 9:59 am

Review – Siegfried (Opera North, The Lowry, Saturday 6 July 2013)

Siegfried – Mati Turi
Mime – Richard Roberts
Wanderer – Michael Druiett
Alberich – Jo Pohlheim
Fafner – Mats Almgren
Woodbird – Fflur Wyn
Erda – Ceri Williams
Brünnhilde – Annalena Persson

Vocal Consultants – Dame Anne Evans & Sir John Tomlinson

Staging & Design Concept – Peter Mumford

Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor – Richard Farnes

While Opera North’s Siegfried was an improvement on last year’s Die Walküre, it still remained far from a totally convincing performance on the whole.

It seems that the main impediment remains casting and like last year the strongest performances came from the singers in the smaller roles.

Jo Pohlheim’s performance as Alberich towered above the other male singers in the cast. His wonderfully dark, resonant base rose effortlessly above the orchestra and with diction was clear and precise making his characterisation of Alberich sharply etched. His repertoire includes both Wotan himself and Wozzeck and I would image that these would both be performances worth booking tickets for. Personally though, I didn’t get the gloves.

Fflur Wyn – who I admired in Opera North’s production of La Clemenza di Tito – continued to impress. She has a warm yet bright soprano with a vocal agility that made the role seemingly effortless as she glided through the Woodbird’s music. It’s a tricky role and perhaps Farnes could have given her a little more ebb and flow but it didn’t faze her at all. Definitely Ms Wyn is someone to keep and a look out for. Similarly Ceri Williams’ dusky and rich voice was perfectly suited to Erda and proved more than a match vocally for Wotan in the Third Act.

Problems with both intonation and diction marred what was otherwise a strong performance of Fafner from Mats Algrem who was of suitably pitch-black tone. Admittedly Fafner in Siegfried is a rather thankless role in Siegfried and I would like to hear either his Hunding or Hagen.

After Michael Druiett’s fine performance in Das Rheingold his Wanderer was disappointing. At the time I wondered if he had the heft for ‘later’ Wotan and sadly it proved he did not. A rather two-dimensional characterisation was not helped by a lack of both colour and depth in his singing on this occasion and more than once he was out-gunned by the orchestra despite Farnes’ sensitivity to an extent not suffered by the rest of the ensemble. Indeed at times the lower end of his range seemed to disappear altogether. Most tellingly, his confrontation with his nemesis Alberich left me wanting not so much a role reversal but two Alberich’s and no Wotan. His subsequent confrontation with his ‘grandson’ in the Third Act was only slightly alleviated by a slightly weaker than expected performance by Siegfried at that precise moment. Perhaps for the full cycle Opera North might consider casting Jo Pohlheim for the full cycle?

Similarly the reason for casting Annalena Persson as Brünnhilde continues to elude me completely. Even in this somewhat limited appearance, Persson was uneven in tone and distractingly shrill – almost squally – in her upper range. It seemed that she had forsake vocal accuracy for individual top notes that were less gleaming that brittle. Fortunately she is not cast in Opera North’s Götterdämmerung and having now seen two of her three Brünnhildes a year apart doesn’t fill me with confidence that this is a she should continue to sing.

And so to the two main protagonists.

I admired Richard Roberts’ original Mime in Das Rheingold. At the time I said it was no cipher yet in Siegfried while there were moments when that Mime re-appeared – for example just before his demise – for the most part it seemed to be missing for large parts of his performance. Vocally there wasn’t quite enough characterisation or colour and while his diction was good, he didn’t seem to revel in the particular German than Wagner scribed for this character much in the way that he wrote for Alberich.

And clearly Mati Turi has it in him to be a great Siegfried. One day. He received good notices for his performance at Longborough and there is no doubt that on the whole his Siegfried for Opera North was strong. However for me there was a question about his pacing of the role. Giving his all in the First Act, where his singing was full and round with beautiful phrasing and dynamic control, three quarters through the Second Act it did seem that his voice was tiring. And while the longer interval between the second and third Acts would have helped, his first entry in the final Act – his confrontation with Wotan – sounded for the most part snatched, almost as if he was deliberately saving himself for the closing scenes. And perhaps he was, because there was clearly a greater shine to his voice for most of his scene with Brünnhilde. Overall while his voice is clear and pretty even throughout its range, I did wont for a bit more light and shade and a more finely tuned interpretation of the role. All this I am sure is not far off and it’s a shame that he will not be singing Siegfried in next year’s Götterdämmerung.

Stage-wise, Peter Mumford continued with his smart – if now somewhat predictable – design concept. Seen a year apart they remain effective without being distracting, but I do wonder how quickly they will go from effective and non-distracting to tedious end-to-end when the complete cycle is performed over a single week or so.

But finally plaudits must go to Farnes and the Orchestra of Opera North. Farnes – bar a small slip in momentum during the initial meeting of the young lovers – had got to grip with the sweep and overall architecture of Siegfried. Tempos were well judged throughout and he pulled out the orchestral detail and allowed the leitmotivs to shine through without too much over emphasis. And this attention to detail resulted in some luminous playing from the orchestra and bar a single moment already mentioned, he was sensitive accompanist to the singers. And special mention must go to the Robert Ashworth for his exemplary solo in the Second Act, but throughout the ensemble playing was of the highest standard from start to finish. For example, the way Farnes singled out the harp line in the first act, and thebeautifully placed wind and brass chords just before Brünnhilde’s awakening.

Ultimately however this Siegfried continued to demonstrate similar fault lines – although not as deep – as last year’s Die Walküre. While Farnes’ grip of the third opera in the cycle was impressive, casting the principle roles remains Opera North’s biggest challenge. With Alwyn Mellor as their final Brünnhilde and Daniel Brenna perhaps they might have cracked it.

Minors Major By The Manchester Ship Canal

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Review: Die Walküre, Opera North (Saturday 14 July 2012)

Siegmund – Erik Nelson Warner
Sieglinde – Alwyn Mellor
Hunding – Clive Bayley
Wotan – Béla Perencz
Brünnhilde – Annalena Persson
Fricka – Katarina Karnéus
Valkyries – Miriam Murphy, Katherine Broderick, Jennifer Johnston, Emma Carrington, Meeta Raval, Madeleine Shaw, Antonia Sotgiu & Catherine Hopper

Artistic Consultant – Dame Anne Evans DBE
Concert Staging, Lighting & Projection Designer – Peter Mumford

Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor – Richard Farnes

Perhaps my expectations were too high after a near perfect Das Rheingold, but Opera North’s return for Die Walküre at The Lowry on the banks of the Manchester ship Canal was not as satisfying. In fact, if truth be told it was more than a little disappointing both in the casting department and the overall sweep – or lack of it – from Richard Farnes.

And at the end of the evening, the two strongest and most memorable performances were actually those that are traditionally seen as minor characters – Hunding and Fricka.

I have most recently seen Clive Bayley as Daland in the ENO production of The Flying Dutchman and as I said at the time, his was an impressive, strongly characterised performance. And it was the same here. His Hunding was vocally rich and resonant, smooth and consistent throughout his range. And his diction was perfect. The way he sneered “Wölfling” summed up not only the way he viewed Siegmund but his very approach to life – brutal and arrogant.

And every time I see Die Walküre I am forced to reassess Fricka as a character. Twice before – in New York with the incredible human performance by Stephanie Blythe, and in Hamburg with the formidable wife of Wotan played by Lilli Paasikivi – I have seen Fricka portrayed not as an incidental character as she is so often considered by directors (and conductors) but as a pivotal role in the unfolding story.

And at The Lowry Theatre, Katarina Karnéus delivered an excellent performance. Unlike the other characters, from her first appearance she inhabited the stage, striding around her husband and before she exited stage left, sneering at Brünnhilde. And as she left, having secured her hollow victory – for had she not succeeded who knows how the Ring would have unfolded – that simple wave of her wrist said it all – Fricka was a woman of significance. And vocally, bar a few minor problems of intonation – which I have commented on before – it was a strong, characterised performance. Karnéus revelled in Fricka’s words and they were delivered with steely conviction.

Alwyn Mellor was similarly a strong Sieglinde. Her voice rode above the orchestra with ease and what it lacked perhaps in colour it made up for in richness. Her singing in the First and Second Acts was incredibly strong but by the final act she was clearly tired and her O hehrstes Wunder! Herrliche Maid! sounded a little tight. But I see from the programme that she is scheduled to sing Brünnhilde in Paris in 2013 and, if she can resolve her pacing, that would be worth seeing.

Siegmund sounded like a role just ever so slightly outside the reach of Erik Nelson Warner. While he was a pleasant voice – although again without much sense of colour or dynamic inflection – it felt that even the First Act was just a little beyond his stamina. However he did recover admirably in the Second Act. As with Ms Mellor, it might just be a question of pacing himself correctly.

But it is a shame that the two major characters were such a disappointment overall.

The Brünnhilde of Annalena Persson was ultimately flawed. This is – pace Wotan – the principle role in The Ring cycle and it requires a soprano not only with heft, but one who has an iron grip on their technique. Persson’s voice can clearly cut through an orchestra and while she has a strong lower and middle range, as she moved above the stave her voice became uneven, shrill and suffered significant and uncomfortable intonation problems. And this was compounded as she forced her volume. It was a shame because literally in her closing moments I thought I caught a glimpse of potentially an amazing Brünnhilde. But I think it is a role she should in future approach carefully and perhaps with more study.

Wotan is certainly as big a casting challenge as his daughter and in my opinion it isn’t a role that Béla Perencz. While it was clear – as outlined in the programme’s biography – that he has had belcanto training – his voice was quite Italianate and there was no faulting his sense of legato or vocal colouring – he didn’t have the stamina. By the final scenes of the act he was vocally exhausted and as well as having quite significant intonation problems personally I found his verismo inflections – at Leb’ wohl for example – almost too distracting at times. If he does attempt this role in the future – and perhaps after some careful consideration – I hope he will be more Nordic god and less Pagliacci.

And for me the Valkyries were overly strident. The fact that they made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up wasn’t from an electrifying and compelling performance but rather that they seemed – almost to a part – to sing everything at the loudest volume all the time and with little vocal finesse.

After the loving and careful attention to detail from the cast of Das Rheingold I had to wonder if Dame Anne Evans was as involved as in this Die Walküre.

As for the staging, it was very basic even for a concert production. Unlike Das Rheingold, Peter Mumford didn’t seem to have developed anything other than the most basic ideas. The projections were for the most part uninspiring as was the lighting. And a small niggle, why ravens for the Valkyries? The ravens serve a different and unique role in Wagner’s Ring and they are definitely not designated as dead-warrior-carriers as far as I am aware.

So finally to Richard Farnes and the Orchestra of Opera North. As in Das Rheingold the playing of the orchestra was of an incredibly high standard. The strings were warm in that very European way, the woodwind were beautifully light and pointed and the brass suitably punchy.

Yet Farnes did not deliver a clear and cohesive performance and didn’t always pull out the orchestral colour and depth as he had in the first opera. The First Act was taken at quite a deliberate and measured pace. There is nothing wrong with that. Listen to Mark Elder’s recent recording for example. The Second Act was brisk enough with Farnes returning to a more measured tempo for the final Act. But personally it felt like Farnes was conducting a series of highlights with music in between. For example, in the First Act the closing section with all that wonderful music for Siegmund and Sieglinde seemed a little mechanical but more disappointingly, Wotan’s monologue in the Second Act seemed rushed and unarticulated with little attention to detail. Although I think for this Perencz must share some of the blame. And the closing scenes of the opera suffered too. Leb’Wohl was taken at what seemed an inordinate canter before Farnes slowed down the music to such an extent that the orchestra for the only time in the entire evening sounded messy at the cadences.

But when Farnes was in his stride the moments were glorious. The dialogue between Brünnhilde and Siegmund was both dramatic and otherworldly as it should be, and those moments with just Brünnhilde and the wind sections in the closing scenes were achingly poignant in terms of the colour and transparency he elicited from the orchestra. It was at those moments that you could glimpse Persson as Brünnhilde. Nowhere else.

After such a magnificent Das Rheingold perhaps it was inevitable that Die Walküre would disappoint. It’s a giant-sized leap from the opening opera of the quartet and I feel that this Die Walküre needs more work and attention to detail. I hope that this happens before Opera North perform the complete cycle – rumoured to be in 2015/2016 – but also earlier than that, before Farnes tackles Siegfried.

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