Posts Tagged ‘Christine Goerke’

Mommy, dearest.

In BBC, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on September 1, 2014 at 11:28 am

Review – Elektra (BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, Sunday 31 August 2014)

Elektra – Christine Goerke
Chrysothemis – Gun-Brit Barkmin
Klytemnestra – Dame Felicity Palmer
Oreste – Johann Reuter
Aegisthus – Robert Künzli
Maids – Katarina Bradić, Zoryana Kushpler, Hanna Hipp, Marie-Eve Munger & Iris Kupke
Overseer – Miranda Keys
Young Servant – Ivan Turić
Tutor – Jongmin Park

BBC Singers
BBC Symphony Orchestra

Semyon Bychov (Conductor)

An all-most perfect Elektra made for a weekend of memorable Strauss.

Overall it was an electrifying ensemble performance led by an incredible performance by Dame Felicity Palmer as Klytemnestra.

It’s a role I have seen her perform once before – under Gergiev at the Barbican. Then as now, she was in total command not only of the role musically and interpretively, but of the rest of the cast when she was on the stage. Her diction was perfect, her interpretation of the text flawless, her projection over the orchestra masterful and her characterization beautifully balanced and intelligent. In contrast to the introspection of Waltraud Meier in Dresden earlier this year, Dame Felicity’s Queen was made of steelier stuff, regretting nothing and only briefly showing any sign of affection for her estranged daughter.

As her other daughter, Gun-Brit Barkmin’s Chrysothemis was similarly strong both vocally and in terms of portrayal. While overall she lacked the rich timbre of Adrienne Pieczonka, her bright and gleaming soprano was beautifully matched to the role, and at times her sense of desperation – to escape not only her life but the horror of what her sister proposed – was palpable. In Ich hab’s wie Feuer in der Brust Barkmin negotiated Strauss’ difficult vocal line, delivering the often-missed bloom and her closing calls for her brother were searing in their intensity.

The two men were equally very good. Johann Reuter was a darkly toned Oreste – luxury casting similar to Pape – and Robert Künzli’s light, supple voiced Aegisthus was pointedly arrogant.

Of the rest of the cast, the maids and Overseer also delivered particularly strong and clearly delineated performance – vocally and dramatically. Katarina Bradić has a beautifully rich and lustrous tone and the Fifth Maid of Iris Kupke was also impressive.

What of Elektra herself? I often think that there isn’t the subtlety of characterisation required for Elektra as there is for Salome. The characterisation here is much more focused on a single act – revenge – and without the need for an evolution and awakening of feeling – the dawning sexual desire that is required for Herod’s stepdaughter and which Nina Stemme captured perfectly the previous night.

I admit – as I have said before – that I remain to be completely convinced by Christine Goerke. As at Covent Garden while there is thrilling vocal heft in the middle and lower register, I find that Ms Goerke’s upper range can sound somewhat constricted and at times there is a slight hesitation before singing the higher notes. As the evening progressed I also discerned a slight burr in her voice as well as challenges of intonation. And in those moments of tenderness her voice still lacks that sense of warmth which would give her Elektra a fully-rounded interpretation.

Yet there is no denying her total commitment in the role. The confrontation with her mother was chilling because of her demeanour and the delivery of the text. And there was no denying that that overall it was a compelling performance and stronger than that of Covent Garden.

On the podium Bychov gave the music the necessary space to breathe, indulging in the opera’s lyricism without losing momentum – the perfect balance for Strauss’ music. From the opening bars to the final C major chord, he tempered the orchestra and never let it drown the singers but he also highlighted the more chamber-like moments of the score, drawing out the orchestral light and shade – for example in Klytemnestra’s opening scene and just before her death. And the BBC Symphony Orchestra responded in kind with some of the most eloquent playing I have heard from them in a long time.

With the final C major chord, as Elektra lay dead on the stage, Chrysothemis weeping over her body, there was no doubt that together with Salome, it was a luxuriant – almost decadent – weekend of Strauss to remember.


Kaiserin Conquers.

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on November 11, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Review – Die Frau ohne Schatten (Metropolitan Opera, Thursday 7 November 2013)

Die Kaiserin/Empress – Anne Schwanewilms
Der Kaiser/Emperor – Torsten Kerl
Barak, the Dyer – Johan Reuter
The Dyer’s Wife – Christine Goerke
Die Amme/ Nurse – Ildikó Komlósi
The Messenger – Richard Paul Fink
The Falcon – Jennifer Check
The Hunchback – Allan Glassman
The One-Eyed – Daniel Sutin
The One-Armed – Nathan Stark
A Voice From Above – Maria Zifchak
Voice of the Young Man – Anthony Kalil
Watchmen – David Won, Jeongcheol Cha & Brandon Cedel
Servants – Haeran Hong, Disella Làrusdóttir & Edyta Kulczak
Voices of the Unborn – Jihee Kim, Ashley Emerson, Monica Yunus, Megan Marino, Renée Tatum & Danielle Talamantes
The Guardian of the Threshold – Andrey Nemzer

Director, Set, Costume & Lighting Design – Herbert Weinicke
Stage Director – J. Knighen Smit

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski (Conductor)

Die Frau ohne Schatten seems to be emerging slowly from its own shadows.

This production – a decade after it first nodded at the Met – joins an increasing number that are being staged including Covent Garden’s production by Claus Guth that was first seen at La Scala last year.

On the whole the Met’s revival is incredibly strong both it terms of its musical and production values. The major roles were well cast and the requirement for Cecil B DeMille scale casting of smaller roles was similarly smartly done.

I am surprised that this was Anne Schwanewilms’ debut at the Metropolitan Opera. Considering she is one of the leading Strauss sopranos singing today I do wonder why she has not sung Ariadne, the Marschallin or the Countess at the Lincoln Centre.

However on the strength of her performance as the Kaiserin – the strongest of the evening – I hope that the Met will book Ms Schwanewilms more regularly in future. For it was, musically and dramatically, a performance of great intelligence and sensitivity. From her first appearance – which makes or breaks this role from the start with Vielleicht träum ich mich züruck – Anne Schwanewilms sang with impressive authority. She was vocally bright and agile, floating Strauss lines effortlessly and rising above the orchestra. And yet when needed, the soprano shaded and coloured her voice – no more so than when realizing that the Kaiser will turn to stone should she not obtain a shadow she chillingly sang Der Kaiser muß versteinen. Her dream sequence in the Second Act was both eloquent and dramatic but it was her performance in the final act that crowned her performance. As she confronted both her father Keikobad as well as her own burgeoning conscience as a woman, Schwanewilms truly showed what a magnificent singer-actress she truly is. The hairs on the back of my neck – and I have no doubt everyone else’s in the opera house – were standing on end by the time she summoned up the final courage to stand up to Keikobad (and for humanity) and defiantly proclaimed Ich will nicht.

It was an outstanding performance vocally matched by an incredibly strong dramatic performance. At the beginning Ms Schwanewilms literally glided across the stage almost Melisande-like in her movements. Even in the human world, she portrayed an almost dream-like persona in her movements and interaction with the other characters. But as the drama unfolded her attentions and reactions to Barak and his wife became more human in a way meaning that her final defiance of her father was dramatically more realistic.

As The Nurse – an almost impossible role in the wrong hands – Ildiko Komlósi was similarly magnificent. In possession of a rich and darkly hued mezzo soprano, Ms Komlósi more than negotiated the demanding role written by Strauss. As well as being able to cut through the orchestra and dominate the vocal ensemble when required, Ildoko Komlósi also masterfully shaded and textured her singing particularly when tempting the Dyer’s Wife. Again dramatically The Nurse was convincing as a character showing her disgust not only at the human life she had to endure to get her mistress a shadow but also towards the Kaiser.

As I have said before Strauss can be pretty thankless when writing for male voices and the roles in FroSch are now exception. But here Torster Kerl as the Kaiser and Johan Reuter as Barak excelled. Kerl – an excellent Tristan for Glyndebourne – sailed through Strauss’ music and over the orchestra effortlessly. Wenn das Herz aus Kristall was suitably beautiful above Strauss orchestration in its grace and vocal seamlessness.

And on the strength of his Barak in New York I am very much looking forward to Johan Reuter’s performance in the role at Covent Garden in 2014. Like the other main characters he was vocally and musically impressive. His performance as the first act closed was as heart-rending as his attempts to kill his wife at the end of the second act was frightening. And with Mir anvetraut in the Third Act, Kerl sealed the deal as an utterly compelling Barak.

I am currently nonplussed by Christine Goerke. I recently saw her Elektra at Covent Garden and – truth be told – was not as bowled over as others with her performance. As I said at the time she has the heft and volume but wasn’t always totally secure vocally. And it seemed the same with The Dyer’s Wife. In those moments when the focus was on her dramatically – as in the Second Act – her voice was forced, creating a distracting vibrato that undermined what was otherwise a strong and musically nuanced performance. And as with the rest of the cast her acting was incredibly strong. The love and care with which she attended the birdcage atop the fridge, and the underlying love she bore Barak juxtaposed with the frustration she felt with her life was tangible. But clearly the Met audience love her.

In the smaller roles Richard Paul Fink as The Messenger and the three Watchmen – David Won, Jeongcheol Cha & Brandon Cedel – particularly stood out for the strength of their performances.

In the pit, Jurowski drew superlative playing from the Met’s orchestra but I felt – as I did when he conducted Strauss in London – that he drove the music too hard and therefore missed those opportunities that Strauss wrote when the music should expand and glow. For example, the glorious theme in the First Act for the Kaiser had none of the sweep and grandeur it needed and that wonderful moment in the Second Act – the solo cello and lower strings so reminiscent of Strauss’ future Metamorphosen – was most perfunctory and cold in its delivery. He did seem to relax for the Third Act but a bit more ebb and flow would not go amiss.

Herbert Weinicke’s production was truthful in that – as per Hoffmannsthal’s original vision- it was a juxtaposition of exotic themes such as Arabian Nights and the bleaker human condition. And the machinery of the production, with its rising and falling sets was impressive and – compared to LePage’s ‘Monster’ – almost silent.

Yet Weinicke and Knighten Smit invested in detail. I have already mentioned the carefully characterization of the main players but it went further. The world of the Kaiser and Kaiserin displayed not wealth but an emptiness and a coldness that underlined the state of their relationship. Indeed the mirrored walls seemed to echo not only that coldness but to me the fact that every aspect of their life was in view. The Falcon – beautifully performed by Scott Webber – was directed to the music with great sensitivity. In the First Act for example, it seemed almost foetal in it’s encounter with the Kaiserin.

The world below similarly was cluttered with debris and some of it was emotional – the birdcage I have mentioned but also the partitions of the dwelling hinting at secrets between Barak and his Wife. And one thought crossed my mind as I watched her dealings with Barak’s brothers – did she not want children not so much for selfish reasons of a better life but perhaps because she saw in their disabilities her future children?

Die Frau ohne Schatten is not an easy listen but the Met’s production – with its strong ensemble cast and smart production – should not have to wait another decade to make it to the stage.

And similarly, I hope Ms Schwanewilms becomes a regular artist on that stage too.

Sister, where art thou?

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on October 2, 2013 at 10:37 am

Review – Elektra (Royal Opera House, Tuesday 1 October 2013)

Elektra – Christine Goerke
Chrysothemis – Adrienne Pieczonka
Klytämnestra – Michaela Schuster
Orest – Iain Paterson
Ägisth – John Daszak
Maids – Anna Burford, Catherine Carby, Elizabeth Sikora, Elizabeth Woollett, Jennifer Check
Overseer – Elaine McKrill
Confidant – Louise Armit
Trainbearer – Marianne Cotterill
Young Servant – Doug Jones
Old Servant – Jeremy White
Orest’s Companion – John Cunningham

Director, Set & Lighting – Charles Edwards
Costume Designs – Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Movement Director – Leah Hausman

Royal Opera House Chorus & Orchestra
Conductor – Andris Nelsons

A question.

Why is Adrienne Pieczonka not heard more often in the UK either on stage or in recital?

I have long admired her recordings of Richard Strauss lieder and Wagner. I have also seen her in Munich as the Marschallin and as a superlative Empress in Vienna.

And her incredible performance as Chrysothemis in Charles Edwards’ production of Elektra was the highlight of the entire evening. Vocally she out-paced both her Hellenic sister and mother with a role-performance that I cannot remember being bettered.

Her warm lustrous tone – golden and rich – effortlessly and tirelessly scaled the vocal lines written by Strauss. And the gorgeous, youthful bloom she also invested in her singing, combined with her sympathetic acting made the innocence of her character even more believable.

Breathtaking in her musicianship as she soared through Ich Kann Nicht Sitzen Und Ins Dunkel Starren, she also coloured her voice with heartrending tragedy as she shifted between her desire to be a woman and mother and her current predicament. And her final cries at the end of the opera were similarly laden with the tragedy of what had occurred.

Michaela Schuster as Klytämnestra was also vocally strong and unlike other singers in this role did not overplay the mother’s psychosis. This made her scene with Elektra much more dramatic and Schuster was – for me – impressive.

And so to Christine Goerke’s Elektra. She clearly has the heft and volume for this role and it was dramatically mesmerizing at times. But it was a one-speed performance in terms of emotional range. This was an Elektra mad throughout and while Goerke’s acting abilities were able to carry this off with an intensity that was gripping, I personally missed a more subtly shaded characterization. Indeed the only time this Elektra seemed to change emotional track was as she breathed her last.

Nor was it always vocally secure. There were moments of distracting vibrato at the top of her range and a lack of warmth and depth in those passages which require a greater sense of lyricism. Most tellingly, immediately after she recognizes her brother, Goerke sounded strained at the top of her range and didn’t quite find the warmth and bloom in her voice that this magical moment requires.

Of the men, John Dasak was a clarion-bright Ägisth but the Oreste of Iain Paterson, while suitable dark and brooding sounded closed and at times almost muffled. The smaller roles – particular those of the five Maids – were well cast.

Charles Edwards’ set remains austerely impressive even after a decade. I am sure that there were changes to the movement and direction of the opera since last I saw it at Covent Garden but I do wonder if it might not be time to look anew at this opera.

And finally in the pit, Andris Nelsons drew some superb playing from the orchestra. The strings were warm and burnished and he picked out with precision the details in the score throughout – what particularly comes to the mind is the torture of the Fifth Maid and Klytämnestra’s arrival for example. And as well as finding the inevitably brutality within the music, Nelsons spun out the lyricism, giving the music – and the audience – time to breath without ever losing the momentum to the final denouement.

There is no denying that this was an incredible performance of Elektra. There is also no denying that overall, Goerke’s performance in the title role was committed and full-throated.

However personally – and I think for many people in the audience – it was the night of a memorable Chrysothemis from Adrienne Pieczonka.

I hope that this is the start of more frequent performances by this very talented soprano here in the UK.


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

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